Do you have a dream to see the aurora borealis, better known as Northern Lights, in person? Imagine not getting out of bed to catch the northern lights. You just gaze up through your glass-domed igloo and drift off to sleep as emerald, fuchsia, and indigo bursts light up the night sky.
Well, this could be your reality in Finland for example! Places all across Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada market the lights as their main attraction, offering experiences for adventurers and luxury travelers alike.
In Canada, head over to Churchill, and you can watch the lights play over a family of polar bears from the comfort and safety of your own car. You even get the chance to see them in the US at Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park, known for its dark skies.
The lights, caused by charged particles from the sun colliding with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, make for a dazzling natural display, and you can experience them in various locations across the globe. So, let’s check out the top 12 best places to see the Northern Lights.
Besides the Northern Lights display, here you can also enjoy the magical sight of snow gently falling around you! The Yukon is a rugged area, not for the faint of heart, but that makes it an even better experience as those first slivers of green light begin to transform the sky above you.
While winter is indeed a great season to visit, autumn provides something extraordinary as well. Here, you can learn about the science and folklore surrounding the colors at the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake. And after your night out in the cold, pamper yourself, including a dry-brush massage or aromatherapy session, at the Northern Lights Resort and Spa in Whitehorse.
Hidden away 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, it would be the understatement of the year to say that Lapland can get a little cold. While it’s possible to venture out into the elements (with a well-prepared local guide, of course), there is also a way more relaxing and luxurious method of enjoying the Northern Lights here.
Stay at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort to get one of the most unique and magical accommodation options in the world. This amazing igloo resort allows visitors to stare at the grandeur of the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of their beds, thanks to its rooms with stunning glass roofs. This is truly an experience unlike any other.
The summer months in Greenland don’t let go of the sun, often shining well into the night. Even though this is an experience in itself, it does mean that the warmer periods are not favorable for Northern Lights sightings. Instead, travel here in the winter to give yourself the best chance to experience that “wow” moment.
It’s not just likely that you will see the great colors decorating the skies, but you will witness it against a backdrop of the incredible icebergs that fill the area. Besides this, there is a good chance of spotting a polar bear searching for food in the evening hours. Prepare yourself for Scoresbysund because it is an overwhelmingly joyous destination.
One of the possibly warmer places to soak up the Northern Lights also happens to be the place most likely to grant you a view of the luminous performance. Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway and is right in the middle of the auroral oval.
The city is usually called “The Gateway to the Arctic,” offering visitors various tours to choose from starting late August through early April when the dark skies dominate, creating the perfect canvas for a natural masterpiece. These include whale-watching and aurora-spotting tours or snowmobile adventures filled with hours of scenery.
The mountains and fjords surrounding the city are so close to its center that you can admire them from its main street.
Fairbanks is the largest inland city and the northernmost accessible location for seeing the Aurora in Alaska. If you’re there during the winter months and there happen to be clear skies, go outside, and you’re likely to see the lights dancing. Placed perfectly under the Auroral Oval, Fairbanks is a perfectly splendid place to take in the incredible light show.
The temperatures here are freezing. Alaskan weather tends to be quite a shock to your system, so be sure to bring along plenty of warm clothing. But, it couldn’t be more worth it, especially given the low population that makes light pollution a non-issue. Meaning your view of the Northern Lights will be unobstructed, and you can view them in all their glory.
Sweden is home to many places that open up to reveal the full wonder of the Northern Lights, but Abisko is a fan favorite for those with experience in this field. Enjoy it from the National Park or its surrounding Kiruna Mountains, and you will understand why this is one of the most visited places on the planet to take in the famed light show.
Located ideally for the phenomenon, it is possible to witness the spectacle from the comfort of a hotel bar but to appreciate it truly, go on a local tour, and venture into the wilderness only lit by the dancing greens and reds above.
While it is true that an excursion to discover the Northern Lights is rarely achievable on a small budget, some options can provide the whole experience without emptying the vault. Murmansk, etched beautifully into the Russian Kola Peninsula, happens to be one of the best options.
Home to a mind-blowing stretch of over 40 days without daylight and a very small population, the darkness in Murmansk provides the perfect backdrop for the northern lights. Affordable accommodations and tours are available, and the final price will please those wanting to save money without compromising the quality of their trip.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
You don’t necessarily have to hop on a plane to see the lights. Secluded from big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Cherry Springs State Park is committed to maintaining its exceptionally dark sky. The region is classified as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park (the International Dark Sky Association).
The park uses unique light fixtures that won’t inhibit visibility, and it has strict guidelines about flashlights and headlights from cars. And even if you do happen to miss the aurora borealis, you’re all at least guaranteed an extraordinary view of the stars. Before heading for this location, check the park’s website for special occasions like astronomy programs and public viewing nights.
While there may be many reasons to visit the spirited and unique Iceland, the Aurora Borealis sits somewhere near the top of most adventurers’ bucket lists. It’s for no other reason than it is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible places to see the ever-changing twists of radiant light circling among the stars.
For the best chance to see the remarkable phenomenon up close and personal, check in with a local tour guide. They can use their unparalleled knowledge to make your dreams come to life. Weather also plays a huge factor in your visibility here, so don’t despair if your first attempt is a bust. Just saddle up and head back out there again!
The geographical position of Ireland’s most northerly point, Donegal, is a secluded landscape that has withstood the ravages of the past and appears completely unspoiled no matter where you look. For your best chance of looking up at the shimmering lights, visit Malin Head on the Inishowen Peninsula and get ready to stand speechless.
These northern skies are usually clear, and a lack of light pollution stacks the odds in any traveler’s favor, but don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to see the colorful displays. Instead, be grateful that you get to spend some more time in this slice of paradise.
Moray Coast, Scotland
While not the first location to come to your mind when seeking the Aurora Borealis, Scotland’s Moray Coast does, in fact, provide a front-row seat. Leaning on the same latitude as Norway and Alaska, the rough terrain is a truly enchanting place to watch the impossibly striking ribbons of color as they snake between the stars.
Snuggled between Aberdeen and Inverness, the best way to enjoy the experience is to first take the edge off those freezing temperatures with a warming whisky, lovingly crafted by locals. Fun Fact: The Scots call the lights ‘Mirrie Dancers,’ so make sure to drop that into your conversations with the locals to earn your badge as a proper highlander.
Come for the lights, see the…Polar Bears? Yup, they’ve planted themselves in the middle of town in Churchill, Manitoba. It’s the most convenient place that pretty much guarantees bear sightings. But it’s also a perfect spot for viewing the northern lights, as it displays aurora movement more than 300 nights each year.
You can reserve a learning vacation at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to study astronomy and northern lights photography. But if that doesn’t interest you, then book a room at the NHA’s rolling sleeper-train Tundra Lodge for unmatched proximity to bears in their natural habitat, joined with your chance to see the lights.
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