Of all of Mother Nature’s wonders, the Northern Lights certainly rank as one of the most remarkable. Throughout the year, people travel across the world to descend on a few choice hot spots to admire the sky’s most beloved heavenly highlights. It’s something many of us may only have a chance to do once in a lifetime, so to ensure you get the best possible sightings, here’s a roundup of the planet’s top destinations to see the Northern Lights in all their glory. By Sandra Macgregor
Iceland has established itself as a firm favourite for adventure travellers looking to hike through its verdant summer, and with Northern Lights viewers during the snowy winters. It also offers a singularly stellar property from which to view the aurora. Eldar is a retreat that’s so exclusive it can’t be found on any map. Nestled beneath a glacier, the surroundings are covered in ever-changing seasonal foliage that subtly reflects the kaleidoscope of hues in the sky above. A private butler and chef are part of the package to ensure guests enjoy solicitous service and fine dining as they feast their eyes on the celestial showcase. Take advantage of Eldar’s helicopter pad to fly over the crater of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano or to West Coast Snaefellsnes National Park.
Photo by Louen Tang, Country Holidays
Much like Iceland, Finland is famed for its show-stopping starry shows. If you’re travelling with children to see the Northern Lights, head to Tonttula Elves Hideaway. This fantastical place brings to life Finland’s culture and history using elves, costumes, live reindeer and mythical creatures. It’s like stepping into a fairy-tale. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind way to see the aurora then you can’t go wrong with Golden Crown Levin Iglut. You’ll feel completely at one with nature as you admire the Northern Lights through your glass-ceilinged igloo, one of a handful peppered throughout the property, offering the perfect way to gaze at the heavens. Your unobstructed views through nearly floor-to-ceiling windows guarantee you the best seat in the house.
This country is well-known as a terrific star-gazing spot. While you’re there to see the Aurora Borealis, why not take your encounter with nature up a notch by staying at a property that highlights Sweden’s spectacular wilderness. At the TreeHotel, cutting-edge contemporary design meets unspoiled natural surroundings. This elevated resort will get you that much closer to the sky; you’ll swear you could touch the heavens and maybe catch your own handful of dancing lights.
A charming guesthouse in an idyllic village cuts through the cold of Sweden with a warm welcome and charming, cosy surroundings. An ideal option for families, the couple who runs the property make it their mission to ensure you make the most of your stay, whether that’s with a Northern Lights show or a spot of dog sledding.
Alternatively consider a visit to the original IceHotel. Part art exhibition, part house of slumber, the hotel is recreated with local river water by artists from around the world each year. When you’re not indulging in ice-cold vodka shots at the ICEBAR, head out on mesmerising Northern Lights photography tours or sledding safaris.
Mother Nature’s Light Show
While the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights, may seem like an otherworldly apparition, their occurrence is attributable to the sun putting on a bit of a performance. When the sun’s magnetic fields become twisted they form sunspots and release charged solar particles into space. When these particles hit gases in the earth’s atmosphere they create a brilliant burst of light known as the Northern Lights. The best time to see these awe-inspiring visions is from the fall to the spring equinox (mid-September to mid-March). Although the lights occur on an 11-year cycle and are brightest at the beginning of the cycle, the Northern Lights never actually stop, they merely grow slightly dimmer. But fear not: they’re spectacular no matter when you see them.
Norway is right in the centre of the band of sky in which the Northern Lights normally appear so chances are high that you’ll witness an enthralling display. Located in northern Norway, Lyngen Lodge is an all-season luxury boutique hotel. Unparalleled “summit to sea” activities are the cornerstone of this lodge’s array of services, which include Arctic yoga, skiing, hiking, biking, sea safaris and glacier hiking. Guests can top off a day of activities with refined, Nordic cuisine and then relax in the sauna or take a dip in the outdoor jacuzzi. The lodge also has a special Northern Lights Experience that features a snow shoeing adventure where an experienced guide takes you to a prime viewing location, complete with roaring camp fire.
A great Norwegian alternative is the mesmerising Lofton Islands, an archipelago of towering peaks and shimmering seas best known for its rich Viking history. In addition to being one of Norway’s most sought-after destinations, the Lofton Islands also offer spectacular Northern Lights viewing.
When chasing the Northern Lights, the general rule of thumb is that the further out of the city you are, the better, because the darker the sky is, the better your chance of a jaw-dropping performance. That’s why Canada’s Yukon territory, which is part of the country’s remote north, is another one of the world’s great places to catch the Northern Lights. Head to the tiny township of Tagish for some of the best panoramas. While there, be sure to enjoy additional arctic adventures like hiking along the Arctic Circle Trail or dog sled rides along the Takhini River. After spending a few cold nights staring up at the sky, you can head closer to the capital of Whitehorse and warm up at the Takhini Hot Pools.
If you’re looking to head north to see the Northern Lights then you can’t do much better than Kangerlussuaq. The region lies just above the Arctic Circle so you won’t have to worry about any artificial lights interfering with your viewing pleasure. It also has few cloudy days and a stable climate so it’s reputed to have good sightings about 300 days of the year. There’s also plenty to keep you busy during the day while you wait for night to descend. In Kangerlussuaq you can enjoy dog skedding, hiking around the impressive Russell Glacier, a 4x4 drive on an ice cap, and boat trips through the icefjords. Keep your camera at the ready, as there are chances to spot wildlife like musk ox, elk and reindeer.
Chasing the aurora doesn’t have to be all about wearing layers of thermal underwear and enduring frostbitten fingers. The destination said to be the best place in the US to see the aurora is Fairbanks, Alaska. Not only does the city play host to the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute (which provides forecasts on the viewing conditions for Northern Lights sightings), but it’s also located only an hour away from a series of hot springs that keep visitors nice and toasty while they stare up at the sky. It’s a wonderful way to stay warm and prevent potential neck strain from all that upward gazing.
A Canadian writer and editor specializing in travel, wine, food and finance. Her work has appeared in publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, Forbes.com and the Toronto Star.