Seeing the majestic, dancing, vivid Northern Lights is an experience that ranks extremely high on many travellers’ bucket lists, and for good reason. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will truly stay with you forever. There are many different places in the world you can experience the Northern Lights that are all amazing for different reasons.
Read on to discover the BEST places in the world to experience the Northern Lights, as recommended by TierOne Travel. When you’re ready to book, we’re here to help you get there!
What causes the Northern Lights?
The bright dancing lights of the Northern Lights are caused by collisions between electrically-charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.
The Northern Lights displays appear in many different colours, with pale green and pink/purple being the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet are also possible.
When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
Winter in the north is generally a good season to view the Northern Lights, which makes it an adventure for intrepid photographers and outdoor lovers alike!
Ideal viewing conditions consist of dark and clear nights (preferably moonless), between the hours of 10 pm and 3 am. With long periods of darkness in the winter and the frequency of clear nights, there are many incredible opportunities to see the Aurora borealis!
In some destinations, you can occasionally see the Northern Lights in the summer as well.
Some destinations even feature “polar nights”, which means the area is covered in darkness for more than 24 hours! This creates amazing conditions for the Northern Lights to appear.
Researchers have discovered that Northern Light activity runs on a cycle that peaks with the most activity approximately every 11 years. This means the next peak period will be in 2024/2025!
Northern Lights Forecast
Although it’s never guaranteed that you will see the Northern Lights during your adventures, you can reference the Northern Lights forecast here.
The 15 Best Places in the World to See the Northern Lights:
Here are the best places in the world to experience the Northern Lights, as recommended by TierOne Travel.
If you’re ready to discuss or book your own exciting adventure to see the Northern Lights, contact one of our TierOne travel specialists who will be more than happy to help!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Late summer and during the winter
Yellowknife is known as the Aurora Capital of the World, and for good reason! Imagine traveling on a dogsled along a snowy trail, and the Aurora borealis glowing overhead! That’s how millions of visitors imagine the Northwest Territories, a winter wonderland that is surrounded by glowing lights. Even though winter is a great time to experience the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, Aurora-watchers are finding that the lights are still amazing here before the cold winter begins. You’ll have to stay up a bit later to enjoy the Northern Lights in early August through September. During this time, you can experience a boat tour beneath the Lights as colours reflect on the water. You can fish, hike and camp with the lights overhead. Or, imagine yourself cuddled up in a sleeping bag, relaxing around a warm campfire and enjoying the warmth of summer as you watch the colourful sky!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Between January and March; sometimes can be seen in summer as well.
Not many people outside of Canada have ever heard of Churchill, but it’s one of the top three places in the world to see the northern lights! It is located directly under the auroral oval and boasts an incredible nearly 300 days per year of aurora viewing. One of the best things about Churchill is that you don’t have to confront the cold to watch the night sky. You can relax in one of the comfortable covered Aurora Domes, an Aurora Pod, an Aurora Lounge, or the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Goose Creek is another great location to view the Northern Lights where you can build a bonfire and admire the show. There are so many ways to experience the amazing Northern Lights in Churchill, Manitoba that you’ll want to add it to your bucket list ASAP!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Late-August through the winter months until mid-April
Probably the best chance timing of catching the Northern Lights in the Yukon is during the first few weeks of winter. There are so many amazing ways to experience the Aurora Borealis in the Yukon, with locations from Whitehorse to the city of Dawson. Chances are, wherever you are in Yukon, if you’re sitting at a bar, someone might yell “Northern Lights!” and a happy group of strangers will abandon their drinks and run toward the door and windows to catch a glimpse!
Imagine a hot soak in natural mineral water as the sky above you lights up with swirls of greens and purples. You can do exactly this at the Takhini Hot Pools in Whitehorse! Or, stop in at the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake for some education about the colorful show and to hear legends about their origins. In the city of Dawson, you can see the midnight sun during the summer, and during the winter, you can experience the Northern Lights from the Midnight Dome, with views of the Yukon River and Klondike Valley.
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Between September and May
Alberta is home to some of the world’s largest dark sky preserves! This means that there is no artificial light around, so the beauty of the night sky can be seen as clearly as possible. The best time to see the Northern Lights in the dark sky reserves is between September and May, but the park and the town of Jasper are typically very busy in mid-October because this is when the Jasper Dark Sky Festival takes place. During the festival, in addition to the view of the stars, you can partake in hands-on science and astronomy events. Four of the best locations in Jasper that are available year-round for Northern Lights viewing are Pyramid Island, Maligne Lake, Old Fort Point, and the toe of Athabasca Glacier.
Jasper is probably one of the more well-known places in Alberta to see the Northern Lights, but there are five other Dark Sky Preserves can also offer amazing Northern Light views. These preserves are the Bon Accord Dark Sky Community, Wood Buffalo National Park Dark Sky Preserve, Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve Region, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and Lakeland Provincial Park.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: End of August through the end of April
Alaska’s Aurora Season is from August 21 to April 21, and the aurora will be visible in Fairbanks an average of four out of five nights, when the sky is clear and dark enough!
