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Best Time and Places to See the Northern Lights

Admiring the Northern Lights is an experience every person should have at least once in life: it’s such a natural and unpredictable event that leaves speechless. Our quest to see the Northern Lights began years ago and we’ve been chasing them pretty much every winter season now.

We’ve researched the best places to see the Northern Lights in the world, the best time of the year, the best conditions to see the Aurora, and every other useful insight to make sure to see the so-called Merry Dancers with our eyes.

We did succeed most of the time, but we’ve also learned that one should never go to a place just for the Northern Lights but just go for the destination. These natural events are completely unpredictable so you may end up not seeing them at all, even if the Aurora forecast predicts an intense activity!

That said, if you’re hoping to glimpse the Northern Lights once in your life, we’ve picked out the World’s best places to see the Aurora. And to give you even more information, we’ve decided to break down this article by providing advice on what month is best to see the Northern Lights, what is Aurora and what causes it, how to check the Aurora forecasts and more.

We’ve been there, we know how badly you want to see the Northern Lights with your eyes, and we’re here to help you in planning the best trip(s) of your life.

Use the following table of content to navigate the article:

What are the Northern Lights?

The Aurora is the result of a series of collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The Lights appear in many colors with pale green and pink being the most common; we’ve been very lucky and also witnessed shades of violet and red, although they’re not that common.

Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The only places where the Aurora can be seen are above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres: in the north, they’re known as Aurora Borealis while in the south they’re called Aurora Australis.

What month is best to see the Northern Lights?

The Aurora is a natural phenomenon and it’s hard to predict what month is best to see the Lights. In fact, Auroras occur throughout the year but to see them you need dark skies.

Generally speaking, the best months to see the Northern Lights are January, February, and March-early April; from April until late-August, the Aurora may be visible only to scientific equipment, because the sky is too light for the human eye to see the lights. Autumn, meaning September-November, can be a good time of the year to see the Northern Lights but one has to be really lucky. December can be a good month for the Aurora, especially towards January: we went to Iceland Mid of December and we didn’t see anything!

Based on the above and our experience(s), we recommend January and February: these are the coldest months, but if you’re lucky to see the Northern Lights you won’t be disappointed at all!

Best time of day to see the Northern Lights

The most important condition to see the Northern Lights is the sky: to see the Northern Lights, the sky must be dark and without clouds. No matter what time it is, as soon as the sky is dark and there are no clouds, the Aurora can potentially be seen.

It’s a common opinion that the best time of the day to see the Northern Lights is between 9.30 pm and 1 am: we’ve seen the dance of the lights at 5 pm and at 11 pm, and we certainly didn’t expect to see it in the afternoon but it happened and it was AMAZING!

In every case, aside from a dark and clear sky, a conditio sine qua non to see the Aurora is to be in a dark place, with no lights: the Merry Dancers are rarely seen in the big cities or in places with lots of artificial lights.

How long do the Northern Lights last?

Hard to say: they can last anywhere from 10 minutes to all night long. It’s all about solar activity!

Is 2020 a good year to see the Northern Lights?

The sun has a lifecycle of 11 years and during this cycle, it reaches a point where it’s at its maximum activity and a point where it is at its minimum. The solar maximum was in 2014; the solar minimum is in 2020. This doesn’t mean the Lights are not visible, simply that they can be less strong and hard to be seen: if you go to the right location, you won’t have any problem at all! The next solar maximum is due in 2024.

Northern Lights forecast

We’re using the word “unpredictable” a lot in this article, for a reason: the Polar Lights are really one of the most uncertain natural events and this means you can plan your trip based on the Aurora forecasts just to discover the sky won’t be clear and you won’t actually see anything.

In fact, science can predict when and where there will be an activity, but it’s hard (sometimes even impossible) to predict the weather: the wind can be so strong that it can suddenly bring clouds or make them go away!

To measure the activity the KP index is used: it is a scale of numbers between 0 – 9 where 0 means no activity and 9 means an extremely rare geomagnetic storm with auroras likely to be seen even Northern Spain.

You can check the Aurora Forecast here or download one app for Android and iOs.

10 Incredible Places Where to See Northern Lights

After all these pieces of information on the Merry Dancers, we know you’re eager to know where to go to glimpse the Aurora: this is our list of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis.

Iceland

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis; September through March is the peak season for Northern Lights viewing. They can occur at any time and it’s not hard to spot them, because it’s very easy to get to a dark place on the island.

Some of the most spectacular places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland include Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, Skógafoss Waterfall, Snaefellsnes and Thingvellir National Park. The majority of the hotels have an aurora alert service in place so you won’t miss a thing.

If you wanna book your stay in Iceland to see the Polar Lights, we recommend the following hotels:

Fosshotel Reykjavík

Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

Fosshótel Vatnajökull

If you wanna join a tour to see the Lights:

>> Book a 4–Hour Northern Lights Deluxe Tour from Reykjavik

Northern Norway

November through March is the peak season for Northern Lights in Northern Norway when the days are short and the sky is very often clear. The city of Tromsø is a popular place for a glimpse of the Northern Lights and so are Svalbard and the Lofoten Islands. Nordkapp is also a popular destination for Northern Lights chasers.

