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The Best Place to See Northern Lights on Earth

the best place to see northern lights

If seeing the Aurora Borealis is on your bucket list and you’re willing to go anywhere to catch them, then this is for you. In this article, we share the best place to see Northern Lights in the world, plus other top destinations for seeing the lights.

In this article, we will explain how you can pick a good travel location based on where the aurora occurs, plus dive into some of the best places you can visit to see the Northern Lights.

This is not an exhaustive list, as we have simply chosen some of the most popular and famous locations for viewing the lights. As long as you are inside the auroral zone (above 65° N latitude) you are in the best place to see Northern Lights. With that in mind, there are lots of incredible small towns that never make it into any best of lists but are absolutely worth visiting.

Compared with more famous spots, small towns offer better isolation, have less light pollution and small tour operators often hold valuable local knowledge about the best places to see the Aurora based on local weather patterns and secret spots. Not to mention, you are supporting local small businesses who are passionate about what they do. Please use this list as a general guide only, and don’t be afraid to explore outside those boundaries.

The Best Place to See Northern Lights on Earth

While there are a number of excellent places throughout the world to view the northern lights, the best places to see the aurora borealis can be found above 65° north latitude.

Best Place to See Northern LightsLatitude (approximate)
Tromso, Norway70° N
Alta, Norway70° N
Kiruna, Sweden68° N
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland67° N
Fairbanks, Alaska65° N
Rovaniemi, Finland65° N
Yukon, Canada64° N
Reykjavik, Iceland64° N
Yellowknife, Canada63° N
Shetland Islands, Scotland60° N

Between 60-65° N latitude is also good for viewing the aurora borealis.

The source of this information is the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate, wherein Kataoka (2021) states “The auroral zone can be defined by the belt between the 70° and 65° contours and the sub-auroral zone defined by the belt between 65° and 60°. The auroral oval extends over the subauroral zone during magnetic storms.”

TOP 3 Places to See Northern Lights in the World

  1. Tromso, Norway (jump to section)
  2. Kiruna, Sweden (jump to section)
  3. Fairbanks, Alaska (jump to section)

The Best Place to See Northern Lights in North America

While there are many excellent locations around the world to view the aurora borealis, due to the oval shape of the auroral belt, the northern lights can be seen at lower latitudes in North America than in Europe. To learn more about this, jump down to the section How to choose a good spot to view the Northern Lights.

1. Fairbanks, Alaska (The Best Place to See Northern Lights)

Located just below 65° N latitude, Fairbanks Alaska is situated within the auroral belt which provides visitors with spectacular views of the aurora borealis between the end of August and the end of April. From May to July, Fairbanks gets more than 20 hours of sunlight every single day.

Every year, visitors from around the globe flock to Fairbanks Alaska in order to view the northern lights. The city provides its guests with a number of different ways in order to experience the awe and splendor of the aurora. For those who want to view the lights on their own, most hotels offer a wake-up call service that will inform you when the lights appear. There are also a number of guided tours that take travelers to heated cabins, domes, yurts, or even specially designed auroriums, which provide an unobstructed view of the northern lights.

One of the most unique aspects of visiting Fairbanks is that they offer personalized auroral certificates. While many specialized tours will provide you with these personalized auroral certificates at the end of the trip, those who have chosen to experience the northern lights on their own can still stop by the visitor center in order to receive their own certificate.

2. Yukon, Canada

Located above 64° N latitude, the Yukon is situated within the northern light’s auroral belt and provides visitors to the territory with endless views of the aurora borealis from the end of August until mid-April. The region receives more than 20 hours of daylight from mid-May through mid-July which limits the visibility of the lights.

Due to the lean of the earth and the oval shape of the auroral belt, Canada is one of the best places in the world to view the aurora borealis. One of the most popular destinations within the Yukon to view this natural phenomenon is at a scenic lookout that is situated just outside the city of Dawson. Every year, visitors flock to the Midnight Dome to catch a view of the awe-inspiring lights.

The biggest downfall of viewing the aurora borealis is that the best time see them is during the middle of winter, and in the Yukon, it can get quite cold after the sun sets. But you don’t have to get bundled up just to view this natural phenomenon, because there are several natural hot springs in the area that stay a consistent 47°C throughout the winter. The Yukon is the only place where you can relax in a hot bath at midnight and still be able to view the northern lights.

3. Yellowknife, Canada

Yellowknife Canada is situated between 62° and 63° N latitude. Due to its location within the auroral belt, the northern lights can be viewed between mid-November and early April. However, from May through July the view of the lights is obstructed by the 18-hour-long days.

Yellowknife is home to 20,000 people and is considered to be one of the friendliest small towns in the Northwest Territory. It is also known as one of the best locations in North America to view the aurora borealis. Due to its location within the auroral belt, the northern lights can be easily seen from many of the local vantage points located in and around the town, even when the KP index is low. The northern lights can be viewed in Yellowknife 240 nights per year on average.

