Is there any travel bucket list that doesn’t include the Northern Lights? Hardly. Social media is jam-packed with photos of this spectacular show – and rightfully so! These shimmering strands of light are so beautiful, they can melt even the coldest of hearts.
However, you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to have a truly remarkable adventure. To see the northern lights in all its glory, you need to know when and where to go.
If you’ve been dreaming of catching a glimpse of it yourself, you’re in luck! This article is your guide to seeing the Aurora Borealis in 2023.
Below, we’ve listed 12 of the best places to view the northern lights. As a bonus, we’ve also mentioned some fun activities in and around the towns to help make your stay and experience memorable.
What causes the northern lights?
The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are caused by charged solar particles colliding with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. The solar wind is responsible for propelling these solar particles, primarily protons and electrons, toward Earth.
When these molecules collide, they emit a glow that forms dazzling, multicolored patterns in the night sky.
The colors of the Northern Lights depend on the type of molecule that is being struck, and the altitude at which the collision occurs. Nitrogen produces blue and purplish-red hues, whereas oxygen produces yellow, green, and red light.
When can you see the northern lights?
The best time to see the Northern Lights is usually between November and February, but they can be seen at any time of year. The most important factor for a successful sighting is a dark and clear sky. So pick a date close to a new moon when you plan your trip.
Moreover, pay close attention to space weather forecasts, because solar storms can cause the Northern Lights to become even more vibrant and likely. It’s worth checking for updates in the days leading up to your trip so you can adjust your plans.
- The best time of year to see the northern lights is during the winter months, from October to March, when the nights are longest.
- Clear skies, little or no moonlight, and cold temperatures can increase the chances of seeing the aurora.
- Check the aurora forecast before you go out to look for the northern lights.
- The strongest lights tend to appear between 9 PM and 2 AM, though the best sightings often occur between 11 PM and midnight.
Where to see the northern lights
If you want to see the northern lights, you’ll need to venture to regions near the Arctic or Antarctic Circle, where the aurora is most visible. So here are the world’s most remarkable locations for Northern Lights watching!
1. Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø, also referred to as “the Gateway to the Arctic,” is the largest city in northern Norway. It is one of the best places to see the northern lights in Europe. The best thing about Tromsø is that it has a lot to offer a tourist even when northern light activity is low.
If you’re planning a trip to Tromsø from December through March, we recommend staying the night at the 600m² Tromsø Ice Domes. This one-of-a-kind hotel is made entirely of ice and is located 95 kilometers outside of Tromsø.
The price of the overnight package includes transport, warm clothing, a guided snowshoe hike, traditional Norwegian cuisine in their beautifully sculpted restaurant, and more!
Take advantage of the fact that reindeer sledding is a fun and popular activity for visitors. You’ll hike up to their nature camp, where you’ll be treated to a three-course meal by the fire while watching the northern lights.
We recommend flying to Tromsø. There are ten flights a day from Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport to Tromsø’s Langnes Airport. First-time visitors will appreciate the airport’s proximity to the heart of the city (it’s about 5 km away).
Best time to see the northern lights In Tromsø, Norway
If you want to see the northern lights, you should travel to Tromsø in the months of December through March. During the winter months, it’s much darker, which helps with the light’s visibility.
If you’d love to visit the Tromsø Ice Domes, they’re only up and running from 10 December to 31 March. Outside of the winter season, the ice walls begin to thaw.
2. Ilulissat, Greenland
Ilulissat is a town completely surrounded by icebergs. It’s also one of Greenland’s best places to view the northern lights. The country has minimal pollution levels, which makes Greenland a beautiful destination if you want a unique way to tick the northern lights off your bucket list.
Ilulissat has a surprisingly wide range of activities to choose from. The kids will enjoy watching the whales spring out of the ocean or even dogsledding. If you want to explore the Ilulissat Icefjords, there are helicopter and boat tours for breathtaking views. Greenland expeditions and cruises offer a more adventurous way of exploring the area and seeing the northern lights.
Hotel Arctic is our favorite accommodation in Ilulissat and is the northernmost 4-star hotel. It has spectacular views, icebergs, and, even better, the northern lights. You can either choose to stay in a hotel room or cozy up in an igloo. There are free shuttles to and from town for you to explore outside the hotel. You can also indulge your taste buds at a restaurant serving up delicious traditional Greenlandic fare.
