Northern Lights are a magical phenomenon that captures your imagination right from the start. After all, who wouldn’t go all moon-eyed over the beauty of the magical Aurora Borealis? Showcasing one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring spectacles, the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights are chased by millions of tourists every year. A key factor to witnessing this rare event is finding the ideal location for it.
Only eight countries reach north above the Arctic Circle, but without a doubt the best place to chase the Northern Lights along with other surrounding beauty is Russia. Filled with virgin forests, snow-capped mountains and idyllic lakes, the natural setting makes the experience of chasing the Northern Lights even better.
Where in Russia?
While there are many recommended places to witness this phenomenon in Russia, the most stunning location is at Lake Baikal. A rift lake located in Southern Siberia, Russia between the Buryat Republic to the southeast and Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest, it is truly awe-inspiring.
More than 25 million years old and 5000 feet deep, it is the deepest and oldest lake in the world. It is also the largest freshwater lake by volume containing about 22% of the world’s fresh surface water, making people often mistake it as a sea. With more than 2500 plant and animal species been documented in the lake, it is famous for its crystal-clear waters and unique wildlife. However, during winters, this destination gains even more popularity with tourists flocking here to witness the Northern Lights against the stunning backdrop of the lake.
Other things to do
Known as Russia’s largest lake, it collects water from more than 350 rivers. Despite so many tourists visiting it every year, it remains unspoilt and is one of the clearest lakes in the world. During winters, the water transparency in open sections can be as much as 100-130 ft making it the perfect place to enjoy the Northern Lights.
During the day, you can enjoy the rich flora and fauna found here. Two-thirds of the animals at Lake Baikal can be found nowhere else in the world including the Baikal oil fish and the Baikal omul fish as well as the Nerpa which is the world’s only freshwater species of seal. Visitors can find out more about these graceful silver-grey seals at the aquarium located nearby in Listvyanka.
Another popular tourist attraction you can visit here is the hot springs located at Khakasy. With a high-mineral content, these hot springs are believed to have health-enhancing properties, especially for skin conditions.
Adorned with picturesque shores you will also be surrounded by meadows, marshes and high mountains that stretch for more than 2,000 km of the shoreline. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for its unique landscape and wildlife, Lake Baikal is definitely more than just another destination for chasing the Northern Lights.
How to reach Lake Baikal?
With eleven time zones in the country, a trip to Russia requires a lot of careful planning. The best way to reach Lake Baikal is from Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude. Both these airports have connections via Moscow and St. Petersburg. The eastern shore of Lake Baikal is located one hour from Irkutsk and two-hours from Ulan-Ude. Train-aficionados can also consider taking this as a stop-over on their route in the famous Trans-Siberian journey.
Staying at Lake Baikal
There is a wide choice of accommodation in Listvyanka including hotels, guest houses and well-equipped apartments. Many of these have rooms overlooking Lake Baikal. Another option is to head out to Olkhon Island. On the island, you can stay in a traditional yurt, a type of felt tent which is commonly found throughout Central Asia.
A trip to Russia in winter is undoubtedly challenging with its freezing temperatures, however watching the magnificent Northern Lights along with insights into the local lifestyle and its unique landscape will allow you to see it from a different perspective making this an unforgettable experience.
‘Curated by Neha Bhise’