Best Places To See The Northern Lights

Here's our essential guide to the world's ultimate aurora borealis destinations

Seeing the northern lights is, for many people, an ultimate bucket list goal. Sure, the rise of social media in recent years means that some of the mystery surrounding the northern lights (aka the aurora borealis) has waned slightly but, as anyone who’s seen the phenomenon in real-life will tell you, there’s still not many experiences on earth that match witnessing this famous cosmic light show firsthand. To help you plan the trip of a lifetime, we’ve compiled this guide to some of the best places to see the northern lights. What, after all, could be better than an adventure that features the consequences of charged particles from the sun colliding with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere?

Before highlighting some of the very best destinations for seeing the northern lights in person, it’s well worth pointing out at this stage that you can see the northern lights anytime between late August and mid-April. Dark skies are what you’ll need so don’t count on seeing them from mid-April onwards until mid-August. The long days of summer at this time of year, especially up around the Arctic Circle, means your chances of seeing the northern lights during this particular window are almost zero.

Interested in seeing the aurora borealis? Consider getting yourself to one of the destinations below.

The Best Places To See The Northern Lights


Pictured: Aurora borealis at Kirkjufell in Iceland. Credit: Getty Images

Think of Iceland and, chances are, your mind might just wander unobstructed to thoughts of the northern lights. Yes, the country of Iceland is home to some incredible waterfalls, and the kind of otherworldly terrain that makes filmmakers everywhere swoon (see this drone footage filmed in Iceland, as a case in point), but the reality is that a big percentage of the country’s visitors make the journey to this volcanic island in the hope of capturing a glimpse of the north’s most famous light show (hard luck Blackpool, better luck next time).

Owing to the fact it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon, predicting the northern lights in advance – even somewhere as northerly as Iceland – is a challenge. That being said, Iceland has a whole lot of interconnected factors in its favour when it comes to considering your northern lights adventure destination. The auroras, northern and southern, only appear near the world’s magnetic poles. In the north, they’re usually only visible above a latitude of 60 degrees (below 60 degrees in the south). The good news for seekers of the northern lights is that Iceland sits at a latitude of roughly 64 degrees north, meaning it’s pretty much perfectly positioned in a geographic sense.

Like all the best places to see the northern lights, the northerly position of Iceland means it gets long hours of darkness during the wintry half of the year. This might sound obvious but this will help you because, ultimately, you’ll have more hours at night to seek out something that naturally cannot be witnessed during daylight. Throw in the fact that Iceland, as a country, is sparsely populated, with not too many built up areas, and it means you’re unlikely to have to contend with light pollution that could potentially derail your magic moment with the aurora borealis.

Pictured: Northern lights above the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. Credit: Getty Images

Something that makes Iceland such an excellent spot for witnessing the northern lights include the number of accommodation options in and around Reykjavik. Last year, in 2021, the country welcomed 700,000 international visitors and it’s thought this big number could double over the course of 2022 as global travel finds it feet again. The country’s tourist friendly nature might not be intrepid adventurer types’ cup of tea, and there is a sense that Iceland is very much on the beaten track these days (as opposed to some of the more mysterious and unique northern lights destinations). Don’t let that put you off though. From a purely practical point of view though, the sheer popularity of Iceland means there’s already an established infrastructure in place in terms of ample food, drink, and bed options.

Another thing worth considering when trying to establish where you’re heading off to in order to see the northern lights is the ‘what if, due to the various factors beyond your control, the northern lights refuse to play ball and do not show up’ scenario. With the northern lights, you can plan, and plan, and plan some more but they are, in reality, notoriously hard to predict. Witnessing them for yourself, even if you go to the right places at the right time of year, requires a little bit of good fortune. This is as true of Iceland, as it any other destination on our list. The good thing about Iceland, however, is just how much other stuff there is to see and do. How does, for starters, mind-blowing glaciers, otherworldly waterfalls, black sand beaches, stunning rock formations, exploding geysers and hot lava-spewing volcanoes sound? Sounds pretty epic, doesn’t it? Yes, even if the northern lights don’t show during your time in the country, the pure outdoorsy goodness of Iceland should more than make up for it.

If you’re looking to go on a paid-for northern lights tour in Iceland, you’ll be glad to know the island is absolutely chockablock with options on that front. Reykjavik Excursions run a number of northern lights tours, at various different price points, and might be a good place to start when you’re doing your research. Gray Line are another northern lights tour operator, working with some top-level professional guides, that are worth checking out.


