The Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, has become one of the top tourist attractions in the northernmost parts of the world in recent years. Travelers from around the world flock to the Arctic Circle every year to witness the night sky come alive in a dizzying array of color. If you’re planning a trip to see the Northern Lights, you may be wondering: where is the best place to see them.
While there are a number of locations across the world where the Northern Lights can be easily viewed, there are some things you need to keep in mind before you pack your bags. Here are the best places in the world for aurora viewing.
There are a number of factors that you need to consider when picking an aurora viewing destination, beyond usual factors such as cost. These include infrastructure, distance, weather, and time.
The Northern Lights are best viewed in rural, isolated locales that are free of human development. This is due to the fact that cities and other buildings give off light pollution, which saturates the night sky. Amateur stargazers already know that urban light pollution makes it more difficult to view stars and planets at night, but light pollution can also prevent auroras from being seen. For best results, you should seek out auroras in an area with minimal light pollution.
On the same note, you will want an aurora viewing location with clear weather. There’s nothing worse than traveling to what you think will be a prime viewing spot only for storm clouds to ruin your trip. Fortunately, many aurora viewing spots have minimal cloud cover, ensuring that grey skies won’t get in the way of your fun.
Auroras are best seen during the winter months. This is due to the fact that auroras cannot be viewed during the day, as sunlight obscures them. Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, locations that are closer to the North Pole experience extremely long nights during the winter, maximizing your aurora viewing time. The ideal time to witness auroras in the northern hemisphere is between the months of September and March.
Finally, you should take into consideration the infrastructure of wherever you are going to view auroras. How easily can it be reached by road, rail, sea, or air? What kinds of amenities are available for travelers? Many prime aurora viewing spots feature bus transportation and accommodation for aurora hunters, but others are lacking in this department. Depending on your personal situation, you will need to take this into account when choosing a place to view the Northern Lights.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in the U.S.
Without a doubt, Alaska is one of the top aurora viewing destinations in the world. Much of the state is located within or close to the Arctic Circle, where auroras occur most regularly, and there is a large tourist industry in Alaska designed to help aurora chasers have the best experience possible.
While auroras can be viewed regularly in much of Alaska during the winter, Fairbanks is the preferred destination for tourists looking to see the Northern Lights. The largest city in interior Alaska, Fairbanks is located just outside of the Arctic Circle and is connected to it via the Dalton Highway. The city is home to many tour operators who specifically cater to aurora viewers.
Auroras can be seen in Fairbanks proper, but the best way to see them is to take a drive or ride out to a rural cabin. Numerous tour companies offer quick and inexpensive transportation to prime viewing locales in the Alaskan countryside. Fairbanks itself can be easily reached, with direct connections from Seattle, Chicago, and other major American cities via Fairbanks International Airport. The city also serves as the northern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, which runs to Anchorage, and can be reached via the Alaska Highway from Canada.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Canada
While not as popular an aurora viewing destination as Alaska, northern Canada offers many great viewing locations for the crafty traveler. Eastern Canada (Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland) is ill-suited for aurora watching due to heavy cloud cover, but the western part of the country has clear weather similar to Alaska.
Ideal locations for aurora hunting are Whitehorse and Yellowknife, the capital cities of Yukon and the Northwest Territories, respectively. These cities have plenty of amenities and tour companies that will be happy to make your aurora watching experience one you won’t forget. Vancouver, while far outside of the Arctic Circle, has many tours that will take you straight to the north. It is also possible to view auroras in Nunavut, though aurora tourism here is less common and transportation infrastructure is less developed.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Europe and Asia
Prime viewing locations for the Northern Lights can be found in several regions of Europe and Asia: Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
Greenland is one of the world’s most underrated aurora viewing destinations, as it has far fewer tourists than other parts of Europe. The Northern Lights can easily be seen from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital city, though the town of Ilulissat, located to the north, is another good choice. Many tour operators and hotels can be found in both cities. Greenland lacks roads and is quite a distance from mainland Europe, which makes traveling around the region more difficult.
Iceland is Europe’s most popular aurora viewing destination due to the ease of traveling there; it has air links to most of the continent’s major cities. Auroras can viewed from anywhere on the island, including the capital of Reykjavik, but for the best experience, consider heading out the country’s northern coast. Many smaller towns such as Eldborgahraun and Djúpavík have hotels and other amenities for aurora viewing, and Iceland as a whole has strong land transportation links.
Perched on the Scandinavian peninsula, the northernmost regions of Norway, Sweden, and Finland are a treat for aurora viewers. Tromsø, a small city in northern Norway, is one of the best jumping-off points for aurora chasing, easily accessible by air from much of Europe, while small towns in northern Sweden such as Jukkasjärvi and Tärendö offer a more bucolic atmosphere. Kakslauttanen in Finland is a popular aurora destination known for its glass igloos, allowing you to watch the aurora from the comfort of your bed.
Finally, the vast nation of Russia is ripe with ideal aurora viewing spots. While anywhere near or within the Arctic Circle is a good location for seeing the Northern Lights, more accessible locations include the western port cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. These cities are not far from St. Petersburg and can be easily reached via road, rail, or air.
Seeing the Northern Lights is an once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll want to get right. Picking the wrong location can result in unnecessary complications for you. When planning your Northern Lights journey, you’ll want to pick a viewing location that offers you the best sights possible while also meeting your budgetary requirements. No matter where you are located, you can partake in the Northern Lights and enjoy one of the finest spectacles that our planet has to offer.