Taking a trip with the single intention of seeing the northern lights is a dream many adventurers have. With the days getting short, the dark night sky is taking center stage once again this winter season! And now is the time to plan a trip near the Arctic circle to see the Aurora Borealis. December through March tends to be the best time to witness the northern lights, so there’s still time to plan a trip, pack your bags, and go!
The northern lights are caused by activity on the surface of the sun. Solar storms on the sun’s surface create clouds of electrically charged particles. Some particles are captured in the earth’s magnetic field and travel into the atmosphere. These particles then crash into atoms and molecules in the earth’s atmosphere, making them heat up and causing them to glow. To summarize, the northern lights are sun particles colliding with atmosphere atoms and molecules, making light patterns in the earth’s magnetic field.
The northern lights can be unpredictable. Weather and solar conditions must be just right. You’ll need a perfect combination of solar flares or wind, a clear, cloud-free sky away from any lights, and time and patience. There are Aurora forecasting apps that will predict the aurora activity level.
The Aurora Borealis is visible from many different places in the northern hemisphere, and it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. Here’s a list of the top five locations with tailored and unique tour and accommodation options that have great success viewing the northern lights.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and is a popular choice for many travelers! There are two ways to get to Iceland: a ferry from Denmark (especially if you want to bring your car) or by airplane. Reykjavik has much to offer in addition to the northern lights - volcano tours, geothermal pools, museums, whale watching, spas, a cathedral, and unique Icelandic cuisine. Tour options include buses, small group vans, boats, and hiking, all with one goal in mind - to show you the most stunning northern lights show!
Tromso is Norway's largest city and is often referred to as "The Gateway to the Arctic," and with good reason. Tromso is a 3.5 hours flight from London and easily accessed from many other airports. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, you can drive depending on where you're starting. The city is lively and has more pubs and bars per capita than anywhere else in Norway. Northern lights tours include fjord tours, snowmobile excursions, buses, boats, and hikes that end with a campfire and a beautiful night sky view.
Yukon, Canada, is on the northwestern side of Canada and borders Alaska. It’s a remote, captivating, untouched area that will make you feel detached from the rest of the world. Yukon has many small airports and airstrips, and an international airport towards the bottom of the region. Many festivals in Yukon happen during the winter, including film and winter festivals, spas and saunas are plentiful, and the open outside space to explore is endless. Sleds pulled by huskies, snowmobiles, and kayaking are some of the unique tour options the Yukon boasts for optimal northern light viewing.
The Swedish Lapland is the northernmost region of Sweden on the western side and is often called one of Europe’s true untouched wildernesses. Accessible by train or plane, this place is still secluded. The high altitudes, open space, and low light pollution make this area a top-notch area to view the northern lights. Lapland has many lodges and hotels (even some ice hotels), so travelers will have an unobstructed view of the sky.
Ilulissat is Greenland's third largest city, and roughly 5,000 people reside there. It is known as the iceberg capital of the world, with its name even meaning "iceberg" in Inuit. Flying is the easiest way to get to Ilulissat from Iceland or Denmark. The coastal town is known for its thousands of icebergs that fill the Ilulissat Icefjord year-round, its popular sled dogs, whale-watching, and hiking tours. Ilulissat is a highly ranked place to watch the northern lights because of its lack of rain and low levels of wind.
We hope this inspires you to pack your bags and head to the Arctic to see the northern lights this winter!
Written by Andrea Jeschke