Top 10 places to see the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights is on many people’s bucket list for a good reason and not everyone in the world is fortunate enough to see them even when they try due to a number of factors (time of year, weather, etc)
With careful planning and a little bit of luck, be prepared to be amazed by this spectacular light show as streaks of green, purple and pink dance & swirl across the sky. Photos don’t do this wonder justice so make sure you experience it for yourself.
What are the Northern Lights?
The ‘Northern Lights’ or ‘aurora borealis’ is one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world. The dazzling celestial display of ever changing colours is most commonly seen in the northern hemisphere (hence, northern lights). Aurora borealis, another common name, is named after the Roman Goddess of dawn.
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
Seeing the Northern Lights is completely unpredictable. People often say they are ‘chasing’ the Northern Lights and that’s because there is a chance you might not see it, which is what makes it a once in a lifetime experience for many. Even if you do see it, sometimes they aren’t as bright as you’ve seen in photos or appear more grayish to the naked eye.
To increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, plan your travel around clear skies and little or no moonlight. The northern lights occur year round but they’re best seen in Winter and Spring, between December and April. This is because you need darkness in order to see these spectacular lights & summertime often means less darkness. You will also want clear skies and winter and spring are often less cloudy than fall, but of course this also depends on the country you plan on visiting.
The best time of day to watch the sky is between 10 pm and 2 am, although active periods can occur anytime it is dark out. Active periods are typically about 30 minutes long and occur every two hours, if activity is high. The best way to find this out is by keeping tabs on a short-term aurora forecast in the area you are in.
What to pack
- Winter gear - Some hotels may provide guides with a thermal suit and boots
- Waterproof jacket with plenty of warm thermal layers
- Swimming gear for the hot tub
- Camera & Tripod
- Make sure to test out your camera settings beforehand and bring an extra battery - you won’t want to miss capturing these breathtaking views. Visit PetaPixel’s post for tips on photography the northern light.
Where to see the Northern Lights
There are many places around the world you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights. Where you choose to go will depend on your budget and what activities you want to enjoy when you are not staring up at the night sky hoping to catch a glimpse of the lights.
If you’ve seen photos of people watching the northern lights while laying in glass domed igloos, it was probably in Finland. Finland offers many unique lodging options to see the lights while escaping the cold - some accommodations even have an ‘Aurora Alarm’ that beeps whenever the northern lights appear. When you’re not spending time in your glass igloo or watching the lights, you can spend the day snowshoe hiking .
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland: Luosto, Nellim, Utsjoki, Ivalo, Kakslauttanen
Abisko has developed a reputation for being the No. 1 aurora watching destination on the planet due to the fact that it is located in a very special microclimate with less precipitation than any other location on Earth. Sweden also offers many interesting sights to take in during the day as you wait for the perfect moment to take in the aurora.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Sweden: Abisko, Jukkasjärvi, Tärendö, Swedish Lapland
Iceland is one of the most affordable and accessible places to see the Northern Lights and is becoming increasingly more popular. Not only can you see the Northern Lights from here, this country offers plenty of other landscapes to explore from geysers, to volcanoes and lagoons.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland: : Þingvellir National Park, Reykjavik
Norway is a popular destination to see the northern lights and there are many tours and English-speaking people who are willing to take you out to see the lights. Tromso is one of the top destinations to view the lights as it’s located above the Arctic Circle.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Norway: Tromsø, Alta, Svalbard, Finnmark
Greenland is situated ideally within the Aurora Zone, which allows you to see the northern lights from most parts of this country. Other activities you can participate in include: dog sledding and sailing between the icebergs
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Greenland: Kulusuk, Ammassalik
If you are based in North America, Canada may be an easier place to get to to see the Northern Lights and is one of the best places in the world to see the lights. When you are not chasing the Northern Lights, you can participate in many winter activities such as snowshoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling and skiing/snowboarding.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Canada: Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba
Many travelers from all over the world travel to Alaska to see the beautiful display of lights. Take advantage of the many other winter experiences this beautiful and remote place has to offer, such as snowmobiling, dogsledding, skitting, festivals and sporting events.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska: Fairbanks, Denali, Anchorage, Nome, Barrow
Russia is one of the lesser known locations for seeing the Northern Lights. Many individuals find it more challenging to and find the below freezing temperatures unbearable but Murmansk enjoys over 40 days of uninterrupted night, making it one of the world’s best destinations to see the lights. When you aren’t chasing the lights, enjoy skiing or dog sledding.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Russia: Murmansk (Kola Peninsula), Arkhangelsk, Naryan-Mar, Novaya Zemlya
Scotland offers one of the most wondrous views of the northern lights and the northern reaches of Scotland offers better chances of spotting the ‘Mirrie Dancers’. One thing to make note of is that the British Isles are known for stormy, foggy and cloudy weather, which may make it harder to see the amazing display of lights but when the cloud covers break during the darker winter months, you’ll have a good chance of witnessing the lights.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Scotland: Aberdeen, Isle of Skye, Northern Highlands, Dunnet Head
Denmark can also offer spectacular sightings of the lights when the weather cooperates. The weather often mimics the British Isles so there is a higher probability of encountering stormy and cloudy weather.
Best places to see the Northern Lights in Denmark: All islands within the Faroe Islands archipelago