8 best places to see the Northern Lights that are nothing short of magic
Watch nature outdo itself from these high-activity spots.
The Northern Lights or aurora borealis is one of those natural phenomenons that perpetually finds itself on bucket lists. There’s something about that colour as it creeps over the horizon, travelling like smoke over your head, all the while dancing to the midnight silence that takes your breath away.
Caused by collisions between electrically-charged particles from the sun as they enter our atmosphere, mother nature’s light display occurs in the north and south polar regions. In the south it’s called the aurora australis, but unlike in the north, there are less accessible places you can capture it from. Indian Ocean sailing trip, anyone?
So for a greater chance of setting eyes on this beauty of the night, these are the spots where activity is frequent, bright and magical.
Welcoming the lights 200 nights per year and boasting a consistently cloudless climate, increase your chances of seeing the lights by making Finland your destination of choice.
On top of the light, Finland’s Lapland is also home to Santa Claus and some of the most luxurious Arctic accommodation in the world. They come in the form of igloos with glass roofs to let you spy the lights from your bedroom. Like you needed another excuse to go to Finland.
- Top viewing locations: Luosto, Lake Inari, Kakslauttanen, Rovaniemi, Oulanka National Park, Nellim, Utsjoki and Ivalo.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Lapland Northern Lights Adventure from Rovaniemi
Housed within the Arctic Circle, the northern tip of Norway is not only one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s also one of the best to catch that sought-after light display.
While many stop to see the lights at Tromso (probably because it’s one of the final stops on the Hurtigruten cruise), for an exceptional experience try Svalbard. This island experiences Polar Night, a natural phenomenon that occurs during winter when daylight is replaced by a perpetual bluish twilight. This also means you can see the lights during the day.
- Top viewing locations: Tromso, Alta, Svalbard, Hammerfest, Honningsvåg and Finnmark.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Northern Lights and Arctic Circle by Rail
Chase the lights from one end of the island to the next amidst a captivating backdrop of volcanoes, waterfalls, hot-springs and geysers in Iceland.
Completely encased within the Arctic Circle, Iceland boasts one of the most idyllic locations for Northern Lights activity. It also offers an astounding landscape and, like Finland, offers bookable glass igloo accommodation for that uber spesh occasion.
- Top viewing locations: Þingvellir National Park and anywhere outside of major towns.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Northern Lights Premium Tour from Reykjavík
Above a yawning stretch of lake in Abisko National Park is where you’ll find the clearest night sky – no matter what the weather in the surrounding areas is like.
The unique microclimate of Abisko in Swedish Lapland is something of a local treasure. Surrounded by a bowl of mountains, the town rarely experiences inclement weather as the mountains protect it from cloud and rain, creating a patch of clear sky fondly referred to as the “blue hole over Abisko”. Even if there are clouds, the area’s prevailing winds quickly disperse them giving you that pitch-black sky for that picture-perfect borealis.
- Top viewing locations: Abisko National Park, Swedish Lapland and Kiruna.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Aurora Borealis photo tour in Abisko National Park
Grab your Jeep and go rogue hunting the lights in Canada’s backcountry. Go on, you know you want to.
The vast country of Canada offers more than a handful of outposts where you can camp out to see the lights. As a general rule, stay away from the east as it receives the most cloud coverage.
- Top viewing locations: Yukon Territory, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Calgary and Manitoba.
- Top Northern Lights tour: 4-Day Northern Lights Tour in Whitehorse from Vancouver
Heading north as early as September? You can see the lights from Greenland at the same time. True story.
Greenland sits in the Arctic Circle so the window of opportunity to see the Northern Lights from this island wonder is quite large. Revellers in Greenland have been known to catch some light action as early as September to as late as April.
- Top viewing locations: Anywhere outside of major towns such as Kulusuk and Ammassalik.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Arctic Express: Greenland’s Northern Lights
You’ll be green with envy when you hear that residents of Fairbanks in Alaska tend to see the lights eight in every 10 nights of the season.
Fairbanks is one of the most urban locations where the lights prance about and tease the night sky. Those looking for something to do in the day can visit the Museum of the North or get cultured with a native Alaska tour.
- Top viewing locations: Anywhere from Fairbanks upward. This includes Talkeetna and Anchorage.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Northern Lights Viewing including Dog Sledding
Image: Nord Tours
Brave the Siberian winter and you may well be rewarded with a stellar performance by the Northern Lights.
Russian winters are anything but mild, but if you’re willing to bundle up you’ll be one of the few who make the trek to this snap-cold country to wonder at the aurora borealis. Like others who have gone before you, we suggest you base yourself somewhere just within the Arctic Circle like Kola Peninsula and drive north by night to chase those elusive colours.
- Top viewing locations: Kola Peninsula, Siberia and Murmansk.
- Top Northern Lights tour: Hunting the Northern Lights on Kola Peninsula.
When’s the best time to see the Northern Lights?
While the Northern Lights are constantly happening, sometimes you may not be able to see them due to low activity, too much light or too much cloud cover. The best time to see the lights then is in winter on a clear night.
5 hot tips to increase your chances of seeing the lights
- Keep up to date with the activity: There’s a wealth of online sites that track aurora borealis activity. This includes Aurora Forecast for Europe and Aurora Service for North America. They can tell you how strong activity is, where activity is at the moment and forecast activity in coming days.
- Get inside the Arctic Circle: We’ve been harping on about this for a bit, but for the most part the best place to see activity is in the Arctic Circle. Generally, the closer you are to the poles the better the activity. This being said, in the past the lights have been seen just below the Arctic Circle, so you really can’t predict where they’ll appear.
- Get outta town: Light pollution can hamper the ability to view the lights. Head as far from towns as possible where the night is black and the skies are clear.
- Keep your hopes up: Sometimes a downright chase will get you there, other times you may wake up in the middle of the night, open the blinds and find those babies dancing around you. Don’t give up hope and constantly look out for them on the horizon. You never know when they may make a brief appearance.
- Join a chasing tour: Look for a tour that guarantees you’ll see the lights. These will keep driving until you see something. If you don’t, they tend to give you another night for free.
Hot deals on Northern Lights tours
Feature image: Peregrine Adventures
Ask an Expert