Northern Lights season is here. It’s the time of year when – in certain parts of the world – a natural phenomenon is caused by the collision of particles from the sun entering the earth’s atmosphere. This celestial show is famously elusive (it depends on weather conditions and the sun) but if you do enough research, you should be able to catch it. To make it easier for you, we’ve rounded up the top 10 destinations to view the Northern Lights.
With millions of miles of remote, uninhabited wilderness, Canada has some of the world’s lowest levels of light pollution – all the better for spotting the Northern Lights. The Northwest Territories are the closest to the Arctic Circle, and between mid-August and late April are the best place to catch that famous green glow. More specifically, head to the city of Yellowknife on the shores of the Great Slave Lake and stay at the Aurora Bayside Inn for the glorious sun terrace overlooking the water.
Thanks to its northern latitude, Alaska is the closest you’ll get to a guarantee of seeing the Northern Lights. In fact, the city of Fairbanks sits right beneath a band of aurora activity, with its own forecast system and hot springs where you can keep warm in the bitter cold. Tours that venture into Denali National Park and the Yukon Territory help visitors get the best view and from August through to May, the swirling, glowing green sky can be seen between 10pm and 3am. Stay at the cosy and highly rated Pike's Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks and tuck into a hearty breakfast of waffles the next morning.
On the outskirts of the Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland, near the eponymous glacier, you’ll find a tiny hamlet called Kálfafell. The sky is inky black here, so there’s plenty of opportunity to spot the green lights darting across the Icelandic sky. Fosshotel Nupar offers views of Vatnajökull’s lava fields, mountains and glaciers, as well as the Northern Lights.
The mountainous and fjord-filled scenery around Tromsø creates a splendid backdrop for the Northern Lights. It’s also relatively accessible, has its own planetarium, and an annual Northern Lights Festival during the winter, with musical events often taking place under a fiery green sky. Prime time to see the lights is between October and mid-March. Stay in Tromsø at the highly rated Scandic Ishavshotel, in a picturesque location on the edge of the city’s harbour.
150 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the Aurora Borealis appear with remarkable clarity over the small Swedish village of Abisko. Thanks to the village’s position on the edge of Torneträsk, a 70km-long lake, the sky above remains clear regardless of weather patterns that affect the wider area. Abisko Turiststation STF is a guesthouse on the shores of the lake.
In season, the Northern Lights appear over Finland almost every night, so your chances of catching the celestial display of green and purple are particularly high. Ivalo is a village on the Ivalo River in Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland, where there is barely any traffic and no light pollution either. To enhance your chances even further, you can take a snowmobile tour chasing the lights through forests and snowy wilderness, making the whole experience even more of an adventure. The family-run Guesthouse Husky offers traditional Finnish home cooking and husky safaris.
On the shores of Lake Inari (the third largest lake in Finland) lies the remote village of Inari. If you go midwinter, take a husky tour through thick snow and forests filled with reindeer and look out for that glowing green ribbon dancing in the sky. Inarin Kalakenttä has its own private beach for watching the Northern Lights.
The town of Alta, deep in the Arctic Circle, was the site of the world’s first Northern Lights observatory, built on the top of Mt. Haldde in 1899. It also has great weather conditions for watching the lights, with little precipitation and clear skies during winter. Trasti & Trine’s Lodge is the highest-rated accommodation in Alta, surrounded by forest and on the banks of the river Alta.
Historically a fishing village on the Southern Peninsula, Sandgerdi is now a popular place for those chasing the Northern Lights. Despite this increase in tourism and its proximity to Reykjavik, Sandgerdi remains blissfully quiet, with the Northern Lights reflecting off the surrounding sea. The peak months for aurora spotting are December, January, and February. Sandgerdi Cottages offers individual wooden cabins with private hot tubs, not far from Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.
On the border with Russia, the quiet Arctic town of Kirkenes is smack bang in the middle of the Northern Lights zone. It’s a destination for the most intrepid travellers, as there’s barely anything here, bar a selection of excursions to explore the Arctic circle. Thon Hotel Kirkenes is on the shores of Bøkfjorden and offers snowmobile safaris, dog sledding trips and bear tracking.