To travel to Ilulissat, there are flights from Iceland and Denmark that’ll fly via Kangerlussuaq. All flights within Greenland are direct flights. The airport is located 6 kilometers from the town center and only 3 kilometers from Hotel Arctic.
Best time to see the northern lights In Ilulissat, Greenland
Greenland’s northern lights season begins in September and lasts until April. That said, the lights may be more difficult to see during autumn due to the dynamic weather changes. Checking the forecast is essential for planning your trip and northern light gazing. The best time would be in November when the skies are darker and clearer.
3. Fairbanks, Alaska
Aside from Anchorage, Fairbanks is Alaska’s largest city. This location is ideal for viewing the northern lights because of the long winter nights and abundance of tours and activities.
Don’t let the cold temperatures ruin your northern lights experience. We recommend checking into the Chena Hot Springs Resort because it offers various activities to appeal to all ages. You can enjoy a tour of the world’s largest ice museum or even go on a dog sled tour for a new experience. To get a fantastic view of the northern lights, we recommend taking the Aurora Viewing Tour to get an unobstructed view that guarantees perfection.
From lodges to suites and cabins, your stay at the resort will be comfortable and warm. Camping and yurt options are available if you prefer to rough it up.
You can get to Fairbanks by plane, train, or car. For your convenience, flights from Anchorage and Seattle fly directly to Fairbanks International Airport. From there, you’ll need to travel for about an hour by bus or car to get to the Chena Hot Springs Resort.
Best time to see the northern lights in Fairbanks, Alaska
Fairbanks regularly experiences northern lights from the end of August to the end of April. The best time to see this phenomenon is between 10 pm and 3 am when it’s dark and clear. No need to worry if you feel it’s too late to stay up. If you’re staying in a hotel, you can request a phone call when the northern lights fill the night skies.
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks—Fairbanks’ official aurora season—is from late August to late April. Unfortunately, It’s too bright to see the aurora clearly in the summer months, thanks to the midnight sun.
4. Lapland, Finland
Finland’s Lapland is one of the most popular family vacation destinations to watch the northern lights. Located 250 kilometers north of the arctic circle, the Kakslauttanen Resort is a must-visit for families or those looking for a romantic getaway.
The resort offers various forms of accommodation. The most notable is their glass igloos, which offer a view of the lights from your bed. You can also enjoy the dancing northern lights while snuggling up with your significant other in their cozy log cabins, which will keep you warm from the elements outside. We recommend creating a cold-weather packing list to help beat the cold.
The Kakslauttanen Resort offers lots of activities for different tastes in the area. For the kids, you can pay a visit to Santa at his home. Try out husky hiking, ice fishing, skiing, or even snowboarding if you’re adventurous. If you want to take it a bit easy, visiting the sauna is a fantastic Finnish experience. Remember to try out that safari tour as well.
Even though the resort is located far to the north and far from almost everything, it’s easily accessible through a 30-minute drive from Ivalo International Airport. Take a flight with Finnair from Finland’s capital, Helsinki, to get there in no time. It also has a fantastic location close to the Finnish borders between Norway and Russia.
Best time to see the northern lights In Lapland, Finland
The northern lights visit the Finnish skies about 200 nights of the year. The best time to visit is from the end of August to April when the nights become darker. So ensure you plan your visit during the autumn, winter, and spring months to increase your chances.
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5. Svalbard, Norway
Norway has plenty of stunning areas to view the northern lights, and Svalbard is just one of those areas. Northern lights are visible in the skies above Svalbard for more than half the year. We recommend planning a trip from early September to early April.
Dog sled tours are a great way to experience the northern lights in Svalbard. You can sled out into the wilderness, where you can experience the magical light show in the company of enthusiastic dogs. A snowmobile tour into the mountains is another way to experience northern lights from a unique vantage point.
6. Yukon, Canada
Yukon is located in northwestern Canada and offers excellent opportunities for catching the northern lights in action. There are many tours available that can appeal to many different tastes. From viewing the rays of the north from a hot spring to staying in a cozy cabin, Yukon offers something for everyone.
Yukon is rich in cultural history. Guided tours are available to take you to remote cultural locations while viewing the northern lights. You’ll learn much about the culture and traditions of indigenous Canadian people. Be sure to dress warmly. Yukon can drop to temperatures of -22°F.
7. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye is a beautiful location in Scotland to view the Northern Lights. Its remote location and dark skies make its conditions ideal. Winter nights are longer and darker, making it the perfect setting for viewing the dancing lights in the night sky.
Finding the right view of the northern horizon is a great way to view the north’s lights. Some popular spots include Neist Point Lighthouse, Fairy Pools, and the Quiraing.
A guided tour can also take you to the best locations during your visit to the Isle of Skye.
8. Vik, Iceland
Vik is a small town located in the southern part of Iceland. With beautiful landscapes, including black sand beaches, volcanic mountains, and glacier lagoons, it’s a gorgeous place to photograph the aurora borealis.
A popular spot is the beaches of Reynisfjara. The black sand contrasts dramatically with the dancing lights in the sky. If you’re looking for a unique way to view the northern lights, consider taking a horseback riding tour. They’ll take you into the countryside, and you can experience the Northern Lights from the back of a gentle Icelandic horse.
Jukkasjärvi is a small village located in the far north of Sweden. The village is 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, where the northern lights are more common. One of the popular destinations in Jukkasjärvi is the Icehotel which is wholly made out of ice and snow. The hotel also offers northern lights tours, including a guide and warm clothing for comfort.
The Aurora Sky Station, located on top of Mount Nuolja, is another excellent location to view the northern lights. It’s equipped with an observatory and a restaurant with a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding landscapes and, of course, the lights of the north.
10. Saadjärv, Estonia
Saadjärv is a rural area located in southeastern Estonia. It’s situated in the forested area of Lake Saadjärv. It’s far from light pollution, making it a clear location to view the northern lights during the Estonian winter months.
The shores and forests around Lake Saadjärv create a fantastic backdrop for the luminous northern lights. The peaceful environment makes a relaxing getaway for visitors. Saadjärv is also close to the Vooremaa nature reserve, so there’s plenty to do there.
11. Murmansk, Russia
Murmansk is one of Russia’s most popular destinations for viewing the Northern Lights. The city is above the Arctic Circle, making it an ideal location for viewing the northern lights.
Murmansk is surrounded by stunning landscapes that offer several opportunities to see the Northern Lights. One of the best places to view the northern lights is Lake Lovozero, about 150 km east of Murmansk. The lake is surrounded by mountains and provides a picturesque backdrop to add to your experience.
12. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Those in the southern hemisphere can take advantage of the stunning southern lights, which are known as the aurora australis. Lake Tekapo is a small town located on the South Island of New Zealand. It’s a popular destination for stargazing and viewing the southern lights during the winter months of March through to September.
Lake Tekapo is easily accessible by car or bus from several major cities, including Christchurch and Queenstown. The town has several tour operators that offer guided tours for stargazing and viewing the stunning green, pink, purple, and red hues of the Aurora Australis.
FAQs about watching the Northern Lights
How do you photograph the Northern Lights?
To photograph the northern lights, you need a camera with a manual mode. You must be able to manually control the f-stop, the shutter speed, and the ISO. A full-frame camera like the Sony A7R Mark IV will take pictures with a lot less noise and much better quality than a crop sensor camera. That’s what we use.
How long do Northern Lights last?
The Northern Lights can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. They may only appear for a few minutes, fade, then reappear a while later. A good display may last for 15-30 minutes, although it can sometimes extend for a couple of hours or more.
Are the Northern Lights dangerous?
The Northern Lights are not harmful to humans or infrastructure under normal circumstances. However, during intense solar storms, the particles that cause the Northern Lights can interfere with power grids, communication systems, and satellites.
What should I wear to see the Northern Lights?
When viewing the Northern Lights, wear warm layers, a hat, gloves, and sturdy boots. Avoid cotton and tight-fitting clothing. Opt for loose-fitting, breathable fabrics instead. Bring hand warmers, foot warmers, and a warm blanket or sleeping bag for extended viewing sessions.
What else can I do while waiting to see the Northern Lights?
While waiting for the Northern Lights, you can go on guided tours, take photographs, stargaze, try winter sports, or relax in a Finnish sauna or hot spring.
The northern lights appear mostly between 5 pm and 2 am, so you can plan your activities accordingly. To make sure you don’t miss the show, book a northern lights tour for the most up-to-date info about where to look and what times will be best.
We hope this guide has given you more insight into when and where to see the beautiful spectacle of the Northern Lights. Have a wonderful time … and happy viewing!