There’s no question about it, seeing the Northern Lights should be on your bucket list. From Iceland to Alaska, we share the best places to see the Northern Lights, plus some unique ways to view them.
The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are a colorful phenomenon caused by solar particles mixing with atmospheric gasses, resulting in dazzling colorful skies. Alaska and Iceland are the most popular places to spot them, but the Northern Lights can be seen from any locations between 65 and 72 degrees latitude.
From November through March, ideal viewing conditions are cold, cloudless nights in areas with little light pollution. Prime viewing time is between 9 p.m. and 2am, but book a hotel that offers Aurora wake-up services and you won’t have to stay awake all night. If the lights are spotted, they’ll give you a wake-up call. (Whether you’re willing to leave your cozy bed at 2 a.m. is another story, but we highly recommend it.)
Here are four of the best places to see the Northern Lights.
If you’re heading to Iceland in search of the Northern Lights, you’ll want to leave Reykjavik. While it’s not impossible to see the lights from the city, the light pollution minimizes visibility. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop in your rental for a self-drive tour on a cold evening when the sky is clear.
If you don’t fancy driving, guided tours are available — many come with a free do-over if you don’t see the lights. Prefer a warm, cozy bed? Located in rural south Iceland, Hotel Ranga turns off the resort’s exterior nights to provide optimal viewing conditions. The hotel also offers a wake-up call and provides blankets to warm the guests viewing the lights.
Coldfoot, a town in Alaska’s Brooks Range mountains, offers the best chance of witnessing the Alaska Northern Lights. With a slightly longer season than Iceland, stretching from mid-September through late April, Alaska is a great no-passport-required option for U.S. residents.
Weeklong Alaskan tours bundle opportunities to see the Northern Lights with activities like gold-panning and guided hikes. The all-inclusive Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge offers lodging, meals, a guide and fly-out excursions to explore Arctic National Park.
Head to Svalbard, Norway between November and January to experience Polar Night, a phenomenon that occurs inside polar circles where night lasts for more than 24 hours. More hours of darkness mean more chances for Aurora viewing opportunities.
Hurtigruten Cruises offers a Northern Lights itinerary through much of Norway and its islands that provides a unique way to try to spot the lights. They’re so confident that you’ll see them during your 12-day cruise, they’ll give you a 6 or 7-day cruise with half board for free if you don’t.
Greenlanders call the Northern Lights “Arsarnerit”, which literally translate to “those playing ball.” This comes from an old Inuit myth where the lights appear when the souls of the dead are playing ball with walrus skulls. Another myth suggests that whistling at the sky will make the lights more vivid, so purse your lips and give it a shot.
Greenland Travel offers excursions to see the lights on the world’s largest and most sparsely populated island, including sledding and making snow angels to entertain you while you wait. Cruise through the world’s largest fjord system with Quark Expeditions where you can hike and kayak the Arctic in search of the lights. For another unique experience, check out Sirius Greenland’s snowmobile tour of Sisimiut, that shuttles up to 12 passengers in an open-air snowmobile bus.