The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) just may be Mother Nature’s starring role – and are on many travelers’ bucket list. There are several places throughout the world you can see this beautiful cosmic display – from Alaska to the Arctic. Here are some of our favorite spots for seeing the lights, how to see them and when.
A few tips:
You’ll need to be in the Northern Lights Belt to see the Aurora Borealis, 65 to 72 degrees north latitude, just inside the Arctic Circle. Known as the Aurora Zone, this area includes (but is not limited to) Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Greenland and Finland.
You’ll need to exercise patience and hope for luck when viewing the Northern Lights. Typically, they’re on display between September and April (sometimes toward the end of August). Wherever you are, the night sky must be as dark as possible and there should be as little light pollution (unnatural light) as possible. There should also be as little cloud cover as possible.
The best spots in Norway to view the Northern Lights are Tromso, Kirkenes, the Lofoten Islands, the North Cape and Svalbard. Tromso, “capital of the Arctic,” is one of the best places on the planet to view the lights. You’ll find plenty of tour operators here known as Aurora Borealis hunters” – who set up Northern Light safaris to areas that are free of light pollution.
There are several cruise options in Norway, including Hurtigruten’s excellent astronomy voyage. Sail alongside an expert physicist and learn all there is to know about this dazzling natural phenomenon as you journey to Trondheim, the Lofoten Islands, Honningsvag and Tromso, with a stop at the Northern Lights Planetarium. Some cruises stop at Alta, where the first Northern Lights observatory was built.
In Iceland, the best time to see the Northern Lights is from late September to late March, when it’s dark after 6 PM. In Reykjavik, there are several parks optimal for viewing, including the Grotta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula in the capital’s northwesternmost point. Or, set out from the port of Reykjavik or Akureyri on a boat tour into Eyjafjordur Fjord or Faxafloi Bay, taking you far out to sea away from unnatural light sources. Also in Reykjavik, you can visit two large outdoor thermal pools in Laugardalur – soak and steam while watching for the Northern Lights!
The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Thingvellir National Park is an Icelandic favorite for viewing the Aurora Borealis. It’s far from urban lights and a dramatic landscape of its own, covered in lava rock and moss. While you’re here, consider staying at the 5 Million Star Hotel, a collection of translucent accommodation “bubbles” tailor made for star-gazing. Another fantastic overnight option is the Hotel Ranga, a luxury lodge about 90 minutes outside the country’s capital. The staff will wake you up when the Northern Lights appear. They have an observatory with a retractable roof, as well as employed local astronomers who can guide your view of the night sky while using Iceland’s largest telescope.
Swedish Lapland is the place to be from early September to late March. The area covers nearly a quarter of the country in the northwest corner of Sweden. In Kiruna – the country’s northernmost city – you can explore the great white north and see the Northern Lights by car, snowshoe, dogsled, snowmobile or skis. Want to get even closer? Inquire about Spaceport Sweden’s Northern Lights Flight!
Perhaps the best place in Sweden – if not the world – to view the dancing rainbows is the Aurora Sky Station in Swedish Lapland. From Abisko National Park, it’s a 20-minute chairlift ride to the viewing tower, at which you’ll have a guided tour and, if you wish, be able to spend the night at the STF Abisko Tourist Station. Finally, consider staying at the Treehotel, where the 7th Room boasts panoramic windows specially made for Northern Lights viewing, or the legendary Icehotel, the world’s first hotel of ice and snow and featuring an Aurora Borealis observation deck.
Are the Northern Lights beckoning? Let’s chat about your options for checking off this bucket-list adventure.
August 4, 2023