The 12 Best Places to See the Northern Lights

Northern Lights over rustic cabin in Alaska

Patrick J. Endres/Getty

Without question, the Northern Lights—or aurora borealis—are one of the most stunning natural phenomena to occur on our planet. Created by energized particles from the sun hitting the Earth's upper atmosphere, the aurora appears as a wave of light that dances across the night's sky. Most often, those waves are green in color, but they can also be yellow, red, orange, blue, and even white.

For many travelers, witnessing the Northern Lights ranks high on the "must-do" list. But because the Earth's magnetic field tends to pull the energized particles towards the poles, the celestial light show tends to mostly be seen at a more northerly—or southerly—latitude. Because of this, most of us don't live in a place where the aurora can be seen on a regular basis.

But the Northern Lights are so amazing that they are worth traveling for just to see them firsthand. If catching the aurora borealis has always been a priority on your bucket list, these are the best places for you to go.

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Tromsø, Norway

Northern Lights Norway

Nutexzles / Getty Images

In a country where the Northern Lights are a common occurrence, Tromsø is quite possibly the best place to witness the light show for yourself. The city sits 220 miles above the Arctic Circle, and during the long nights of winter, it is possible to see the auroras while in town. But to witness them in their full glory, you'll want to escape the lights of the city and head out into the Norwegian countryside. There, on a clear night, you'll get an unfettered look at the sky, which from September through March, is often ablaze with bright colors.

Visitors to Tromsø will find plenty of local guides who offer aurora tours. These experienced operators watch weather and aurora reports closely and know the best places to take travelers to see the Northern Lights.

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Saariselkä, Finland

Levin Iglut, Finland

Laura Grier

Like Norway, Finland has plenty of great places to spot the Northern Lights, particularly in its Lapland region. But one of the most memorable destinations is in Saariselkä, where visitors will find the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.

Kakslauttanen is famous for its glass igloos, which travelers can book for their stay. Inside those unique accommodations, they can watch the sky overhead without ever having to venture out into the cold arctic air. It is even possible to doze off in a warm bed while the auroras dance overhead, making this a comfortable and enchanting way to enjoy this unique setting.

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Abisko National Park, Sweden

Northern lights in Abisko, Sweden
RobinEriksson / Getty Images
Address
Kiruna, Sweden
Phone +46 920 960 00

Sweden is another Scandinavian country where the Northern Lights are visible from just about anywhere. But some places—like Abisko National Park—are especially outstanding. The park's remote and wild location places it far from city lights, eliminating nearly all light pollution. That makes it a great destination for stargazing in general and for experiencing the aurora borealis specifically.

Visitors to the park can hop a chair lift to the top of a mountain where the Abisko Sky Station is located. This facility is found in an optimal setting, thanks to the clear skies and aurora activity most nights of the year.

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Lapland, Finland and Sweden

Aurora Boreal en la Laponia Finlandesa
Copyright, Juan Pelegrín. / Getty Images

Lapland is a region that stretches across the northernmost sections of Finland and Sweden and is home to the Indigenous Sami people. The entire area covers more than 38,000 square miles, much of which remains remote and untamed. Due to its location above the Arctic Circle, it also happens to be one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights.

During the summer, the days are long in Lapland, limiting the opportunities for the aurora borealis to appear. If you want to maximize your chances of witnessing the phenomenon, however, come from September through March, when the sky is frequently painted green, yellow, and violet on most clear nights.

Just pick a town and go. If you're patient and the weather cooperates, chances are, you won't be disappointed.

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Reykjavík, Iceland

northern lights appear over Mount Kirkjufell with kirkjufellfoss waterfall in Iceland.
Suttipong Sutiratanachai / Getty Images

Iceland is a popular destination for aurora watches, and for good reason. Like its Scandinavian counterparts, darkness comes early and stays late throughout the fall and winter months—a prime time to visit if you want to see the Northern Lights for yourself.

Reykjavík makes an excellent base camp for visitors looking to explore everything that Iceland has to offer. Not only does it have excellent restaurants and accommodations, but it also has good access to the Ring Road. The route extends around the coastline of the entire country, allowing visitors to chase the Northern Lights each night based on their projected intensity and visibility. There are even plenty of local guides and experts who can advise you on the best places to go based on the current weather conditions.