Fairbanks location is ideal for Northern Lights viewing because it is under the auroral oval, just like Churchill. Additionally, Fairbanks’ low precipitation and distance from coastal areas contribute to consistently clear nights. All combined, these conditions make the Fairbanks area an outstanding destination for possible Northern Lights viewing.
Camp in igloo-shaped domes, jump on a snowmobile for a late-night ride for remote aurora viewing, or do some late-night ice fishing…there are so many different and fun ways to experience the Northern Lights in Fairbanks!
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Any time of year, but more often during the winter
It’s been estimated that the Northern Lights can be seen 200 times per year in Northern Minnesota!
Voyageurs National Park received its International Dark Sky Park certification in fall 2020, making it a great destination for Northern Light viewing. Auroras seem to be more active here around the first day of spring and fall, and your chances of seeing them are best when there are clear, dark nights.
Rainy Lake and Voyageurs National Park are ideal places to watch Northern Lights because of the area’s miles of open land and wilderness that is free from the light pollution. In addition to a moonless, clear night, you need open views to the North and Northeast.
If you really want to take advantage of Voyageurs night skies, you should explore deep into the park. The National Park has 15 backcountry sites, paddling and hiking are required to reach, but the ultra-low light pollution enhances your views of the stars and increases your chances of seeing the polar lights – well worth the trek!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: between September to April
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, remains a favourable choice for many travellers and it is on many traveller’s bucket lists. With geothermal pools, volcano tours and unique culture, you might forget about the Northern Lights altogether, but in Iceland you might want to make it a priority to seek out the aurora borealis for some incredible views!
It is possible to see the Northern Lights right in the city of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is the only capital city besides Nuuk, Greenland where you can see the Northern Lights. Residents swear they can sometimes see the lights from their bedroom windows during bright aurora nights! Some of the best places to see the lights in the city is by Grótta Lighthouse and on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula in the capital’s northwesternmost point.
For a quiet viewing experience, journey to Hofdabrekka in southern Iceland, and enjoy the mesmerising show in complete isolation. Oskjuhlid is another excellent place to search for the Northern Lights, as the forest here is very dark. Observe the sky from one of its clearings and you might see a spectacular lightshow!
Another popular way to find the Northern Lights is to rent a vehicle and try to find them on your own. Head out of the city in search of the aurora lights. It is important to keep in mind, while the roads are mostly clear of ice in September, October and April, they can be tricky to drive from November to March.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: between October and March
Lapland is a winter wonderland, and a snow-covered playground that offers seemingly endless options for winter sports and the chance to watch one of the world’s most breathtaking natural displays!
Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost city; it is the perfect base for exploring the countries north. For the very best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, make the trip to the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park. The national park is 100 km west of Kiruna. There are no guarantees, but being surrounded by mountains, Abisko is known for its clear skies and has become one of the most popular spots for visitors hoping to see the northern lights. Here, a chairlift takes you up to the observation tower for some of the best views!
Another tiny northern village, Porjus, with a population of just 400 people, is a coveted spot for viewing the Northern Lights. 60 km north of the Arctic Circle, Porjus lies in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Laponia on the edge of a beautiful lake!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: between September to April
Tromso is in the middle of the Northern Lights Oval; this means that there will always be good chances of Northern Lights in the Tromso region, regardless of the sun’s cycles! Like Reykjavik, the best time to see the Northern Lights is from September to April.
There are many different types of ways to experience the Northern Lights, such as on a “Chase”, or an “Experience”!
A Northern Lights Chase is usually in a vehicle in the early evening or late afternoon, where you drive to find the lights. If the sky is clear and there is a strong forecast for Northern Lights that night, you might not need to drive very far. However, if the weather is cloudy, your chase might involve a bit more driving. The chase could take several hours.
A Northern Lights Experience can involve a drive, boat trip, dog sled, overnight visit or any other adventure-filled night-time activity during the aurora months. There are so many different activities that take place in the evening that have a high chance of seeing the Northern Lights, you just have to decide which ones work best for you, or do them all if you want for a higher chance to see them!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Between the months of September to April
Ilulissat means “icebergs”, and this name refers to the town’s location, as a neighbor to the Ilulissat Icefjord. This means you can see the Northern Lights dance above impressive icebergs!
Ilulissat is Greenland’s third largest city and is home to just 5,000 people. Found on the western coast, Ilulissat provides the opportunity to experience nature in a quiet environment. Watching the Northern Lights in Greenland is very accessible, thanks to the lack of rain and low levels of wind creates perfect conditions. In addition, Ilulissat is conveniently based in the heart of Greenland’s aurora belt, to add further reliability. Between the months of September to April is the best time to visit in this region, and you can do additional daytime activities such as dog-sledding, Arctic caving and more to round off your Northern Lights adventure in Greenland.
