Stars can’t shine without darkness..and neither can the enchanting swirls of color that a large population of people have as a checkpoint on their bucket list.
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is the result of charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. The electrons in atoms are moved to a higher-energy state and when the electrons drop back to a lower-energy state, they release a photon which appears to us as light.
Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, the Aurora Borealis have been admired for hundreds of years dating back in history.
The ideal viewing conditions for this natural phenomenon are crisp, cold, clear and cloudless skies in locations with minimum light.
The months for viewing range last from late August – mid-April and the peak seasons are September and March due to the March and September equinox.
When it comes to plans involving the Northern Lights, flexibility is the key word. Because there is no guarantee in seeing the lights based on the necessary atmospheric conditions, tours are not advised.
The Northern Lights are a nighttime activity – meaning that booking your ideal location in an area with prime viewing conditions is something that you should make time for when planning your visit to one or more of these 10 destinations.
Pingvellir National Park, most of the country
Unlike other places where you can see the Northern Lights, Iceland is the only location where you can spot the Borealis from almost anywhere in the country as long as you’re outside Reykjavik.
The wide open plains of Pingvellir National Park is perhaps the most popular viewing site. It’s marked as a UNESCO heritage site where the North American & Eurasian continental plates meet, causing the formation of a beautiful and unique rift valley.
Iceland was already skyrocketing in popularity as a vacation site and now we learn it’s the most affordable and accessible place to see the Borealis? Sounds like a goldmine to me.
photo: Mikko Lonnberg
Luosto, Nellim, Utsjoki, Ivalo, Kakslauttanen
A place where there’s more forest and water than anywhere else in Europe is bound to ensure a beautiful light display. Some of the world’s best Northern Lights can be spotted in Finnish Lapland.
They appear more than 200 nights a year – which is practically every winter evening – and the surrounding establishments will guarantee that you don’t miss the beauty.
With Hotel Aurora in Luosto, each guest is handed an “Aurora Alarm” that beeps whenever the hotel is relayed a signal from the Northern Lights Research Center in Sodanklya. Traditional log cabins complete with a sauna and open fire are also available to stay in.
If you’re striving to make your experience extra unique, you can choose to gaze up through a glass-domed igloo at the Kakslauttanen Resort and drift to sleep under the stars and streaks of purple, green and fuchsia light in the perfect winter sky.
Kiruna, Abisko, Swedish Lapland
The Swedish Lapland is scientifically proven to be an ideal viewing spot due to its unique microclimate. In addition to its already perfect dark winter night, the 43-mile-long(70km) Tornetrask Lake helps to create the infamous blue hole of Abisko, a patch of sky that remains clear regardless of surrounding weather patterns.
You might as well make your chilly trip feel complete by staying in the village of Jukkasjavari in the Kiruna region of Sweden as it’s home to the country’s first ice hotel.
Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali, Yukon
Move away from the city lights of Fairbanks into Alaska’s regions of vast wilderness such as Denali and the Yukon. Due to its location within “the zone,” Alaska almost guarantees you a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis.
You can use the University of Alaska’s aurora forecast to help schedule your viewing trip.
photo: Chul Kwon
Yellowknife, Calgary, Ontario, Yukon Territory, Manitoba
The town of Yellowknife & the town of Whitehorse within Yukon Territory is best for seeing the swirling lights. Area’s around the immaculate Lake Superior in Ontario and Northern Canada’s tundra are also prime viewing spots.
Though you should stick to Canada’s immeasurable wilderness, the glowing sky can sometimes be seen as far south as the American border.
photo: Chul Kwon
Tromso, Alta, Svalbard, Finnmark
You can’t go much higher than Svalbard, and generally the higher the latitude, the better your chances of seeing the light. Its location above the Arctic Circle makes it one of the top places in the world to view shimmering green lights.
This town also boasts the world’s most northerly university, brewery, and planetarium. The lights are so ingrained into this culture, the government recently opted to add neon lights as a black light feature to passports.
If you’re searching for an alternative way to view the lights, you can cruise Norway’s fjord-lined coast with The Hurtigruten Ship. They provide wake-up calls to head out on the deck when the lights appear.
photo: Dennis Mammana
Murmansk, Siberia, Kola Peninsula
There’s a good chance of viewing the Aurora Borealis in northern Russia. The Kola Peninsula’s proximity to the northern lights viewing zone make it a key area. A
pparently the town of Murmansk is a popular base to stay in, that is if you can handle the below freezing temperatures of a typical Siberian winter. I think I’d have to count myself out on this one.
Other than being incredibly freezing, the mentioning of Siberia always makes me think of the scene where Hodel leaves her Papa in Fiddler on the Roof.
Like Iceland, you can see the lights from most parts of the country. Before scientific understandings of the lights came to surface, the Intuit people believed the borealis came from spirits of ancestors playing soccer with the skull of a walrus.
In its present day society, you can stay in hunting cabins and tend to sleigh dogs during the World of Greenlands three-day dogsled expedition in Kangerlussuaq. Greenland remains a final frontier for the average traveler and its interior ice continues to be the optimal viewing location.
Aberdeen, Isle of Skye, Northern Highlands, Dunnet Head
The British Isles should not be your first destination when searching for the lights as they are known for stormy, foggy and cloudy weather.
On rare occasions during dark winter months when thick cloud covers momentarily break away, there’s a good chance of witnessing the light display in the northern parts of Scotland.
All islands within the Faroe Islands Archipelago
Aside from the lights, these Islands located north of Scotland between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic are mostly known for puffins and viking folklore. Though its stormy weather mimics that of the British Isles, visitors will see the lights on evenings when the weather decides to cooperate.
photo: Jesper Groone
Have you seen the Northern Lights, and if so, where? Any tips for our readers? Leave a comment for us below!