10 Best Places to See the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, is one of the most sought out natural phenomena in the world and it is on many travelers' bucket lists. This magnificent natural wonder is described by many as a show of lights of many colors, mostly green, blue, pink, and violet, metamorphosing into never-before-seen shapes and sizes in the night sky.

What appears to be an incredibly unique and enchanting dance of colors moving across the Arctic sky, is actually a series of gasses coming from the surface of our planet formed somewhere between 50 and 800 kilometres above the ground. More specifically, gasses exerted by the earth when the electrically charged particles of the sun collide with the earth’s atmosphere.

As the appearance of the Aurora Borealis often depends entirely on solar activity, which isn’t always easy to forecast, it is extremely difficult to accurately predict when this spectacular collision will take place. To increase your chances of catching this unlikely phenomenon, there are several free and paid apps available which provide approximate forecasts.

Northern Lights

Which is the best place to see the northern lights?

There are a few towns recommended by experts chasing the aurora borealis, and here’s what we know about each of those towns. As Iceland, Norway and Sweden are the Nordic countries that reach the farthest north, you are most likely to see the Northern Lights here. You can also visit some extreme zones like Oymyakon in Russia.

The places with the highest probability to see the Northern Lights are probably Abisko in Sweden and Ivalo in Finland. Even more so than Tromso in Norway, which gets cloudy a little more often because it's by the sea. Ivalo has an airport, but Abisko is a train or car journey away from its nearest airport, Kiruna.

Others go to Rovaniemi in Finland which has train and air connections, but it's lower down on the latitude measure, and the city lights make seeing aurorae clearly difficult. Ivalo is further north than Abisko and it's cheaper overall to see aurora there. Here's a brief listing of costs, assuming a 2 or 3 night stay in each place.

It may not be wise to go just for one night because if that night is cloudy then you're sure out of luck. Go for 3 nights if you can, you're almost certain to see one. Ivalo doesn't make a numeric claim, but is a more versatile destination, though not as well marketed as Abisko.

If you are looking for accommodation, the following tips are a few things to consider about the remote locations where some of the most experienced Northern Lights watchers of the world head to when trying to catch a glimpse.

1. Bodø, Norway

Some of the best places to see the northern lights in Norway are Tromsø, Bodø, Lofoten, or Alta. Immerse yourself in the rugged wilderness of breath-taking Bodø. This gateway town to the wild north in Norway is only 2 kilometers from the airport and less than 1 kilometer from the nearest train station. In winter you'll be transfixed by nature's very own Northern Lights which can be experienced from the town's pier.

2. Tromsø, Norway

The majority of the Europeans consider Tromso as the ideal place in winters for weekends to see a glimpse of northern lights. It's located 69° N in the middle of the perfect northern light zone. As Tromsø is one of the northernmost cities in Norway, it is the location most people head to when trying to see the aurora Borealis in Norway.

Tromsø, by far is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Norway especially in November or early December before the real winter hits. You get the best chance for clear skies and when it’s clear, the aurora always comes out to play and not just looking to the north, but right overhead. Temperature is not too cold either, as the Gulf Stream terminates there and keeps things moderate and the best is to have a $5 pound smoked salmon in hand.

The Radisson Blu Hotel in Tromsø offers stunning scenic views of the surrounding mountains, forests and fjords, and gives you easy access to nearby cultural attractions and it is an ideal base for discovering the Arctic.

Unfortunately, because cloudy and misty weather is experienced so often in this northern part of Norway, the chances that you will be able to see any lights through the thick clouds is relatively low.

3. Trondheim, Norway

Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway and was the biggest and most important city in Norway in the Viking period. Trondheim is located in the central area of Norway, and it has a 63° Altitude. Although people rarely come here to see the northern lights, it’s still an ideal place to experience.

Trondheim is known to be situated in a good place. It it by sea, but well sheltered for the harsh weather. It has a big river Nidelven coming in and is surrounded like good inland terrain for skiing and hunting and very good farmland near by.

4. Reykjavik, Iceland

It is most likely that Reykjavik is where most of you will begin and end your Iceland vacation as it is the best location to stay in Iceland. At Reykjavik you can begin your tour of the impressive country of Iceland. By staying in the heart of the city, you can easily reach both the attractions within the city and the country's outstanding natural highlights.

5. Kirkjufell, Iceland

Though Reykjavik is Iceland's capital and largest city, Kirkjufell, Iceland is actually the best location in Iceland to see the northern lights. The northern orientation of Iceland's most iconic mountain is perfect for viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland even when the intensity is not strong.

6. Abisko, Sweden

Abisko is a small village in the middle of nowhere in Swedish Lapland. Though this small town is the hardest to reach, it is your best bet to catch a glimpse of the lights. Abisko is directly under the aurora oval, aka as the blue hole, which is why there is always some sort of activity happening here. Abisko advertises a 65% probability of seeing the lights on any given night in winter.

