The 6 best places in the world to see the northern lights
If you’ve long dreamed of seeing the northern lights but never got around to it, it’s time to act! Head to one of the six countries in this selection from The Challenger. Aurora Borealis season has already begun.
The aurora borealis, also known as the aurora borealis, is a glow from the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. Charged particles of solar wind (a small part of those which reach our planet) break through the magnetic field of the Earth, collide with air molecules at the height of 100 km and form glow of green, pink and purple hues.
Bright northern lights are formed near the magnetic poles of the Earth, residents and tourists have the most chances to see this natural phenomenon in latitudes of 67-70 °. The Earth has two poles, so the aurora borealis is not only north but also south. Those who live in the northern hemisphere, it is easier to get to the northern locations – we will tell you about them.
– You can see the northern lights in the northern latitudes away from sources of artificial light (such as large cities). It is easiest to see northern lights in Finland, Karelia and Iceland. These are civilized places, where it is quite easy to go a few tens of kilometers away from the city, look at the miracle of nature and then return to the comfort.
The period of northern lights is from September to March, but the glow peaks in November and the winter months. Another success factor is clear weather: you need it so that there are no clouds between you and the aurora.
In Iceland, you only have to drive about five minutes away from the city to observe it. And in Finland, where up to two hundred auroras a year are recorded, you can stay in a tent with a transparent ceiling and admire the celestial glow all night long. Connoisseurs hunt for northern lights with the Aurora Forecast and Aurora Alerts apps, which show a real-time map of the northern lights’ distribution and the likelihood of their occurrence in a particular location.
Where to go in search of northern lights
In the north of Russia, the northern lights can be seen on the Kola Peninsula, in the Arkhangelsk region and Karelia. Infrastructure in Russian cities is inferior to European, but the trip is much cheaper than in neighboring countries.
The demonstration of the sky show in the Murmansk region begins in late August – September, so some tourists come to this region in the fall, before the severe frosts. You can see the northern lights, for example, in the village of Pechenega. An unforgettable spectacle is possible even at a temperature of +10 degrees. In the Arkhangelsk region in the zone of northern lights is often Severodvinsk.
It is better to come to Murmansk or Arkhangelsk not for a day, but at least for 3-4 days. So you significantly increase your chances of success.
Unique natural phenomenon – the aurora borealis – can be observed in Karelia. The picturesque Paanajärvi National Park is perfect for tourists.
Option for the extreme – “hunting” for the northern lights in Yakutia. Chances to see the miracle of nature in these parts are very high. True, in winter the thermometer column falls below 60 degrees there (don’t forget about the proper equipment). Tickets to Yakutsk cost about twice as much as to Scandinavian capitals.
– A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to see the northern lights over the November holidays. It was too expensive to fly to Scandinavia, so we went to Murmansk. The flight took only two and a half hours. The auroral season on the Kola Peninsula lasts from September to early April. There are special sites, where you can find out where the probability of aurora luminosity is the highest. We found there guys who organize hunting for this natural phenomenon, and at the same time various other adventures: trips to Teriberka, on the coast of the Barents Sea, or to the Saami settlement.
Search of northern lights looks like this: in the evening you leave the city – maybe 30 km, maybe more than 100. Perhaps you stop somewhere and lurk in anticipation. Or maybe you turn around and drive in the opposite direction, because the site suddenly showed the maximum likelihood of aurora borealis appearing elsewhere. A real hunt! It is not a fact that you will be lucky on your first trip, so it is better to budget at least three days for the trip.
And by the way do not expect the aurora borealis to look like in the pictures: human eyes do not see everything the same way the camera does. You can hardly photograph aurora Borealis on your phone, groups of tourists are often accompanied by photographers with professional equipment.
Lapland is an ideal place to observe the northern lights. This is a wilderness area with no large cities and often cloudless weather. In the area of Kilpisjärvi the aurora is visible about 200 days a year.
You’ve probably seen mesmerizing pictures of the aurora from glass chalets on Instagram. These chalets are located at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in northern Finland (just south of Murmansk). A night for two in a magical transparent house with the ability to observe the celestial wonder from the bed will cost 43 thousand rubles.
Where you can see the Northern Lights
Do you dream to see enchanting flashes of the sky with your own eyes? We tell you how and when the northern lights appear. Learn about aurora borealis tours and places where you can see the unique spectacle in Russia and abroad.
Map of places with northern lights
Map of cities and places in Russia and abroad where you can see northern lights.
How the northern lights appear
We are used to say “northern lights”, but the northern lights exist in the other hemisphere as well. Little is known about it, because Antarctica was discovered only about 120 years ago, so the time of research is short. Aurora Borealis is a bright glow of the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, which is formed by charged particles of the solar wind.
It is erroneous to think that it is associated with weather fluctuations, such as severe frost. The natural phenomenon depends only on the fluxes of matter that is emitted by the Sun. The glow occurs at heights of 200 to 400 km, but sometimes a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen at an altitude of 110 km glows.
