Witnessing the northern lights dance across the night sky in neon-tinged hues of green, purple, and blue is a dream for any traveler. This probably means remote villages, backcountry trails, unpolluted skies, and an explorer’s spirit are your thing. We commend you.
Sure, you could book a flight to Iceland and hope for the best, but like most things in life, a little smart planning will serve you well.
For the best prospects of seeing the staggering display, which are actually caused by gas particle collisions (learn more here). Read on for the best places to go, tours to book, and times to visit.
Best Places to Travel to See the Northern Lights
Yllästunturi, Finland in Finnish Lapland
Running through mid-February (and starting in November), Yllästunturi turns off its street lighting at 10:00 pm to amplify the beauty of the northern lights. Tour Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, with Intrepid Travel’s 8-day Finnish Lapland in Winter, which includes dog-sledding, hiking through snowy woodlands, and recapping the day’s adventures over a glass of salmari, a salty licorice liqueur.
Voyageurs National Park in International Falls, Minnesota
The Land of 10,000 lakes gets the northern lights year-round, but because the nights are longer in late fall and winter, your best bet for spotting them is then. With stunning night skies, this gem of a national park is perched on the Canadian border. Twenty-six interior lakes make up nearly half the park, so skis, snowshoes, hiking boots, or a boat is the way to go. Inside Voyageurs, post up at Kettle Falls Hotel, a flyspeck in the park’s sprawling grounds.
In September through March, head to this northern lights mecca. Book a tour with Noken, which creates a customized itinerary for you based on thousands of hours of research on destinations, keeping your budget and interests in mind. During your visit, take a glacier hike, visit the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon, and catch your shuteye at apartment-style hotel The Swan House.
Various spots around Norway
Hurtigruten offers customers a free six-day southbound or seven-day northbound cruise if you don’t see northern lights on your 12-day round-trip cruise in Norway between late September and end of March with its Northern Lights Promise. Yes, they’re that sure. With the Circumnavigate Norway cruise, kayak, dogsled, or snowmobile into the polar night. When you need to dry off your activewear, Hammerfest, the Northernmost town in the world proves a welcome distraction.
Optimal viewing for dark skies and northern lights in the sprawling Canadian oasis of Northern Alberta is September through mid-May. Home to two of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves—Wood Buffalo and Jasper National Park—the Canadian rockies prove themselves among the best places to stargaze in the world. In October, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival provides a welcome excuse to plan a trip with a symphony under the stars, spacetalks from experts in science, astronomy, conservation, and more. Or, plan your own trip camping in Jasper’s amble backcountry campsites and book a guided tour with Jasper Sky Tram Star Sessions.
Courtesy of Travel Alberta
Swedish Lapland in Northern Sweden
Bliss out on unforgettable light shows in Abisko, tucked inside the aurora oval, through the end of March (viewing season starts in November) in this natural wonderland. Start out your day learning about the Sami culture and meeting reindeer herders before heading to Abisko National Park. There, you can visit the Aurora Sky Station, built for the purpose of viewing the northern lights spectacle. Sit down for a four-course dinner of Nordic hits before retreating to the ICEHOTEL or Treehotel, depending on which natural element entices you more.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se
Various spots around Iceland
Bring plenty of warm socks for aurora borealis scoping. And let Boundless Journeys, which puts on a six-day Northern Lights Adventure, do the grunt work as you eat your way through Reykjavík, take in its age-old glaciers and jaw-dropping vistas, then head off to the country to visit fishing villages. Rest your head at Skálakot Boutique Farm Hotel in Ásólfsskáli.
Fairbanks’ location directly under the Arctic Circle and high chances of unpolluted, clear skies makes it one of the best places in the world to catch the northern lights. Make logistics a breeze by booking a tour with Gondwana Ecotours, which offers a six-night Northern Lights Alaskan Adventure. Throughout your travels, you’ll enjoy dog-sledding, a visit to Chena Hot Springs, accommodations at wonderful lodges, and even a personal wake-up service when the northern lights come out to play. For the best odds of witnessing the phenomenon, plan your vacation from mid-September to March.
Courtesy of Gondwana Ecotours
Lyngenfjord region in Northern Norway
In northern Norway, September and October are the best months to visit for northern lights, though September through March also provides a good shot. In winter, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and ice climbing are ideal diversions. In autumn, visit the Gorsa Bridge, hike in the Lyngen Alps, or explore Reisa National Park.
Save the hiking gear for another trip. Instead, laze in a glass-encased cabin right outside of Reykjavík. The Panorama Glass Lodge has a glass ceiling and walls for travelers to take in the breathtaking views. There’s also an outdoor hot tub begging for a nighttime tryst. For your best chance to see the northern lights, come between late August and late April. Carve out a night to peel yourself away from the cozy digs and visit Reykjavík’s Oskjuhlid Hill, where you can sit and watch the sky do its thing over the city.
Witnessing the northern lights dance across the night sky in neon-tinged hues of green, purple, and blue is a dream for any traveler. This probably means remote villages, backcountry trails, unpolluted skies, and an explorer’s spirit are your thing. We commend you. Sure, you could book a flight to Iceland and hope for the best, TravelMen’s Journal