Since the area in and around Yellowknife is relatively flat, there are no hills or mountains to obstruct the view of the lights. When coupled with the low levels of light pollution, the conditions around Yellowknife are perfect for any traveler wishing to view this natural phenomenon.

4. Marquette, Michigan

While no areas in the United States Lower 48 are really ideal aurora viewing spots, if you are set on seeing them there, then your best bet is Marquette Michigan. Marquette is located halfway between 45° and 46° N latitude, and situated south of the auroral belt. However, from August through April the northern lights can be viewed from the city even when activity is fairly low. During the months between May and July, views of the aurora are limited due to Marquette receiving more than 15 hours of sunlight every day.

Most of the locations in North America to view the aurora borealis are located in remote, hard-to-reach destinations. However, Marquette is an easily accessible destination in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The city is located along the southern edge of Lake Superior, allowing visitors an unobstructed view to the north. During mid-January, it’s not uncommon to see a number of visitors relaxing on snowdrifts along the shores of the great lake waiting for the lights to make an appearance.

Marquette is known as one of the best locations in the continental United States to observe the aurora borealis. The light pollution within the city limits can interfere with the ability to view the phantom lights when the solar index levels are low, but it does not impede the view from the frozen shorelines of Lake Superior.

The Best Place to See Northern Lights in Europe

Low levels of light pollution are necessary to view the aurora borealis with clarity. And while there are a number of excellent locations in North America to see this natural phenomenon, Europe offers more remote destinations that provide travelers with better views of the northern lights.

1. Tromso, Norway (The Best Place to See Northern Lights)

Tromso Norway is located just below 70° N latitude, which means that the city is located in the center of the auroral belt. As a result, visitors to the city are greeted with some of the best views of the northern lights between mid-September and mid-April. The lights are not visible from May to July, as Tromso experiences nearly 24 hours of uninterrupted sunlight.

Tromso’s remote location makes it one of the best places to see the northern lights in the world. The levels of light pollution within the city are relatively low, and due to its location within the auroral belt, the aurora borealis can be viewed when conditions are low. Even when the solar activity is at a KP1 level, you are virtually guaranteed to see the aurora borealis just outside of the city limits.

Although the northern lights are visible in the city center, it is still recommended to take a guided tour in order to increase the chances of seeing the awe-inspiring views of the northern lights. Although there is limited light pollution within the city, it is easier to view the lights from a more remote location.

2. Kiruna, Sweden (The Best Place to See Northern Lights)

Situated just below 68° N latitude, Kiruna Sweden lies within the auroral belt and provides visitors to the city breathtaking views of the northern lights even when activity is low. The best time to see the aurora borealis in Kiruna is between the end of September till the early part of March. From May through July, the lights are not visible due to the midnight sun.

Regardless of the time of day, the aurora borealis is ever-present. The sunlight prevents us from viewing the lights throughout the day, and during the summer months. However, during the winter, the sunset is early enough that it’s possible to see the lights as early as 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Thanks to the city’s location within the auroral belt, it’s possible to view the aurora borealis even when the solar activity level is at KP1.

The best time to view the lights in Scandinavia is during the middle of winter just before midnight. Throughout the evening, the lights tend to flicker on and off, culminating in an intense period that lasts no more than 10 minutes. During this high-intensity display, the size, shape, and color of the northern lights will change rapidly.

3. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik Iceland is situated just above 64° N latitude which places the city within the auroral belt. As a result, visitors to the city receive an unobstructed view of the aurora borealis from October through March. From May to July however, the northern lights are not visible due to the city receiving 20 hours of sunlight each day.

As a result of its remote location, Reykjavik Iceland is a popular destination for people seeking to view the aurora borealis. Although the light pollution levels in the city are relatively low, during the peak winter season there are a number of tours that take visitors out to remote vantage points for the best view of this natural phenomenon. For those who choose to stay in the city, most hotels also offer a wake-up service that will inform their guests if the lights are visible.

Reykjavik Iceland is home to more than 100,000 people, which results in higher levels of light pollution concentrated in the city center. While there is no guarantee that visitors within the city will see the northern lights, the odds of viewing them are greatly improved simply by traveling outside the city limits. There are a number of popular vantage points just outside the city that provide amazing views of the aurora borealis even when the KP level is low.

the best place to see northern lights
Aurora borealis dancing over Iceland

4. Alta, Norway

Alta Norway is situated just below 70° N latitude, which puts the city at the upper edge of the auroral belt. The best time to visit the city is between the months of September and March when travellers are greeted with pristine views of the aurora borealis. From May through July, the northern lights are not visible thanks to the midnight sun.

By the start of October, the sun sets during the early part of the afternoon and does not rise again until the later part of the following morning. Because of these long nights, visitors to Alta are presented with more opportunities to view the northern lights than in any other location in Europe.

Thanks to the city’s location near the northernmost part of Norway, travellers from around the world flock to Alta every year just to view the natural phenomenon. Because of the geographical makeup of the region, there are a number of different activities that visitors can partake in while enjoying the view of the aurora borealis. These activities include hiking, skiing, ice fishing, as well as dog sledding.

