The aurora borealis is the colorful phenomenon created when electrically charged particles within the earth’s magnetosphere collide with particles in the solar wind. The northern lights, as they’re also known, are best seen in late August through April from countries near the North and South poles. These neon ribbons of light are not always visible, and the colors present depend on altitude and which elements are in the air. The most common color is green, while red is more rare. Glows of yellow, pink, blue, and ultraviolet are also possible.
Weather, lunar cycle, and proximity to the sea make some cities and regions better than others for viewing. But if catching a spectacular display is on your bucket list, here are Hipmunk’s top destinations for seeing these natural wonders!
1. Fairbanks, Alaska
Located within the auroral oval — a ring-shaped region around the North Pole — Fairbanks lends itself to a steady frequency of Northern Light activity and clear climates. But travelers will have to travel a bit outside of the city limits to see nature’s fluorescent curtains. Stay at the Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge or the Springhill Suites by Marriott Fairbanks, both short drives from the city’s other attractions should the lights not cooperate. (We’re fans of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Alaska House Art Gallery, and the Fairbanks Community Museum.) Alaska Tours will pick up stargazers from their stated hotel and transfer them to the outskirts of the city. Dress warmly to experience the rippling auroras outdoors, or sip a complimentary warm beverage to stay cozy inside the vehicle. Make sure to monitor the University of Alaska’s aurora forecast to get a better idea of when there is auroral activity.
2. Whitehorse City, Canada
Canada’s Yukon Territory makes for great viewing of the undulating light curtains. Head to Whitehorse City and stay at the Skky Hotel, only 0.4 miles from the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. View the aurora from a custom-built location by Arctic Range, a northern lights tour company. Or, drive 18 miles north of downtown Whitehorse and view them from the Takhini Hot Springs for a memorable evening. The pools, which have been in operation for more than 100 years, are between 36 degrees and 42 degrees Celsius, offering a soothing experience. Check out the pool rental rates, which are based on number of guests.
3. Saariselka, Finland
The northern lights are best viewed away from city lights, making national reserves like Urho Kekkonen National Park a good option. Stay at the Holiday Club in the town of Saariselka for easy access to the park, as well as downhill and cross-country skiing. For those with a higher budget, have a distinctive experience at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort while hunting for the elusive lights. The resort, located a nine-minute drive south from Saariselka and also near Urho Kekkonen Park, offers its signature glass igloo for two or four people, a log cabin or a hybrid accommodation, which is a log cabin that also has a glass igloo. There are various other options, including staying with in the home of Mr. and Ms. Claus, which Kakslauttanen calls Santa’s Home. For extra fees, Kakslauttanen offers husky and reindeer safaris, sleigh rides and ice fishing, among other activities.
4. Karasjok, Norway
Northern Norway is an ideal location to catch both the Northern Lights and star constellations. The town often has clear skies due to its inland location, and little light pollution. Even if the capricious lights don’t show, visitors will be impressed by the clearly visible star constellations. Stay at the Scandic Karasjok, which has two restaurants and a sauna to get a complete Norwegian experience. The DenHvite Rein Motell offers cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing to stay active.
5. Abisko, Sweden
The typically clear climate of Abisko makes this small town an optimal place to catch the aurora borealis. Stay at the Abisko Guest house or the Abisko Mountain Lodge, both offering easy access to the Aurora Sky Station within Abisko National Park. Abisko offers three distinct northern light tours to choose from. Snowshoe to the top of a small hill overlooking Lake Tornetrask, as well as wild animal trails. Rest near the fire while drinking warm drinks as onlookers stare at the sky. Or, learn how to best photograph nature’s dancing lights. Visitors have to provide their own SD memory cards, but Absiko provides the high-quality camera and lens, as well as detailed instructions from a professional.