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Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Northern lights over Kangerlussuaq
Richard McManus / Getty Images

Because most of the country is remote and largely unpopulated, Greenland is an often-overlooked destination for travelers chasing the Northern Lights. But the country's landscapes are free of light pollution and often have clear skies, making it a great destination for adventurous travelers looking to avoid more popular places to see the auroras.

While there are no major cities to be found in the entire country, the village of Kangerlussuaq is regarded as the "Gateway to Greenland." It also happens to be one of the most reliable places to see the Northern Lights, averaging 300 nights a year with the auroras overhead. Visitors can even camp on a nearby ice sheet while basking in the glow.

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Orkney Islands, Scotland

Northern Lights With Stones Of Stenness, Orkney Islands, Uk.
Andreas Milanese / EyeEm / Getty Images

In the U.K., the Northern Lights are known as the "Merry Dancers," and the best place to see them is on a remote archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. There, visitors will find the Orkney Islands, a place that remains largely uninhabited even in the 21st century.

While the auroras are on display regularly in the Orkneys, they are not as predictable and reliable as they are in some other places. But a dedicated group of locals does chart the current activity and shares the best places to see the shimmering lights. Popular places to spot them include Inganess Bay, Widefond Hill, and Kirkwall.

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Churchill, Canada

Polar Light from Churchill, Manitoba, CA
2686832 / Getty Images

The town of Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada, is best known for its polar bear population, which congregates in large numbers along the shores of Hudson Bay. But it also happens to be one of the best places to see the Northern Lights as well, which appear in the sky on more than 300 nights each year.

The aurora borealis occurs so frequently in Churchill that scientists have built a research station to study the phenomenon there. The researchers at the facility recommend that travelers looking to see the Northern Lights plan their visits for August and September or January through April. It is during those months that solar activity is at its highest, and the skies are most likely to be clear of clouds and light pollution.

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Yukon Territory, Canada

Camping under Northern Lights
Piriya Photography / Getty Images

Canada's Yukon Territory is the North American equivalent of the Lapland region in Finland and Sweden. Here, the Northern Lights are common throughout the year, but due to the midnight sun, they aren't visible during the height of summer. Visitors looking to experience the auroras in the Yukon should make the journey sometime between late August and early April, with optimal viewing times falling from November through March.

Aurora activity is frequent and widespread across the Yukon, with many excellent places to see the Northern Lights. Villages such as Klondike, Campbell, and Whitehorse make excellent base camps for travelers, and as usual, you'll want to leave the city lights behind to get the full experience. Kluane National Park is one of the best places in the area to do just that.

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Fairbanks, Alaska

Beautiful aurora borealis in Fairbanks, Alaska
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Fairbanks, Alaska, ranks among the best locations in the U.S. for viewing the Northern Lights. The city sits directly beneath the auroral oval, which is a ring centered around the magnetic North Pole where the sun's energized particles gather. As a result, the skies above Fairbanks are illuminated four out of five nights from August 21 to April 21 each year.

A number of local guide services offer unique Northern Lights tours for visitors. Options include everything from snowshoeing and dogsledding under the dancing lights to camping in a remote wilderness setting while the auroras blaze across the sky overhead.

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Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Northern Lights in Voyageurs National Park
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Address
International Falls, MN 56649, USA
Phone +1 218-283-6600

Located along the U.S.-Canada border between Minnesota and Ontario, Voyageurs National Park is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the continental United States. That is due in large part to it being a sprawling, 218,000-acre wilderness that's almost completely free of artificial lights or manmade structures of any kind. This has earned it an International Dark Sky Park designation.

The auroras are active in Voyageurs all year round and can be seen during any month of the year. But the long nights of winter give visitors the greatest opportunity of witnessing the Northern Lights in all of their glory.

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Acadia National Park, Maine

Milky Way & the Northern Lights panoramic
Susan Hershey / Getty Images
Address
Maine, USA
Phone +1 207-288-3338

Maine's Acadia National Park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park that offers opportunities to see the Northern Lights. While the auroras appear less frequently there, in December and January each year, they can be seen illuminating the heavens.

Because the Nothern Lights are less predictable in Acadia, an app such as My Aurora Forecast & Alerts (iOS/Android) can be very helpful for timing a visit to the park.

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The 12 Best Places to See the Northern Lights