There are few natural phenomena as visually impressive as the aurora borealis, or northern lights. One of the oldest and most well-known types of astrotourism, you likely know the northern lights as the occasion when the night sky lights up and looks like the fumes of a lava lamp. In fact, the aurora borealis happens when charged solar particles meet certain atmospheric gasses and the Earth’s magnetic field.
Technically the phenomenon behind the northern lights can happen year-round but for best visibility, you’ll want to be somewhere with low light pollution and go during a time of the year when the days are short. There’s no exact information or way to tell if and when or for how long the northern lights will happen, but it can be anywhere from mere minutes to days at a time.
The best place to see nature’s light display is somewhere with a magnetic latitude above 55 degrees. This is, understandably, probably not the easiest parameter to use when planning a vacation. Instead, below you’ll find a list of the best places to see the northern lights—as well as the ideal time of year to do so in each location.
1. Fairbanks, Alaska
Fairbanks is home to one of the country’s most revered nature escapes, the Denali National Park. It’s one of the US’ northernmost (and thereby best) options for catching a glimpse of the aurora borealis. The northern lights are visible yearly from late August until mid-April.
In case you needed another reason to justify a trip to Iceland, the country’s geographic location means it often experiences longer than average nights, which is perfect for seeing the northern lights from late August to early April. Should you decide to take a plunge in the hot springs the country is known for while you’re there, these are some of the best Airbnbs for your trip.
3. Southern Greenland
Near Iceland, but not as buzzy (read: less crowded), is Greenland where you can similarly catch a great display of the northern lights. For your best chance, visit from mid-August to late April and stay in southern Greenland. Plan your trip ahead of time and make sure to stay somewhere where you can go on a professional tour of the lights.
4. Northern Sweden
From September to March you can catch a glimpse of the northern lights from pretty much anywhere in the country (as long as it’s far enough away from city lights). The northern part of Sweden, however, is home to Abisko National Park and is your best bet for seeing the aurora.
5. Yellowknife, Canada
The northern region of Canada is less populated and urban than much of the rest of North America, which means that there is little-to-no light pollution. Primetime for seeing a display of the northern lights is from August to April.
Norway is chock full of places where you can see the northern lights from mid-September through the end of March. Aside from the mainland, there are a number of small islands, towns, and villages, where you’ll be able to bask in the light of the aurora borealis.
From the United Kingdom’s largest national park, Cairngorms, weather permitting, you may be able to see a light display from October to March.
Should you find yourself in Iceland, get familiar with the culture: This is what you need to know about how they brought an end to the wage gap and all about their buzzy beauty products.
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