Of all the trips on an adventure travelers’ bucket list—from cruising Antarctica to summiting Mount Kilimanjaro—venturing to see the northern lights often tops the list. Aurora borealis is actually the result of energy particles and high-altitude atoms colliding. The result, of course, is a sky illuminated with colors that vary depending on your location and viewing night. Often those lucky enough to catch aurora borealis will see greens and purples, and perhaps glimmers of pink, yellow, and blue. Scouting the dancing lights has become a more high-tech endeavor in recent years; there’s now an app for that. Download the My Aurora Forecast & Alerts app and head to one of these destinations to (hopefully) see aurora borealis.
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Jasper is known for its dark skies, giving travelers an opportunity to view the northern lights after only a four-hour direct flight from New York City. Alberta gets a potential view of the greens, reds, purples, and yellows courtesy of aurora borealis from September to mid-May. Visit Jasper National Park, the largest park in the Canadian Rockies, or come to the area in mid-October for Jasper Dark Sky Festival. For alternative dark sky and northern lights viewing opportunities in Alberta, Wood Buffalo and Elk Island National Parks are also highly recommended because they have little artificial light to obstruct potential aurora sightings.
Harads, in Swedish Lapland, is home to two luxury hotels that offer prime northern lights positioning. The first property—Treehotel—is coming up on its 10th anniversary, while the second, Arctic Baths, is slated to open in mid-January 2020. Treehotel’s “7th Room” treehouse is one of the best places in Harads to see aurora borealis—it has a north-facing window-enclosed room created especially for viewing the northern lights. Harads is a town of dense Swedish forest and dark, long nights in the winter, perfect for glimpsing the northern lights.
Fairbanks is touted as the best northern lights vantage point in Alaska. The city falls within the Aurora Oval—the ring-shaped arctic area most likely to gain exposure to the northern lights. Aurora in Fairbanks is typically seen as green, teal, and white—though a purple edge might emerge if you’re lucky. The best times to see aurora borealis in Fairbanks are from the end of August to the end of April—when the weather conditions hold up, you should be able to see the lights on 80% of the nights during viewing season.
The best chance of seeing aurora borealis in Tromsø is from October to March. Thanks to Tromsø’s northern arctic circle positioning and fairly clear weather, it makes for a winning destination if you’re after a northern lights sighting. Stay for a few nights and you may even get to see aurora borealis more than once in the winter. For a scouting excursion, take the Fjellheisen cable car up to Storsteinen mountain where there’s less pollution to obstruct your visibility.
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir National Park (or þingvellir National Park) is one of the most popular Icelandic destinations to see aurora borealis. And while in-the-know travelers tend to err on the side of undiscovered destinations, northern lights hotspots are perhaps an exception to that rule. After all, the popularity of Thingvellir National Park implies its success as a northern lights scouting area. Just a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, the national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site offers the best chance of seeing the aurora from September to April.
Ireland and Scotland have certainly worked to earn their place on the list of top aurora borealis destinations. When it comes to scouting the northern lights, the name of the game is distancing yourself from light pollution. And that’s why Donegal has become such a popular viewing spot—it’s well into the northern headlands and benefits from dark skies. Malin Head is a favorite Donegal spot for catching the lights. They’re usually spotted between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. from November to February.
Kirovsk sits by the Khibiny Mountains, about 120 miles east of the Finnish-Russian border. Near the Murmansk region of Russia—the far northwest, Finland-adjacent part of the country—Kirovsk’s northern lights viewing season runs mid-September to mid-April. To get to Kirovsk, you’ll fly into Kirovsk-Apatity Airport (commonly known as the Khibiny Airport). It’s a two-hour direct flight from Moscow.