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Witnessing the northern lights is a soul-stirring experience. For many, it is one of the top 3 parts of almost everyone’s bucket list. People plan out extensively and wait for months and years to experience this natural phenomenon that turns the cold night sky into a spectacular display of bright green colors piercing through the glimmering stars. Northern lights or aurora borealis, have been there since the creation of the earth and have just recently been made popular by people living in the polar regions.
This incredible natural play of lights is the result of the natural light reflecting the nitrogen content in the air which is especially concentrated around the polar regions.
Read on to know about different places on earth where you can spot the northern lights, especially during the new moon phase.
15 Beautiful Places to See the Northern Lights
1. Svalbard, Norway
The rule of thumb for experiencing the best northern lights is to go on a higher elevation for a clearer and surer view. Svalbard in Norway is located at the right height and elevation that offers one of the clearest sights of the aurora borealis. Getting there is an adventure in itself since it is located deep into the Arctic Circle but is a favorite holiday spot among the locals there. The region remains packed with aurora chasers during the peak winter months of November through February when the sky is the clearest. Another natural phenomenon that people flock here to experience is the iconic polar night.
2. Kakslauttanen, Finland
If you are wondering where you can experience the northern lights from inside a glass igloo, then make your way to Kakslauttanen in Finland. These igloos come with a fully functioning sauna and open fire so that the guests are able to comfortably sit back, relax and just watch the northern lights do their thing in the sky above. Other than having a sparkling clear view of the aurora you will also get to have a lifetime of an experience indulging in other activities as well like, a reindeer safari or a ski experience around the Urho National Park. Just 2 hours away from the Russian border you can make a whole holiday out of this trip and even go visit Santa at Korvatunturi and get a traditional dog sled ride.
3. Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
The dance of the northern lights near the cold chilling winds of Antarctica, where the weather show goes on for about 3 hours, this spot in Sweden is a rather underrated one and just waiting to be discovered. One of the main attractions here is to stay at one of the many ice hotels which will make you experience what a night living inside an igloo feels like. Staying inside the igloo and watching northern lights just outside your door, is an experience which will be difficult to forget. For adding an extra pinch of adventure, you can even hire a snowmobile and get a tour of the whole area which remains covered in snow throughout.
4. Northern Canada
Canada has to be one of the most loved destinations to witness the northern lights. Once in Canada, you can choose from a host of stays and experiences for the perfect viewing of the Borealis. The oval covers the provinces of Yukon, Northern Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. From whale watching and waterfall spotting to aurora viewing and a full day of tripping out in Canada, you can plan out a whole itinerary to keep you engaged through your holiday in Canada. It is a great place for shutterbugs to get that perfect aurora borealis shot.
5. Fairbanks, Alaska
Located right under the aurora oval, Fairbanks in Alaska is one of the most loved destinations for viewing the iconic northern lights without burning a hole in your pocket. In this ring-shaped zone where the aurora is most thickly concentrated the visitors are guaranteed to witness this mystical charm for 4 to 5 nights at a stretch. The peak season when you can plan your honeymoon or a holiday with your family lasts from August to April, one of the longest duration for the sighting of this spectacle. Other activities in the vicinity include panning for gold and an exciting ride in the discovery riverboat.
6. Tromso, Norway
Located right above the Arctic Circle is the gorgeous aurora sighting point of Tromso. This extreme northern part of the country remains dark from early afternoon to late morning from the months of September to March. Being extremely dark throughout the said months, the chances of spotting the perfect aurora increases tenfold. Unlike many other northern lights destinations, Tromso in Norway is a big town and gives the visitors plenty of opportunities to indulge in a variety of memorable and once-in-a-lifetime activities while holidaying here including a visit to the Arctic cathedral. The northern lights here are so prominent, then the city also hosts northern lights festivals which are just days of performance arts and light and music show days.
7. Lapland, Finland
Lapland is one of those rare snow-covered places on earth that replicate a true fairytale-like landscape in real-time. Located in the arctic part of Northern Europe, northern lights are visible here for almost 200 days out of the year. Being situated at a high elevation and offering clear dark nights and days, Lapland is another one of the best places to get a clear view of the Borealis. Finnish Lapland is famous for being the Christmas destination of your dreams as it is home to Santa Claus himself and his 200,000 reindeers. Viewing the lights playing along the dark arctic sky through a glass igloo in Santa’s igloo Arctic Circle in Luosto is definitely bucket list-worthy.
8. Orkney, Scotland
Located on the extreme northern coast of Scotland, is a group of islands and ranks among one of the top places in the world to see northern lights. Just like most Polar Regions, fall winter time is the perfect opportunity to gaze out into the endless sea of northern lights dancing away to beauty just above your heads. The way aurora appears here the locals lovingly refer to it as mirrie dancers. The weather ensures cold evenings with dark and clear skies which is the perfect scenario for the viewing of the Borealis. The clearest view of the light play can be seen from the top of Wideford Hill which is located all along the coast of Birsay? Not willing to climb a mountain? Head over to the Dingieshow beach and get an equally spectacular viewing opportunity.
9. Yellowknife, Canada
Also known as the aurora capital of North America, Yellowknife is the capital of Canada’s northern territories. The reason why it is called that is due to its positioning which is right in the middle of the Auroral Oval. This creates a spectacular and an almost magically awe-inspiring view of the northern lights from January through March. Gracing the northern shore of the Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife is the centre stage for many different winter sports activities that you can indulge in as well like ice fishing and snowmobiling. The festivities don’t just end as the summer approaches but it grows on further by a festival called long john jamboree. For best experience, book a teepee at the aurora village!