Since the magnetic poles of our planet differ from the geographical ones, the polar lights occur at latitudes of 67-70°. It is much rarer to occur just north and south.
Tip . Look for accurate predictions of solar activity on astronomical and meteorological websites. If a magnetic storm is expected on the Sun, the likelihood of witnessing miraculous flare-ups increases.
(Photo: Free-Photos / pixabay.com)
When can you see
The Aurora Borealis occurs in autumn, winter and spring. It is extremely rare in the summer. In the off-season and during the cold months of the year, the air is at perfect temperature and easily reacts with the charged particles of the solar wind at high altitudes. In summer, the atmosphere is heated, so the desired reaction does not occur. The highest probability of seeing beautiful flare-ups is between the fall and spring equinoxes, from September 22 to March 22.
Most of us are convinced that the northern lights only happen in the dark. It doesn’t! “The dance of the sky” happens at any time of day, but in bright sunlight it is hardly visible.
In all its splendor, the colors of aurora borealis, or “northern dawn,” appear in a cloudless starry sky. After the sun goes below the horizon, the aurora borealis begins. Or it doesn’t. It all depends on luck!
(Photo: Noel_Bauza / pixabay.com)
How to see the northern lights
What to see . All it takes to observe is to choose the right place, the right season, and to remember to look up at the sky from time to time. Size of the northern lights is amazing. It stretches for 3000 kilometers across the sky. At the edges there are only small black fields, and the rest of the sky is ablaze with colorful lights.
Anyone who’s seen the Aurora Borealis is impressed by how fast the colors change. Just a second later the color changes to green. Sometimes there are shades of red and yellow. Purple is extremely rare. The reason is the chemical composition of the air molecules. It was not until a few years ago that the violet glow was first seen.
The magnificent spectacle lasts for quite a long time – 30-40 minutes at a time. In some places the light lasts for several hours or even a day. The miracle of nature is mesmerizing and it is difficult to look away.
Photographing and videotaping . In amateur photos northern lights do not look as impressive as in real life. The thing is that the flashes in the night sky are quite dim for ordinary optics. To get spectacular photos and videos, you need a sensitive lens, a large sensor, a tripod, a good understanding of the settings and the ability to conduct panoramic photography.
(Photo: BeHappyTravel / pixabay.com)
Tours for the Northern Lights
Tours for fans of seeing the northern lights are very popular all over the world. The reason for the rush in demand is simple. Soon the sun will enter an 11-year phase of low activity. The unusual natural phenomenon will remain, but it will not look as impressive as it does now.
In Russia . Hunt tours for the polar lights from August 20 and until April 10 are conducted from Murmansk. Journeys that last 3-5 hours cost from 5,500 rubles, and tours for 6-8 hours – from 7,000 rubles. Participants will be accompanied by a guide. Tourists are provided with a transfer from the hotel to the place of observation, meals en route and professionally made photos. Tour of hunting for the northern lights →
Russian travel agencies organize three-day photo tours to the northern lights on the White Sea. Active travel by snowmobile begins from the railway station “Chupa”. Its program includes two overnight stays in cozy cottages, three meals a day, guide services, rent of sports equipment, and a bathhouse. Tours start at 21,000 rubles.
(Photo: hikuta / flickr.com / License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Abroad . Since the Norwegians consider the natural phenomenon a national attraction, they have turned tours for the northern lights into a real business. Tourists can stay in hotels with glass roofs and see the beautiful glow without going outside. A room for two will cost 150 euros. Another service is overnight stays in ice igloos. In this case, guests are treated to hot mulled wine.
To look at the northern lights over Spitsbergen is offered during the weeklong cruise. Voyage along the fjords is organized on a two-masted sailing ship. It begins and ends in Longyear, Norway, and includes visits to Pomeranian museums and excursions to glaciers.
Iceland has tours from Reykjavik. Cheap trips cost from 50 euros spend on buses. Those who want a real winter adventure, go for 2,000 euros on a trip in jeeps. The most popular place for northern lights hunters is the town of Akureyri.
Tip . If you want to take part in a tour to see the northern lights, dress camp style: thermal underwear, fleece, warm winter boots, winter pants and a jacket that is well protected from frost and wind. Be sure to wear a warm hat, scarf and gloves or mittens.
(Photo: unsplash.com / @r3dmax)
Where to watch the northern lights in Russia
Latitudes where you can watch the northern lights in Russia pass through several federal subjects at once, from the border with Finland to Chukotka.
Murmansk region . Polar night reigns on the Kola Peninsula for 42 days, and the darkness greatly increases the chances of seeing the northern lights. Murmansk is convenient to get to. The way from Moscow by train takes 30-35 hours and by plane 2-2,5 hours.
Murmansk is well lit, so choose small towns and villages for a brighter sight. Places where you can see excellent northern lights are Pechenga, Vidyaevo, Kandalaksha and Teriberka.
