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How to Catch the Northern Lights from Greenland

how to see northern lights from greenland

If you’re on the hunt for an awe-inspiring experience, then seeing Northern Lights from Greenland should be on your bucket list. With its otherworldly icy landscapes and eco-centric travel options, this is one trip that will stay with you for life.

Greenland is an excellent destination to view the northern lights. It is ideally located in the Arctic Circle, which increases the opportunities to capture a glimpse of the aurora borealis. Greenland is also known for having extremely low light pollution and clear weather conditions which help to improve the aurora viewing experience. The long, dark nights and unique natural surroundings, make Greenland the perfect Arctic wilderness for awe-inspiring memories.

In this article, we explain the ins and outs of planning a vacation to see Northern Lights from Greenland, and other considerations when mapping out a trip to this remote corner of Earth.

How to See Northern Lights from Greenland

Choosing to hunt for the elusive aurora borealis in Greenland is an excellent choice. However, there are a number of different factors which will ultimately affect the visibility of the northern lights. These factors include things like solar activity, light pollution, and time of year.

Important Considerations for Viewing Aurora Borealis Greenland

Solar and Geomagnetic Activity

Solar activity plays a very crucial role in ensuring that the auroras are visible. The Earth has a geomagnetic field that protects it from solar radiation, and disturbances in this field from solar activity tend to result in more vibrant aurora displays. Therefore, the more intense the solar activity, the greater potential there is for fantastic light displays. If you’re interested in learning more on this, we explain aurora borealis science in this article.

There are two ways you can plan your Northern Lights Greenland vacation around solar activity and geomagnetic activity, depending on what part of your trip planning and journey you are on. Solar activity moves in 11 year cycles, so if you are in the initial planning stages, you can coincide your trip with the part of the solar cycle in which the greatest solar activity is predicted as this will give you more likelihood of intense aurora displays overall.

Once you are already in Greenland, you can monitor the levels of geomagnetic activity by following the KP index on an app or website, which will help you determine which nights and even time of night to go aurora hunting. For more information, check out our articles on planning a trip around the solar cycles, the best aurora forecast apps and how to read an aurora forecast.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions play a critical role in ensuring that you can actually view the northern lights from Greenland when they appear. It’s important to make sure that the skies are clear as any form of cloud coverage can easily obstruct your view. Take the time to monitor weather forecasts in the area you plan on staying at and make sure to choose specific nights to stay up late that offer the greatest chances of viewing the elusive lights. The best way to plan for weather is to make sure you spend at least 3-4 nights in your destination, and avoid times of year renowned for dense snow cloud or rain cloud cover.

Darkness and Length of Night

The northern lights exist regardless of the time of day or the time of year. Because of their faint glow, it is impossible to see them during the summer months when the days are longer. Instead, the best time of year to view the auroras is during the winter when the nights last forever, and the skies are truly at their darkest. Check out the calendar further down this article for more information.

Light Pollution

Any form of light whether artificial or natural, can diminish the ability to view the elusive lights. This is why you should not try to hunt for the auroras inside a city. Instead, you want to travel at least an hour outside the city limits to ensure that there is no light pollution coming from the street lights. You will want to be in as remote of a location as possible, to ensure that there is minimal light pollution to obstruct your view.

The best way to plan for this is to base yourself in a remote town or village, rather than a developed city. As well as light pollution from towns and cities, however, you will also need to consider light pollution from the moon. Check the moon cycles, and try to plan your trip for a dark/new moon. Like star gazing, a full moon can cast quite a bit of light into the sky, which can impede the light of the stars; the same principle applies when viewing the northern lights.

Best Time to See the Northern Lights from Greenland

The best time to see Northern Lights from Greenland is September to March.

Calendar for Northern Lights Greenland

MonthGreenland Aurora VisibilityNotes
September✓ GoodDarkness hours increasing.
Mild days, growing cooler.
October• OKVery unpredictable weather means high chance of cloud.
November• OKVery unpredictable weather means high chance of cloud.
December✓✓ ExcellentLong, dark nights. Very cold.
January✓✓ ExcellentLong, dark nights. Very cold.
February✓✓ ExcellentLong, dark nights. Very cold.
March✓ GoodDarkness hours decreasing.
Mild days, growing warmer.
April, May, June, July, August✗ Poor. Avoid.Long daylight hours and Midnight Sun mean very low chance of aurora visibility.

