Where to see the Northern Lights: The ultimate guide

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Traveling to see the Northern Lights is worth every mile, every hour on the road or in the air. Imagine standing under the dark sky, surrounded by silence, when suddenly the black canvas above you erupts in waves of green, red, and purple lights. They dance and twist, casting an ethereal glow on the landscape below. It's a breathtaking sight and a humbling experience that reminds us of the beauty nature holds, something you remember for the rest of your life.

What is the science behind these dancing lights? They are created by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth's atmosphere. These particles hit the Earth in bursts that are affected by Sun's activity which means that Northern lights are not affected by weather. The best time to see Aurora is in winter months, when the pitch-black nights are long and the skies free of clouds. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains, or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

But did you know the Northern Lights are not exclusive to the Northern Hemisphere? Southern lights, known as the Aurora Australis graces the skies of the Southern Hemisphere.

Identifying the best places to witness this phenomenon involves a little bit of geography and consideration. Proximity to the Earth's magnetic poles, minimal light pollution, and stable weather conditions influence your chances of seeing the lights the most. Places that meet these criteria offer the most dramatic and consistent displays of the Northern and Southern Lights. Let's explore a list of such places where you can witness the night sky performance that feels like magic.

Abisko National Park

National park in🇸🇪 Sweden

Abisko in Sweden offers a prime location for witnessing Northern Lights. Its geographical position makes it a very suitable spot, as it sits beneath the aurora oval, a belt where the display is most intense. It's a small village with a national park, which means light pollution is minimal, providing clear, dark skies ideal for spotting the lights.

The weather in Abisko tends to be clearer compared to other areas, thanks to the "blue hole" - a patch of sky above Lake Torneträsk that usually remains clear regardless of weather around it.

And there's more to Abisko than just Northern Lights. You can take a chairlift to the Aurora Sky Station, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes and the lights themselves. Don't forget to try the local delicacy, reindeer meat, which is commonly served in local restaurants.

Getting to Abisko takes some planning - it is relatively remote location and transportation is limited. Trains do run from Swedish cities, but irregularly. Also, the Northern Lights are not guaranteed. They depend on solar activity and clear skies, which can be unpredictable. For the best chance, visit between November and March, when the nights are longest.

If you're prepared to brave the cold and venture into the Arctic Circle, Abisko might be your best bet to catch the celestial dance of the Northern Lights.

Explore Abisko National Park

Jukkasjärvi

Village in🇸🇪 Sweden

Let’s stay in Sweden for one more destination. Jukkasjärvi is a tiny village that is almost made for trips seeking Northern lights. Despite its size, it's home to the world's first ice hotel, which is rebuilt annually from snow and ice. Sleeping in a room with a temperature of -5 degrees Celsius may seem like a challenge, but it's a unique way to get involved in the region's icy nature. Besides, you'll be provided with warm sleeping bags and reindeer skins.

There are plenty of ice sculptures and artwork to see, which change each year for obvious reasons. During the day, you could try cross-country skiing or snowmobiling through the pristine winter landscape. Or try the dog-sled tours - they offer both thrill and some calmness while traveling through the snowy forests.

With less light pollution, Jukkasjärvi offers better chances to see the Northern Lights. And again, the best chance to see the lights here is between November and March, when the nights are longest.

Explore Jukkasjärvi

Tromsø

City in🇳🇴 Norwayrated
4.7

Moving on to neighboring Norway, Tromsø is a city that’s known as a prime viewing spot for the Northern Lights. The city has a moderate coastal climate, so despite its high latitude, it's not as cold as other places. Also, the long polar nights from late September to late March provide many chances to see the Northern Lights. However, being coastal city, the weather is quite unpredictable.

Besides the lights, Tromsø offers a rich experience. The Arctic Cathedral, a modern architectural gem, is worth a visit. The Polaria aquarium gives you a glimpse into marine life. You will also find several Arctic excursions like dog sledding and even whale safaris that you can try.

Norway isn’t exactly known for its cuisine, but you can try the local fish dishes like Boknafisk and Klippfisk. Or if you're daring, try the traditional dish, Hvalbiff, made from whale meat. Being larger city that’s easier to get to, Tromsø is one of the more comfortable places to go when you are hunting for Aurora. But it’s not the cheapest.

Explore Tromsø

Rovaniemi

City in🇫🇮 Finlandrated
4.2

Wrapping up Scandinavia, Rovaniemi in Finland sits squarely on the Arctic Circle, a prime spot for viewing the Northern Lights. This city offers a high frequency of Aurora occurrences from September to March. Its geographical location gives it an edge, as the lights can be visible up to 200 nights a year.

But Rovaniemi isn't just about the Northern Lights. It's also known as the official hometown of Santa Claus. A letter postmarked from Santa's post office is a souvenir you can take back home only from here.

