The Northern Lights are natural phenomenon also known as the, Aurora Borealis. The winter months sees Northern Light hunters head as far north possible to increase their chances of seeing the night skies light up.
For many people this is a once in a life time experience and an experience that is indescribable. Seeing the lights, dance across the black night sky is an experience unlike any other.
Sadly, for many Northern Light hunters, they head home “empty” handed and the desire to see the lights grows. However, your location can have a huge impact on whether you see the Northern Lights or not. Check out the best places to see the Northern Lights.
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- 1 What are the Northern Lights?
- 2 Where are the best places to see the Northern Lights?
- 3 Tips for seeing the Northern Lights
- 4 My BEST Travel Resources
What are the Northern Lights?
Heather, Heather Begins
The Northern Lights are caused by solar flares bouncing between the earths magnetic field. If you are lucky enough to be hunting the Northern lights with a solar flare, you are more likely to see the lights “dancing”. It is magical! There’s an 11-year cycle when solar flares are expected to be most common. 2026 is the next predicted year for an intensely active aurora experience.
Basically, Northern lights are formed when charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, they cause electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state and become excited. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release a photon: light. This process creates the beautiful aurora, or northern lights….. sorry my inner Science nerd came out for a moment. The different colours that are shown depend on the gases that are in the atmosphere at the time for example oxygen shows the green colour and nitrogen gives of more reds and blues.
The KP Index tells you how high up the lights are. Why should you care about the KP Index? At a 0 – 2 level, it’s unlikely the lights will be far enough above the horizon to see, or if you do, and the activity is low, you might not be awed.
Then again, a local will tell you it’s unimpressive because they get to see the lights all the time. As a tourist, you may still get to see beautiful greens and teal colors with a low KP Index.
Higher levels mean the lights are more likely to stretch all across the viewable sky. So, even with limited cloud cover, you should still get a wonderful treat.
While it sounds like you want an 8 or a 9 KP Index (that’s the highest it can go) you don’t. At that level, all electricity and cellular service is knocked out! But, at about a 7, the lights can be viewed from as far away as northern Scotland. There are many websites that can help you track expected activity and cloud cover.
Where are the best places to see the Northern Lights?
The Northern lights can be found in the Northern Hemisphere. The further north you go, the better your chances of seeing the lights. Countries such as Norway, Finland, Iceland, Canada and Scotland are great places to be to see the Northern Lights.
Seeing the Northern Lights has always been something that I have wanted to experience. Lapland is located in the Arctic Circle which makes it one of the best places to see the northern lights.
Lapland is not full of cities and is an easy place to get away from the light pollution. We decided to take a snow mobile safari, in Ranua, to go hunting for the Northern Lights.
We were given a brief lesson on how to drive the snow mobile and then we drove out to the wilderness before pausing in a snow covered field to light a fire and cook some sausages!
As soon as we reached our break spot the Aurora’s made a slight appearance. The sight of the lights was an indescribable feeling. We were very lucky to see the lights and a few times throughout the tour.
It costs 132€ per adult and 93€ per child. These costs include your snowmobile, the food and drink you consume during your break and your cold weather gear.
They do offer extra liability insurance for 15€ per person but we did not take this as it seemed unnecessary, so make sure you ask a few questions before purchasing the extra insurance.
During our hunt for the Northern lights we stayed at the Arctic Fox Igloos and the Arctic Treehouse Hotel. Both of these places are fantastic accommodations to marvel at the wander of the Northern Lights from the warmth and comfort of your bed.
Heather, Heather Begins
Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. Iceland is closer to Earth’s North Magnetic Field than most other countries, in fact, it’s almost directly underneath the center of it. It is because of this that makes Iceland a unique place to view the aurora borealis. This means that you have a great chance of seeing the lights all around the night sky.
The only disadvantage is Iceland’s notoriously quick-changing weather. This means you should plan to stay in Iceland for at least a week to maximise your chances of seeing the Lights. You will also need to be ready to be outside from the time it gets dark until the wee hours of the morning.
It’s worth noting that your naked eye does not always pick up the vivid colours that your camera picks up.
