The Northern Lights are absolutely magical. And to see them with your own eyes is a unique experience. But where is the best place to see the Northern Lights? Of course, being a natural phenomenon you can never guarantee seeing them, no matter how much you’ve planned in advance. But you can put the odds in your favour by visiting some of the best places for a chance of seeing the Northern Lights in 2018.
During a winter trip to Lapland, I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in Sweden. It was a completely surreal experience. And it’s true you really do need to see them with your own eyes to appreciate how they dance across the sky. The northern lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis occur when there is a disturbance of the solar wind in the earth’s magnetosphere. The lights can occur in various colours, most commonly seen as greens, but if you’re lucky you can see reds, oranges and even pink and purple lights in the night sky.
So you’ve seen the stunning pictures on Instagram but where is really the best place to see the Northern Lights and capture some amazing photos? I’ve asked some of my intrepid adventurers from around the globe where they think the best place to see the Northern Lights is. And here are some of their favourite spots, including their top tips for photographing the Northern Lights!
Start planning your 2018 trip now and tick the Northern Lights off your Bucket List!
Table of Contents
- 1 Best place to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
- 2 Best place to see the Northern Lights in Finland
- 3 Best place to see the Northern Lights in Norway
- 4 Best place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
- 5 Best place to see the Northern Lights in Canada
- 6 Best place to see The Northern Lights in Alaska
Best place to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
Abisko National Park in Lapland
By Becky at Becky the Traveller
Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland is a wonderful place for Northern Lights spotting. Located near the Norwegian border, it’s 77 km sq/ 30 miles sq and close to the Arctic Circle. Out in the wilderness and away from light pollution the clear night skies give you the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. In Abisko, you can see the lights from September to early April. I visited in December and was treated to some stunning views.
A huge lake Tornetrask (70 km/ 43 miles long) covers a large area of the National Park. In winter, it freezes completely so you can actually walk on it! And it makes for a stunning backdrop for photos, in both the daylight as well. The lake is said to be on the reasons that Abisko National Park is the best place for seeing the northern lights as it creates a microclimate. It stops as many clouds from appearing in the sky. Believe it or not, but I saw the northern lights multiple times over the four days I was there.
I opted for a four-day photo tour with Lights over Lapland. It’s great to have professional help for your first experience photographing the northern lights. And another wonderful thing about seeing them in Abisko is there are traditional Sami huts that make great backdrops for your Northern Lights photos.
Becky’s Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights
- A tripod is a must, it allows you to increase your shutter speed to 10+ seconds and capture some wonderful shots.
- Also, make sure you have an empty memory card ready to use. You never know when the lights will come and go so you don’t want to run out of memory! I use a 32 MB
By Aaron at Aaron Teoh
While some who travel to Kiruna for the Northern Lights go on tours beyond the city, there are great spots to catch the Northern Lights within the city too! I spent 2 nights at 2 different spots within the city enjoying wonderful displays of the Northern Lights in mid-September. If you’d like to enjoy the Northern Lights at your own pace, at somewhere easy to get to and do it without a tour, Kiruna would be a great choice.
The first stop is Luossavaara, an inactive iron mine that is now a ski slope. While this requires a walk uphill in the dark (bring a torch), you’ll be rewarded with not just the Northern Lights but also sweeping panoramas across Kiruna. The aurora forecast was poor on the night I was there, but streaks of greenish white light eventually appeared and danced across the sky.
Another great place to see the Northern Lights within Kiruna city is on the grounds of Kiruna Church. This time, I did not have to wait long for the dancing streaks to appear across the clear night sky, much more vivid and intense than the day before, and the perfect backdrop to the beautiful Kiruna Church.
Aaron’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Bring along a tripod and set your camera for a long exposure shot if the lights are not clearly visible.
- Even when nothing can be seen by the naked eye, you might be surprised at what your camera may capture.
