Seeing the stunning Aurora Borealis is a once-in-a-lifetime dream for most travel enthusiasts. However, what are the best countries to see Northern Lights remains a confusing question for many people.
Afterall, it seems like every travel agent is saying that their location is the best, in an attempt to sell their tour, hotel or vacation package to you. But they can’t all be right, can they?
The truth is, there’s a whole bunch of countries where you can witness the Northern Lights. That’s why it calls for preparing ahead to choose a country (or countries) that are known to offer the greatest and most reliable Aurora views.
In this article, we give you the lowdown on the best countries to see Northern Lights, and the regions where you will have the best chance of seeing them.
The Best Countries to See Northern Lights
These regions and countries should be at the top of your list, if your main priority for travel is to see the Aurora Borealis. The thing that makes these countries perfect for viewing the Northern Lights is that they sit within the auroral zone, which is located between latitude 65° N to 70° N.
If you choose a country that sits at or higher than 65° N latitude you are in a really good position to see the Northern Lights, it really is that simple. All you need to factor in after that is the amount of cloud cover, sunlight hours, moon cycles and light pollution from cities that the area might get.
#1 Norway – Best Countries to See Northern Lights
Norway can undoubtedly be called the best country to see Northern lights. When hunting the Aurora Borealis, however, make sure you head to the northern parts of the country only.
Tromso, located just above the Arctic Circle, is one of Norway’s best places to see the northern lights. Between October and late March, the northern part of the country is gloomy from the middle of the afternoon until late morning. During this period, there are more chances to glimpse the aurora because of the extreme darkness. If you’re not looking at the sky, there’s much to see and do in Tromso, along with a visit to a magnificent Arctic Cathedral.
The City Lights Fest, a weeklong music and performance arts event, takes place in late January and early February in the city. Aurora chasers can simply go for it on their own, book in a guided tour to see the lights, or go on a thrilling husky trekking excursion across the Arctic wilderness. If you like to party hard, Tromso is well-known for its nightlife and is definitely the place for you.
Norway is a long, thin country that also extends down south. You may see the aurora sometimes in the southern regions such as Oslo, but only during periods of higher geomagnetic activity. Stick to the northern towns, such as Tromso, for the best chance of seeing the lights.
Due to its location right beneath the Auroral Oval, Alaska’s Fairbanks is among the best spots in the world to see the northern lights. This ring-shaped zone is located over the geomagnetic north pole of the Earth and displays the lights when aurora activity is most intense. During the aurora season, which runs from August 21 to April 21, guests will be able to view the lights on four out of every five clear evenings.
In addition to seeing the aurora, you can visit the Santa Claus House in the North Pole for a delightful vacation experience. In February and March, visitors can witness ice sculptures during the International Ice Art Championship or go on a dog sledding excursion. Book a room at the luxury Aurora Villa for the best chances to check out the auroras.
Iceland is famous for its Northern Lights, and the ideal time to see the aurora in Iceland is from September to April. Head to Skjuhli for the best viewing experience away from the light pollution. The lights may be seen right from the paths in this heavily wooded area in Reykjavik. Perlan, which sits atop this woodland, houses the country’s sole planetarium and a museum featuring displays about Iceland’s ecology and geography.
While you’re here, don’t miss the institution’s observation deck, which offers spectacular panoramic views of the city. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts will enjoy seeing the Solheimajokull glacier, the Keilir Volcano, and Reykjavik’s Esja mountain from this vantage point.
In Finland, the northern lights are visible roughly 200 nights per year in Lapland which is located in Northern Europe’s Arctic area. Santa Claus, its indigenous Saami people, and roughly 200,000 reindeers call Finnish Lapland home. Between September and March, aurora chasers in northern Lapland can expect to see the colors almost every clear night. They can arrive out of nowhere just after sunset or just before dawn, and then vanish just as abruptly.
Watch the spectacular light display from a transparent dome in Santa’s Igloos Polar Circle in Luosto or from one of the other glass igloos in the region, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The scenic and hilly terrain of Pyha-Luosto Nature Reserve surrounds this resort town, which is around 72 miles to the north of Rovaniemi. Rovaniemi is the traditional home of Santa Claus, and leading up to Christmas the village is aglow with kitschy Christmas-themed everything, which is a fun visit for families with young kids.