While Rovaniemi is officially a city, its population is small. Therefore, escaping light pollution is as simple as stepping a little outside the city limits. Just remember that the region gets extremely cold, so pack appropriately for the freezing Arctic temperatures.

Traditional Lappish cuisine is a must-try. Reindeer meat, cloudberries, and Finnish pastries are local favorites. Also, do not miss the chance to experience a reindeer or husky sled ride.

Explore Rovaniemi

Reykjavik

City in🇮🇸 Icelandrated
4.5

The capital city of Iceland is well-known for its sky dancing Northern lights. Aurora can be seen in the city from mostly from September to April. The viewing might not be ideal within the city limits due to light pollution but short drives out of the city will offer clear views.

There are other elements that make the city interesting, too. The city's landmarks worth visiting include Hallgrimskirkja church and Harpa Concert Hall. Both are remarkable examples of modern Icelandic architecture. The city's Old Harbour area offers whale-watching tours and an opportunity to try traditional Icelandic cuisine.

Prepare for sudden changes in weather, but despite the cold climate, Reykjavik has a warm and welcoming vibe.

Explore Reykjavik

Ilulissat

City in🇬🇱 Greenland

The remote island of Greenland offers a prime location for Northern Lights viewing. This is true for any place in Greenland, but the third largest town has some special views. The hardy residents total about 4 500 and are outnumbered by sled dogs due to the local reliance on dog sledding.

The Northern Lights, locally known as Arsaniit, often put on a vivid display from September to April. In Ilulissat, the lights are unique as they often contrast with the large icebergs from the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This stark, white backdrop makes the green and pink lights even more pronounced.

One note of caution: the temperatures in Ilulissat can drop below -20 degrees Celsius during winter. So pack plenty of warm clothing, and once you get too cold, Kaffemik, a social gathering with coffee and homemade cakes, is a local tradition that can also warm your insides.

When you’re in Greenland, check out more places like Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut, just as beautiful as Ilulissat.

Explore Ilulissat

Fairbanks

City in🇺🇸 United States

Fairbanks in Alaska offers an excellent vantage point thanks to its geographically favored position under the Auroral Oval and stable continental climate.

Get here during the prime aurora viewing season from late September to late March and your chances of seeing the Norther lights will be high. Just don't ignore the intense cold and pack warm clothing to guard against the bitter Alaskan winter. Fairbanks also gets blanketed by snow, so travel can be tricky.

And, of course, Fairbanks is more than just Northern Lights. The culture here is tied tightly to its Indigenous roots. Look out for the art, jewelry, and clothing pieces made by the locals, and don't skip a visit to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center where you can learn more about the culture of Alaska. Taste Alaska's native foods like moose, caribou, wild berries, or get a freshly grilled Alaska salmon.

Explore Fairbanks

Bruny Island

Island in🇦🇺 Australia

Let’s turn this article upside down and go see some Southern lights. Bruny Island in Tasmania is a lesser-known destination for viewing the Lights, and it doesn't provide guaranteed sightings, but does offer opportunities throughout the year.

Bruny Island has an easy-going environment and small population of just 600. Unlike people, you can see plenty of wildlife. It's common to spot sea lions, penguins and a variety of bird species.

Despite its natural beauty, it is crucial to remember that Bruny Island has limited facilities. Carry essentials like food, water, and warm clothing with you, especially during the colder months. Aurora alerts can be helpful in increasing your chances of a sighting!

Explore Bruny Island

Ushuaia

City in🇦🇷 Argentinarated
4.3

Ushuaia, a city at the southernmost tip of Argentina offers a unique chance to see the Aurora in a setting quite different from Scandinavia. It is not traditionally associated with the spectacle of Aurora Australis, as it requires a solar storm that is powerful enough to expand the aurora's reach for the lights to be seen here. So keep an eye on the solar activity forecasts.

While waiting for the right conditions, don't let boredom creep in. Ushuaia offers its share of adventures. Hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park or boating through the Beagle Channel are popular choices. The local seafood, like king crab, is also worth trying.

Explore Ushuaia

Esperanza Base

Village in🇦🇶 Antarctica

Southern hemisphere doesn’t offer nearly as much favorable places to go see Aurora as the northern half of the world. There is not much land close to the South Pole, and to have a great change of seeing the lights, we would need to go to Antarctica. Let’s go then!

Esperanza Base in Antarctica is an outlier on this list in more ways than one. It's one of only two civilian settlements on the continent, home to about 55 people in winter and only over 100 in summer. Yet it has a school, a hospital, and even a post office!

Getting to Esperanza usually involves flying to Ushuaia in Argentina, boarding a ship to the Antarctic Peninsula, and then taking a helicopter to the base. It's a long, costly journey. For that reason, if your goal is to see the Northern lights, Esperanza is not your best choice.

The best places for people to see the Northern Lights are roamed by reindeer or polar bears, not penguins.

Explore Esperanza Base

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