Where to Chase the Northern Lights

September 8, 2016 by Alexandra Gregg

The aurora borealis can be a crafty mistress. When darkness descends between September and March each year, she teases the skies with dancing flecks of white and twirling ribbons of green. But we never know exactly when she’s going to appear. Will she be scared away by the weather? Covered up by cloud? Or simply not feeling up to a performance today? Whatever her excuse, the only predictable thing about her ethereal presence is its unpredictability.

That being said, there are some spots around the world where you’re in with a better chance of viewing her solar winds than most. So, if you’ve got your tripod and thermals at the ready for an aurora hunt, check out these six places where you can chase the Northern Lights:

Polar bear in Churchill, Canada

Polar bear in Churchill, Canada

Canada

WHERE: Churchill, Nunavik, Whitehorse

Wherever you’re lucky enough to glimpse them, the Northern Lights are spectacular. But when they’re up against a backdrop of snow-blanketed scenery, sitting atop a vast wilderness where grizzlies and Polar bears roam, you can expect the most mesmerising of displays.

Provided you’ve got a clear night and the solar winds and gases are performing to the best of their ability, Churchill is one of the greatest places in the world to look for the Northern Lights – totally worth the long-haul flight. The Manitoba town is home to Polar bears and beluga whales, but also sits right beneath the Northern Lights’ auroral oval, a huge ring that rests about the magnetic North Pole.

City of Tromso, Norway

City of Tromso, Norway

Norway

WHERE: Tromso, Svalbard, Alta

To fully appreciate the lights in all their glory, once you’ve spent (likely) hours looking for them, you’ll need to spend even longer just watching them. But that’s the good thing about chasing the aurora in Norway. Many tours in northern Tromso and Alta will take you away from the light-pollution and out into the dark landscapes – armed with hot beverages, some bidos (delicious reindeer meat) and wool undergarments – and give you the chance to literally set up camp beneath a (hopefully) vivid green canopy. You can spend hours watching them twirl, flicker and slither across the sky.

If you run out of luck on the mainland, the far-flung Norwegian outpost of Svalbard may hold the answer. Trips here aren’t cheap, but as it’s one of the most northernmost accessible spots in the Arctic, up between the 74th and 81st parallel, it’s near-guaranteed to offer that once-in-a-lifetime aurora encounter.

Abisko National Park, Sweden

Abisko National Park, Sweden

Sweden

WHERE: Kiruna, Abisko National Park

High into the Arctic Circle, Swedish Lapland is a quiet, Northern Lights haven, with just a small smattering of inhabited cities and towns. Perfect for seeking a dark spot to chase the aurora. And while you might be lucky and spot the lights in towns like Kiruna, your best bet would be to head for the aptly-named Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park. From here you’ll board a chairlift to an observation tower that’s famed for its clear skies and pitch-black mountain setting. You can stay as long as you like and, if you get cold, you can sit beside the station’s cosy log fire with some delicious Swedish grub.

The Northern Lights at Jokulsarlon, south-east Iceland

The Northern Lights at Jokulsarlon, south-east Iceland

Iceland

WHERE: Outside Reykjavik, Thingvellir, Drangsnes

Iceland is probably the most unpredictable Northern Lights spot of the list. It can get very cloudy and rainy at times and, as aurora sightings are entirely weather dependant, that can make catching a glimpse very tricky. That said, there are some places where you can increase your chances of seeing the elusive light show; head to Thingvellir National Park (where Game of Thrones is filmed), the small town of Drangsnes in the west, or simply hire a car and just get out of Reykjavik – a short, 30-minute drive should be enough to hit the dark, Icelandic countryside.

And, even if you don’t see the phenomena this time, don’t worry. There’s plenty of other things to do see and do, from discovering black-sand beaches with not another soul in sight, to glacier walking or soaking in geothermal hot pools like the Blue Lagoon. Besides, it’s less than three hours away from the UK and Ireland – why not go again?

Finnish Lapland

Finnish Lapland

Finland

WHERE: Luosto, Nellim, Urho Kekkonen National Park

The experts reckon that the aurora is visible for 200 nights a year in Finnish Lapland – so your odds of seeing an emerald sky are pretty good. The country knows it too and is set up for tourists to have their pick of ways to witness the show. You can do it while snowshoeing, husky mushing, cross-country skiing or even from a purpose-built glass igloo. After all, you don’t want the cold to distract you from one of the most spectacular natural displays  on the planet. Choose from six, super-dark national parks for the best experience, or a whole host of secluded villages – lakeside Nellim is our favourite.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska

Alaska, USA

WHERE: Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Anchorage

Vibrant greens, bright whites and even fluorescent pinks have been known to mark the skies above Anchorage – Alaska’s biggest city. Just a stone’s throw from the city’s downtown are great spots like Flattop Overlook or Nancy Lake State Recreation Area. But your best bet is either Denali National Park, where darkness reigns supreme, or the northerly city of Fairbanks which, like Canada’s Churchill, sits under the magnificent auroral oval.


Want to book your Northern Lights trip? Make an appointment to speak to one of our Travel Experts today, and they can talk you through which destinations would suit you best.


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About Alexandra Gregg

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not underwater or deploying a snorkel, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. Tweet me @wonderg1rl