It is important to mention that not all of Finland is prime Aurora viewing region. The best spots for viewing aurora are in Northern regions of Finland above the Arctic Circle (Lapland). In the more southern parts of Finland such as Helsinki you may see the lights if you are lucky and there are strong geomagnetic storms, but it is not a regular occurrence there.
In Sweden, the best site to see the aurora is in Swedish Lapland, in the north-western section of the country. Lapland is a region of land that stretches across Northern Finland and Sweden, and all of it is excellent aurora viewing territory. During the darkest seasons, from September to March, visitors can witness the lights with good reliability.
Jukkasjarvi, a small Swedish village on the Torne River just above the Arctic Circle, is an outstanding location for aurora viewing in Swedish Lapland. There are various accommodation options in the region, but if you want to go for something fancy (and famous) make reservations at ICEHOTEL 365. Aside from viewing aurora, you can book in for a snowmobile ride or join an aurora photography tour.
The settlement of Abisko has some of Europe’s most pure aurora displays, since it is located far from artificial light pollution and shielded by hills. Stay here for 3 nights between September and April, and you’ll have an 88% chance of witnessing the Northern Lights if the sky is clear. When you’re not looking for the aurora, you can enjoy other winter activities such as husky sledding and snowshoeing. Also, make absolutely sure Lapporten is on your list to visit, which has a distinctive shaped basin between two mountains.
Like with Finland and Norway, it is important to note that not all areas of Sweden are great for aurora viewing. Make sure you head to the northern regions (Swedish Lapland), if your intention is to see the northern lights. The Aurora can occasionally be seen in Stockholm and other southern regions of the country during times of high auroral activity, but don’t rely on it.
The headquarters of Canada’s North-west territories is Yellowknife. It’s also regarded as North America’s Aurora Capital. From January to March, the region puts on one of the most amazing auroral light shows in the world, because of its location in the heart of the Auroral Oval. While you’re not hunting the Northern Lights, Yellowknife offers a range of other activities, too.
Yellowknife, located on the northern bank of Great Slave Lake, offers fishing and snowmobiling. The city holds the Long Johns Jamboree along Yellowknife Bay at the end of September, as the weather begins to warm. Sugar shacks, ice sculpting, and dogsled racing are among the events’ attractions. Book an aurora tour or make a reservation to stay in a teepee at Aurora Village for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Greenland might not be the easiest spot to reach if you want to see the Northern Lights, but those who do will be glad they did. The Greenlandic title for the country is Kalaallit Nunaat, and its tundra is one of the best spots on the planet to watch the aurora.
It’s an amazing site to observe the Aurora Borealis because it has 300 days of clear sky every year, although the greatest viewing period is from April to September. Experienced aurora chasers know how important it is to find a place with clear sky, since cloud cover will ruin any aurora viewing experience.
You can almost always expect a show if you visit Kangerlussuaq. This tiny village, lying on a fjord within the Arctic Circle, is among the best sites in Greenland to see the aurora. Kangerlussuaq is also the site of a former US air force installation and the location of the Kangerlussuaq Museum.
Northern Lights have unique meaning for the Russian Saami Tribes, and as a tradition people still congregate in groups to view the Northern Lights. Russia, one of the lesser-known and underrated destinations to see the Northern Lights, should be on your bucket list. Despite the fact that the Russian winters are brutal, visiting Russia during the winter is the finest option.
The Kola Peninsula in the northwest (latitude 67° N) is the best spot in Russia to watch the Northern Lights. If you travel to Russia in December or January, you will be treated to pitch-black nights, which are ideal for viewing the spectacular Northern Lights. Another best time to visit Russia to behold the lovely sight of the northern lights is between the month of September and March as these months are peak times for spectacular aurora activities.
Like with some of the other countries on this list, you will need to stick with the most northern regions of the country for a chance of seeing the lights. Russia is a huge country, and the southern areas including Moscow, will not give you a good view of the lights. Make sure you choose towns above latitude 65° N if you want to see the northern lights in Russia.