Another popular destination in Greenland for viewing the Aurora Borealis is the countries capital Nuuk. Even though Nuuk is Greenland’s most lighted town, in spite of them there is still many places in the city where you can easily enjoy amazing views of the Northern Lights.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: from late August to April
In Finland, the Northern Lights are visible on around 150 nights a year in Finnish Lapland! Situated north of the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the epitome of a winter wonderland. By day, go ice fishing, or embark on a snowmobile safari, building up to an epic evening of Northern Lights hunting. The most traditional ways to go Aurora spotting in Finland is snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling and dog sledding. If gazing up at the dark sky in cold winter air is not your thing, you can simply add comfort by staying in unique glass igloos, treehouse hotels or glass villas, to view the amazing spectacle from inside your hotel room! The best thing about Rovaniemi is that it’s the “home of Santa Claus”, making it the ideal place to take the kids for a Christmas to remember. You can even meet Santa Claus and cross the magical Arctic Circle every day of the year at Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: November to February
Svalbard is an island with ice-covered fjords, glaciers, soaring mountains, and rare wildlife like polar bears. It is also a prime location for aurora hunts and other winter experiences, like snowmobiling and dog-sledding. During the polar nights from November to February, there is no daylight in Longyearbyen (the largest settlement in Svalbard). This attracts people from all over the world to experience the unique Northern Lights floating across the sky. Svalbard is the only place on the planet where you can experience the aurora borealis in the daytime!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: during the winter months
This is a little off the beaten trail, but may be a less crowded option if you’re set on seeing the aurora! Estonia has a small population and lots of wild nature. Several destinations in Estonia are popular with local aurora chasers, but Saadjärv is known to have the most consistent sightings during the winter months. The town is situated on Lake Saadjärv, and it’s also close to the Vooremaa Nature Park. You can visit Alatskivi Castle, go snowshoeing in the Männikjärve bog, walk around museums such as The Ice Age Centre and explore Elistvere Animal Park. There’s plenty to do in the region when you’re not chasing the Northern Lights!
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: between September and March
Known in Scotland as the “Mirrie (Merry) Dancers,” the Northern Lights are brightest in the northern Highlands. In January, in the Shetland Islands, which are closer to the North Pole than other British Isles, visitors may see curtains of pink, purple, blue, green and orange lights. Scotland is pretty far north, but it doesn’t lie within the Arctic Circle. But if you’re visiting Scotland in autumn and winter, you could definitely keep an eye out just in case the Northern Lights decide to make an appearance!
Other than the Shetland Islands ,consider visiting the Outer Hebrides, if seeing the Northern Lights is the goal. This northwestern archipelago is scattered in the Atlantic Ocean and flaunts breathtaking, secluded islands set away from light pollution. The Isle of Skye is another island in Scotland that could have the northern lights appear. Also, very occasionally, you might even see the Northern Lights from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Winter months
A large part of Russia lies within the Arctic Circle and boasts 42 polar nights, making this massive continent a gold mine for aurora spotting. The Kola Peninsula is a prime location, with the town of Murmansk being a great home base for travellers. The aurora season on the Kola Peninsula in northeastern Russia extends from late August until April, but winter is the best time to see the lights.
The best place to view the lights on the peninsula is from the small port city of Murmansk, which is in the northwest part of the region. The winter in Murmansk is mild, with the average temperature in December and January is only about minus 10-15 Celsius.
Another great place to find the Northern Lights on the peninsula is the Khibiny Mountains area, where the sky glows with thousands of dancing lights during long, dark nights! You can even explore the area with snowmobiles. Explore mountain peaks, snow-covered tundra, frozen lakes and waterfalls to fill your Northern Lights journey with so many amazing sights.
Do Not Park on Roads/Highways
Especially through the winter months, the Ingraham Trail and Vee Lake Road have a lot of heavy truck traffic in addition to normal traffic. Never park on the side of the Ingraham Trail, and always use a parking lot or pull out.
What to Wear
Wear bright colours or proper reflective gear so that you are always seen by drivers during your aurora viewing. If your winter gear is mostly consisting of dark colours, you may be extremely difficult to see in the dark, and this could be a safety hazard.
Dress warmly and wear layers! You will likely be out in the elements for extended periods of time. Synthetic, wool, and fleece materials are some of the best fabrics to wear while looking for the Northern Lights, especially in the winter.
We have connections!
TierOne Travel has connections with preferred suppliers such as Anderson Vacations to ensure your Northern Lights-viewing trip is the best it can be. Specializing in customized tours to Canada’s North, Anderson Vacations have a number of packages to choose from if one of your priorities is to see the Aurora Borealis. Contact one of TierOne Travel’s specialists to book today.
Be sure you’re well covered
Before you embark on a memorable trip to experience the Aurora Borealis and other activities, be sure you have enough travel insurance coverage. Travel insurance will provide you with peace of mind on your vacation. TierOne Travel can help you with all the details. Find out more here.
If you feel like it’s time to explore something new such as an exciting adventure to see the Northern Lights, contact one of our TierOne travel specialists! They have extensive experience in life-changing travel and will be able to craft something that is suited to your unique needs. One call; endless experiences!
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