For the best view of the solar spectacle of the year, Svalbard eclipsed the Faroe Islands.

Sky-gazers in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard popped champagne corks, "oohed" and "aahed" as they witnessed a total solar eclipse Friday under perfect weather conditions.

A clear sky over the Arctic islands offered a full view of the sun's corona — a faint ring of rays surrounding the moon — that is only visible during a total eclipse.

"I was just blown away. I couldn't believe it," said Hilary Castle, a 58-year-old visitor from London.

Meanwhile, a blanket of clouds blocked thousands of people from experiencing the full effect in the Faroes in the North Atlantic — the only other place on land where the eclipse was total. About 20,000 visitors had travelled to the two island groups to watch the spectacle.

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Schoolchildren wear solar viewing glasses as they try to see a partial solar eclipse in London on Friday. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

"Well it was very close," said Fred Espenak, a retired NASA scientist visiting the Faroe Islands. "If the eclipse had been 25 minutes later, it would have been fantastic. But the clouds ruined it for us. So I'm very disappointed."

A solar eclipse happens when the moon lines up between the sun and the Earth. This casts a lunar shadow on the Earth's surface and obscures the sun. During a partial eclipse, only part of the sun is blotted out.

In the northern Faroes, Sigrun Skalagard said birds went silent and dogs started howling when the daylight suddenly disappeared.

"Some people were surprised to see how fast it became dark," she said.

The total eclipse lasted for 2 minutes and 45 seconds in the Faroes.

In Svalbard, less than 980 kilometres from the North Pole, a few hundred people had gathered on a flat frozen valley overlooking the mountains, and people shouted and yelled as the sudden darkness came. A group of people opened bottles of champagne, saying it was in keeping with a total solar eclipse tradition.

'Fabulous' and 'too short'

"It was just fabulous, just beautiful and at the same time a bit odd and it was too short," said Mary Rannestad, 60, from Minnesota.

The bad news for most Canadians is that they didn't get to see the total solar eclipse, although there was small chance some St. John's residents could sneak a glimpse.

A partial solar eclipse could be seen across Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. Britain's Met Office said 95 percent of the sun was covered in the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetland Islands, and one percent less further south in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Cloudy weather put a lid across large parts of the continent, making it hard to see the eclipse. However, a thin cloud cover allowed people in Stockholm to watch the eclipse without protective glasses, as the faint disk of the sun could be seen through the overcast sky.

APTOPIX Norway Europe Solar Eclipse

The total solar eclipse is seen from Svalbard, Norway, on Friday. An eclipse darkened parts of Europe, though thousands of skygazers in the Faroe Islands expecting to experience the full effect were let down. (Haakon Mosvold Larsen, NTB Scanpix/Associated Press)

Across Europe, people were warned against looking directly at the sun — but that wasn't the only hazard. In Switzerland police said a 49-year-old man in the eastern town of Baar was taken to a hospital with a suspected broken leg after falling off a roughly 50-centimetres  high ramp as he watched the eclipse.

In Germany, a world leader in solar power, fears that the flood of sunshine after the eclipse would overload the system never materialized.

"We are very relieved," Dirk Biermann, head of 50Hertz, one of Germany's four transmission system operators for electricity, told the dpa news agency. "Everything worked out wonderfully."

The total solar eclipse coincided with the spring equinox, one of two occasions each year when the day is equal in length to the night.

The eclipse also occurred as the moon passed at its closest point to the Earth in its orbit, adding its gravitational pull on the ocean to create stronger tides. The effect was most noticeable in the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada — known for one of the highest tidal ranges in the world — and outside Saint Malo in northwestern France, said Michael Quaade, a Copenhagen University astronomer.

The last total eclipse was in November 2012 over Australia. The next one will be over Indonesia in March 2016, according to NASA.