Northern Lights in Murmansk
Khibiny Mountains . Northern Lights are good to watch from Kirovsk and Apatity. Even better to observe the natural phenomenon from the “Kuellporr” resort, which is located in the central part of the valley of the river Kukisvumchorr. Because of the mountainous terrain the chances to see the aurora borealis in Khibiny are high. But the tourist infrastructure is underdeveloped here, so you should arrange your lodging in advance.
Arkhangelsk region . Large number of days with no clouds is an indisputable advantage of the region. Northern Lights are seen in Arkhangelsk. Trains from Moscow and St. Petersburg go to the regional center. Those who want to get to the place faster fly here by plane.
To admire the colorful spectacle in all its glory, go to the northern districts of the region. According to photographers, the best pictures of the Aurora Borealis are taken from the banks of the Northern Dvina River.
(Photo: ynaka29 / flickr.com / License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Komi Republic lies in a latitude favorable for the natural phenomenon, so the northern lights are frequent here. In the capital of Komi, Syktyvkar, the faint glow in the sky has been observed since late summer. To see the bright shimmer, plan a trip to Inta, Usinsk or Vorkuta.
Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District . Coming to Labytnangi is easy. There are trains from the central part of the country to the city. The only disadvantage of traveling to Labytnangi is that there are very few hotels here.
In eastern Russia . In order to see the Northern Lights in Siberia, tourists get to Yakutsk or Magadan. The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is one of the most frosty regions of the country. In winter, the temperature often drops below -50 ° C. Excellent conditions for observations in one of the northernmost settlements of the country – Khatanga. People fly to Taimyr from Norilsk and Krasnoyarsk, and the trip is not cheap.
Tip . When traveling independently, find out if there is an access to the desired settlement in the off-season or winter.
(Photo: ky0nch3ng / flickr.com / CC0 1.0 license)
Where to see the northern lights abroad
Norway . Residents of the country are lucky, because the northern lights delight them for 2-3 weeks in a row. All the northern parts of Norway, such as the city of Tromsø or Cape – Nordkapp are suitable for visits. Despite the fact that this is the far north of the Old World, the winter temperature in Nordkapp is only -3. -11°С.
For the lights it is interesting to go to Spitsbergen. The local capital, Longyear, is located at 78° north latitude. Flights from Russia only with connections. The glow appears every cloudless night from November to March. Choose a suitable location and watch the sky from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Finland . It’s a great idea to see the northern lights in the country of Suomi! Finnish cities are connected by beautiful highways. Tourists drive outside of the lighted communities, pull over on the side of the road and enjoy the colorful spectacle. This is best done just after sunset.
(Photo: 12019 / pixabay.com)
Sweden . A few years ago, the popular publication Lonely Planet named the best place to observe the northern lights in the world. It’s the Aurora Sky Station. It is located in a nature park near the town of Abisku. People fly here from Stockholm or Kiruna.
Alaska . Many tourists go to see the northern lights in America. The state of Alaska is isolated from the main continent by mountains, so it has a special microclimate, which is favorable to see the celestial lights.
In the Southern Hemisphere . Although the natural phenomenon exists here as well, the conditions for observation are not easy. The fact is that 67-70° south latitude falls mainly on the seas. To see the lights, you need good weather over the sea, and this does not happen often in the south of our planet.
A great place is Stewart Island, the southernmost island in New Zealand’s island chain. It is called “Blazing Skies” in Maori. It is the southernmost point of distribution of the aurora borealis. Only 322 people live in the island’s only town, Oban.
Tip . No one can give an exact guarantee whether or not the northern lights will occur. To avoid disappointment, plan other interesting activities during the trip. Go snowmobiling, cross-country and downhill skiing, take a steam bath, go ice fishing or go on an excursion.
(Photo: janeb13 / pixabay.com)
Personal experience of hunting for the northern lights in Russia
I and a group of high school and college students “caught” the northern lights twice. The first time we did not see it: we just went on vacation and there was not a single day without clouds.
The second time we went, already understanding that it is necessary to have cloudless sky. And we were lucky.
The main thing. Find out the weather forecast, as well as solar flares. You can on websites, you can through apps – like Aurora Forecast. If you’re tight on dates, think about your leisure time in case it’s cloudy – it won’t be so frustrating if it’s not.
A budget option is Khibiny. You can easily get to Kirovsk by train, bus or by your own car. You can rent an apartment through Airbnb. If you want to have skies without lights from the city, go to the Kuelport base for a couple or three nights. It’s totally dark there – you can see everything. However, Kirovsk itself has plenty of dark outskirts.
What to do in Kirovsk and vicinity? Go skiing in the daytime at the surrounding passes, such as Ramsay, go skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling. Nearby, they build a spectacular Snow Village made of ice every year.
In Kirovka, you can go to the Polar Botanical Garden, the Mineralogical Museum, a reindeer farm, and dog sledding.
From Kirovsk you can go on interesting excursions. We took a tour to the Kola Nuclear Power Plant. There are trips to temples, to the Lapland Nature Reserve, to Murmansk. We liked the tours organized by Denis Rogozin. They have reasonable prices and interesting programs.