The northern lights are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena you could ever witness in your lifetime!
Also known as the Aurora Borealis, it's caused by the collision of electrically charged particles with atoms in the Earth's atmosphere, usually occurring around the Arctic Circle during long, dark, and clear polar nights.
When this happens, the sky is illuminated with a dancing display of colors in vibrant shades of green, yellow, pink, and purple — all accompanied by a magical shimmering effect.
Whether it's bragging rights you're after or a means of catharsis, exploring the Aurora Borealis is an adventure you won't soon forget!
When and Where To See the Northern Lights
The best time of year to witness the northern lights is during the aurora season, between September and March.
Some prime viewing spots around the world are fairly easy to reach, with light shows that are close to guaranteed if you plan your trip right. One spot even boasts up to 200 nights of auroral activity throughout the season!
To help you make the most of your journey, here are our top six picks for the best places to see the northern lights.
1) Lapland, Finland
Finland's northernmost region is home to prime aurora viewing conditions such as low light pollution and clear winter nights. Its capital city of Rovaniemi offers guests the chance to stay in chalet-inspired cabins, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows for optimal viewing pleasure. Heading north, intrepid explorers can enjoy "aurora bubbles" at the Wilderness Hotel Nellim, authentic igloos at Lucky Ranch, and the glass-roofed Northern Lights Village Saariselka.
Best Place To See the Northern Lights — Pro Tip #1
Be sure to download the My Aurora Forecast & Alerts app to get real-time updates on northern lights action near you.
2) Tromsø, Norway
Known for its majestic fjords and strong seafaring culture, Tromsø is a northern lights trip destination not to be missed. Sitting above the Arctic Circle in Norway's Nordland County, it offers visitors plenty of aurora-viewing opportunities, with a wide range of activities and accommodation options to match. Take the Fjellheisen cable car for a spectacular view of the city lights below and the aurora borealis above. You can also venture 600 miles north to the Svalbard archipelago, where the long polar night guarantees 24 hours of darkness during the winter season (and even better chances of seeing the lights!).
Best Places To See the Northern Lights — Pro Tip #2
If you want to capture the Aurora Borealis in all its splendor, don't make the rookie mistake of using your smartphone camera! Instead, invest in a DSLR camera with ISO capabilities (for low light exposure) and a tripod. It won't be cheap but it'll be worth the price!
3) Reykjavik, Iceland
The last Scandinavian country on our list, Iceland is an ideal location for gazing at the northern lights during the aurora season. Its capital city Reykjavik serves as a great base from which to explore the Icelandic countryside and its incredible geothermal features. Notable spots include the stunning Gullfoss Waterfall and the campsites at Thingvellir National Park. Tours from Reykjavik combine hot springs, ice caves, and lava fields with a chance to observe the aurora borealis, making for an unforgettable experience.
Best Place To See The Northern Lights — Pro Tip #3
Winters in the Arctic region often bring cloudy skies, so consider a northern lights trip that lasts between seven and 10 nights (or more). With that kind of time on your hands and a bit of patience, you're likelier to catch a spectacular light show of neon ribbons in the night sky!
4) Churchill, Canada
Churchill lies on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Canada's Manitoba province. Its remote location just south of the Arctic Circle makes it one of the best places to see the northern lights. It's also the only town in the world to offer special tundra buggy tours for aurora borealis viewing! Combine this with exotic wildlife encounters such as polar bear spotting and beluga whale watching, and you have the perfect recipe for a dream vacation. Just don't expect a host of amenities in Churchill proper, as this sleepy town of roughly 900 people has only a handful of shops, restaurants, and B&Bs.
Best Places To See The Northern Lights — Pro Tip #4
If you can rent a car during your visit, do it! That way, you can drive toward clearer skies in case cloudy conditions are present at your base location. Keep the car warm and be sure to get out every hour or so for a quick look around.
5) Fairbanks, Alaska
Situated along the Chena and Tanana Rivers, Fairbanks is arguably the best place in the US to see the northern lights. Visitors to this historic gold-mining town can stay at the popular Chena Hot Springs Resort or one of the many affordable B&Bs in town. The Aurora Chasers Tour is another great way to catch the lights while soaking in Fairbanks' natural beauty. The tour offers a northern lights photography workshop, plus transportation to and from your hotel. If you have flexible travel dates, be sure to check the University of Alaska's aurora forecast and book your northern lights trip when auroral activity is optimal.
Best Place To See The Northern Lights — Pro Tip #5
Regardless of where you are, you should always dress warmly for your northern lights expedition. Make sure you have snow boots, a hat, gloves, and a thick coat so that you can stay outside as long as possible and enjoy the show!
6) Isle of Skye, Scotland
Rounding out our list is the Isle of Skye, a remote Scottish island located in the Inner Hebrides archipelago. With its rugged landscapes and jagged mountain peaks, Skye is a beautiful place to view the "Mirrie Dancers," as the locals call the northern lights. The area is reachable by car from Edinburgh and Glasgow, which means you can easily turn this aurora experience into one of Scotland's iconic road trips. If you'd rather stay put, Glendale near Loch Pooltiel and Rubha Hunish in the isle's northernmost tip are both great places for spotting the lights. Don't forget to check out other must-see attractions like the fairy pools and Neist Point Lighthouse!
Best Places To See The Northern Lights — Pro Tip #6
The best time for viewing the northern lights is usually between 12 AM and 4 AM. Of course, you should always take safety precautions and never venture out into the wilderness alone at night. It's best to join an organized tour, explore with a local guide, or travel with a fellow aurora enthusiast.
One Last Word
No matter where you decide to go, witnessing the northern lights is sure to leave you spellbound.
Just remember to pack appropriate travel gear and plan your trip for when the auroral activity is expected to be highest.
With a little bit of luck, patience, and preparation, you'll soon find yourself basking in one of nature's most beautiful displays!
For more travel tips and tricks, check out the rest of our blog, and feel free to share your amazing photos and stories with us when you come back!
Happy aurora hunting! 🌌🌠❄️