Do not think to go to the fjords to see the Aurora: the activity rarely happens over there because this region is far away from Arctic Circle.

Book one of these hotels for your stay in Tromsø:

Clarion Hotel The Edge

Scandic Ishavshotel

If you wanna join a tour to see the Polar Lights:

>> Book an Arctic Circle Northern Lights Cruise from Tromso

>> Book a 7-Hour Northern Lights Tour from Tromsø

Northern Finland

The northern part of Finland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights: the Aurora is common that there’s a huge business around it. In Lapland, you can sleep in a glass cabin or an igloo and watch the Dancing Lights from the comfort of your room, or you can join a tour to reach the most remote areas of the countries.

The Northern Lights are visible between the months of September to March in Lapland, while in southern Finland they are visible on about 10-20 nights a year.

If you wanna book your stay in Lapland to see the Northern Lights, we recommend the following hotels:

Aurora Village Ivalo

Wilderness Hotel Inari & Igloos

If you wanna join a tour to see the Lights:

>> Book an Aurora Borealis Tour from Rovaniemi

Northern Canada

Canada is one of the best places for Northern Lights in the World, especially in the less-populated Canadian territories; the best viewing opportunities happen between mid-November and April.

Some of the best locations are Yellowknife, Whitehorse (Yukon’s capital), Churchill (where apparently Northern Lights are visible up to 300 nights a year), North of Saskatoon, Jasper National Park.

If you wanna book your stay in Northern Canada to see the Lights, we recommend the following hotels:

>> Hacho Hoouse in Yellowknife

>> Hidden Valley Bed and Breakfast in Whitehorse

>> IceBerg Inn in Churchill

>> Chateau Jasper

Alaska

Alaska’s Northern Lights season is between mid-September and late April, with a peak in March. Fairbanks is one of the most famous destinations for Aurora’s chasers: despite being a city, it’s located below the Arctic Circle and for this reason, the Auroras do occur frequently here, making them accessible to a lot of people. Haystack Mountain, Coldfoot and Utqiagvik are popular destinations.

If you wanna book your stay in Fairbanks for the Northern Lights, we recommend the following hotels:

>> Pike’s Waterfront Lodge

>> River’s Edge Resort

>> Aurora & Denali View Apartment

If you are looking for a tour to see the Polar Lights:

>> Book a Northern Lights and Arctic Circle Tour from Fairbanks

Northern Sweden

The Northern Lights are visible in the Northern part of Sweden between early September and late March. The so-called Swedish Lapland hosts the Aurora fairly regularly with Kiruna, Jukkasjärvi (where the first IceHotel in the world is located) and the amazing Porjus being the major spots.

If you wanna book your stay in Sweden for the Northern Lights, we recommend the following hotels:

>> Máttaráhkká Northern Light Lodge

>> Aurora Dome

Greenland

If you’re traveling to Greenland from September to the beginning of April you will likely see the Polar Lights. Some of the most famous locations are Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat Icefjord (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004), Kulusuk and the city of Tasiilaq.

Book one of our recommended hotels in Greenland:

>> Unnuisarfik

>> Hotel Arctic

>> Hotel Icefiord

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are hard to reach in winter and the weather can be really bad, but if the Northern Lights come up they’re simply magnificent. The Aurora can be seen from everywhere, and even if this is a unique trip for brave travelers it’s worth the effort.

>> Book your hotel in the Faroe Islands

Russia

You may not have Russia in mind when it comes to Northern Lights but the country has some spectacular spots where to see the Auroras between mid-September and mid-April. Murmansk, in the extreme north-west near Finland, is the most famous place but if you want to go far from the tourists head north to Arkhangelsk, Naryan-Mar (near Siberia) or Salekhard.

Book one of our recommended hotels in Russia:

>> Dvina Hotel in Arkhangelsk

>> Pustozyorsk in Naryan-Mar

>> Yuribey Hotel in Salekhard

Scotland

Scotland may not be your first destination when searching for the lights because most of the time the weather is everything but good. On rare occasions, in the northern parts of Scotland, it is possible to see the Northern Lights and the view is sensational: the Isle of Skye and the Northern Highlands are the places to choose! Be aware: the Aurora is rarely visible.

>> Book your hotel in Scotland

The polar lights: a miracle of nature!

Watching the Northern Lights dancing in the sky is an incredible feeling and we really hope this article has given you the desire to book and go hunting for Aurora. Follow us on Instagram and get in touch if you want to have more information and subscribe to our newsletter to receive exclusive content by email!

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About the author
Giuseppe Milo
Giuseppe is an award winning photographer. He's been featured in many websites and magazine such as Lonely Planet, National Geographic, The Huffington post and many more.
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