Northern lights in Norway. Credit: Adithya Holehonnur

If you know anything about the northern lights, you’ll already be well aware that those Scandinavian countries up at the top of the map are particularly well positioned for adventurous people wishing to witness a cosmic phenomenon. Norway, as one of these Scandinavian countries, is no exception on that front. With a considerable chunk of the nation’s landmass situated within the ‘Northern Lights Belt’, an area that stretches from a latitude of 65 degrees north to 72 degrees north, Norway has loads of top northern lights destinations contained within its borders. The Arctic Circle, by the way, begins above 66 degrees north; a state of affairs that should emphasise the extent to which this is a great country to get properly intrepid in.

Norway is home to spectacular fjords, spectacular mountains, and spectacular terrain. On top of its spectacular nature, Norway is also a country in which wild camping is allowed almost everywhere you go. Now, it’s worth saying at this point that if you are suddenly taken by the idea of wild camping on a northern lights excursion in Norway, you should consider getting yourself an expedition quality sleeping bag as the overnight winter temperatures here can drop well into the minus numbers.

Most of the lists that focus on the very best places to see the northern lights in Norway will draw your attention to Tromsø, Kirkenes, the Lofoten Islands, the North Cape in Norway’s Nordkapp Municipality and Svalbard. And, quite frankly, that’s a collection of destinations that’s difficult to disagree with. We’ll give you a brief overview of them all now.

Northern lights near Tromsø. Credit: Ludovic Charlet

Home to over 60,000 people, Tromsø is the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Because of its size, tangible sense of history, and multiculturalism, Tromsø is affectionately known as ‘the capital of the Arctic’. It’s a brilliant place to base yourself if you want to explore epic Norwegian terrain and, of course, get a glimpse of the northern lights. Such is Tromsø’s charming nature during the day, in fact, you might even end up forgetting the primary purpose of your visit. Those of you who do remember the whole ‘seeing the aurora borealis’ part of your trip should potentially consider booking a ‘northern lights safari’. These operators (the good ones anyway) will take you to the best spots, well away from any light pollution in the area. Like the idea of combining northern lights spotting with reindeer sledding? Tromsø Lapland are the organisation for you.

Quick heads up, it’s almost a 24 hour drive from Oslo to Tromsø. With that in mind, if you are in a rush and / or don’t fancy spending an entire day behind the wheel of a car, you might have to fly. It’s slightly less than two hours on the plane, if your connecting flight takes off in Oslo.

Perched right near the border with Russia, and in prime territory for witnessing the northern lights, Kirkenes is probably most famous for being the site of the Snowhotel Kirkenes. Made entirely from snow and ice, its northern lights accommodation at its most special.

Northern lights dancing above Hamnoy in the Lofoten Islands. Credit: Getty Images

Home to easily one of the most spectacular football pitches in the world, the Lofoten Islands are also one of the best places in Norway to get to if you’re keen on seeing the northern lights. This peaceful and dramatic archipelago is famous for its mountains, that rise up out of the sea like ancient rock monsters, and idyllic fishing villages. It’s also a popular port of call for cruises. Lofoten Lights run some good northern lights tours in the area.

You’ll find Norway’s North Cape (Nordkapp in Norwegian) on the northern coast of Magerøya, an island in northern Norway. It’s as far north as you can get on mainland Norway, and is a place that can also lay claim to being Europe’s northernmost point. Despite being so far north, the North Cape can actually be reached via road. Needless to say, the E69 highway route to here can be something of a long car journey depending on your starting point. That being said, it’s also ludicrously scenic with endless park-up-and-take-some-photos opportunities along the way so it’s arguably well worth the effort. Maybe time for the ultimate road trip? Be sure to proactively research winter driving to the North Cape, if you do want to pursue such an extreme on-the-road adventure. There are, unsurprisingly, some rules and safety issues to factor into your journey.

The North Cape itself includes a 307-metre-high cliff with a plateau on top of it where visitors, if the weather’s behaving, can either watch the midnight sun or the aurora borealis. Stand here and look out upon the water, contemplating while you do so that there’s nothing between you and the Arctic except Svalbard. Wildlife doing its thing, breathtaking Nordic landscapes, and a front row ticket to the end of the world; destinations do not, it’s fair to say, get much more epic than this.

