12 Best Places to See the Northern Lights
The spectacle of the northern lights is one of the most stunning and sought-after travel experiences on Earth. Perhaps it is because of the phenomenal display of swirling colors dancing in the dark night sky produced by particles and molecules that clash in the far reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. Or maybe the fascination with the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, is because so many factors have to align for it to be visible, and even when it is, it is a small window of opportunity before it will happen again.
Whatever your reason for wanting to see the northern lights, there is no disputing that the opportunity to see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world is a life-changing experience.
Narrow down your options, with our list of the best places to see the northern lights around the world.
1. Abisko, Sweden
The town of Abisko, Sweden is one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. Besides its prime location on the northern reaches of the Earth, the viewing window is longer, giving you more travel options.
The viewing opportunities in Abisko run from September to April, but during the narrower window, from October through March, you can catch them almost every night.
The darkness in the Abisko skies makes it possible to see blends of colors, like green, purple, blue, red, and yellow in a concert of activity overhead.
While it is possible to catch a glimpse of the northern lights from outside your hotel or just away from the city, you are better off heading to the Abisko National Park or the nearby Kiruna Mountains, which are two easy bases for viewing. You can also take a trip up to the Aurora Sky Station for viewing, as its elevation gives you a clear view of the sky because there is little light pollution.
There are many tours offered in Abisko because it is so popular for northern lights viewing, so you can book one to make sure you get in the right place at the right time.
For a little something extra for your trip, you can look for package deals that include a stay at an ice hotel or wildlife viewing along with your northern lights experience.
2. Tromso, Norway
The city of Tromsø is the largest in Norway, so you might not think the light conditions would be optimal for viewing, but it is one of the best locations for seeing the northern lights.
Tromsø is uniquely situated on the auroral oval, where there are optimal conditions of solar wind and interplanetary magnetic fields that give this location the highest probability for travelers to see the light display. It helps that during the winter months there is only a few hours of daylight, so the window of total darkness is longer.
Since Tromsø is popular for northern lights viewing, you will find lots of tour options that range from boat cruises to dog sledding trips that you can combine with your experience.
The northern lights are most visible during a window of time every 27 days, which has to do with the sun's proximity to the Earth as it rotates. It is best to review the northern lights outlook for the region before you book your hotel and tours.
If you want to stay just outside the city, the village of Ersfjorden is another more rural option just a short drive away in the countryside.
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- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tromsø
3. Yukon, Canada
The western Canadian territory of Yukon is a great destination to plan a northern lights viewing trip. You can see the lights from August to mid-April in the Yukon region, which encompasses Whitehorse and many small communities, so there is a wide range of options for lodging, tours, and activities.
As with other popular northern lights destinations there are plenty of tour options in the region. Take advantage of some of the offers from local lodges, or book your trip with another experience, like snowmobiling into the Yukon wilderness.
During your Yukon trip, plan some time to visit the Northern Lights Center, located in Watson Lake, where you can learn more scientific information about the lights. There are interactive exhibits and a theater that provides some background to the aurora borealis events in the area.
4. Jokulsarlon, Iceland
It is possible to catch the northern lights in Iceland in most of the regions, but your best bet is to stay outside of Reykjavik and head into the remote southern regions, where skies are darkest, like at the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon.
The lagoon is a stunning natural location, with boat trips that you can take through the floating icebergs, but it is an ideal location for viewing the northern lights as it is in the far southeast corner of the country.
While Iceland is known for its opportunities to see the lights there are also many weather conditions that can disrupt your chances for viewing. Rain, snow, and cloudy conditions are all factors, even during the best viewing window from September to April. For this reason it is best to plan a few extra days in Iceland to optimize your chances. You can always plan an excursion to the Blue Lagoon or take a glacier trek to fill the extra time.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Iceland
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- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Iceland
5. Fairbanks, Alaska
The northern lights viewing in Fairbanks, Alaska is renowned. You can see the lights from late August through mid-April, and the region offers many kinds of ways to enjoy the experience.
Fairbanks sits in the auroral oval and has clear nights, so it comes with the highest probability for viewing, an important factor in planning a destination because the lights depend so much on the mix of conditions. During the viewing window in Fairbanks, it is possible to see the northern lights four out of every five nights.
It can get quite cold in Fairbanks as you set out to view the night light show, but there are many heated lodges, cabins, and hot tubs available to enhance your comfort during the experience. You can certainly set out to view the lights on your own, and almost every hotel offers a courtesy alert during the overnight hours if the lights are visible in the sky. You can also take a tour.
Fairbanks has gotten creative with tours, like night ice-fishing and snow cat tours that include northern lights experiences.
- Read More:
- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Alaska
6. Lapland, Finland
The northern lights are possible to see from almost anywhere in Finland but your best bet is to stay in the northern Lapland region. Your chances for seeing the northern lights in Finland are so great that they average viewings about 200 nights during the year.
Some of the best northern cities to consider are Rovaniemi, Kittilä, and the mountainous town of Saariselkä. Places like Kemi have glass villa lodging available, so you can see the lights right from your bedroom.
There are two national parks in Finland that are popular for aurora borealis viewing because they are away from the cities. Phyä-Luosto National Park and Oulanka National Park are great places to visit if you are planning to go on your own. You can also monitor the All-Sky Camera from the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory to see the current aurora borealis viewing conditions.
7. Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
If you are heading to Greenland, you will have to go through Kangerlussuaq since it has the only international airport. This makes it an easy location for viewing the northern lights because you can fly into and stay in the city. The northern lights have been recorded in Kangerlussuaq up to 300 nights a year. So, the odds are in your favor in Greenland.
Optimal viewing in Greenland is from September through April because there is very little light pollution. Compared to some other destinations, the opportunities are so great that you can be almost certain of seeing the aurora borealis during a three or four night stay in Greenland during the peak viewing window.
There are many tour opportunities that you can take to enhance your visit to Greenland, like combining the northern lights viewing with an iceberg trip, dog-sledding excursion, or a visit to a native settlement.
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- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Greenland
8. Churchill, Canada
If you are looking to catch the northern lights, heading to a destination like Churchill, Canada, where the aurora borealis makes an appearance almost 300 nights a year, gives you a phenomenal chance to see them. Hardcore northern lights pursuers can also plan some time at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to learn about northern lights photography and research. This is where astronomers from around the world come to study this phenomenon.
The best time to plan a night sky trip to Churchill is from January through March when there is the most activity. Because the northern lights viewing is so popular in Churchill, you can plan a unique trip by combining a polar bear experience or reserving an Aurora Dome, a plexiglass dome that enables you to view the night sky from the comfort of a modern igloo.
9. Scottish Highlands
While the Scottish Highlands is most known for Loch Ness sightings, it is a remote northern area in the country that also has outstanding opportunities to see the northern lights.
Scotland is on the same latitude as Alaskan and Scandinavian towns that have optimal northern positions for the lights, so that is why viewing is great in the Highlands, although not as popular as other destinations.
In Scotland, they call the northern lights "Mirrie Dancers," and the remote Highlands provide minimal light pollution, with dark skies that make for great viewing.
One of the best places to see the northern lights in Scotland is at Cairngorms National Park, which is the largest national park in the country. Another top spot is the Galloway Forest Park, the only place in Scotland where you will find a designated Dark Sky Park. Some other top viewing locations are Shetland, Angus, Lewis, and Aberdeenshire.
10. Svalbard, Norway
There are several great places in Norway to view the northern lights, and Svalbard tops the list. Svalbard is actually a series of islands in between Norway and the North Pole, so it has some of the darkest skies in the world to welcome the vibrant colors of the aurora borealis.
Since there is constant darkness on the islands between November and February, you can watch for the light show even during the daytime hours, which improves your chances even more.
Planning a northern lights trip to Svalbard is not for the timid traveler. Be aware that while the northern lights viewing will be spectacular, you will be in rugged wilderness. For some, the untouched beauty of this region adds to the appeal of the trip.
While the targeted months for a visit are November through February, during the fringe months of this window, at the end of February and in October, you can also witness the blue Arctic light that is present on the islands.
11. Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania might not spring to mind when you are thinking about traveling to see the northern lights, but Cherry Springs State Park sits in a unique location that makes it great for viewing opportunities. You might consider this location if some of the more distant countries and viewing areas are out of reach for you.
Cherry Springs State Park sits away from the large cities in Pennsylvania, and conservation efforts have enabled the park to maintain the dark sky, making it a destination for astronomers and night sky viewers.
The park is a designated Dark Sky Park in North America, meaning that it provides exceptional night sky viewing. The park often holds public educational and viewing events. There are rules for lights in the park, including headlights and flashlights that can impact viewing. The northern lights can often be seen in the park during the winter, and the stargazing is fantastic year-round.
12. Yellowknife, Canada
Bundle up your layers and your parka for northern lights viewing in Yellowknife, Canada. The experience is rustic and remote, and its latitude makes it a prime viewing location about 240 nights a year.
The best times to head to Yellowknife for the aurora borealis is from mid-August through September, and November through April. While you can plan a trip to Yellowknife to see the lights on your own, you are best advised to take a tour, often called an aurora chasing tour.
One of the best places to experience the lights in Yellowknife is from the Aurora Village, which is popular with tourists. It is a village of teepees where you can relax and stay warm as you wait for the light show. You have the comfort of wood-burning stoves and warm drinks with a community of people who are all there for the same reason. You should plan on spending at least three nights there for the best chance to see the lights in case the skies are cloudy.
What to know before you plan a northern lights trip:
While there is never a guarantee of seeing the northern lights, you can up your chances as you plan your trip by understanding some basics about the conditions that are necessary to see them. This makes the most of your time and money while at your destination. In order to visibly see the aurora borealis, weather conditions have to be just right, with dark skies and no cloud cover.
The best months to see the lights are between December and April, during the times of 10pm and 2am, and you should plan your trip around the new moon for the optimal chance to see them.
Locations in the most northern regions of the Earth are the best places to see the Northern Lights. Most Scandinavian countries will have optimal viewing. Some locations like Iceland, while ideal for viewing events, might require staying an extra few days because the northern lights are hit and miss due to more frequent cloud cover.
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Exploring Iceland and Greenland: The attractions in Iceland are also worth a few extra days of your time to see waterfalls and try glacial treks and soaking in the public thermal pools. Plan a road trip and drive the Ring Road.
If you head to Greenland for your viewing, be sure to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ilulissat Ice-fjord and the ancient Eskimo settlement of Sermermiut.