September

September marks the beginning of the northern lights viewing season in Greenland. It is the time of year when the nights start to grow longer, and the days become shorter. As the weather begins to get colder, the chances of capturing a glimpse of the elusive lights increase substantially.

October and November

As September fades into October and November, the nights continue to get longer. In Greenland, the weather conditions throughout October and November are extremely unpredictable. As a result, there is a greater chance of having cloud coverage which can obstruct your view of the northern lights.

December to February

By December, the weather becomes more stable, which improves the odds of capturing a glimpse of the elusive lights. The nights are at their longest, which provides visitors to the country with the greatest opportunities to view the auroras. Keep in mind that the temperature is a lot colder, and at times, can be downright frigid.

March

March represents the end of the northern lights season in Greenland. It is the time of year when the days begin to get longer, and the nights get shorter. As the temperatures begin to warm up hunting for the elusive lights becomes a more enjoyable experience, but the odds of capturing a glimpse of them decrease with each passing day.

April to August

Avoid travelling to Greenland during the warmer months, April to August, if your intention is to catch the aurora. Located in the Arctic Circle, Greenland like other northern countries experiences the Midnight Sun and extremely long daylight hours. Long and dark nights are essential for viewing the northern lights (like star gazing) so the skies are simply not dark enough to see them during this time of year. If you must travel, choose early April or late August, otherwise your chances are next to nil.

greenland glacier Kangerlussuaq
Greenland’s wide, vast and sparsely treed landscapes provide excellent views of the skies, making it an excellent place for viewing the aurora. Pictured here is the ice cap near Kangerlussuaq.

Where to See Northern Lights from Greenland

There are many excellent locations in Greenland for viewing the elusive lights. As a general rule of thumb for any northern lights viewing, you want to head into the Arctic Circle, above 66.5°N latitude.

Best Places for Viewing Aurora Borealis Greenland

Greenland DestinationLatitude (rounded)
Ilulissat69°N
Kangerlussuaq67°N
Tasiilaq66°N
Nuuk64°N

Ilulissat

You will find that Ilulissat, which is located along the western coast of the country, is an amazing choice for viewing the elusive lights. It is a UNESCO world heritage site that is well known for its ice fjord. It is a magical destination where you can gaze across the water and view the auroras as they shimmer above icebergs floating in the Arctic. The region is also known for having clear skies and extremely low light pollution. There are a wide variety of accommodations available in the town and a number of different excellent tours and excursions that make viewing the northern lights more enjoyable.

Kangerlussuaq

When it comes to the perfect location, nothing beats Kangerlussuaq. The town is located along the edges of the ice sheet and provides visitors with vast open areas that extend to the horizon. The climate year-round is generally dry, which provides excellent viewing conditions. Thanks to its international airport, it is easy to get to Kangerlussuaq in order to view the auroras.

Tasiilaq

You will find the town of Tasiilaq in eastern Greenland. Tasiilaq is known for offering some of the most stunning views that the country has to offer. The area is surrounded by towering mountains with ice fjords cutting through the countryside in every direction. It provides a truly unforgettable experience for any aurora hunter. Located along the boundary of the Arctic Circle, it is an excellent destination for viewing the elusive lights.

Nuuk

If you’re looking for the perfect destination with snowcapped mountains and modern amenities, then look no further than Nuuk. As the capital city of Greenland, it has the best of both worlds – excellent urban amenities and traditional Greenlandic culture. Unlike other locations throughout the country, Nuuk does have a high level of light pollution, and as a result, it is generally used as a base for Aurora hunting tours.

aurora borealis greenland winter
To see the northern lights, make sure to schedule your trip for the Winter. Pictured here is the town of Ittoqqortoormiit, located at 70°N latitude.

