The Best Places to See the Northern Lights

By Soren Rivero

You've probably heard of the Northern Lights, but do you know what causes this natural phenomenon? As solar wind ions collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen from Earth’s atmosphere, rays of color dance in the sky anywhere from 60 - 700 miles above Earth’s surface – causing the Northern Lights!

Unfortunately, the Northern Lights (also known as Aurora Borealis) are a bit hard to catch — you have to go to specific places to see them! Wondering where are the best places to see the Northern Lights? Here are 8 of our top picks!

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is a phenomenal location for anyone looking for a peaceful retreat. It’s the capital city of Iceland and is known as being one of the friendliest and most hospitable places in the world. There’s so much to see here, from underground ice caverns to geothermal pools, but without a doubt seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik should always be on your itinerary.

As for where to see the northern lights in Iceland when you're in/around Reykjavik? You’re going to want to visit Grótta Lighthouse, Þingvellir National Park, The Lava Tunnel in Þrengslin, or Hofdabrekka for an isolated and private viewing. September - April is the optimal viewing time, though around December - January you’ll get the highest chance of seeing the lights.

Lapland, Finland

Just north of the Arctic Circle rests the sparsely populated region of Lapland in Finland. It's known for its supply of vast opportunities for snow activities such as skiing and snowboarding. The subarctic wilderness is also a sight to behold, with almost the entire region covered in thick blankets of snow. The low population density and lack of urbanization makes it a great place to catch the Northern Lights when the sun vacates the sky. For the best chance to see the Northern Lights in Finland, visit around November - March. The midnight sun is another natural wonder that makes this an absolute must-visit destination. Also fun fact: Lapland is apparently the home of Santa Claus! The more you know, right?

Yukon, Canada

In no particular order, we’re starting off this list with the Yukon territory in Canada. This area is sparsely populated and is best known for its mountainous terrain, glaciers, trails, and the gorgeous Emerald Lake. A visit to Yukon truly feels like an escape from reality. Combined with low population and dazzling landscapes, Yukon is a beautiful place to visit all on its own. But what makes a trip to Yukon all the more exciting is being able to clearly see the Northern Lights all throughout the region, mostly from late August until the spring months.

The best places to see the Northern Lights in Canada are, without a doubt, in Yukon. You can get the best chance of viewing them by visiting the Whitehorse Region, Kluane National Park, or near the Klondike River.

Fairbanks, Alaska

There are plenty of places to see the Northern Lights in Alaska, but our top recommendation is Fairbanks, the second largest city and the coldest interior city. From nearly every corner in the city, you’ll have a high chance of spotting the Northern Lights. The city is directly in the Auroral Oval, a ring-shaped zone that rests in the Earth’s geomagnetic pole. On clear nights, you’re near guaranteed to see the Northern Lights during Aurora Season – which lasts from late August through late April.

Tromso, Norway

Easily regarded as one of the best places to view the Northern Lights, Tromso in Norway should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for places to see the Northern Lights. It rests deep within the aurora zone in the Norwegian Arctic. This makes it ideal for spotting the natural phenomena regardless of the time of the year. But of course, the season most ideal for viewing is September-March. Seeing it inside the city can be quite difficult due to how incredibly urbanized Tromso is. Take a cable car up to one of the mountains during the night hours and you’ll be absolutely amazed at the views!

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Okay, so Greenland is a little inaccessible due to its remote location, but that doesn’t make it any less worth it (or interesting)! Seeing the Northern Lights in Greenland is quite easy, as there are multiple spots across the country to see the colorful light show, especially near areas that aren’t overpopulated. Kangerlussuaq in specific, sat on a fjord in the Arctic Circle, is a great place to start. Most days of the year are clear, which means you have plenty of opportunities to see the Northern Lights.

Image Credit: NPS/Lavoie

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Whoa! Bet you didn’t guess there are some spots in the United States where you can see the Northern Lights, huh?

Surprisingly, there are a number of places to see the Northern Lights in the United States. Most of them are in the Midwestern Territory, Chicago and Lake Michigan among them. With that being said, we highly recommend you visit Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Already beautiful as is, a trip to this national park is a great option for those on vacation in Minnesota (or already living there). It sits on the border between Minnesota and Ontario way up north. Try to visit on a clear night during the winter months for the best chance to catch the Northern Lights!

Orkney Islands, Scotland

The Orkney Islands are a constituency of Scotland located on the north coast. You should definitely take a day trip there and plan to stay late in the night. During daytime hours, you can gaze in awe at some of the world’s most well-preserved and spectacular neolithic monuments from ages ago. The Orkney Islands are also home to the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney,” a UNESCO world heritage site. Visit the Dingieshowe Beach or the Wideford Hill for the best chance to see the Northern Lights in Scotland. As for when to see the lights, aim for fall or winter.

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