Finally, on the subject of northern lights in Norway, there’s Svalbard. This land of the polar bears is a remote archipelago sandwiched halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. The ski touring on Svalbard, if that’s your kind of thing, is something truly special. As a destination, it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest places on earth to witness the northern lights. The Much Better Adventures team, if you’re keen on this destination, organise highly-rated six-night adventures in Svalbard that consist of wild camping, hiking, snowmobiling and, of course, northern lights chasing.


The northern lights near Nuuk. Credit: Getty Images

Greenland is, undoubtedly, one of the more challenging places on this list to visit. That being said, if you are willing to factor in an extra flight or two into your journey, the autonomous country that’s technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark, despite its close proximity to the North American continent, is one of the finest aurora borealis destinations on the planet and worth the effort.

In Greenland, you can witness the northern lights anytime between September and April. To help you make your adventure to the world’s biggest island feel slightly less daunting, we’ll now highlight some good places to base yourself while visiting. We’ll also shine a light on some highly rated northern lights tour operators who can help to optimise your experiences while in Greenland.

When it comes to seeing the northern lights on Greenland, Kangerlussuaq, a small town to the west, is thought of as the island’s most accessible destination. Why? Well, primarily, it’s because of its status as something of an international transport hub. The airport settlement, with its population hovering just around the 500 mark, also has a handy inland location which helps it get more than 300 clear nights per year. Scientists in the area (which is home to a scientific research facility) love both the accessibility and conditions on offer in Kangerlussuaq. Pretty much all flights from Denmark, and therefore Europe, arrive here. The flight time to this epic northern lights destination is 4.5 hours.

Photo taken in Tasiilaq, a small town on Greenland’s east coast. Credit: Getty Images

Just like it is with Kangerlussuaq, there’s plenty of northern lights excursions to be done from Sisimiut. Formerly known as Holsteinborg, Sisimiut is Greenland’s second-largest city (approximate population: 5,500). Situated 40 km north of the Arctic Circle, and with it being the launchpad for a wide variety of outdoor activities in the backcountry, Sisimiut has garnered a reputation as being something of an adventure travel hub. Dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and more; it’s all happening.

Nuuk is Greenland’s capital. Situated just below the Arctic Circle, it’s a small city found on the island’s southwest coast (approx population: 18,000). Known for its large fjord system, its waterfalls, its whales and its icebergs; this built up area on Greenland sits in front of the spectacular Sermitsiaq mountain. The city is also home to the Greenland National Museum, with its historic Inuit collection, and the Nuuk Art Museum. The Katuaq Cultural Centre is also situated in Nuuk, and is used to host film nights, concerts, and exhibitions. Despite having a fair bit of light pollution, by Greenland’s light-pollution-free standards at least, Nuuk is still a superb place to base yourself if you want to see the northern lights.

Ilulissat, in Greenland’s excellently-named Disko Bay, is another highly rated spot for witnessing the northern lights. The name Ilulissat means icebergs, and is fitting because the town itself is situated right by the Ilulissat Icefjord; a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, not simply because of its beauty but because the Jakobshavn Glacier plays a significant role in scientists’understanding of climate change. Watching on as the northern lights dance their cosmic dance above the icebergs of Disko Bay, well… you’re not going to forget that memory in a hurry, are you? A lot of popular trips on Greenland, it’s worth saying, bring together Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat in one neat little package.

Want a northern lights adventure in Greenland, but want someone else to take care of the logistics? Greenland Tours, Quark Expeditions, and Greenland Travel all run trips that are worth considering.


Luxury igloos in Ranua, Finland, can serve up a great view of the northern lights. Credit: Arctic Guesthouse
The aurora borealis over a lake in Finland. Credit: Getty Images

Find yourself in northern Lapland, Finland’s largest and northernmost region, and you’ll discover that the northern lights shine pretty much every other clear night between September and March. Down in southern Finland, meanwhile, they’re visible in the sky between 10 and 20 nights per year. Adventurers heading to Lapland then should be fully prepared to photograph the northern lights. We headed out to Lapland a few years ago and got some shots of the northern lights although, as you’ll find out if you read our piece from the trip, we did leave it extremely last minute before learning how to photograph them.

Because the northern lights can often appear and disappear at a moment’s notice between sunset and sunrise, and because Lapland can get extremely cold, many visitors to the most northerly areas of Finland choose to watch them from purpose-built accommodation. You will have, no doubt, already seen what we’re talking about here on Instagram. These cosy shelters, that usually have see-through roofs and / or wide panoramic windows, are often going viral on social media. Finland has got loads of this kind of accommodation, so even if you miss out on your top pick you should still be able to get in somewhere else good (so long as you book in advance).