Planning Tips for Northern Lights Trips in Greenland

If you’re planning on visiting Greenland to view the northern lights, there are a number of factors that you need to take into consideration. Greenland is a remote destination, one of the most remote on Earth, and as such you need to carefully plan your transport and be prepared for harsh climactic conditions.

Getting to Greenland

First and foremost, you need to determine how you’re going to get to Greenland in the cold months (September to March). Of the transport options available, the easiest and most accessible is to catch a flight. While cruises and ferries are available, they are generally operational during the warmer months (April to August), which is the time for avoid for aurora chasing.

Flights

One of the easiest ways to get to Greenland is to simply fly into any one of its numerous international airports. Flights into Greenland generally depart from Copenhagen (Denmark) or Reykjavik (Iceland), so expect a layover in these cities, or better yet plan them into your trip. Iceland is also excellent for northern lights viewing, after all. You have your choice of flying into Nuuk or Kangerlussuaq airports. At the time of writing, the major airlines offering access into Greenland are Air Greenland and Icelandair.

Cruise Ships

It’s also possible to visit the country by cruise ship. Keep in mind that cruise ships generally only visit Greenland during the summer months, so if you are planning to view the northern lights your cruising options may be very limited. Nevertheless, a number of cruise lines from Copenhagen, Reykjavík, and other locations in North America as well as Europe make their way to Greenland every single year.

Ferry

In the event that you choose a location that does not have its own international airport, you can still make use of the Arctic Umiaq ferry service. This service operates along the western coast of the country and connects to many popular destinations. However, just like cruise ships, the ferry may not be available year-round. You can check the schedule and find out more on the Arctic Umiaq website.

Other Considerations

Choose Your Clothing Wisely

When visiting Greenland to see the aurora, it’s important to make sure that you dress accordingly. As one of the most distant corners of our planet, the climate and weather is unsurpassed. Not only that, but if you are chasing the northern lights, you are also visiting during the coldest time of the year, on one of the coldest countries on Earth. It would be crazy not to carefully plan out what you will wear.

Layering

If you have ever lived in a northern location, then you know the importance of layering. Preparing yourself for the frigid temperatures of the Arctic requires starting with a base layer of moisture-wicking materials. This is followed by a middle layer which provides most of the warmth. The outer layer must be waterproof in order to protect you from the elements.

Insulated Jacket

A good insulated jacket can ensure that you are able to spend more time outside and increase the opportunity of capturing a glimpse of those Greenland northern lights. You want a jacket that is specifically designed for cold weather that uses either synthetic insulation or down. It should also have an adjustable hood and must be both water-resistant and windproof. Keep in mind that while looking for the aurora you will spend hours in the dark, bitter cold so a very good quality jacket is essential.

Thermal Underwear

Thermal underwear plays a critical role in keeping you warm when you are in the Arctic. Not only is it important for trapping your body heat and keeping you warm, but it should be made of a synthetic blend that helps to wick away any sweat that forms on your skin.

Pants

Just like your jacket, you will need a pair of insulated pants that are both waterproof and windproof. The pants need to protect you from the cold as well as slushy snow. Make sure that they have reinforced knees, ventilation zippers, and an adjustable waistband. Your pants must be waterproof, considering there is a high chance you will want to sit down on the snow at some point while viewing northern lights in Greenland.

Wool or Insulated Hat

You will also need to keep your head warm at all times. Your head is the number one location where heat escapes from the body, so keeping it warm at all times is critical. Make sure that it is insulated and covers your ears entirely.

Gloves or Mittens

In those frigid temperatures, your fingers can become frozen in no time at all. If you have ever played in the snow, then you would know how quickly your fingers get stiff and painful. Choose a pair of gloves or mittens that are both windproof and waterproof, and that include some form of liner that will wick away any moisture from your hands.

Scarf or Neck Gaiter

Scarves play an important role in ensuring your face and neck stay warm throughout the frigid Greenlandic winters. When selecting a scarf or gaiter, make sure to choose something that is moisture-wicking and breathable.

