5 Mind-Blowing Places to See the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

It's real magic.

Northern lights
iStock/LeoPatriziCredit: iStock/LeoPatrizi

Do you dream of experiencing the magic of the Northern Lights? Aurora Borealis is one of Mother Nature’s most soul-stirring phenomena, a dance of color and light in the deep nighttime sky.

Brilliant greens and pinks frolic together with the stars, illuminating the evening with an unforgettable show. The Northern Lights are one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and witnessing them in person is an unforgettable moment.

What Are the Northern Lights?

Aurora Borealis is created when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere. They can look like glowing streaks, waves, clouds, or curtains. While green and pink are the most common colors, you can also see shades of purple, blue, yellow, and red.

When Can I See Them?

To experience the Northern Lights, you need to be close to one of the earth’s magnetic poles, inside an oval-shaped zone where the wonderworks happen. Aurora Borealis can be found near the North Pole, and Aurora Australis can be found near the South Pole. Aurora Australis is lesser known because they happen rarely and can only be seen in Antarctica and very far south in New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Argentina.

You’ll also need dark skies. This means you’ll have to travel in winter because these destinations have long days and light skies in summer – aka the midnight sun. Avoid light pollution from cities, and plan your trip for a new moon if possible. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, as cloudy skies will spoil the show. You can also track Aurora Borealis on NOAA’s website.

Where Are the Best Places for the Northern Lights?

Plan a bucket-list adventure to bask in the evening glow of the Northern Lights. Choose a destination that you’ll enjoy even if the ephemeral lights fail to show up. And remember your camera!

  1. Tromso, Norway Scandinavia in general offers some of the best chances for seeing the Northern Lights. People love Tromso because the Gulf Stream gives it a milder coastal climate and so the winters aren’t as cold as other places. While you’re there, go snowmobiling and watch for wildlife like sea eagles, seals, and whales.
  2. Westfjords, Iceland – Iceland is known for little cloud cover and longer daylight hours than other destinations on this list. You can also explore Iceland’s unique volcanic landscape, which includes ice tunnels, ice caves, and thermal blue lagoons. The ancient Norse surmised that the Northern Lights were the Valkyries’ glistening armor.
  3. Fairbanks, Alaska – No passport is needed for Americas who travel to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. While they appear all over the state, far-north Fairbanks is your best bet for getting an eyeful. Some tour excursions go several hours farther north to chase them down. During the day, you can go dogsledding, snowshoeing, and pub-hopping.
  4. Yellowknife, Canada – Another convenient place to see the light show is in Canada. Yellowknife is the lakefront capital of the Northwest Territories, an off-beat destination with excellent Northern Lights viewing thanks to a flat landscape and clear nights. Other great Canadian hotspots for cool lights is Whitehorse (in the Yukon) and Churchill, the Polar Bear Capital of the World.
  5. Lapland, Finland – This far-north region of Finland is known for ice hotels, reindeer, and Santa Claus. You can see the Northern Lights here 200 nights per year. Access Aurora viewing spots by dog sled, snowmobile, or cross-country skis. Hate the cold? Stay in a glass igloo and watch the brilliant light displays from your cozy, fur-covered bed.

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