Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights?

If we had a pound for every time we have been asked this question...

Imagine if there was one best place to see the Northern Lights! Overnight it would become the Costa del Aurora with high rise Northern Lights viewing hotels and people in the street handing out leaflets offering a free drink with every Aurora chase.

Mercifully, the unpredictable nature of the Aurora means that it retains its mystical allure and it’s fair to say that you stand as much chance of seeing them from a vantage point in Norway as you do from a frozen lake in Finland.

Southern Lights, Northern Lights, Extra-Terrestrial Lights

The lights appear in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and even on other planets but from an Aurora hunting point of view, only the Northern Lights are a genuinely viable option.

The Southern Lights or Aurora Australis occur most frequently over Antarctica which really only appeals to a few research scientists and penguins. When the Aurora Australis is very active then the lights may be visible from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but these occasions are few and far between and certainly don’t justify travelling to such places purely in search of the Southern Lights.

The lights also appear near the magnetic poles of other planets and if you search the internet you can find images of Auroras above the likes of Jupiter and Saturn. Unfortunately, we’re not likely to be sending people into space on Aurora hunting missions any time soon so our focus remains firmly in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and Northern Scandinavia especially.



The Aurora Zone

The Aurora is most frequently visible in Northern Scandinavia in a band that stretches between 66°N and 69°N, which we call the Aurora Zone. The band can expand when geomagnetic activity is high which is why we can occasionally see the Aurora from northern parts of the UK. However, we are currently in the declining phase of the sun’s activity cycle and, as a result, the Aurora is more likely to occur as a result of coronal holes rather than more violent coronal mass ejections. Essentially, the ferocity of solar wind emanating from the sun is likely to reduce which means the reaction with the gases in our atmosphere will be less pronounced. This will mean that the next few years will very probably see Auroral displays becoming much more localised to the Aurora Zone.

As solar activity slows, it will become increasingly important to head north in order to give yourself the very best chance of witnessing a magical light show. To make sure you see the spectacle at its very best you will also need to ensure that you are in a location within that Auroral band that is far removed from any significant light pollution; artificial light from large cities and ski resorts can dull the Aurora to the point of invisibility so we strongly recommend staying outside their confines.

The Auroral band stretches across Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Canada. We feature holidays to all of these countries, and every holiday we offer has been expertly designed to maximise your opportunity to see the Northern Lights.

Finland

Credit: Antti Pietikäinen

Finland

Credit: Antti Pietikäinen

Finland is often overlooked in favour of its neighbours Sweden and Norway, but you are just as likely to see the Aurora there as anywhere else. Indeed, the low density of human population where reindeer are more common than people means that Finland’s gorgeous lake, forest and fell landscapes are virtually free of any light pollution creating the perfect Aurora hunting conditions.

Finland also has more than its fair share of places where we would recommend searching for the Northern Lights. In the north-east, the heart of Sámi culture, destinations such as Nellim, Muotka, Saariselkä, Menesjärvi and Inari, are all extremely popular with knowledgeable Aurora hunters.

To the west, Harriniva, Jeris, Torassieppi and Kilpisjärvi all offer comfortable bases in remote locations with those all-important dark skies. This is also where you’ll find two of our all-time favourite Aurora photographers Antti Pietikainen and Gareth Hutton plying their trade once darkness falls.

Mention must also go to the small village of Luosto where we ran our first ever Northern Lights holiday. With a great Aurora record, very comfortable accommodation choices and a wide variety of daytime activities, Luosto has become a firm favourite amongst Aurora Zone clientele.

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Sweden

Credit: Chad Blakley

Sweden

Credit: Graeme Richardson

To say that Northern Sweden is sparsely populated would be something of an understatement. If you’ve ever flown over it at night and looked out the window, then it’s hard to spot any signs of human habitation; the land is simply not lit up by artificial light which is why we think it is a great place to go in search of the Northern Lights.

North of the Arctic Circle is Abisko, a very small town which has become something of a priority destination for Aurora hunters. The reason is simple; clear skies. Abisko is surrounded by a vast bowl of mountains which serves to break up cloud cover.

Sweden is also the home to the world’s first ICEHOTEL®, created in 1989 by the frozen Torne River in Jukkasjärvi; it has become something of a unique bucket list item for travellers. In addition to this incredible temporary structure, this year welcomes the construction of the fantastic new ICEHOTEL® 365 - a year-round icy experience. Many of our holidays feature tours and special nights here, allowing guests to marvel at the incredible ice architecture with the added chance of witnessing an Aurora in the night sky.