Best place to see the Northern Lights in Finland
Syöte National Park, Finland
By Laurence & Jessica at Independent Travel Cats
Although going to the Arctic Circle will increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Finland, you still have a decent chance to see them without going all the way to the Arctic Circle. Syöte National Park is located near the town of Pudasjärvi is the best place to see the Northern Lights south of the Arctic Circle and it is also one of the best places for outdoor winter activities in Finland. It is the area of Finland that receives the most snow, so you are almost guaranteed lots of snowy landscapes, and the national park setting is beautiful and tranquil.
We stayed at Iso-Syöte, the local ski resort where not only can you go out on evening Northern Lights hunts, but you can also go skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog sledging, and snowmobiling. We definitely recommend taking advantage of some of these fun winter activities in Finland and you can even combine them with Northern Lights hunts, such as evening snowmobile rides.
The best time to see the Northern Lights here is any time in the winter months from December to March, although it may be possible a bit earlier or later. The national park area is great because there is little light pollution so you just need clear evening skies, solar activity, and a bit of luck. We only saw them once, but we were only in the area for a few nights.
Laurence & Jessica’s Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Sometimes the Northern Lights, especially if they are not strong, are not visible to the naked eye, but if the skies are clear and activity is predicted try to take some long exposure shots with your camera.
- You may find that you can detect them with your camera even though your eyes can’t really see them!
Interested in the Southern Lights too? Read more here about seeing them in New Zealand!
By Cristina at Travel For Wildlife
We were almost at our home for the night, an off-the-grid log cabin in the middle of the Finnish woods, just north of Kuusamo. Tired and cold, I could only stare blankly at my sledge dogs, trotting along a frozen lake. It had been a long day on the sledges and we were all ready to start a fire, enjoy a sauna, and have a sausage dinner. Then the sky started showing a purple/reddish hue as if someone had put a filter on the sun. “This is a sign that we might be able to see the Northern Lights tonight,” said our guide.
We prepared the dogs for the night, took a sauna, and before we could have dinner the lights appeared. As quick as we could we all ran down the hill and stood in the middle of a frozen lake not believing our eyes. The Northern Lights moved slowly for a while, their green colour pulsing like a heartbeat.
Suddenly they started to dance frantically, forming curtains of different colours and shapes. The lights danced faster and faster while changing colour, going from green to orange, to purple and to red. A few of us even heard a weird whistling/windy sound coming from the lights. This was my very lucky first Northern Lights experience. The display was so incredible it even made the national Finnish TV news.
The best place to see the northern lights in all their splendour is to stay away from big cities and light pollution. For an opportunity to see big displays, the closer to the Arctic Circle the better. Kuusamo is only a few miles from it.
Cristina’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Use the landscape around you to frame the Northern Lights. It will give the photo a sense of place and scale.
Rovaniemi in Lapland
By Nat at Love and Road
We travelled to Rovaniemi last winter with a mission: see the Northern Lights. The city is located in the Finnish Lapland, almost in the arctic circle, and you probably have heard that it’s Santa Claus’ official address. The city is a winter wonderland and one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis.
We planned to stay 4 nights in town so we would have 4 opportunities to see the lights. Most of the travel guides recommend going on a tour outside Rovaniemi to have more chances to see the lights. On our first night, we joined a tour to see the Northern Lights. The tour was a great, barbecue in the middle of the forest, hot tea and the incredible northern lights dancing in the sky. It was magical and unforgettable. Mission accomplished, we saw the beauty of the Northern Lights, but one spectacle wasn’t enough for us, so we kept an eye on the weather forecast.
On our second night in town, we chased the Northern Lights by ourselves. We walked to the frozen river behind the Arktikum Museum, and there they were, the green lights shining for us again. It was very cold and we weren’t as prepared with proper clothes as the night before. But anyway, I was in ecstasy. No doubt that Rovaniemi is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, you can go on a tour, do a night safari or even be in the wild by yourself. The possibilities are endless as the beauty of nature.
Best place to see the Northern Lights in Norway
By Megan at Mapping Megan
A country in the most far northern latitudes of the world, Norway is one of the best places to witness the northern lights. And they are made even more beautiful in that there is very little light pollution to interfere with the spectacle if you travel a little outside of the cities.
As far as making your way north goes, you can’t get further north than Svalbard. In fact, this is the world’s northernmost town; a spit of land and ice tucked away far to the north of Norway next to Greenland in the Arctic Ocean.
