The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, is one of the most sought out natural phenomena in the world and it is on many travelers’ bucket lists. This magnificent natural wonder is described by many as a show of lights of many colors, mostly green, blue, pink, and violet, metamorphosing into never-before-seen shapes and sizes in the night sky.
What appears to be an incredibly unique and enchanting dance of colors moving across the Arctic sky, is actually a series of gasses coming from the surface of our planet formed somewhere between 50 and 800 kilometers above the ground. More specifically, gasses exerted by the earth when the electrically charged particles of the sun collide with the earth’s atmosphere.
As the appearance of the Aurora Borealis often depends entirely on solar activity, which isn’t always easy to forecast, it is extremely difficult to accurately predict when this spectacular collision will take place. To increase your chances of catching this unlikely phenomenon, there are several free and paid apps available which provide approximate forecasts.
Where To See The Northern Lights?
There are a few towns recommended by experts chasing the aurora borealis, and here’s what we know about each of those towns. As Iceland, Norway and Sweden are the Nordic countries that reach the farthest north, you are most likely to see the Northern Lights here. You can also visit some extreme zones like Oymyakon in Russia.
If you are looking for accommodation, the following tips are a few things to consider about the remote locations where some of the most experienced Northern Lights watchers of the world head to when trying to catch a glimpse.
1. Bodø, Norway
Some of the best places to see the northern lights in Norway are Tromsø, Bodø, Lofoten, or Alta. Immerse yourself in the rugged wilderness of breath-taking Bodø at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Bodø. This gateway town to the wild north in Norway is only 2 kilometers from the airport and less than 1 kilometer from the nearest train station. In winter you’ll be transfixed by nature’s very own Northern Lights which can be experienced from the town’s pier.
2. Tromsø, Norway
The majority of the Europeans consider Tromso as the ideal place in winters for weekends to see a glimpse of northern lights. It’s located 69° N in the middle of the perfect northern light zone. As Tromsø is one of the northernmost cities in Norway, it is the location most people head to when trying to see the aurora Borealis in Norway.
Tromsø, by far is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Norway especially in November or early December before the real winter hits. You get the best chance for clear skies and when it’s clear, the aurora always comes out to play and not just looking to the north, but right overhead. Temperature is not too cold either, as the Gulf Stream terminates there and keeps things moderate and the best is to have a $5 pound smoked salmon in hand.
The Radisson Blu Hotel in Tromsø offers stunning scenic views of the surrounding mountains, forests and fjords, and gives you easy access to nearby cultural attractions and it is an ideal base for discovering the Arctic.
Unfortunately, because cloudy and misty weather is experienced so often in this northern part of Norway, the chances that you will be able to see any lights through the thick clouds is relatively low.
3. Trondheim, Norway
Trondheim is located in the central area of Norway, and it has a 63° Altitude. Although people rarely come here to see the northern lights, it’s still an ideal place to experience.
4. Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard is located in between the North Pole and mainland Norway, having a 78° altitude. Visiting this place for northern lights experience is best if you are staying in Longyearbyen. The long polar nights between November to February in Svalbard are in darkness on a 24/7 basis. So, it’s an ideal place to consider when coming to Norway for northern lights.
The population here is just 2500. This place is silent and calm. You can hear the sound of the wind. Sometimes, as you keep walking, you feel, as if you the only person on this planet. Dog sledging is fun. It is a wonder how these dogs survive in such extreme cold conditions.
You don’t need visa to visit Svalbard. But, the rule is, your flight should directly land in Svalbard. If there is such a flight, then you don’t need visa. If you are travelling via Norway, you will need a Norway visa or a Schengen visa.
5. Reykjavik, Iceland
It is most likely that Reykjavik is where most of you will begin and end your Iceland vacation as it is the best location to stay in Iceland. At the Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel, Reykjavik you can begin your tour of the impressive country of Iceland. By staying in the heart of the city, you can easily reach both the attractions within the city and the country’s outstanding natural highlights.
6. Kirkjufell, Iceland
Though Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and largest city, Kirkjufell, Iceland is actually the best location in Iceland to see the northern lights. The northern orientation of Iceland’s most iconic mountain is perfect for viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland even when the intensity is not strong.
7. Abisko, Sweden
Abisko is a small village in the middle of nowhere in Swedish Lapland. Though this small town is the hardest to reach, it is your best bet to catch a glimpse of the lights. Abisko is directly under the aurora oval, aka as the blue hole, which is why there is always some sort of activity happening here.
When it comes to serene experiences, there is nothing quite like seeing the Northern Lights in Abisko for yourself. When people talk about a picture not doing justice to something, this is the perfect example.
8. Lapland, Finland
If you are unable to catch the aurora borealis while in the Nordic areas, you can also go winter fishing, hiking, skiing, and dog sledding, experience the Sami culture, or join a whale or wildlife safari. Not to mention on a clear day, you are still likely to experience some sort of magical light in the sky.
For example, you will get to see the beautiful sunset colors if you are in the South and a deep midnight blue sky if you are in the North. More importantly, you will experience a landscape bathed in a glassy deep blue color in the blue hour at twilight.
9. Saariselkä, Finland
There is no better place to watch the incredible Northern Lights than from Finland. Rent out a glass igloo in the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort or ice hotels or other glamping resorts or live in a log cabin under the stars in the middle of nature for a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will never forget.
10. Murmansk, Russia
Due to its geographical location, the north of the Kola Peninsula is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. In the territory live the Saami, last indigenous population of Europe where they develop their day to day and will make you part of the reindeer herding that is still their main activity today.
Best Time to See Northern Lights
In order to see the northern lights is not a rocket science. You need a dark clear sky, aurora activity and at least somewhere north enough to a certain point, usually within arctic circle with higher chance. Here’s a thing, most of Google results will suggest places like Iceland, northern Finland and Sweden, northern Norway, Russia, Canada, Greenland, etc.
However, they rarely ever talk about the unpredictable weather most of these places have during the winter months. The perfect time to watch northern lights is around September and March when the weather tends to be more stable and calm in general in most of cases with few exceptions.
If you truly only want to see northern lights and don’t mind the lack of activity and landscape, then consider places like Yellowknife and Abisko, I’m sure there are few more as well.
For example: Norway and Iceland have such an unpredictable weather and cloud will usually screw your plan over. In the end people might simply tell you it’s all about luck, but you can increase your chances by going to places with more stable weather historically.
The lights are more likely to appear when the sky is very dark when the weather is cold and dry. Consequently, winter is the perfect time to see northern lights, which is why it best to venture up north during late September and late March. More importantly, keep in mind that it will more than likely be REALLY cold, so be sure to be prepared for low temperatures.
This means bundle up! You will be experiencing almost freezing conditions. And finally, if you wish to increase your chances to see the aurora borealis, visit your preferred location for anywhere from 5 to 8 days.
This amount of time will be enough to chase aurora borealis’ perfect sky conditions, while also giving you possibility to explore much of the tours and attractions of the surrounding area in which you are staying.
Lastly, keep in mind that while you don’t need a tour to see the Northern Lights, the tour is a fun experience. Your Northern Lights hunting tour guide will do everything possible to help you experience them, so much so that they will often check the Northern Lights tracker and assist you on how to take photos of this phenomena (a task not as easy as one might think!).