Country-hopping with your eyes pointed to the heavens while chasing the aurora borealis, or northern lights, is a classic bucket-list item. The reason: hunting this rare phenomena can be like finding your keys when you’re drunk. Thankfully, science is here to help.
The basics that aurora borealis spotters need to know: 1. The further up north you travel, the better your chances are of achieving oneness with the world’s best natural light show. 2. The less light pollution the better. 3. Fewer clouds equals more ecstasy. Of course, a scenic view doesn’t hurt either but that’s just a bonus considering we’re hunting a temperamental green beast.
So, where are the best places for the aurora borealis? Our list of the ultimate five spots are certain to give you the light show of a lifetime.
North Cape, Norway
Photo: Flickr/Tor Even Mathisen
Why not tick two bucket list items at once? See the northern lights and travel to the northernmost place on Continental Europe reachable by car. Sounds like heaven? Pretty close. North Cape, also known as Nordkapp, is a scenic destination with deadly beautiful cliffs and an endless ocean view that will turn the light show into a picture-perfect moment. Plus, because the aurora borealis’ geomagnetic activity likes to dance around the earth’s magnetic fields—the poles—you have the best chances of seeing the northern lights here.
It doesn’t really matter where you are in Iceland (see photo at top)—your odds of spotting the aurora borealis are just as good on the west or east coast. The whole country bathes in the Arctic from top to bottom and its latitude is ideal for the light show. However, to increase your chances travel here between September and March, step outside of Reykjavik’s light pollution and wait for a crisp, cloudless and cold night. It’s a waiting game. Hyperactive types won’t succeed. Scenic places are overflowing in Iceland so take your pick of where to enjoy the light show, but with Reykjanes, Jokulsarlon Lagoon and Skaftafell National Park you can’t go wrong.
Okanagan Lake, Canada
Photo: Flickr/Caillum Smith
The geomagnetic light show is no stranger to Canada and even though chances are higher in the winter, the aurora borealis can be seen throughout the year. There are plenty of places to choose from, but the best spots are around lakes. Maybe it’s due to their clear view of the sky or distance from the city lights, but the night lights like to play around the lakes—forming ribbons of green, yellow and red ripples. If you are lucky enough to witness the light show during the summer months, you will receive a beautiful mirror image over the lake’s serene surface that bounces views one must see with their own eyes.
Photo: Flickr/Andi Gentsch
Norway’s on the list twice, but for a good reason: a northern Norwegian city, Tromsø, is often credited as the best destination for the aurora borealis because the Scandinavian country is at the center of the northern lights zone. With almost 100% certainty, you will be able to see some green lights up in the sky as long as it’s a cloud-free winter’s night. Naturally, the colder the weather the better.
Photo: Flickr/NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
Now this is a tricky one. Though you can’t have a better view than from space, it’s not the easiest destination unless you’re an astronaut. Richard Branson is doing his best, but it might be a while before you can enjoy the alien-eye view of the colorful blanket that puts earth to sleep each night. Still, one day, in the distant future (fingers crossed), we will be able to see the whole North Pole ignite into a spectacular cloud of green ribbons dancing around the earth’s surface thanks to the solar winds that make the aurora borealis possible. Until then, we’ll have to be content gazing at the magical beauty from the ground up.
Elina Eronen Piper is a creative freelance writer, a curious soul and an imaginative wordsmith with a love for unique travel experiences, Scandinavian design and salty liquorice. She has written for the likes of >Expedia Finland, REVS, Costume and ELLE Finland.