Warm Socks and Waterproof Boots

It’s important to make sure that your feet stay both dry and warm in the snow. Although the temperatures in Greenland are frigid during wintertime, the snow that you walk through will be slushy. This slush can quickly soak into non-waterproof boots and will result in frostbite. Make sure you choose a pair of waterproof, insulated boots and high-quality synthetic socks.

Sunglasses and Sunscreen

It may not be warm during a Greenlandic winter, but that does not prevent the sun’s rays from causing burns and making it difficult to see. In fact, due to the reflection of sunlight off of the snow and ice, the amount of exposure to the sun’s harmful rays increases dramatically make sure to bring a good pair of polarized sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.

Practice Responsible Tourism

It’s important to remember that Greenland is a remote destination, and it’s crucial to practice responsible tourism when visiting the country. While it is an exciting adventure for you to be chasing northern lights from Greenland, be aware that anywhere you go and stay you are stepping on someone’s home territory. Keep noise including music and voices down at night in quiet areas, and generally be a good neighbor by showing respect for local residents.

Respect the Local Culture and Customs

Take the time to learn about the local traditions, culture, and customs before you ever arrive. This will ensure that you are able to respect the local etiquette and dress accordingly. The way you may act where you are from can be different from the destination you are visiting, and to ensure that there are no cultural misunderstandings, be mindful of how you behave.

Support the Local Economy

Instead of spending time and money with international organizations operating within the country, support the local economy. This means that when choosing accommodations, tour operators, or restaurants, you select businesses that are owned locally. Buy locally-made products and souvenirs to support Greenland’s artisans and businesses.

Minimize Environmental Impact

Always be mindful of how you will impact the environment around you. Minimize your use of single-use plastics and make sure to always dispose of things properly in the trash. When you leave your hotel room, turn off the lights and any electronics that you are not using. When available, also try to use eco-friendly transportation.

Preserve Natural Resources

Respect your natural surroundings. The vast majority of Greenland is natural, untamed wilderness. As a result, you will need to make sure that you respect the wildlife and the ecosystems. Always follow designated paths and clean up after yourself as you go. Despite the temptation to do so, you should refrain from any attempt to feed the wildlife.

Support Conservation Efforts

As you spend your days visiting Greenland, take the time to also support the local conservation efforts. You may even want to volunteer and help out in a local community-based project when you are in town. This will help to improve the sustainability and preservation of Greenland for generations to come.

Engage in Meaningful Interactions

Make sure that you are culturally sensitive to the local communities. Learn about their way of life and the various traditions throughout Greenland. If there are local festivals, join in on the fun and celebrate with the locals, building meaningful interactions and lasting memories.

Be Mindful of Water and Energy Use

Remember, resources are not endless. Greenland has very limited resources when compared to other locations around the world. Be mindful of this and make sure to conserve things like water and energy. When possible reuse your towels and turn off lights when not needed. When resources are limited, make sure to use them responsibly.

Travel in Small Groups

When you go on a northern lights tour, choose a smaller group. Not only does a smaller tour group improve your viewing experience, but also minimizes the impact on local infrastructure and communities, and allows you to get the most authentic experiences imaginable.

Final Thoughts on Seeing Northern Lights from Greenland

This brings us to the end of this guide on catching the Northern Lights from Greenland. The aurora is a special phenomenon, and Greenland presents one of the finest and most advantageous locations in the whole world for sighting them. With its pristine natural landscapes and remoteness from the rest of the world, it is a trip to be remembered forever.

Of course, in order to catch the aurora borealis Greenland, some careful planning is required. The most important is choosing the right time of year. Here is a quick summary of the main points from this article:

Best Time of Year for Aurora Borealis: September to March (especially December to February).

Best Places for Aurora Borealis: Ilulissat and Kangerlussuaq (both are in the Arctic Circle).

Avoid the summer months, April to August, as there is too much daylight hours to view the aurora borealis. For the best viewing experience, darkness is essential. Therefore, seeking a place to stay that is remote and away from sources of light pollution such as cities is an excellent idea.

Lastly, if your travel dates are flexible, plan your holiday for a year with greater solar activity as discussed in this article.

Happy aurora chasing!

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