The pursuit of the Northern Lights can be elusive. It’s common to feel that you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims when the wrong timing, the wrong conditions or the wrong weather so easily thwart your plans. But despite the effort needed to find the ideal nighttime setting, watching the sky erupt in neon banners is nothing short of surreal.

Named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora Borealis — meaning “dawn of the north” — has enchanted us for centuries. Sometimes it’s a haze over the horizon, a flicker over the mountains or a slender, weaving wisp. On the best of nights, it’s akin to an explosion and you hardly know where to look. The most common colors are pale green and pink, but there have been sightings of red, yellow, blue and violet as well. The lights are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere.

The best viewing of the Aurora cycles every 11 years, with periods of heightened activity called a solar maximum. The lights come out most often between the months of August and April (of course, the farther you are from light pollution the better). Here are some countries that offer the best chance of seeing the celestial display: