Set your alarm because it’s time to witness one of Earth’s most beautiful night sky phenomena: Aurora Borealis, or the northern lights. Cross off this bucket-list experience at the world’s best places to see the Northern Lights. Discover all the best ways to see and experience these colorful dancing lights, from once-in-a-lifetime tours to unique accommodations to wintertime excursions.
What are the Northern Lights
No filters are needed—the northern lights are even more impressive in person than in photos! These unusual lights appear in the sky when charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with its atoms. The result is brilliant hues of greens, reds, blues, violets, and pinks that seem to dance in the sky.
As the name suggests, these lights are only located in the Northern Hemisphere (the Southern Hemisphere has its own natural light phenomena called the Aurora Australis. The closer to the North Pole, the more vibrant the lights appear—especially in an imaginary region called the Auroral Oval.
The best places to see the Northern Lights share three characteristics:
- High aurora borealis activity
- Clear skies
- Long, dark nights
Here are our picks for destinations around the world that have all three!
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska: August to April
Did you know that some parts of Alaska experience dark skies for two consecutive months of the year? Aurora Season twinkles over the Last Frontier with the perfect conditions for spotting the lights: long, dark nights.
City dwellers can spot the lights above Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city, up to 240 nights per year. Nature lovers can venture into the six-million-acre wilderness of Denali National Park for illuminated skies over glacier peaks. Warm up the cold night in the 106° F thermal waters of Chena Hot Springs and watch the colors dance across the ice sky. Explore the rural stateside at Borealis Basecamp for a remote viewing experience in geodesic igloos designed with clear tops—don’t worry, they have heat! For something more luxurious, you can even find Northern Lights viewing cruises.
Enjoy 2-3 days of anticipation to see the lights in true Alaskan hospitality. Stay overnight in natural igloos outfitted for viewing guests, camp out in luxurious yurts, or find tours with transfers from hotels in Fairbanks. You never know which day you’ll see the lights. Pass the time with activities like skiing, dog sledding, and snowshoe hiking.
See the northern lights at Chena Hot Springs with an Aurora Borealis private tour.
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland: September to April
Beautiful hues of green and turquoise lights reflecting off Iceland’s frozen terrain is a one-of-a-kind view. It’s why this country is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Iceland’s northern, remote location gives you tons of sites where you can see the lights.
Dress warm and head to locations in Iceland within the Auroral Oval for the best chance at seeing the lights. The capital and largest city, Reykjavik, is home to 60% of the island’s entire population. While there’s always a chance to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis dancing over the Hallgrimskirkja or from the Blue Lagoon, a short drive out of town (away from light pollution) reveals their true spectacle.
Visit Vatnajökull National Park for a viewing experience at Jokulsarlon Lagoon. See the colors hanging above the Golden Circle in the Thingvellir National Park. Stand on the Ytri Tonga Beach on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula for the natural phenomenon views over the Atlantic Ocean. Tours take you to other natural landmarks for excellent photo opportunities at Asbyrgi Canyon and Mount Kirkufell.
If you’re visiting Iceland to see the aurora borealis, choose tours that let you participate on additional nights if you don’t see them on your first try.
Spot the northern lights during our Iceland Winter Wonders Hiking Tour of the Snarfellsnes Peninsula.
Best time to see Northern Lights in Sweden: September to March
Sweden is a Nordic destination full of natural beauty. As impressive as its landscapes are, it’s the natural sky marvels that will truly take your breath away. Immerse yourself in nature at some of Sweden’s top spots to see the northern lights.
Witness wispy swathes of vermillion and indigo lights suspended in the sky nightly in Sweden’s northernmost region. The Lapland region also includes nearly a quarter of Sweden’s land area dominated by vast arctic wilderness. Tour the alpine region in Abisko National Park for a curated viewing experience at the Abisko Sky Station atop Mount Nuolja. Enjoy skiing by day and northern light chasing by night at the Riksgrãnsen ski resort.
No need to check the KP index when staying in Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden. It’s one of the rare places on Earth where you can look forward to the aurora borealis every night—clear skies permitting.
The famous Ice Hotel attracts 50,000+ guests every season to stay overnight in temporary rooms made of ice to see the lights overhead Jukkasjävi. Also, wild camping is popular in Sweden, so pitch a wind and waterproof tent anywhere remote and enjoy a private viewing of the light show.
Best time to see the Northern Lights: Late September – Late March
Norway is the northernmost Scandinavian nation, with the country’s northern region sitting directly inside the Arctic Circle. If you can take the cold, you’re in for some unique ways to see the night sky light show.
Discover why people refer to Tromsø as the Northern Lights Capital of Norway. Don’t be surprised to see people staring up at the lights while wandering downtown or while staying in viewing experience accommodations like the Ice Domes Hotel and Aurora Camp. For the best view, ride the Fjellheisen cable car for a northern lights vantage point overlooking the entire town. The annual Nordlysfestivalen, or Northern Lights Festival, is a must-attend for all aurora borealis chasers.
Kirkenes is a former mining town with the real treasure shining as emerald and sapphire-colored lights overhead. Visitors can see the lights up to 200 nights per year—weather permitting. Take a snowmobile tour to see the colorful skies over the Siberian Taiga forest canopies. Or take a northern lights tour at the unique Snowtel, literally made of snow and originally rebuilt every year.
Don’t want to stay awake past midnight to see the lights? Svalbard is the world’s only place to see “Daytime Northern Lights.” December and January get 24 hours of nighttime sky, so you can technically see the northern lights during mid-day.
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Finland: August to April
Revontulet! Finnish for the aurora borealis, you’ll gawk at the vibrant violet and green auroras garnishing the sky above Finland. Sitting on the southern edge of the Auroral Oval, it’s the perfect place to see the Northern Lights upwards of 200 nights per year. Your odds are especially lucky in northern regions sitting entirely within the Arctic Circle.
Go aurora light hunting in the Utsjoki region, the northernmost area contained within the Arctic Circle. Add some adventure to your viewing experience in Lapland with nighttime snowshoe and dog sledding excursions. Visit Rovaniemi to see the lights sway to Christmas melodies in Santa Claus Village—home to the jolly fellow himself! Retreat to the small town of Kemi for ice fishing in Bothnian Bay and a breathtaking view of the auroras.
The extended nighttime hours in Finland allow you to see the northern lights between 10 pm and 2 am on average, with some times of the year as early as 6 pm!
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Canada: September to March
Canada is the second-largest country in the world, with over 80% of its lands uninhabited. These untouched wildernesses are free from light pollution for many of the best northern light viewing locations in the world. In fact, some places boast 300+ nights for spotting them every year!
The remote location of Churchill attracts aurora borealis hunters year-round. Watch out for polar bears while wandering the region’s woodlands, or settle on the Hudson Bay shores to hear the faint swooshes of the lights. You’ll also find experience accommodations like the Aurora Domes from Churchill Hotel. Explore indigenous Intuit villages of Nunavut to see the enchanted lights over these sacred lands.
Venture into nature to see the light spectacle. Trek the Ingraham Trail near Yellowknife for over 90% viewing success rate during the Aurora season. Manitoulin Island is home to Northern Ontario’s only Dark Sky Preserve for surreal vistas from Manitoulin Eco Park. Traverse the polar ice fields of the Yukon region for aurora views over glacier peaks.
The Northern Lights are a natural occurrence, and not all tours guarantee seeing them. MT Sobek works with experienced tour guides and photographers in our Northern Lights excursions to take you to the best locations at the right time to increase your chances. Browse our North America and Europe tours to find your bucket list excursion.
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