If you’re searching for a unique travel experience and you don’t mind bundling up, the period from January to March is the best time to see one of nature’s most spectacular shows.
The aurora borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights, is a colorful celestial phenomenon that’s created when solar wind particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, releasing energy and causing streaks of green and purple light that dance across the sky.
Wherever you go, the conditions have to be just right. The sky should be clear and dark and the weather cold and dry. While there are some destinations where you can rent a car and look for the northern lights on your own, you should strongly consider taking a guided tour. Your guide will have the most up-to-date weather forecast and know the best viewing spots. Just keep in mind that when you’re dealing with Mother Nature, there are no guarantees.
With all of that in mind, here are some of the best destinations in the world for viewing the northern lights.
Rugged Iceland, with its extremely dark winters, is a great choice. You’ll have better viewing opportunities away from populated areas, because there’s less light pollution. But even the capital, Reykjavik, offers some good spots. One of the most popular places is picturesque Grotta lighthouse. It’s also a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
The city of Tromso, Norway, located above the Arctic Circle, is a two-hour flight from Oslo and another renowned spot for seeing the northern lights. Northern Norway is home to a majority of the country’s indigenous Sami population, and many make their living herding reindeer. This is a region known for its glittering fjords, staggering peaks, unspoiled nature and world-class seafood.
Canada’s Yukon has a stunning landscape, rich history and First Nations culture. It’s a 2½-hour plane ride from Vancouver to Whitehorse, the largest city. The region is best known as the site of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 that attracted prospectors from around the world. You can spend the day snowshoeing, skiing or snowmobiling, then at night enjoy nature’s colorful display.
Fairbanks is a good base for viewing the northern lights in Alaska. There are several ways to see them. You can drive to a nearby vantage point and wait for them to appear, take a tour and watch from a heated cabin, dome or lodge, go on a dog sled ride or even take a flight above the Arctic Circle. From February 17 to March 31, Fairbanks hosts the World Ice Art Championships.
Northern Scotland lies at the same latitude as parts of Norway and Alaska, making it another great option for spotting the “Mirrie Dancers,” as they’re known. Viewing spots include majestic Cairngorms National Park, with its mountains, rivers and forest paths. The park is about 30 minutes from Inverness, the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.