Amanda Williams a RoamRight Blog Author

4 Great Places to See the Northern Lights Around the World

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In order to catch a glimpse of the famed and mysterious aurora borealis (AKA the Northern Lights), a few conditions have to be met. You have to have a very dark night, very clear skies, and be far enough north that you fall into what's called the Auroral Oval.

This means, unfortunately, that seeing the Northern Lights dance above your head is often a very cold business.

But it's an experience that is also very much worth it. As long as you can gather your layers and deal with more darkness than daylight, here are four places that offer up some of the best aurora viewing in the world during the winter months:

Reykjavik, Iceland

Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean under the lower curve of the Auroral Oval, the entire country of Iceland is positioned perfectly for optimal Northern Lights viewing. Beginning in September and stretching into March and sometimes even April, the skies are dark enough over most of Iceland (and the light pollution is minimal enough) that seeing the aurora is possible.

The positives:

  • Reykjavik is easy (and relatively affordable) to get to from both Europe and the East Coast of the U.S.
  • There is a lot to do in Reykjavik and the surrounding area, even in the middle of winter.

The negatives:

  • Being an island, Iceland's weather is often volatile; you can never predict whether you will have clear skies or not. Unfortunately, the country is often plagued with misty, cloudy skies.

Churchill, Manitoba

Located on the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba, Canada, the tiny town of Churchill is most well known to outsiders for its polar bears. During October and November, the bears migrate south through Churchill in order to head out onto the newly formed ice in the Bay to hunt. But Churchill, with its location directly under the Auroral Oval and its minimal light pollution, is also one of the top places in the world to watch the dancing Northern Lights. It was from an outpost here in the 1950s that researchers began sending rockets up into the atmosphere to study the science behind the aurora.

The positives:
  • Not many tourists venture this far north in Canada in the winter months, making tour groups very small.
  • Churchill gets a fair number of cold, crisp nights in the winter – and lots of aurora activity. Locals report seeing the Northern Lights roughly 2 out of 3 days every winter.
The negatives:
  • Since it is rather isolated, Churchill is not easy (or cheap) to get to. No roads lead to the town, so you either have to fly (which is pricey) or take the train (which takes up to 2 days).

Fairbanks, Alaska

In the United States, it takes a strong solar storm to charge up the particles in the atmosphere enough to make the aurora glow anywhere near the Lower 48. That isn’t to say that it never happens–but it's rare. If you want to see the Northern Lights in the U.S., therefore, you have to head north to Alaska. Fairbanks is often listed as one of the best places in the world to see the aurora, and the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks takes readings here to predict aurora activity all over the northern hemisphere.

The positives:
  • You can fly to Fairbanks from just about anywhere in the U.S. – and you won't have to change currencies!
  • Since Fairbanks is so well known for its aurora viewing, there are hotels and resorts that specialize in Northern Lights vacations. You can get a special alarm to alert you to aurora activity during the night, and then watch the lights dance from a warm hot spring pool.
The negatives:
  • Because of the popularity of Fairbanks in prime aurora months, prices for Lights-themed holidays can sometimes be a bit high.

Tromsø, Norway

Last but certainly not least, no Northern Lights list would be complete without mention of Norway. When dark, clear skies are what you're looking for, head to Tromsø in northern Norway for some incredible viewing possibilities. Located above the Arctic Circle (but still within the Auroral Oval), Tromsø is no stranger to dark, clear nights – and some of the best Northern Lights in the world.

The positives:
  • Tromsø is quite accessible, since it's a popular Northern Lights destination.
  • You can cruise the famous fjords while you chase the Lights.
The negatives:
  • Norway is one of the most expensive countries to travel in – and an aurora viewing excursion is no exception.
Where do YOU want to go chasing the Northern Lights? Tell us in the comments!

About the Author

Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams, a RoamRight Blog Author Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

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