One of the most magical, mystifying natural phenomena has to be the aurora borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights. They light up night skies across the Northern Hemisphere, dancing along through the darkness in a medley of stunning colors. Most often, they appear as shimmering green lights, but reds, purples, yellows, and blues are also possible.
The name should give you a hint as to where you can see this stunning natural light show. The farther north you go, the better the chance you have at glimpsing this spectacular display in the night sky. Aurora hunters travel all over the world to see the aurora borealis in the north and the aurora australis in the south.
The lights are caused by electromagnetic disturbance in Earth’s magnetosphere, usually from solar winds that come from our sun. Charged particles emit lights of varying color and complexity.
If you too want to better your chances of seeing this amazing color and light show, you can up your odds by traveling to one of these 20 locations. The best time to go is usually during the winter months, when the midnight sun has set and the sky is dark for hours on end. Head deep into the wilderness and hope for clear skies overhead as you take in the show in any one of these places.
Scotland is mostly renowned for its overcast weather. Rain and cloud cover are commonplace here, even in the summertime. But if you’re lucky enough to catch a break in the clouds, you could be in for a real treat.
You can catch the aurora—or “merry dancers,” as the locals call them—almost anywhere in Scotland. Head to Loch Lomond in the west or Aberdeen in the east. Inverness and Elgin, along the northeast coast, also provide prime viewing locations for one of nature’s most stunning shows. Keep an eye on the weather and head out of town to get the very best views!
To see the northern lights in all their glory, you usually have to brave both the cold and the dark. The stunning spectacle is best observed during the winter, when the mercury drops well below freezing and the long nights keep the sky dark for hours.
A visit to Fairbanks, Alaska, could be the solution you’re looking for! Accommodations like the Borealis Basecamp and the Aurora Borealis Lodge are designed for aurora chasers.
Or you could settle into a spring-fed hot tub in Manley Hot Springs to watch the night sky light up. You’ll have a great chance of catching the lights too, since the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska will keep you updated on viewing conditions.
The Faroe Islands are technically part of Denmark, but they actually lie just to the north of Scotland. Their northerly location makes them one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis in 2018. As a matter of fact, they’re a great pick in any year.
The best time to see the northern lights is during the winter, when the summer sun has set and the sky is dark for long periods of time. Tourism to the Faroes also drops off during the winter months, so you’ll be able to experience some much needed rest and relaxation if you book a trip here.
You could pick almost any location in Finland’s Lapland region to see the aurora borealis. The wide open landscape, almost free of urban light pollution, offers up the perfect dark sky canvas for this natural light show.
The town of Luosto, however, might have a leg up on its competition.
The Aurora Chalet will hand you your very own “Aurora Alarm” when you arrive. This device alerts you when the northern lights step on stage for their next performance.
Since aurora shows can be brief events, you’ll appreciate the notification!
A couple of towns over, in Sodanklya, you’ll find the Northern Lights Research Center, which issues the alerts.
Iceland is maybe the best country in the world to see the northern lights. You can see them almost any time, from almost anywhere in this north European island country. If you truly want the best views, however, head out of Reykjavik and take a jaunt down to Thingvellir National Park.
There’s plenty to see and do at Thingvellir during the day, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The show really starts once the sun goes down, and the aurora comes out to play. Shows can be as short as 15 minutes, but you’ll be captivated for the entirety of the performance.
The aurora borealis or northern lights are so-called because they tend to appear in the most northern of places. The farther north you travel, the more likely you are to encounter them, especially during the long, dark nights of winter.
Tromso, Norway, lies inside the Arctic Circle, which makes it a prime viewing place for this natural phenomenon. There’s plenty to keep you entertained during the day, including a local brewery and a planetarium. As the sun sinks below the horizon, hop on a boat and cruise the fjord-lined coast as you wait for the magical lights to make their appearance.
Iqaluit may be the capital city of the Canadian province of Nunavut, but it’s also one of the least densely populated cities in the country. That means you won’t need to travel miles and miles away from civilization to escape light pollution.
The city’s relatively dark skies mean you could even glimpse the spectacular aurora light show from the warmth of your hotel room.
If you plan to chase the northern lights to Iqaluit, be sure you book you trip after the midnight sun has sunk back below the horizon. During the summer, daylight can last for up to 21 hours here, so you might not glimpse the aurora.
Most aurora viewing places get their nominations from the fact you can witness some stunning light shows. Abisko National Park and the area around it get top marks because it’s been scientifically proven to be one of the world’s best vantage points.
The Abisko area has a unique micro-climate, caused by a 43-mile (70-kilometer) long lake, which creates a clear patch of sky no matter the weather conditions.
You’re almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse of the northern lights dancing across the sky in Swedish Lapland. The Aurora Sky Station makes your trip even more pleasant, offering a guided tour and a four-course dinner for visitors.
Russia is particularly famous for its wintry weather, and Siberia is almost synonymous with “cold.” Given the climate, you’ve got a fairly good chance of glimpsing the northern lights almost anywhere on the Kola Peninsula, one of the northernmost points in the entire country.
The city of Murmansk, in the Murmansk oblast, is a popular base for viewing the northern lights. And it’s easy to see why. Photos like the one above showcase just the kind of spectacle you can expect to witness. Braving the the below-freezing temperatures of the Siberian climate comes with rich rewards for aurora hunters like you!
Like some of the other places on this list, Greenland is one of the countries where you’d expect to find great aurora-chasing opportunities. The world’s largest island is situated far enough north that almost the entire country is within the northern lights zone. You could travel anywhere and see the lights.