The Northern Lights make appearances here from November through February, though between mid-November to the end of January travellers can experience an additional natural phenomenon: the Polar Night.
The Polar Night refers to the three months Svalbard goes without daylight. This perpetual eerie blue twilight means you have the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, though do keep in mind that you have better chances of spotting wildlife like reindeer, walrus and polar bears after this lifts (i.e. when you can see).
Meg’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Our best tip for photographing the Northern Lights in 2018 is to use a sturdy tripod and shutter release mechanism.
- And to bring extra batteries, as the lifespan of your equipment will be much less in the extreme cold.
By Brooke at Roamscapes
Tromsø is one of the most popular destinations for seeing the northern lights because it sits within the auroral zone in the Arctic Circle, meaning your chances of seeing it are much higher than elsewhere. Even if you don’t see the northern lights from within the city, you can always drive or join a professional tour, and go further inland – even across the border to Sweden or Finland – to chase the aurora!
October through March are the best times for seeing the northern lights in Tromsø. I was there in early March and although I only caught them once in my four days there. My guide told us that the lights had been dancing like crazy a week before. It still comes down to a bit of luck!
Tromsø is such a great Northern Lights destination because there’s so much to do as well as chasing the aurora. You can go whale watching, dog sledging, or even enjoy a traditional meal inside a Sami hut as part of a traditional Sami cultural experience. There are also attractions like the Arctic Cathedral and the Tromsø University Museum.
Brooke’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- If possible, try to include your surrounding landscape together with the lights instead of just capturing the sky. This creates a more visually interesting composition.
By Brendan at Bren on the Road
When in Norway, most people head straight up to the coast, thinking the most northern point will be a great hunting spot for the auroras. The reality is, up there by the ocean is often quite cloudy and spotting can be difficult. For the perfect Northern Lights photo, you want crystal clear night skies.
Alta is a great place to see them. Super north and in the winter when the sun is only out a few hours a day, people were seeing them all the time. Alta is a town that’s a little further inland and is excellent for aurora spotting, and there is a peak in the centre of Alta called Komsa – it might take you around 15 minutes to climb to the top and it makes the perfect viewing point.
I managed to see them in late September, but if you head a little later in the winter it will be even better with the extra short days (more darkness means more chances!). As a bonus, Alta is a very charming small town, and even if you don’t catch the lights you’re sure to love it.
Brendan’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Take them quick! The lights come and go quite quickly – sometimes they’ll just appear for a minute or two and then they’ll vanish. Also, clouds can drift in and out at any moment. So when you see a good shot, make sure you get it.
Uloya in Norway
By Lavina at Continent Hop
Uloya, located in the northernmost region of Norway is a tiny island about a 2-3 hour drive and ferry ride from Tromso. There are beautiful fjords and mountains near Uloya which make it very picturesque. It’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights as the island has only about 40 inhabitants, so light pollution is minimal. The locals are friendly, and almost everyone knows each other!
We visited Uloya in March as apparently the lights are more frequent and strong during March before they start disappearing as the days start getting bigger. The island is slightly windy which is why even if it’s cloudy, the clouds don’t last long and keep moving, helping to increase visibility.
Out of the four days, we stayed in Uloya; we saw the lights three times! The lights supposedly appear in Uloya first, before making their way to Tromso and the southern parts. The Northern lights were quite vivid in Uloya, and we could even see shades of purple and pink one day! Misty and mysterious, creating spirals, the lights slowly appeared from over the mountain and made their way towards the fjords.
Lavina’s Tips for Photographing the Northern Lights
- To capture the lights, it’s always good to head out and set camera before the lights appear.
- Use a shutter release cable if possible and leave the lens open for at least 10 seconds to get the lights. If you leave it longer, you could catch the movement of satellites!
Best place to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
By Rachel at From East to West
I saw the Northern Lights with my own eyes in September 2016 in Reykjavík, Iceland and it was one of the most magical experiences ever. While we tried to chase them the week before all around the South Coast of Iceland far away from urban life, our luck only came to us on the one night we were staying in Reykjavík.
