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
This means, unfortunately,
that seeing the Northern Lights dance above your head is often a very cold
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:
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.
- Reykjavik is easy (and
relatively affordable) to get to from both Europe and the East Coast of the
- There is a lot to do in
Reykjavik and the surrounding area, even in the middle of winter.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- Because of the popularity of
Fairbanks in prime aurora months, prices for Lights-themed holidays can
sometimes be a bit high.
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.
- Tromsø is quite accessible, since it's a popular Northern Lights
- You can cruise the famous fjords while you chase the Lights.
Where do YOU want to go chasing the Northern Lights? Tell us in
- Norway is one of the most expensive countries to travel in – and
an aurora viewing excursion is no exception.