10. Reykjavik, Iceland
If aurora chasing is on your bucket list, then start off with Reykjavik being number one. One of the most crucial parts of getting the perfect and clearest view of the northern lights is to move as further away from light pollution of the city as possible. The densely wooded area of Öskjuhlið is the perfect spot for looking at and taking some of the most stunning shots of the northern lights. Gazing at the dancing of these lights while walking on the wood-laid pathways is something right out of a beautiful night time dream. Right over the top of the forest is the country’s only planetarium called Perlan which is also a museum exhibiting the nature and geography of Iceland in fascinating details.
11. Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
When it comes to northern lights viewing, Greenland has to be on the list. Although not the most accessible places on earth for recreational purposes, reaching here for northern lights will be exciting in every step of the way. Ranked as one of the top places to view Borealis in the world, Greenland’s northern lights has to be one of the most pictured places for these lights. What’s more is that this place offers stunning viewing for over 300 days a year, which has to be the most number of days for this. Planning a visit to Kangerlussuaq then it is guaranteed that you will catch a natural light show for yourself. Located on a fjord near Greenland it is not just unarguably one of the perfect places for Borealis viewing but also home of the Greenland ice cap.
12. The Upper Peninsula, Michigan
While talking about the grand aurora, Michigan barely crosses your mind. This underrated destination is the perfect place to check out the lights from within the USA during the season panning from spring to the fall months. In fact, unlike its other counterparts northern lights destinations where they can be seen clearly only during the fall-winter months, the upper peninsula offers a spectacular show of the lights during the warmer months. Throughout the summer months you can check out one of the clearest sights of the Milky Way right above your head and by the end of the month, you can even catch some awe-inspiring views of the gorgeous meteor shower.
13. The Kola Peninsula, Russia
The Kola Peninsula in Russia sits right in the middle of the Arctic Circle and experiences about 42 straight days of polar nights which means that the day time here remains shrouded in complete darkness. This makes Aurora viewing all the more clear and concentrated. The season for the lights goes on from late august to late April however the best chances to catch the Borealis is during the peak winter months. You can easily plan a holiday here as it is not so remote and in fact one of the more temperate and accessible regions of Russia. When in the Kola Peninsula the best place you can go for light viewing is from the small port city of Murmansk.
14. Saadjärv, Estonia
There are many destinations and locations in Estonia for light viewing but Saadjärv is one of the rare places here for the most consistent and sure sightings. Situated on Lake Saadjärv, in a town which is 14 miles north of Tartu in central Estonia, and very close to the Vooremaa National Park, it is understood that a lot can be done here other than northern lights viewing. The most interesting part about the lights viewing from here is that you get to see more than just green color and rather different shades of green and neon which will make for the perfect picture. Your night sky watching is sorted here but what about the day? The lake is the perfect recreational spot where you can go for museum walks, stay near the lake, and visit animal parks and castles.
15. The Viking Ocean Cruise, Coast Of Norway
This will guarantee an experience of a lifetime for anyone on the cruise. Setting sail on the freezing free waters of the Arctic Circle is one thing and then looking above at the northern lights illuminating the harsh dark nights is something that you get to experience just once in a lifetime. The cruise sets sail from London and heads on to the North Sea and stops at several aurora viewing locals in Norway like Bodo, Tromso, Alta, Narvik and comes to an end in Bergen. While Deboarded on land you can go ahead and stay in one of the many igloos here on the thick permanently snow-blanketed landscapes. The cruise remains open for just a couple of weeks lasting from mid-January to mid-March so if you are planning a trip then be sure to be quick!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. Where in the US can you see the northern lights?
Ans. Some of the best places to get the experience of the northern lights in the US are Fairbanks, Alaska; Priest Lake, Idaho; Aroostook County, Maine; Beaver Bay, Minnesota; Upper Peninsula, Michigan.
Q2. How often do northern lights happen?
Ans. The northern lights are unpredictable. Their visibility is the surest from late August to early April in regions where there is darkness throughout the day.
Q3. Do northern lights only appear in cold climates?
Ans. It doesn’t have to be too cold to see them, it only has to be very dark to properly witness them. They’re in fact active throughout the year, but people tend to associate auroras with cold because they are only properly visible during the winter months.
Q4. Can I witness auroras for sure in December?
Ans. Typically, December isn’t the best month because famous northern lights destinations like Tromso, Norway, Sweden, and Kiruna receive over 70% of rainfall during that time along with the presence of dark clouds makes it unfavorable for witnessing them.
Q5. Do northern lights make some sound and what do they sound like?
Ans. Aurora borealis is visible due to the magnetic storm. This triggers and discharges certain particles in the inversion layer of the air which creates audible sounds to the audience on the ground. Witnesses have said the sound that the lights make is more like a radio static, faint crackling, light rustling, and even hissing.
Q6. Will I be able to see the northern lights just like in the pictures?
Ans. You may have seen elaborately vibrant colors of the northern lights however, in reality, it is nothing like that. Sometimes you can see and differentiate between colors but for the most part it appears to be a little bit of green on the horizon with come white spikes shooting to the sky. They often appear to be white and kind of like a cloud.
Q7. Why are northern lights green?
Ans. Green is the most commonly seen color in the Borealis. The reason being, when the solar wind hits millions of oxygen atoms for a little while and then decays back to their original state creating a green hue that we get to see.
Q8. How far south are northern lights visible?
Ans. Northern lights are a frequent sight in the far northern latitudes of the earth. The most they can see is as far as 35 degrees north latitude from the south.
Q9. Where are auroras most commonly seen on earth?
Ans. The best places to see the auroras are near the magnetic poles. These regions include northern Greenland, the Scandinavian coast, Siberia, Alaska in the north, and Antarctica in the south.
Q10. How fast do the northern lights move?
Ans. Northern lights solar particles move millions of miles per hour.