The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, is a magical natural phenomenon that many people dream of experiencing. It is a breathtaking display of colors in shades of green, blue, and sometimes red, that only occurs in the northern hemisphere. What causes the Northern Lights? Many studies have been devoted to it, but simply put, it is the reaction of electricity-charged particles from the sun sent to earth by the solar wind, which collide with parts of the outer atmosphere, with oxygen and nitrogen.
The amount of charged particles shot into space along with the speed of the solar wind determine how likely it is to see this natural phenomenon and in what strength. Collisions with oxygen at more than about 300 kilometers altitude produces beautiful red auras, nitrogen at lower altitudes makes you see blue light, and when particles collide with this gas at even higher altitudes, brilliant purple and violet hues are created.
To witness this natural magic in person is an unforgettable experience. In April 2023, my dream finally came true. I was lucky enough to admire the bright dancing lights of the aurora twice(!) during my adventures in Swedish Lapland. From above the frozen Lule River in Luleå, I enjoyed swarming green streaks that finally broke up like a falling curtain in the night sky. A fairytale experience that will stay with me forever!
If you’re hoping to experience this extraordinary light show for yourself, then you’re in luck! We have entered a new solar cycle that researchers predict will become one of the most powerful ever with spectacular auroras that we can enjoy until about 2027. This means chances of seeing this unique phenomenon are high in the coming years, so book your trip shortly and start looking forward to this unforgettable experience!
To help plan your trip, we’ve listed the eight best places in the world to observe Aurora Borealis:
Rugged Alaska is sparsely populated and therefore has little light pollution, making the far north, the Arctic, a perfect location to witness the Aurora Borealis. Fairbanks, located about 240 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle and the pristine Denali National Park offer the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights when the sky is clear. Other activities in Alaska include visiting the cities of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, relaxing in hot springs, going cross-country skiing and exploring the landscape of the fjords. The best time to visit is from mid-August to the end of April.
The Aurora Borealis is regularly spotted in much of northern Canada, but the best spots for seeing it are the very remote Northwest Territories. One of my colleagues was traveling in Yukon last March and was lucky enough to witness the sky lit up in every color imaginable. Reportedly, it was the most spectacular aurora in years. Other activities in Yukon include visiting the capital city Whitehorse, traversing mysterious gold mining towns, hiking in Kluane National Park and Miles Canyon nature preserve, visiting Takhini Hot Springs and marveling at the striking Sign Post Forest with road signs from around the world. The best time to visit is from late August to mid-April.
3. Finnish Lapland
Due to minimal light pollution, the Northern Lights are visible as many as 200 nights a year in Finnish Lapland, the area bordering Sweden, Norway and Russia. You can witness it from your luxurious tent at Aurora Glamping or in a glass Aurora Cabin at Northern Lights Village Saariselka or Lev. Other activities in Finnish Lapland include visiting Santa Claus in Rovaniemie with your children or taking a husky safari or snowmobile ride. The best time to visit is from early September to late March.
Travel from Reykjavik through Iceland’s diverse landscapes. Good places to admire the Northern Lights are the Snæfelsness Peninsula, Thingvellir National Park, the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, and the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. Other activities in Iceland include going snowkiting and ice fishing, hiking through the lava-covered Landmannalaugar valley on the edge of the Hekla volcano and driving the panoramic route the ‘Golden Circle’. The best time to visit is from early September to late April.
Greenland is largely within the Arctic Circle, hence it is a prime location to witness Aurora Borealis. The best place for this is in the small town of Kangerlussuaq. Other activities in Greenland include meeting the Inuit and visiting the Russel Glacier in Kangerlussuaq. The best time to visit is from September to early April.
6. Swedish Lapland
I saw the Northern Lights in Luleå, the place where the Luler River meets the Bothnia Sea. Other famous places to spot this light spectacle include Kiruna and Abisko National Park where the Aurora Sky Station is stationed. Jokkmokk, Jukkasjärvi, and Porjus are also great places to see the Northern Lights. Other activities in Swedish Lapland include going ice skating and ice stepping on the frozen Bothnia Sea in Luleå, trying ice fishing and ice bathing, taking a tour by snowmobile or husky and meeting the Sami. The best time to visit is from early December to early April.
With a location right under the Northern Lights oval and a stable continental climate with clear skies, the Northern Lights are visible most nights in Alta. Tromsø, located above the Arctic Circle in the center of the aurora zone, and the remote Svalbard archipelago off the coast of Norway are also great places to see the Northern Lights. Preferably from your bed in an “aurora dome” or during a night in an igloo hotel. Other activities in Norway include spotting polar bears, arctic foxes and reindeer in the Svalbard archipelago, conquering the snow by fatbike, meeting the Sami, going ice fishing and joining the unique twelve-day ‘Huritgruten’ cruise along the characteristic Norwegian fjord coast. The best time to visit is from mid-August to the end of April.
There are nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites on Skye, making it one of the best places in Scotland for stargazing and seeing the Northern Lights. Further north, you can also see the Northern Lights in Shetland, Orkney, and Caithness. Other activities in Scotland include visiting the mystical stone circle of Stone of Stennes and the ancient settlement of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, monumental rock formations and unique cultural heritage in the Shetland Islands. The best time to visit is from early October to late March.
In conclusion, witnessing the Aurora Borealis is a remarkable experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. With these eight destinations, you have plenty of options to choose from!