The 10 Most Spectacular Places to See the Northern Lights This Winter
Never ever seen the northern lights? Rest assured, you’re not alone. But every traveler should consider a jaunt to see the aurora borealis with their own eyes. And while technically you could witness this phenomenon in the summertime, your best chances for a (super) natural light show is during the colder months, when the sky is black and dark. Winter nights near the arctic circle offer prime opportunities to witness this electric light display — and though the northern lights are a well-known phenomenon in Scandinavia, northern Canada, and the Yukon Territory, a few destinations on our list may surprise you. ‘Tis the season to start checking items off your bucket list (and planning adventurous travel), so we’ve researched the best places in the world to witness the northern lights this winter. From glass igloos in Alaska to luxury chalets in Finland, we have you covered.
Lapland, Finland: Do you dream of visiting the North Pole? Well, then Finnish Lapland, the country’s northernmost region, is your heaven. We recommend venturing to Ruka-Kuusamo for the ultimate in winter exploration: Think husky safaris, snow wagon tours, skiing, snowmobiling and, of course, those northern lights. If you visit during the holidays, the entire region resembles a Christmas wonderland enhanced, of course, by the plethora of reindeer. But that cheer extends south of the arctic circle as well, to the Ice Park and Helsinki Christmas Market in the Finnish capital. But it doesn’t need to be the most wonderful time of the year to make your voyage to Finland worth your while (and then some). The Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi is open to visitors year-round, and there's never a wrong time to enjoy the Nordic luxury of Javri Lodge, a wooden chalet-style boutique hotel in Saariselkä. Relax in the solitude of the lakes and forests of arctic Finland by day, and marvel at the aurora borealis by nightfall.
Yukon, Canada: We’ve already written about how Canada is severely under-appreciated in the summertime, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that our neighbor to the north is equally spectacular in the colder months. Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, is also its only city; trust us, you will appreciate this lack of light pollution when the sun goes down. Stay at the Inn on the Lake and venture over to Kluane National Park for some hiking and adventuring — just don't forget to look up! The sparsely populated wilderness in Yukon is pristine and dramatic enough already, so the northern lights are really just a (profoundly breathtaking) added bonus.
Isle of Skye, Scotland: If you’ve never been to the Scottish Highlands, we recommend putting this destination at the top of your list. The Isle of Skye is home to nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites, giving you nine great opportunities to see the lights. The Shulista Croft Wigwams are deliberately situated at one of the best viewing spots for the northern lights in all of Scotland, and their fire pits make ideal vantage points for midnight stargazing. Or get mobile and chase the northern lights on wheels with Bunk Campers. You can also get back to basics: Check out Wild Camping opportunities to sleep directly beneath the stars (or lights).
Brecon Beacons, South Wales: Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales is a more under-the-radar choice for checking out the northern lights displays, but when the phenomenon occurs, it’s unlike any other. The UK is known for having slightly more pink lights thanks to their geographical wavelength, and Brecon Beacons is no exception. The Brecon Beacons Dark Sky Reserve provides the perfect opportunity for stargazing, and when the northern lights swirl in their electric, molecular dance above Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in the national park, the effect is breathtaking.
Hella, Iceland: The Blue Lagoon, the Great Geyser, the Golden Circle… Iceland really knows how to name a natural landmark. Iceland is one of the rare places in the world where you can see the northern lights from just about anywhere. We recommend staying in Hotel Ranga, in the tiny town of Hella, in southern Iceland: The staff alerts you with a wake-up call when the Northern Lights are on display, and there are on-site astronomers. If you appreciate expert guidance, check out Contiki’s six-day Fire & Ice trip, which runs from the peak season of September to March. And if that puts you in "A Song of Ice and Fire," mood, you’re also in luck: Topdeck Travel’s Iceland Explorer trip combines Northern Lights destinations with Game of Thrones locations. (The Knights Watch, notably, was filmed in Iceland). Perfect for the traveler who’s as excited by the upcoming final season finale of Game of Thrones as they are by the prospect of a neon sky. Pro tip: Icelandair's Stopover Program makes it easy for travelers between North America and Europe to do an extended layover in Iceland for up to seven days.
Fairbanks, Alaska: This next destination should top your bucket list from now until eternity (or until you book your trip to Alaska). Stay in the glass igloos at Borealis Basecamp in Fairbanks to ensure you don’t miss a single moment of the nightly solar performance. Book an overnight dog sled expedition if you’re feeling adventurous during your trip — it's one of the many Aurora Viewing activities in Fairbanks). Nicknamed the “Golden Heart City,” Fairbanks is located just south of the arctic circle. The northern lights in this part of the world are often whirling flashes of green and white in the night sky, giving new meaning to the concept of Dancing with the Stars.
Lapland, Sweden: If you’re surprised to see Lapland on this list again, you shouldn’t be. Lapland is an arctic region that extends across Northern Europe, across to Russia — there’s Swedish Lapland, Finnish Lapland, and Norwegian Lapland, and each has its own individual charms. The Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park is considered one of the best places in the world to witness the northern lights, and there’s no shortage of inventive accommodations throughout the Swedish Lapland to suit the curious and adventurous traveler. The Treehotel in Swedish Lapland is perhaps the most unique (and elevated) ways to witness the northern lights. Though, for sheer ingenuity, we’re also partial to the ICEHOTEL (accommodations made of, yes, snow and ice).
Tromsø, Norway: Though Norway does boast a Lapland region as well, for great sky gazing, head to the fjords of Tromsø. Located above the arctic circle, this small town is even further north than Lapland, though it doesn’t let geographic isolation cramp its style. The town earned the nickname “The Paris of the North” when visitors first discovered the town in the 1800s. The town’s proximity to the North Pole works to its benefit in one very specific way: The aurora borealis is an exceptionally brilliant green in this region of Norway. To paraphrase Kanye, Tromsø delivers "All of the (Northern) Lights."
Faroe Islands, Denmark: The Faroe Islands, an archipelago north of Scotland, were once the stomping grounds of Vikings — now they're mainly the stomping grounds of puffins. But they’re also the go-to spot in Denmark for the occasional northern lights spectacular. The sparsely populated islands are largely free of light pollution, all the better for seeing those cosmic rays, and a winter northern lights expedition is a surefire way to get lost in the rugged wildness of your surroundings. Lighting up the darkest of skies in the coldest months, these cosmic rays are the original #lit.
Stewart Island, New Zealand: This is a bonus section, because while the aurora borealis gets most of the press, we’d hate to neglect the aurora australis, also known as the southern lights. There isn’t a more beautiful place to see the southern lights (or a more beautiful place to see anything, for that matter) than New Zealand. New Zealand is a dream destination already for its gorgeous wildlife and dramatic scenery, so why not plan to see this dreamscape lit up in multicolored cosmic rays from above? We recommend Stewart Island as the first stop on your southern lights exploration. The Flying Kiwi Southern Light tour explores South Island. The best part? The ideal season is, of course, wintertime — which in New Zealand translates to June to August. So even the laziest of planners has a chance of catching the supernatural light show of the sky next year. Cheers to your next cosmic adventure!
What are your favorite destinations for seeing the northern lights? Let us know @BritandCo.
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(Photos via Getty)