Best Place to See Northern Lights in the UK

1.    Shetland Islands, Scotland

There are very few places in the United Kingdom that provide an on obstructed view of the aurora borealis. As the most northernmost point in the United Kingdom at 60° N, the Shetland Islands in Scotland sit just within the sub-auroral zone. This makes the islands a good spot to view the aurora borealis, if you don’t want to leave the UK.

We wouldn’t recommend travelling here specifically to see the lights, especially if the Aurora is your main reason or travelling (in which case you should head more north towards the Nordic regions), but if you are already in the UK then the Shetland Islands are worth investigating.

Made up of around 100 islands, the Shetland Islands pride themselves as a nature-based destination, with a focus on marine activities, wildlife and outdoor adventure. You can ride a ferry to Shetland Islands from mainland Scotland, or catch a flight into the islands from several cities.

2. Donegal, Ireland

Located halfway between 54° and 55° N latitude, Donegal Ireland provides some of the best views of the northern lights between September and March. With more than 16 hours of sunlight each day between May and July, the view of the lights during the summer months is limited.

Situated along the Western edge of Northern Ireland, Donegal is a popular destination for those seeking to view the northern lights. Due to the population of Donegal County, light pollution within the cities can interfere with viewing the aurora borealis when the KP levels are low. However, there are a number of destinations that provide excellent views of the ghostly lights.

One of the best locations in Donegal to see the northern lights can be found to the north. Mamore Gap runs from north to south, and the hills on either side block out virtually all of the light pollution from the surrounding region. A single winding road takes you straight through the center of the gap and provides travelers with a number of points to park and view the aurora borealis.

How to choose a good place to see Northern Lights

The northern lights appear as waves of dancing light over the Arctic skies, shimmering in beautiful blues, greens, and the occasional reds. As mystical as they seem, these lights are actually caused by the sun and solar activity. To choose a good place to see the Aurora, you need to understand a little of the science of why they happen in the first place, which we cover in detail in our article on aurora science.

As energized solar particles smash into the upper atmosphere at millions of miles per hour, the planet’s magnetic field draws them towards the north and south poles. The interaction between these highly charged particles with gases in the atmosphere results in the creation of ghost-like lights that wave and arc through the midnight sky. These are the Northern Lights.

This interaction between particles is concentrated around the north pole and south circle in a ring called the auroral oval, and it is this area where the most aurora activity occurs. According to a research article by Ryuho Kataoka and Shin’ya Nakano (2021) in the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate, the auroral zone is located between latitude 65-70° where most activity is concentrated. There is also a sub-auroral belt at 60-65° where the Aurora is also visible when activity is high, during geomagnetic storms.

By way of comparison, the Arctic Circle (North Pole) is located at latitude 66°30’ N.

However, it is not that straightforward to choose a travel location based on latitude alone, since the auroral zone is actually more irregular in shape, but it gives a good starting point.

The Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) in the Southern Hemisphere, is best viewed around the Antarctic Circle, at latitude 65’ S or higher. Unfortunately, this area is difficult for regular people to access, so reaching a good viewing spot for Aurora Australis is much more tricky than it is for the Aurora Borealis.

Final Thoughts

The aurora borealis is always present, but the sunlight and clouds hide it from view. Finding the best place to see Northern Lights is just one part of the equation. The other part is making sure that other environmental factors don’t impede your ability to view the lights, especially weather, sunlight hours and moon cycle.

The middle of winter is the best time to view the lights because the nights are longer and the cooler temperatures minimize the formation of clouds that would otherwise block the night skies. However, Winter is also more subject to snow fall and snow clouds. What does it matter if there are stunning lights in the sky if you can’t see them through the cloud?

Therefore, when choosing the best place to visit to see the Northern Lights, don’t forget to carefully factor in the best time of year to go as well. Regardless of where in the world you go, the best time to see the aurora borealis is between the months of December and March. To find out more about the best years to travel with the most aurora activity, check our article on aurora predictions for 2020-2035.

Sources

Ryuho Kataoka and Shinya Nakano. 2021. Auroral zone over the last 3000 years. Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate. Accessed 2022. https://www.swsc-journal.org/articles/swsc/full_html/2021/01/swsc210022/swsc210022.html

Explore Fairbanks https://www.explorefairbanks.com/explore-the-area/aurora-season/

Visit Tromso https://www.visittromso.no/northern-lights

Kiruna Lapland https://kirunalapland.se/en/northern-lights/

Travel Yukon https://www.travelyukon.com/en/things-to-do/article/northern-lights

Travel Marquette https://www.travelmarquette.com/outdoor-adventure/northern-lights/

Yellowknife https://www.yellowknife.ca/en/exploring-yellowknife/exploring-yellowknife.aspx

Visit Iceland https://www.visiticeland.com/article/northern-lights-in-iceland/

Visit Norway https://www.visitnorway.com/things-to-do/nature-attractions/northern-lights/

Go Visit Donegal https://www.govisitdonegal.com/explore-donegal/northern-lights

Shetland Islands https://www.shetland.org/

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