If ever there was a bucket list item to have, it would be to see the Northern Lights. This breathtaking natural phenomenon has flooded social media in recent years and drawn countless visitors to the “aurora zone”.
If you are on the hunt for the Aurora borealis (or “Aurora australis” if you are in the south), make sure you go at the right time and to the right places. The winter season is best, where there are clear and dark nights and the Northern Lights tend to shine the strongest between 8pm to 2am although it is possible to spot them outside that timeframe.
To help you with your Northern Lights hunt, we have listed some of the world’s best places to spot them but remember: there is no guarantee of a sighting. Mother Nature is fickle that way, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!
Image by Thomas Tucker
Iceland is a stunning northern island with many prime spots for Northern Light sightings. If you intend to travel to Iceland, remember that you will have as little as 4 hours of light in a day and the temperature will average around −10 °C. The winds in Iceland are also exceptionally fierce - so much so that you have to hold onto the car door every time you exit in case it slams against the vehicle!
That said, the Northern Light can be spotted as early as September (if you’re lucky). We would recommend visiting one of Iceland’s black sand beaches - the black sand consists of real volcanic rock - to get a good sighting of the lights. This includes the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach located near Vik, which is also a great chance to spot the puffins, hexagonal basalt columns and the Reynisdrangar sea stack columns. You can also spot the Northern Lights at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach (so named because of the “diamonds” or blocks of glacier that get washed ashore), which is located just across the road from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
Other places to catch the Northern Lights include the Blue Lagoon, Grótta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, the black sand beaches of the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck, Seljavallalaug Pool, Ásbyrgi Canyon and Thingvellir National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you are lucky, you might also spot the Northern Lights from the capital city of Reykjavik too!
Travel Tip: Download the My Aurora Forecast mobile app, which will give you details about the aurora borealis as well as forecasts for the next hour, several hours and several weeks ahead on expected Northern Light sightings! It also contains a list of the best locations for sightings if you want to try out other locations around the island.
Image by Warren Sammut
Norway is one of the most magical places to visit regardless of the season. With its dramatic fjords, historical fishing villages and craggy mountains (full of Norwegian trolls!), Norway is a place you should definitely visit at least once. And one of the most beautiful places from which you can try to spot the Northern Lights.
Tromsø is one of the best Norwegian places to go because it is located in the center of the Northern Lights Oval, which is an area that has the highest probability of seeing the Northern Lights. It also has a milder coastal climate with winter temperature averaging around -4°C, and is easily accessible via flight connections from major cities such as Oslo, London, Stockholm and Helsinki. In addition, you can’t get bored with the range of activities available in Tromsø: whale watching, dog sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are all winter sports that you can will the day away with while hunting for those elusive lights!
Lofoten Islands is another fantastic place to see the Northern Lights. This Norwegian archipelago has incredible beaches that function as the perfect mirrors to reflect the Northern Lights in the sky. It also has picturesque fishing villages to capture the lights against. Other places in Norway that we would recommend include Lapland, Alta, Senja, Svalbard, Hammerfest and North Cape.
Travel Tip: Don’t confine your Northern Light hunt to just one location. Fit in multiple Northern Light hunting sites into your travel itinerary so that if your targeted days fail, you might still have a chance to spot them at another location!
Image by David Becker
It is extremely rare to spot the Northern Lights in Stockholm, so it is best to head up north to the Kiruna and Abisko area.
Kiruna is the regional hub of northern Sweden and an hour’s drive from the Abisko National Park, which was named as one of the most magical places by National Geographic. There are plenty of ways to see the Northern Lights in Kiruna, whether it is around a lakeside fire, in a reindeer-drawn sleigh or even from the comforts of a cozy lakeside cabin! Other things you can do in Kiruna include visiting the Sami museum to learn about the indigenous people, viewing the amazing ice sculptures at the Ice Hotel and visiting iconic the Kiruna Church.
But if the Northern Lights is a priority, then you have to put Abisko on your list. Abisko is the driest place in Sweden and the Northern Lights appear on an average of 159 nights a year! Scientists have estimated that if you spend 3 days in Abisko, you will have an 80% chance of spotting the Northern Lights. Those are some truly exceptional odds!
A popular way to view the Northern lights in Abisko is to take the 20-minute chair lift up to the peak of Mount Njullá. The chair lift runs between November to April and will bring you to the Aurora Sky Station, which has a viewing deck, cafe and Northern Lights exhibition.
Travel Tip: If you decide to drop by the cafe, don’t forget to try the Swedish boiled coffee (“kokkaffe”)!
Image by Jonalyn San Diego
Alaska is a longtime favourite among Northern Light hunters, so much so that you will even find Alaska Northern Lights Tours running to maximise your chances of spotting these elusive lights.
The reason why Alaska is so popular is because the aurora belt in Alaska’s Interior and Arctic regions are one of the most active in the world. The best time to visit is between mid-September and late April, although temperatures can drop to as low as -34.44°C!
If you intend to make the long trip over to Alaska, we would recommend stopping by Fairbanks, which enjoys frequent aurora sightings. Good nearby spots include Ester, Wickersham, Murphy Domes and Haystack Mountain. In addition, we would also recommend the 13.2 million acres Wrangell-St Elias National Park, where you can also go glacier trekking and fishing in Lake Tebay while waiting for the Northern Lights to appear.
Travel Tip: Check out the Aurora Forecast mobile app to keep track of potential Northern Light sightings. You can also track the Aurora sighting forecast report by the University of Alaska to help you with your hunt.
The Northern Lights are notoriously hard to find but that also means that there is a real sense of achievement when you succeed!
While we have listed what we deem to be some of the world’s best places to see the Northern Lights, please do remember it is all up to Mother Nature. But even so, why not give yourself the best possible chance to spot the Northern Lights by travelling this winter to one of the places listed above? The Northern Lights are calling your name and there is no better way to answer then by booking your winter flight and accommodation via Mayflower.com.my!
A faith-driven Sarawakian lawyer who believes that it is never too late to start crafting a socially impactful legacy. When not grappling with warranties and liabilities, she loves pursuing adrenaline-fueled adventures, improving her Español and playing the violin. You can find her at @vidadeliya or https://www.vidadeliya.com