One of the world’s most dazzling natural phenomenons, few travel experiences can top witnessing the Northern Lights. Also known as Aurora Borealis, this is mother nature’s most impressive light show, and something almost every traveler has at the top of their bucketlist. Where to see the Northern lights.
“Created by solar winds interacting with charged particles in the earth’s magnetic field, the lights appear as otherworldly streaks of green, red, yellow and purple dancing across the arctic skies. Countries lying in the far-northern latitudes are most likely to catch the spectacle, which occurs predominantly between late September and late March, often close to midnight.”
Though you may not have to travel as remotely as you think in order to catch a glimpse. While most of the following destinations are close to the Arctic, you can often expect sightings as far south as the United Kingdom, or, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, catch the equally as impressive Southern Lights in Australia instead. Where to see the Northern lights in Europe.
It’s important to note that there is no exact science to seeing the Northern Lights, and that there’s never any guarantee. Though from the northernmost fjords of Norway to the snow-enveloped wilderness of Alaska, here are some of your best bets. Where to go to see the Northern lights.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights
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As far as making your way north goes, you can’t get much further north than Svalbard. This is a spit of land and ice tucked away far to the north of Norway next to Greenland in the Arctic Ocean. The Northern Lights make appearances here from November through February, though between mid-November to the end of January travelers can experience an additional natural phenomenon: the Polar Night. Where to see the Northern lights in Norway.
The Polar Night refers to the three months Svalbard goes without daylight. This perpetual eerie blue twilight means you have the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, though do keep in mind that you have better chances of spotting wildlife like reindeer, walrus and polar bears after this lifts (ie when you can see). Best places in Norway to see the Northern lights.
British Airways offers flights to Oslo from the UK, and from there you can catch a flight to Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen. Fun fact: this is the world’s northernmost town. Where can the Northern lights be seen?
Other destinations in Norway for catching the Northern Lights include Tromsø, Alta, and Finnmark. where is the aurora borealis seen?
Greenland is the final frontier for many travelers, and while its icy interior is the optimal location for viewing the Northern Lights, you can see them from most parts of the country. The south and east are more accessible, and great viewing locations include Kulusuk and Ammassalik. See Northern lights in Greenland.
Fun fact: Greenland’s Inuit population believed the lights came from spirits of ancestors playing soccer with the skull of a walrus.
Finland is one of the best and most accessible countries for viewing the Northern Lights, with them making an appearance about 200 nights per year (of course I happened to travel to Finland on one of the 165 days they didn’t show!). Where to see the Northern lights in Finland.
And when in Finland, you don’t even have to get out of bed; at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finnish Lapland, you can Aurora gaze from the comfort of your own glass igloo. At the Hotel Aurora in Luosto you’ll be handed an “Aurora Alarm” upon arrival that beeps whenever the northern lights appear. (The Northern Lights Research Center in the nearby town of Sodanklya relays the signal to the hotel.) When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
Though if you do enjoy the outdoors there are plenty of unique ways to view the lights too. Join a reindeer safari or a dog sled tour through the wilderness one night, or rent some walking skis to explore the National Parks the next.
The best viewing locations in Finland for the Northern lights are Luosto, Nellim, Utsjoki, Ivalo, Kakslauttanen. Where to go in Finland to see the Northern Lights.
The best places to view the Northern Lights in Sweden are Kiruna, Abisko, and. Swedish Lapland. The village of Jukkasjärvi in the Kiruna region is particularly popular with tourists, as every year 100 + artisans meticulously create the Ice hotel, using ice harvested from the Torne River here in Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle. The Northern Lights suite has a light installation mimicking the natural wonder. Best places to see the Northern Lights in Sweden.
Northern Lights tours leave from Jukkasjärvi by night, and you can head out on snowmobiles, chairlifts, or even by horseback. And it’s absolutely possible to see the Northern Lights in Sweden on a budget.
When the Northern Lights hit Iceland (late September to early April) you can see them throughout most of the country. Though it’s best to make your way out of the city limits and into the countryside for the least amount of light pollution. Head to Þingvellir National Park for some really spectacular views; this is a UNESCO Heritage Site where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet to cause a rift valley. Places to see the Northern lights in Iceland.
“Closer to Reykjavik, the Ion Hotel’s Northern Lights Bar features dimmed lighting and wraparound windows, so guests can watch the aurora inside, with drinks in hand.” If you’re considering the trip to Greenland, you can fly there from Reykjavik. Where to go in Iceland to see the Northern Lights.
Alaska & Northern Canada
For those traveling through North America, the best places to see the Northern Lights include Calgary, Ontario, Yukon Territory, and Manitoba in Northern Canada, and Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Denali in Alaska.
Manitoba, Canada, is a particularly terrific spot for viewing the northern lights, as it experiences aurora activity more than 300 nights per year. In Churchill, Canada, you can watch the lights dance over a family of polar bears from the comfort of your mobile sleeper car.
Those in Alaska can use the University of Alaska’s aurora forecast to help schedule your viewing trip. As with Iceland, you’ll find better viewing the further you are away from city lights. While the lights can sometimes be seen from the US / Canada border, it’s best to stick to the wilderness for front-row seats.
Scotland, United Kingdom
The northern lights in Scotland are known by a distinctively more British name: the Merry Dancers. They appear in the U.K. during autumn and winter, and can sometimes be seen as far south as England’s Kent and East Anglia. But your best bet is to head for the northernmost parts of the Highlands or the Shetland Islands in January. Does Scotland get the Northern Lights?
The best locations in Scotland for viewing the Northern Lights are Aberdeen, Isle of Skye, Northern Highlands, and Dunnet Head. Sign up for the AuroraWatch UK before you go for text alerts about viewing conditions so that you never miss a sighting. Can I see the Northern Lights in Scotland?
Tasmania for the Southern Lights
The Northern Lights get all the press, though Australia has a natural light show which is just as spectacular. The Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) are elusive, and as such a sighting is incredibly rare, though one of the world’s most impressive spectacles where brilliant luminescent light dances across the night sky, it’s definitely worth attempting to time your visit to Tasmania to align with the Southern Lights. Where to see southern lights. Australia’s southern lights.
Theoretically speaking September is usually the best time for viewing the Southern Lights, and you can track them on smart phone applications like Star Walk (an interactive astronomy guide), by watching real-time maps via Aurora Forecast or by joining the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group which has postings of real-time alerts. Where are the Southern lights?
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Photo credits: Pinterest Image & Finnish Lapland photos by Visit Finland. Northern lights in Norway by Tor Even Mathisen. Northern lights in Sweden by Tor Even Mathisen. Northern lights in Iceland by 杰一 陈. Northern lights camping by Jason Ahrns. Polar Bear by Emma. Northern Lights Alaska by Beverly.