When the lights are highly active, you can see them from the center of Reykjavik. However, for the best chances of seeing the lights you need to head outside the city and away from the light pollution.
In order to see the lights, I went with a photographer from Iceland, Pall Jokull. Not only does he know the best places to see the lights, but he also teaches you what settings on your camera.
If you prefer a larger group tour complete with hot chocolate, Klenat (Icelandic donuts) and a viewing telescope (handy if you don’t have your own camera) try Happy World.
It’s important to ask that your tour company guarantees a free second night out if you don’t get to see aurora on your first night.
An alternative to a guided tour is to rent a car and head to Thingvellir National park. However, if there is snow and ice on the road, and you do not feel comfortable driving in these conditions it is recommended that you take an experienced guide with you on those roads at night.
Viewing is best any months that are dark at night, end of September to early April.
Seeing the Northern Lights is a magical experience I will never forget and the night sky without them still feels incomplete for me ever since.
Orkney Islands, Scotland
Off the north coast of Scotland there are two chains of islands. There chains of islands are far enough north to have reliable and consistent displays of the Northern Lights.
The Shetland islands are at a similar level to Bergen, but a little further south and just a few miles off the coast of Thurso are the Orkney Islands.
You can get to the Orkney Islands by flying from any main Scottish airport to Kirkwall or by ferry from either Scrabster near Thurso, Gills Bay near John O’Groats or from Aberdeen.
If you have limited time, it is much quicker to fly to the islands as the ferry crossings can be delayed in winter and it can be rough crossing the North Atlantic.
Once on the islands, the best option is to head north away from Kirkwall and Stromness, the two main towns. The Brough of Birsay is one of the popular areas to visit to view the Northern Lights where there is a large car park and interesting foreground as you look across the sea and tidal island.
Another option, is to visit the Ring of Brodgar, where the Neolithic standing stones are regularly watched over by the Northern Lights. This option is a little more difficult as the parking is a short walk across rough ground from the standing stones.
If you would prefer to view the lights from a warm comfortable base then many of the holiday cottages across the island are perfect for watching the lights and staying warm.
This is essential through the winter, even thought the temperature does not drop too low, the winds are fierce and going out is not always possible or safe.
Sarah, She Travels
Itching to see the northern lights without leaving (or while traveling to) the US?
One of the best places to see the Northern Lights dancing across the skies is in our northern-most state – Alaska! The farther north you go, the more of a chance you’ll have of seeing the lights, but the spot I highly recommend is the small town of Fairbanks.
READ MORE: 9 Reasons to Visit Alaska in the Winter
Fairbanks is far enough north to see these magical lights, but not so far that there are still people around and a lot of fun things to see and do. You’ll have to visit Fairbanks in the colder months (September – March) to catch the Northern Lights, so all of the best activities are in the snow! My favorites include dog sledding, visiting Chena Hot Springs, and snow shoeing.
READ MORE: The Best Bed and Breakfast in Fairbanks, AK
I specifically recommend staying at the Taste of Alaska Lodge which is just outside of town and far enough away from light pollution to see the Northern Lights right on the property. They even have a heated yurt out back for guests to wait in while waiting for the lights.
If you choose to stay at the Taste of Alaska Lodge, I recommend flying into the Fairbanks International Airport and renting a car to get around to everything you want to see and do. The lodge is about 25-30 minutes from the airport and even has stations to plug your car in overnight to keep the engine from freezing.
Rai, A Rai of Light
Kirkenes, a tiny village in the country of Norway, offers a good mix of history, culture, and of course the potential of viewing the Northern Lights. The latter is one of the main reasons to visit the region.
Given its remote location as the most north easterly town in Norway and its dry and continental climate, this phenomenon is a common occurrence.
Daily excursions take you far away from the artificial light of the town and into the surrounding wilderness. While visiting, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Border Area Museum, showcasing the role that this town played during WWII. It was one of the most bombed cities in Europe and only a handful of houses survived the war, so the village has a modern rebuilt feel to it.
There are a host of activities, just outside the town’s borders, which make the most of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and fjords.
