The Northern Lights remains one of the top tourist draws in Alaska, Scandinavia, and other northern regions of the world. This dazzling light display, created as a result of the Earth’s interaction with the sun, has been occurring for longer than humans have existed, and an entire industry has risen up around catering to tourists who want to see it for themselves. But you may be wondering: is it possible to see the Northern Lights without breaking the bank.
The answer is yes. With careful planning and thriftiness, you can experience the Northern Lights for as little as $300. Read on to find out how.
Seeing the Northern Lights in North America on a Budget
For many Americans and Canadians, Alaska is the most obvious place to witness the Northern Lights. Much of the state lies within or near the Arctic Circle, which is where most auroras occur, and it also has relatively clear skies much of the time, meaning you won’t have to worry about your view being spoiled by dreary storm clouds.
Fairbanks is a natural jumping-off point for observing the Northern Lights, as it is the largest city in interior Alaska and has many services for prospective tourists. The city itself is not the best place to see the Northern Lights due to light pollution, but there are countless tour operators and bus services that can take you to more isolated and scenic observation points.
Fairbanks is home to a number of hostels and low-cost hotels that cater to aurora chasers, with one of the most notable being Billie’s Backpackers, which bills itself as the oldest hostel in Alaska. The city is also well-served by air, rail, and road links, with Fairbanks International Airport offering direct flights to Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and other major U.S. cities, as well as to Frankfurt in Germany. Fairbanks can also be reached via the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage and via the Alaska Highway from British Columbia.
It is also possible to observe the Northern Lights in Canada. While eastern Canada is too cloudy for effective aurora viewing, western Canada has clear weather similar to that of Alaska. Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, is recognized as Canada’s best spot for viewing auroras. It is also possible to view auroras in the northernmost fringes of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, most notably in Churchill, a small town on the Hudson Bay.
Due to infrastructure in northern Canada being less developed than in Alaska, it is more difficult and expensive to view the Northern Lights in Canada. However, thrifty tourists can easily find hotels and tours in Yellowknife and other northern cities.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Europe on a Budget
Auroras are easily visible in Europe in the northernmost reaches of Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, as well as in Iceland and Greenland. It is also possible to see auroras in the northernmost reaches of Scotland and Ireland, though this is not ideal due to those places being further south than the aforementioned countries.
Iceland is perhaps the easiest location in Europe to witness auroras; indeed, it is often possible to watch them in Reykjavik, the nation’s capital. However, the best viewing spots in Iceland are located along its northern coast, where nights are longer in winter. There are a number of hostels in small-town Iceland that cater to aurora fans, and public and private transportation options are plentiful.
For budget travelers, visiting Ireland and Scotland also gives you a good chance to view auroras. In Scotland, the Isle of Skye (also known as Cloud Island) is recognized as the best aurora viewing spot in Britain. It features a low-cost hostel, the Skyewalker Hostel, and is far away from civilization. In Ireland, your best bet to view auroras is Malin Head, the northernmost point on the island. Note that aurora viewing season in both Scotland and Ireland is only two months long, from January to February.
In Norway, the city of Tromsø serves as a jumping-off point for aurora viewing, similar to Fairbanks in Alaska. Located within the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is well-served by road and air links to the rest of Europe and is known for having warmer weather than other places in the Arctic. In Finland, Ylläsjärvi, a small tourist town in the northern part of the country, there are many hostels and businesses that cater to aurora viewers.
Finally, for truly adventurous travelers, Russia offers plenty of prime aurora viewing locales. The port city of Murmansk, located within the Arctic Circle and near the border with Norway, is Russia’s best location for viewing the Northern Lights. While Russia is more difficult to visit due to stricter visa requirements, it also boasts cheaper accommodation and transportation than other countries in Europe.
Many travelers are put off by the idea of going on a trip to view the Northern Lights because they believe it is too expensive. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you’re in the U.S., Canada, Europe, or elsewhere, it’s entirely possible to witness auroras without making your bank account scream for mercy. With careful research and planning, you too can head to the Arctic Circle for the experience of a lifetime.