The best places to see the Northern Lights





If you're a nature nerd, or just love marvelling in the strange phenomena thrown up by planet Earth, the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) is an absolute must-see.

Occurring when solar wind collides with the Earth's magnetosphere, the resulting ionisation creates incredible blue, green and sometimes even red, pink, yellow and violet lights visible that dance across the night sky at the Earth's poles. Although the phenomenon happens at the South Pole too, the Aurora Borealis is much more accessible for tourists (sadly there are no direct flights to Antarctica just yet). It also helps that the northern lights appear at latitudes lower than the Arctic Circle, thus closer to populated areas.
Trying to predict when the Northern Lights will occur is pretty tough; it all depends on solar activity, which is notoriously difficult to forecast. At best, we get about a 2 hour warning if solar activity is strong enough to produce the effect, so you certainly aren't guaranteed to see them at any of the locations on the list. 
What you will get by visiting any of these places is improved odds of seeing the northern lights. Thanks to the latitudes at which they sit, lack of light pollution and much darker skies in winter. Although the northern lights can appear at any times during the year, lighter skies during the summer make it difficult to see anything with the naked eye, so the best time to make an attempt is in winter. You'll certainly needed to pack something warm!




Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland 



Iceland is one of the best places on Earth to see the Northern Lights. It sits at the perfect latitude, it's easy to get to and there's plenty of other stuff to see and do if you aren't so lucky! Vatnajökull National Park is the best part of a day by car, snowmobile and then foot to get to the impressive stuff, but once you're there, it's well worth the journey. The whole park sits on top of one of the biggest glaciers in Europe, and there are several actives volcanoes dotted around, so you'll have lots to explore when the sun is still up. If you time it right and get clear skies, then this remote part of Iceland is absolutely perfect to see the northern lights in their full glory.

If you don't fancy hiring trekking equipment or facing the risks involved with exploring a glacier in potential -20°C temperatures, then stay closer to the capital Reykjavik. Just venture away from the city and you'll get a much better view without any light pollution.


Tromsø, Norway







The extreme North of Norway is pretty much the perfect place to see the Northern Lights, with little light pollution and close proximity to the North Pole. It also helps that Tromsø is one of Norway's key cities, so there's no shortage of hotels, bars, restaurants and things to do. In fact, you're best off booking your Northern Lights tour through Visit Tromsø, the official tour guides for the city. They'll take you away from the city, wrap you up in weatherproof gear, feed you and even loan you a camera so you can snap your own photos of the Northern Lights!


Greenland




We'll rate this one as 'intermediate', as getting to Greenland is tough enough in winter, never mind handling the extreme weather conditions that are common throughout the dark months. If you're lucky enough to get a break in the weather, then this pretty unspoiled chunk of snow, ice and rock is the ideal place to see the Northern Lights away from the groups of tourists you'll get on Northern Lights trips in the likes of Norway and Iceland.

We'd suggest booking ahead with Greenland experts Tasermuit - trekking across Greenland is challenging and potentially dangerous, so having locals who know how to handle both the weather and the terrain is a must if you're not an experienced explorer. They'll also set up camp, feed you and take you to the best viewing spots.


Fairbanks, Alaska




Alaska's second biggest settlement sits pretty far North and luckily there isn't too much light pollution if you head away from downtown, making this well-served city a great base for exploring Alaska and viewing the Northern Lights. The Chena Hot Springs Resort is a couple of hours away and is completely free from artificial light, plus there's a bed for the night nearby once you've seen the Aurora

Roads heading out of town can get snowy during winter, so make sure you're prepared for the journey with extra water, food, blankets and snow chains.


Inverness, Scotland




Although the most Southern destination on this list, it is possible to see the Aurora Borealis in Scotland if the conditions are right. One of the best spots nearby is in fact Loch Ness, with it's low population density and high numbers of hotels and bed and breakfasts making it the perfect stop off to try and see an aurora. You'll need a clear night, plus particularly strong solar winds, which are both tough to get in rainy, snowy Scotland, but with a bit of luck it's entirely possible!

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As with any journey out into the cold, take extra care when chasing the Aurora Borealis, especially in far Northern areas. The weather can change very quickly in the Arctic Circle and you're always best off in the hands of professionals. Just remember that catching an aurora is a mixture of luck and the right conditions, so don't be too disappointed if you don't see them - in fact, many people who live in the far North rarely see it themselves!