Perhaps because of its more southerly location, Luleå has not fully registered on the radar as a Northern Lights hotspot but don’t let that put you off. We get regular updates from the local guides in the region raving about the latest Auroral displays. We reckon that if the Northern Lights can fire up the locals then visitors are unlikely to be disappointed either.

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Norway

Credit: Kirkenes Snow Hotel

Ever since Joanna Lumley grew tearful at the sight of the Aurora, Norway has ranked very high on the list of “must-do” Northern Lights destinations. The most vaunted location is Tromsø but we are more inclined to use it as a gateway to places with less light pollution. Hence, all of our Norwegian itineraries which feature Tromsø also include stays outside of the city. These include Lyngen with its magnificent mountain and fjord scenery, Malangen which boasts some wonderful apartments with stunning views across its eponymous fjord, and Sommarøy which is situated on a tiny island about an hour’s drive west of Tromsø.

For dark night skies and stunning daytime scenery, you should consider the archipelago. The likes of Senja, Sortland and Lofoten are located in one of the most beautiful parts of the world and offer fantastic wildlife experiences as well as amazing night skies.

Also in Norway, it is for good reason that Alta is known as the “City of the Northern Lights” and no stay there would be complete without a visit or an overnight stay at the amazing Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel.

Kirkenes sits on the Norway/Russia border and is also very popular among Aurora hunting visitors. However, it’s not just the Northern Lights which attract visitors to this northern town. The Kirkenes Snow Hotel offers the chance to stay overnight in one of its themed rooms but possibly the most unforgettable experience here comes after nightfall. Imagine pulling the delicacy that is the king crab from the ocean then going Aurora hunting before returning to a dinner of king crab prepared by a professional chef.

Honestly, it’s something you just have to do!

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Iceland

Credit: Iceland Pro Travel

Iceland has long been known for its amazing geology but in recent years, the Northern Lights have become a major attraction too.

The best-known destination in Iceland is Reykjavik and we are particularly happy to offer a New Year Northern Lights trip based in this city. Of course, you have to escape the city lights to see the Northern Lights at their best so we’ve included two night-time excursions, one by jeep and one by boat.

Beyond the capital, Hotel Ranga on the South Shore has earned an almost legendary status amongst folk eager to witness the Aurora. Its remote location offers fabulous views of the pitch-black sky (the staff check for Auroras every 15 minutes so that you don’t have to) and a great location from which to explore Iceland’s myriad wonders, it has rightly become one of Iceland’s most requested hotels.

Autumn is a great time to chase the Aurora and with the weather being milder than in winter, it offers a chance to see Iceland from a slightly different perspective. How about three nights cruising the Icelandic coastline and three days exploring on land? The cruise includes Northern Lights presentations and there’s nowhere better to find dark skies than out on the ocean.

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Greenland

Credit: Visit Greenland AS and André Schoenherr

Greenland

Credit: Visit Greenland AS and David Trood

Greenland has never featured heavily on the tourist map but, as travellers become more adventurous, it is a destination where visitor numbers are starting to grow. It is a remote, wild and sparsely populated place where living can be tough but there are certain benefits to living here. Not least of those benefits is the Aurora Borealis which regularly blazes in the night sky and when you see them from such an off-the-beaten-track destination, it can be an overwhelming experience.

Greenland is home to the second largest ice cap in the world and it is quite something to behold. There’s drama here by day provided by icebergs and huge chunks of ice shearing away into the sea and of course, by night when the Aurora dances overhead.

All of our Greenland trips include nights staying in the world’s most northerly hotel so, despite the wild terrain beyond its doors, you’ll always have somewhere comfortable and warm to return to after your explorations and Aurora hunts.

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Canada

Credit: Arctic Range Adventure Ltd

Canada

Credit: Arctic Range Adventure Ltd

Canada seems like a long way to travel in search of the Northern Lights but when it is somewhere like the Yukon, the journey is more than worthwhile.

This is a vast and still wilderness punctuated by the occasional town and village. Otherwise, there is very little except for untamed wilderness where bears and caribou roam freely below jagged snow-covered peaks. The late 1880s gold rush started on the Klondike River here in the Yukon and it’s amazing to think of thousands upon thousands of badly equipped prospectors fighting their way across this land. Their toils were immense but they must have taken some considerable solace from the spectacular Auroral displays which regularly fill the night sky here in Northern Canada.

Our holidays to the Yukon are designed to enhance your chances of seeing the Northern Lights whilst highlighting some of the remarkable landscapes and history of what is a remarkable province. From Dawson to Whitehorse, we’ve combined exciting activities and experiences during the day with several Aurora hunts after the sun has gone down. It’s a great way to see the Yukon and a great place to witness the Aurora Borealis.

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