When we read the weather statement that day that said there was a strong chance we raced at the chance to book a tour that night. The bus tour had around 20 people and drove us 30 minutes outside of Reykjavík, to catch the northern lights in an area with less light pollution. It was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen. I loved seeing them right outside of Reykjavík because it proves that you don’t have to go far and away from the city, as many guides suggest, to get a good view.
Rachel’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- To capture the Northern Lights: If you don’t have a real DSLR or mirrorless camera, you are still in luck to capture these beauties!
- On your smartphone, download the “NorthernLights” Camera App. Someone on our tour gave us the tip and they saved us!
By Natasha at The World Pursuit
Iceland is an amazing place to see the Northern Lights. The tiny island country is blessed with the ability to see the lights eight months out of the year. Starting in early September they last all the way until the end of April.
While it’s never guaranteed and it all depends on the cloud coverage you’re almost guaranteed to see some activity in the winter months. The key to finding a good place to view the Northern Lights is to find an area with little light pollution. That’s not too difficult once you’re outside of Reykjavik in Iceland.
A great spot for viewing the lights in Iceland is the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The dramatic region on the west of Iceland has stunning scenery and the peninsula’s point is undeveloped offering visitor a light pollution free viewing area. In addition, the glacier nearby is said to create a microclimate providing a better chance of clear skies.
Read more about things to do in Iceland here
Best place to see the Northern Lights in Canada
By Sara at The Life of a Solivagant
Back in 2014, I lived in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada for about a year and was lucky enough to witness the northern lights on multiple occasions, in the winter. The thing about the lights is that they are never guaranteed. I joined a group on Facebook dedicated to posting the forecast of the northern lights in Whitehorse because I was always on the lookout.
Even if the forecast for the lights is good, you need to have the right weather, as the clouds tend to cover the lights from being seen. But the key is to find an open space free from light pollution. My favourite spot in the Yukon was the Carcross Desert. I saw the most amazing northern lights show there on numerous occasions, one time actually at about 10 pm at night in March that lasted a couple hours.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that March is the best month for them, or even that 10 pm is the best time; it differs all the time. But if you get the chance to spend some time in the Yukon, I highly recommend going in winter.
Sara’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Keep your eye on the weather and northern lights forecast so you don’t miss your chance.
Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve
By Stefan at Stefan RTW
A few hours drive from Toronto is the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve. This is somewhat of a hidden gem in Southern Ontario and it’s the closest place to Toronto that you can catch the beautiful Northern Lights – if you’re lucky that is. In 1999, the area was designated as the first permanent Dark Sky Preserve in the world. It’s the best place to visit in the region if you want to catch the sky come alive at night.
The reason why it’s the best place to see the Northern Lights is that there is barely any light pollution in the surrounding area. The flat landscape also gives you a complete 360-degree view of the night sky above you. These two factors make it great for catching the Aurora Borealis so far South in Canada.
The best time to visit if you want to see the Northern Lights lighting up the night sky is in late summer or early fall. This is when the solar activity in the Northern Hemisphere is most active. For the best chances to see the lights you want to plan a visit when there isn’t a moon in the sky. Otherwise, the light from the moon could hamper your chances of seeing anything spectacular.
The entire area at the Torrance Barrens is Crown Land so don’t forget to pack a tent because you can spend the night camping free. All of these factors make this Dark Sky Preserve the best place to see the Northern Lights in all of Southern Ontario and even upstate New York. Don’t miss your chance to see the night sky come alive above you – pack the car and head to Torrance Barrens this summer!
Banff National Park
By Maya at Travel with the Smile
During our 4 years of living in Canada, we’ve seen northern lights countless of times, and will never get tired of them. You can see them almost anywhere if you drive outside the city, away from light pollution. The most beautiful setting for this natural phenomenon is in the mountains. Northern lights light up the mountains into light green colour while the green and purple lights are creating waves and dancing above your head.
Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park is a popular place to go. The lake itself is huge, almost completely surrounded by mountains and offers many possibilities for photographers. A popular picture I’ve seen but haven’t had a chance to capture myself is a person playing ice hockey on the lake under the northern lights.