Other countries where Northern Lights are visible
Here we will go through a few countries that are ok for a chance of viewing the Northern Lights if you are already in the region, but they are not our first choice for a Northern Lights vacation.
Since these countries are located south of the auroral oval, they are not the best to visit if your main intention is to see the Northern Lights. Some travel guides may lead you to believe these are excellent aurora viewing spots, but the reality is there are better countries to visit for this purpose. In these regions the lights are less reliable, and there is much less chance of seeing them on your trip.
In addition, any countries on the European mainland, below the Baltic Sea, are not suitable locations to visit for the sole purpose of seeing Northern Lights. Although the lights may be seen on mainland Europe occasionally during periods of high solar activity, this is more of an anomaly. The reality is that if you travel to these countries expecting the view the Aurora, you will probably be disappointed.
In Scotland, the Shetland Islands (latitude 60° N) are your best option for spotting the aurora. This intriguing chain of islands off Scotland’s isolated northern shore will give you the best opportunity in the United Kingdom to witness the magic of the northern lights. The finest times to see the aurora, known as the ‘Mirrie Dancers’ in local slang, are in the fall and winter. Cold evenings with bright sky characterize this time of year, making for perfect viewing opportunities.
The Aurora Borealis may be seen in the summit of Wideford Hill, all along the shore at Birsay, or on the shore at Dingieshowe, to name a few locations. In contrast to the aurora borealis, Orkney is host to stunning coastline vistas and an abundance of sheep. Visitors can also explore the Core of Neolithic Orkney, an Unesco World Heritage that features 5,000-year-old monuments. Stay inside the medieval city of Kirkwall, the gateway of the Orkney Islands, while you’re here.
While there are several spots in Ireland to watch the auroras, the most popular place is in County Donegal – all thanks to the rural settings and unique location. Malin Head is the most northerly point.
Other good viewing spots include the Tra na Rossan beach, Tory Island, Dooey Beach, the stunning Inishowen Peninsula, Glencolmcille, the Rosguil Peninsula, and the Dunree Head.
United States of America
Voyageurs Nature Reserve is a fascinating maze of boreal forests, lakes, and streams located just on the international border between Minnesota and Ontario. Most importantly for aurora chasers, Voyageurs has recently been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve. On clear dark nights throughout the year, aurora viewing is possible, although the greatest time to enjoy the display is in the winter. You can join a guided tour of the lights or a take a cruise to observe the lights.
Idaho is another great place to see the aurora if you’re in the Pacific Northwest. If you travel further inland past the notoriously foggy state of Washington, your chances of seeing clear skies increase dramatically. The Panhandle National Forests in Idaho are a fantastic place to go if you want to avoid light pollution and observe the northern lights. Base oneself in Coeur d’Alene and check the conditions at the Ranger’s Office before heading into the woods. To just get away from everything, book a cabin inside the forests; call ahead for tips on which ones offer nice nearby vistas of the sky.
Final Thoughts on Best Countries to See Northern Lights
This completes our list of the best countries to see Northern lights in both North America and Europe, as well as the United Kingdom. The aurora borealis provides beautiful vistas from the earth, as well as capturing the imagination of scientists who study the Sun’s incoming energy and particles. If your intention is to see the Northern Lights, you should plan to stay in one of the top countries listed in this article.
As long as you situate yourself within the auroral zone at latitude 65° N or higher, you can rest assured that you are in one of the best countries to see Northern Lights. Make sure you pick a good time and peak year to travel for auroral activity, book in several days or a week, and you should be very well set.
Only by planning to be in the right place at the right time, can you have a chance of seeing the Aurora. Prepare for the journey by packing warm clothing, a decent pair of boots and downloading an Aurora prediction app, and you’ll be set to witness the most beautiful natural displays on the planet!
Best Countries to See Northern Lights | Article Sources
National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/7-aurora-destinations
Cottages and Castles https://www.cottages-and-castles.co.uk/guides/where-to-see-the-northern-lights
Russia Discovery https://www.russiadiscovery.com/news/russia_northern_lights/
Comments. Our articles are not open to comments, however, if you have a correction, question or suggestion concerning this article, please Contact Us directly.