All this exploration is sure to leave you feeling famished and you can’t miss trying the freshly caught salmon that is a popular delicacy here.
My time in this tiny Artic town was a highlight of my travels and is sure to leave you with a smile that remains long after you’ve left too.
Bliss, Travel for Bliss
One of the best places to see the northern lights is Tromsø in Northern Norway. Tromsø is easy to get to with direct flights from Oslo. It’s a beautiful little town that has been nicknamed the Paris of the north.
If you want to see the northern lights in Tromsø there are several easy ways to do this. You can see them directly over the town center on a strong night. However, the best options are small group tours and big bus tours, which can be found on the Visit Norway website. I’ve done both of them and they have different benefits.
There are many small group tours that you can book from Tromsø to see the northern lights. Some of them include extra activities like snowshoeing, dog sledding or reindeer sledding.
The one I participated in was a photography small group tour. You could take your own photos with the guides advice, or they had cameras to take photos of you.
The group size was a maximum of twelve people. Being a small group, they were flexible with where we went and just chased the lights until we found the perfect spot on a fjord.
We had a fire, ate crisps, and cooked marshmallows while we waited for the northern lights.
The big bus tours will have up to fifty people on the tour. What you lose in privacy you gain in having a much cheaper price.
Once you’re on the bus they will give you a lesson on the northern lights and how to set up your camera for photographing them.
The bus tour companies have numerous destinations that they will drive to depending on the weather.
They’ll even take you to Finland if Norway has too many clouds or no activity. They provide tea and coffee and biscuits at the major stops.
Check out Bliss on Instagram
Lora, Explore with Lora
Yellowknife Canada is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the world. This is due to the cities proximity to the arctic circle and relatively stable weather conditions, which give way to clear skies. You can see the northern lights 240 days a year in Yellowknife, with the exception of the summer months as it does not get dark enough during the night.
If you are visiting Yellowknife and want to see the Northern lights, you can either DIY and rent a car, or join a guided Northern lights tour. While you can sometimes see them from the city, this is rare and it is best to go away from the city light pollution.
If you are joining a tour, there are a couple of options. You can either join one where you stay in one location outside of the city, or join a tour that drives around to various locations ‘chasing’ the northern lights.
The best time to see the northern lights is from 10 pm to 2 am. If you are visiting Yellowknife in the winter, be prepared for extreme conditions. It was -45 while I was there in February!
Yellowknife is a remote destination and while it is possible to drive there, the easiest way is to fly into the airport. If you are coming internationally, you will likely connect via Vancouver or Calgary airport.
Cazzy, Dream Big Travel Far
The North Cape is located in Northern Norway and it’s the northernmost point of Europe which makes it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights.
Due to its high location, when the weather is clear, you’ll have a very high chance of witnessing the northern lights here. The lights are so strong, you can actually see them with the naked eye, which makes for a fantastic experience. Expect vibrant greens, pinks, and purples dancing around in the sky.
If you’ve got your own camper van or transport, you can park up at the North Cape and wait for the northern lights, which typically start showing 30-50 minutes after it gets dark. If you don’t have your own transport, you can take a tour to the North Cape for northern lights hunting.
Just remember to wrap up warm, as hunting the Northern Lights is a chilly experience! It’s a good idea to have a couple of days to spend here so that you can give yourself the best chance to get good weather to see the lights.
The best time of year to catch the lights are late autumn and winter/early spring.
Tips for seeing the Northern Lights
Sadly, as with all natural phenomenons, you are not guaranteed to see the Northern Lights. However, there are somethings you can do to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
1. Head as far North as possible
2. Visit for at least three nights
3. Hunt for the Northern Lights in the Winter months, particularly January and February.
4. Stay away from the light pollution of the cities and towns
5. Aurora Alerts provides live tweets that gives you an alert of upcoming Aurora activity
6. Clearer nights give you the best chance to see the Northern Lights
7. Dress warmly, you will be out in the elements for 3 -4 hours
Thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute to this article!
Have you seen the Northern Lights? Where do you think the best places to the Northern Lights? Let me know in the comments below
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