The Visit Finland website has an excellent rundown of ‘sleeping under the northern lights’ options. Our favourites include the Aurora Bubbles at the Wilderness Hotel Nellim, the Arctic Fox Igloos set on the shores of Lake Ranuajärvi, and the Aurora Village in Ivalo. Like we said though, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to this type of accommodation in northern Finland. The northern lights are a massive tourism pull in this part of the world, arguably the biggest pull in fact, and the sheer quantity of interesting places to stay certainly reflects this.


Camping out in Abisko, Sweden. Credit: Dylan Shaw

Up in around and Kiruna (the northernmost town in Sweden) the northern lights start showing up at the start of September. They’re normally on display until the end of March, sometimes going on to illuminate the skies in the early part of April as well. When winter’s well and truly in full swing, around January time, you’ll have a very good chance of seeing the lights right across Swedish Lapland. This massive expanse of land in Sweden’s northwest corner covers nearly a quarter of the country.

The Aurora Sky Station, Jukkasjärvi and Porjus are all worth a look when you’re planning your very own ‘seeing the northern lights in Sweden’ adventure. The Aurora Sky Station is situated in Abisko National Park, 100 kilometres west of Kiruna. When it comes to viewing the northern lights, there are no guarantees of course. However, Abisko is known for its clear skies and has become a popular spot with visitors looking to tick a big one off their bucket lists. There’s a chairlift that goes up to the Aurora Sky Station observation tower on Mount Nuolja, and also a Northern Lights Exhibition, café and gift shop up there as well. Needless to say, temperatures drop low here in winter so wrap up warm.

Vemdalsskalet, Sweden. Credit: Tom Öhlin

Looking to turn the Swedish dial on your Swedish adventure up to 11, get yourself to the idyllic village of Jukkasjärvi. It’s home to approximately 550 people, is only about 20 minutes drive from Kiruna, and is where you’ll find the world famous ICEHOTEL. A stay in this place, the first ice hotel in the world, is memorable enough on its own but combine with it a Northern Lights Safari and you’re left looking at the building blocks of an all-time great holiday. Snowmobile excursions, and photography packages that include expert advice as part of their offering; it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Porjus, with its 400 inhabitants, is another popular northern lights village in Sweden. It’s situated 60 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, on the edge of a stunning Scandinavian lake, and within the UNSECO World Heritage Site of Laponia. Get away from the big cities, embrace the stillness of nature, rent a cabin and watch the greatest light show on earth with a warm glass of glögg (mulled wine). You can get to Porjus via buses and trains from more built-up areas like Kiruna, Luleå and Gällivare.

Other Northern Lights Destinations

Of course, the places we’ve discussed in detail above are not the only spots on earth you can witness the northern lights. Canada, Alaska and Russia are all home to enormous (and we mean enormous) areas where it’s possible to witness the aurora borealis during winter. The city of Fairbanks in Alaska is considered to be the ‘Golden Heart of Alaska’ and widely thought to be an amazing choice for aurora hunters. The city’s sheer amount of accommodation, dining, and infrastructure, relative to other northern lights destinations, makes it a very solid place to base yourself in the most northern American state. In Canada, meanwhile, Whitehorse and the surrounding Yukon Territory is thought of as a superb northern lights destination.

Pictured: Purple and green lights over trees near Fairbanks, Alaska. Credit: Getty Images
The aurora borealis over the city of Edmonton in Canada. Credit: Chong Wei
The northern lights over Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory in Canada. Credit: Getty Images

Can You See The Northern Lights In The UK?

In short, yes. It is possible to see the northern lights in the UK. It’s certainly less likely than it is in the other destinations listed above, but in Scotland, North England, North Wales and Northern Ireland – well away from light pollution – you’ll have a chance. The north-facing coastlines in the UK are your best bet, with the lights being most active during the Equinox and Solstice time period (March/April and September/October respectively). Looking for a destination name? The northern tip of the Isle of Skye in Scotland, for example, can certainly serve up the good stuff. For more on seeing the northern lights in the UK, the Met Office website has a bunch of useful information that might help you out.

Pictured: The northern lights on the Isle of Skye. Credit: Getty Images

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