When it comes to serene experiences, there is nothing quite like seeing the Northern Lights in Abisko for yourself. When people talk about a picture not doing justice to something, this is the perfect example. This is the more popular destination. It's small, pricey and your options are limited. The best place to see aurora here are from the top of the mountain.

There's a ski lift that goes up from the Abisko tourist station there and tickets get booked out early. So if you are going here, book your lift ticket first. Even a month in advance if you can - yo can do it online. Lift tickets aren't cheap. You can also walk to the lake behind the hotel and look up from there.

In terms of getting there and away, you'll need to go to Stockholm. In Stockholm there are some beautiful places to visit like The Old Church town of Gammelstad, the UNESCO world heritage church town and many more.

You can travel through bus or you can hire a car because the road trips are the best and beautiful and from there to Kiruna and from there go to Kiruna city and take the twice-daily train to Abisko Turistation (reserve your seat in advance as there's no free seating). Or you can rent a car at the airport and drive. Cars are around €25 a day.

Now if you want a room for two at Abisko Turistation it's expensive now - about €200+ a night. There are cheaper digs, but that's in the Youth Hostel dorm. All meals are extra, so if you're not cooking yourself in the common kitchen, then it's around €20 per head per meal.

7. Lapland, Finland

In addition to being the happiest country in the world, northern Finland has the ideal conditions to see auroras. It is the legend of the Japanese that embracing yourself in its light brings good luck, and that many children are born of this northern enthusiasm. That's why many Japanese couples choose Finland for their winter honeymoon.

A half-hour drive from Ivalo Airport, the gateway to Finnish Lapland, the Saariselkä hotel Kakslauttanen offers igloo accommodation made of thermal glass to see the northern lights without leaving the bed.

If you are unable to catch the aurora borealis while in the Nordic areas, you can also go winter fishing, hiking, skiing, and dog sledding, experience the Sami culture, or join a whale or wildlife safari. Not to mention on a clear day, you are still likely to experience some sort of magical light in the sky.

For example, you will get to see the beautiful sunset colors if you are in the South and a deep midnight blue sky if you are in the North. More importantly, you will experience a landscape bathed in a glassy deep blue color in the blue hour at twilight.

8. Saariselkä, Finland

There is no better place to watch the incredible Northern Lights than from Finland. Rent out a glass igloo in the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort or ice hotels or other glamping resorts or live in a log cabin under the stars in the middle of nature for a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will never forget.

9. Ivalo, Finland

Fly to Helsinki by Finnair, or about the same on Aeroflot via Moscow. Ivalo has homes on Airbnb and car rentals too. A typical car rental is about €20 a day, and you can get a room with breakfast for around €50 a day on Airbnb. Also, if you're not making Maggi or Wai Wai on the microwave in your room, lunch and dinner in Ivalo will be around €10 per head per meal.

Once you're in Ivalo, you can take a guided tour, which is a few hundred euros per head, or even better, just simply get in your car after 10 pm and drive north towards the village of Kaamanen which is around 70 km away. There's just one road, it's hard to miss. You should be able to pull off the road at various times through the night and just look up. Assuming the odds are in your favour, you'll have incredible views.

10. Murmansk, Russia

Due to its geographical location, the north of the Kola Peninsula is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. In the territory live the Saami, last indigenous population of Europe where they develop their day to day and will make you part of the reindeer herding that is still their main activity today.

Best Time to See Northern Lights

In order to see the northern lights is not a rocket science. You need a dark clear sky, aurora activity and at least somewhere north enough to a certain point, usually within Arctic Circle with higher chance. Here's a thing, most of Google results will suggest places like Iceland, northern Finland and Sweden, northern Norway, Russia, Canada, Greenland, etc.

However, they rarely ever talk about the unpredictable weather most of these places have during the winter months. The perfect time to watch northern lights is around September and March when the weather tends to be more stable and calm in general in most of cases with few exceptions.

If you truly only want to see northern lights and don't mind the lack of activity and landscape, then consider places like Yellowknife and Abisko, I'm sure there are few more as well.

For example: Norway and Iceland have such an unpredictable weather and cloud will usually screw your plan over. In the end people might simply tell you it's all about luck, but you can increase your chances by going to places with more stable weather historically.

There are some other countries too where you can see Northern Lights, one of the famous destination is Iceland. You can also visit Iceland because the chances of Northern lights in Iceland are high as also you can see Northern Lights in Sweden.

Lastly, keep in mind that while you don’t need a tour to see the Northern Lights, the tour is a fun experience. Your Northern Lights hunting tour guide will do everything possible to help you experience them, so much so that they will often check the Northern Lights tracker and assist you on how to take photos of this phenomena (a task not as easy as one might think!).
Kalyan Panja