One spot you might want to try is Kangerlussuaq. Like Abisko, Kangerlussuaq’s climate makes it an ideal spot for aurora hunters.
On average, the skies will be clear 300 days of the year.
Probability is on your side here, since at least one of those clear-sky days is likely to happen during your trip.
Yellowknife, the capital city of the Canadian province of Northwest Territories, is another one of those places where you’d almost expect to see the aurora. And, in fact, it’s such a great spot to view the northern lights that there’s actually an entire campground dedicated to aurora hunting.
Aurora Village is about a 25-minute drive from the city center, and it’s been specially designed with aurora-chasing visitors like you in mind. The teepee campground has heated viewing chairs to keep you warm during the -40 degree nights here. Guides provide information on the lights in several different languages. During the day, dog-sledding and snowmobiling are popular activities.
The northern lights are visible from almost anywhere in Iceland. You can even glimpse them in the capital city of Reykjavik, although light pollution may put a damper on the spectacle. If you truly want to see the aurora at its very best, you’ll need to get out of town.
While you could pick a more remote location like Thingvellir National Park, you could also opt to walk to the nearby Grotta Lighthouse. This popular viewing spot along the coastline is prime aurora-viewing real estate, partially because it often has clear skies. Afterwards, you can walk back to the warmth and comfort of your bed in Reykjavik.
As we mentioned before, you can pick almost any location on a map of Scotland and have a good shot at seeing the aurora borealis, provided the skies are actually clear during your visit. This is also true in Britain’s largest national park.
In Cairngorms National, you might catch a glimpse of the “merry dancers” whether from your hotel window or as you lay under the stars on your campsite within the park. Daytime activities here can take you to castles and distilleries. And there’s always the chance you might glimpse some of Cairngorms’ wildlife as you wait for the lights to take center stage.
The western region of Finnish Lapland is known for its moor-covered hills. Nestled among them is the town of Muonio, which makes an excellent base for exploration of nearby fells, including Olos, Levi, and Pallas.
It also makes a great station for seeing some truly awe-inspiring northern lights displays. Nearby Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park provides another great stage for the show. It’s also a favorite spot for skiing and trekking in this part of Finland. If winter hiking and camping out under the stars sounds like your cup of tea, an adventure to Muonio could be next on your bucket list.
The northern lights tend to be at their best in the winter months, from January to March. It’s possible to see them at other times of the year, of course, but they become stronger as the Earth tilts away from the sun and days in the Northern Hemisphere become much, much shorter.
While locals in Churchill, Manitoba, will tell you prime-time for the lights is indeed winter, they might also tell you that you can see the lights pretty much year-round here. It’s claimed the aurora is visible 300 nights of the year.
If you’re truly lucky, you’ll spot both the lights and Churchill’s famous polar bears in the same day.
Since the aurora borealis tends to be a winter phenomenon, you probably wouldn’t think of combining a viewing party with surfing. Then again, you’re probably not one of the participants in the Lofoten Masters surfing championship.
This annual event invites surfers from around the world to conquer the icy waters around Norway’s Lofoten Islands. The championship has a festival-like atmosphere, complete with food stalls, hot tubs, and saunas for warming up after.
If you’re not ready for competition just yet, a local surf school will teach you how to ride Arctic waves under the mystifying glow of the northern lights.
Even if you don’t catch a glimpse of the northern lights in Kejimkujik National Park, or “Keji,” you’ll be treated to some stunning night skyscapes.
That’s because this Canadian national park, which is just outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a dark sky preserve. Thanks to the lack of light pollution, you’ll get a stunning view of the moon, the stars, and the Milky Way as it traverses the sky. The aurora borealis is a rarer sight here, but if you catch a glimpse of it, it’s a truly breathtaking treat.
You might want to book a trip to Keji anyway, to take in the night sky or take part in a night hike or canoe excursion through the scenic park.
As we’ve already mentioned, you can usually spot the northern lights almost anywhere in Iceland. Whether you want to party in Reykjavik or you’re more interested in hiking on a volcano or past stunning waterfalls, you can trust the night sky above you will be alight with the aurora.
One of the absolute best spots has to be Jokulsarlon, the famous glacier lagoon. The stunning landscape almost mirrors the sky above, and the ice formations take on the colorful hues of the heavens above.
If you thought the aurora was lovely everywhere else, Jokulsarlon’s light show will leave you speechless.
If you’d prefer not to head out into the untamed wilderness of Abisko National Park, you can schedule a stop in the Swedish town of Kiruna instead. Located about an hour south of Abisko, Kiruna still makes a prime place for seeing the aurora borealis.
During the day, you can visit the town’s church or its underground visitor center, which will tell you about the town’s mining history. Skiing, ice fishing, and dog-sledding are popular winter activities as well. Head out of town about a mile or so, and you’re likely to encounter the show-stopping northern lights—no guide required.
As mentioned, Greenland is a top destination for aurora hunters because so much of the country lies within the narrow band known as the northern lights zone. You can pick almost any town or destination, and you’ll have a great chance at seeing the lights.
One excellent location in southern Greenland is the scenic town of Sisimiut. The tiny town is settled against dramatic mountain scenery. It will make for some great photos, and an even more jaw-dropping experience. To find the best spots, you can grab a snowmobile bus around town or book a 3-day dog-sledding expedition any time from February to April.
Sources: Huffington Post, Slice.ca, Fodor's, CottageLife.com, CNN Travel