The Northern Lights are an otherworldly light show that happens in the sky over a relatively narrow band across the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re serious about crossing this one off your bucket list, however, be prepared to work for it!
When to Go
You need as much darkness as possible, as well as clear skies, to see the Northern Lights. That means traveling to some of the world’s coldest places between December and April. The lights can be spotted between 10 pm and 2 am on those cold, clear nights. For maximum darkness, try timing your visit during the new moon.
Best Places to Hunt the Aurora Borealis
Experts recommend Abisko, Sweden, as an ideal destination. The weather is generally clear–in fact, it has more cloud-free nights than any place along the path of the Aurora belt. The area around Tromso, in Norway, is also a popular place to look for the lights.
Iceland is a great choice–as long as the weather cooperates! Despite its name, Iceland is actually a beautiful and interesting country (while Greenland is basically an icy rock in the sea; go figure!). However, the chance of rain is higher here than other places on our list.
Most people recommend avoiding Russia–not because they don’t experience the Northern Lights, but because the areas that do are mostly inaccessible to tourists.
And did you know that you can see the Aurora in the UK? Head to the northernmost parts of Scotland for a chance to see the lights over the ocean.
No matter where you choose, make sure that you get as far as you can from major cities. The light pollution can completely ruin the Aurora.
What About North America?
If you’d rather not trek to Europe, you can find the Aurora Borealis in Alaska. Fairbanks is a good place to base yourself. However, you can also brave the Yukon in Canada to hunt the lights. Remember that you’re going to be in for some cold, cold weather, so plan accordingly if you want to camp out.
Choose a Destination You Actually Want to Explore
The Northern Lights are fickle and unpredictable. You might see them your first night! But on the other hand, you might miss them entirely if the weather isn’t right. Make sure to visit someplace you’d like to explore and plan lots of fun activities. If you travel just to see the lights, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration.
Many regions where the Northern Lights occur have an alert system set up. You can usually find a Facebook page or even an app for your phone to find out when and where the Lights are happening.