We’ve seen the most beautiful show in May a few years ago when the lights started to show around midnight and continued for several hours. We were looking up for so long our neck started to get sore. It was also a great opportunity to try different settings on the camera. ISO and exposure are settings we changed the most, the combination that hugely depends on how strong the lights are.
Settings for the photo above were: ISO 1600 & 6 sec exposure. Watching northern lights is one of 100 things you can do in Banff National Park, read our complete list of more ideas. My recommendation is to look up more and less into the camera and enjoy the show.
Maya’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Focus your camera on a set distant object and use widest possible aperture.
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
By Kevin at Wandering Wagars
Canada’s Great White North offers visions of blustery cold and unforgiving winters. But there are a few regions in Northern Canada that offer incredible amenities. And most importantly, some of the best Northern Lights viewing in the world! In fact, visitors to Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories have a 95% chance of seeing the Northern Lights if they stay for at least three days. And with countless lakes, forests and indigenous villages offering stunning backdrops, your view of the Aurora is sure to be a memorable one.
Yellowknife is no one-trick-pony either. This city of 20,000 offers incredible winter activities to fill your days as well. Visitors can experience dog-sledging, winter hiking, ice-kiting, and many more adventure activities. Yellowknife also has a booming art and food scene. Oldtown features many local art shops. Some belong to indigenous groups, while others belong to artisans to moved to Yellowknife to escape the busyness of life in the big city. And the city is dotted with incredible restaurants, breweries, cafés and more. These are all a good place to escape the winter cold. And it does get cold!
Kevin’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- Temperatures in Yellowknife can drop as low as -40 degrees Celsius in the winter. Although the average temperatures hover around -26. Make sure to bring some thermal underwear for capturing those pictures!
Best place to see The Northern Lights in Alaska
By Heather at Raulerson Girls Travel
One of the best places to see the Northern Lights in North America is in Fairbanks, Alaska. The closer you get to the Arctic Circle the more intense the colours are. And the best time to view the Northern Lights is in October and March. These times are when the Aurora Borealis is the most active. And the long periods of darkness and clear nights in Alaska provide an amazing display for photographers.
I was able to spend 5 days & nights at Chena Hot Springs Resort just outside of Fairbanks this past March hunting the Northern Lights. I saw the lights each night while I was there. This resort caters to photographers trying to capture the Lights by providing excursions to get the best unobstructed photos on top of a mountain.
To get your camera ready, You will need to set your lens focus to infinity. Also, you need to set your Aperture to F2.8, increase your ISO to 800-4000. And set the shutter speed to 1” – 15”. The amount of time the shutter stays open depends on the type of lens you have.
I hope your Northern Lights experience will be just as breathtaking as mine was. Good Luck on your Northern Lights hunting!
Heather’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- When you get to the location to shoot, have your remote trigger ready. Because when the Northern Lights start dancing they are unbelievable. And you want to be ready with your camera so, you don’t miss anything.
Denali National Park
By Jennifer at Made all the Difference
Denali National Park and Preserve is located in central Alaska. The park is about 9,500 sq miles which makes it about the size of Macedonia. And it’s in a prime location to see the northern lights, surrounded by millions of acres of uninhabited land. The small town that supports the park doesn’t produce enough light to ruin the skies.
During the winter is the best time of year to see the northern lights. That being said, getting to Denali during the winter can be a challenge and very weather dependent. Much of Alaska has limited access during the winter. If a winter adventure isn’t your thing, the shoulder months of September or May can result in sightings of the lights.
I spent 5 nights in Denali National Park during September. And saw the northern lights twice from the parking lot of the main campground. Next time, I would love to camp at one of the more interior campgrounds, to try and catch the lights on a clear night above Denali (formerly Mount McKinley).
Jennifer’s Tip for Photographing the Northern Lights
- My best tip for capturing northern lights pictures is practice photographing the night sky and stars before you head off on your northern lights adventure. Photographing the lights isn’t the best time to be learning how to photograph them.
Where do you think is the best place to see the Northern Lights? Tell me in the comments below and I’d love it if you could send me the photos too 🙂
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