It’s on every astrotourist’s bucket list – and it’s one of the most popular bucket list activities for non-space geeks too: see the northern lights. But where should you go if you’re trying to see the aurora borealis? Every list on the internet has their own suggestions for the best places to see the northern lights!
To help you narrow down a literal hemisphere of places to try and see the northern lights, we’ve pulled together the best places to see the northern lights from all of the posts we’ve written so far. You’ll see a selection of aurora destinations in North America and Europe (we didn’t include Siberia in Asia due to the difficulty of winter travel there!).
We’ve ordered these alphabetically by country (i.e. Canada, Denmark, Finland, etc.) rather than attempting to rank them from best to worst. Let’s just say they’re all the best places to see the northern lights in the world – you just have to choose how far you’re willing to travel!
Featured photo credit: Andrés Nieto Porras via Flickr
1. Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Officially named a Dark Sky Preserve, Jasper National Park is one of Canada’s most picturesque locations and is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot. While there are many things to do in Jasper, one of the best activities is catching incredible dark skies, which is perfect for viewing the northern lights!
Since Jasper is largely covered in forests, you need to find a spot with a wide clearing to maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights.
- Maligne Lake: This is Jasper’s largest lake and one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire park. Because it’s a lake, you can find wide open skies here, perfect for viewing the northern lights.
- Pyramid Lake: This lake, located a 30-minute drive from Jasper’s town center, is a fantastic spot to watch the northern lights because it’s fairly clear of trees, which means big, wide, dark skies.
- Lake Annette: Located about 30 minutes outside of Jasper, Lake Annette boasts still waters and faraway mountain silhouettes, making it a perfect northern lights viewing spot.
- The Icefields Parkway: The nearby Icefields Parkway is one of Canada’s most picturesque highways, and is also a fantastic place to catch the northern lights. There are several pull-off overlooks along the highway, so when you find a nice, dark spot, you can pull off and watch the aurora borealis’ bright show.
Jasper National Park (and its largest town, Banff) host a dark sky festival each October where people travel from around the world to view the dark skies, learn astronomy, and listen to live music while the northern lights dance overhead.
2. Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Manitoba is best known for polar bears, the Hudson Bay, and the northern lights in winter. Where can you experience all of these things? There’s only one place!
Made famous for being home to many of Canada’s polar bears, the Arctic area of Churchill, Manitoba is a popular destination for winter wildlife expeditions. Because it’s so far north, it’s also one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. You can pair your pursuit of the auroras with a trip to see the polar bears, or simply visit to chase the northern lights.
- From the city center: Here’s the thing: when the northern lights are out in full-force, you can see them everywhere in Churchill, even in the middle of town. When the northern lights come out, many people in the town turn off the lights to reduce light pollution. On clear nights in the winter, get to a dark spot in the town and you might be able to catch them without going too far at all!
- Churchill Northern Studies Centre: Just 30 minutes outside of town is a much better spot to see the northern lights – the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Here, you’ll get darker, wider skies than in the center of town, perfect for viewing the auroras with less light pollution.
- On the tundra: The best way to see the northern lights in Churchill is in the tundra, often by boarding a special kind of bus called a “tundra buggy.” However, this is the most expensive option on the list, and you may want to pair this with taking a wildlife safari (if that’s something you’re planning on doing in Churchill as well).
3. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
With its arctic location and dark skies, Yellowknife is one of the most famous places in Canada to see the northern lights. In fact, Yellowknife locals love the aurora borealis so much that they have “tiny lighthouses” which alert residents and visitors when there’s a likely showing of the northern lights that night. Because of its northern location, during the peak season, you can see the northern lights from inside of the city as well as in the surroundings.
- Pilots Monument: You can climb to the top of this Yellowknife monument to see the northern lights on clear nights.
- Dettah Ice Road: In the winter, the Dettah Ice Road opens over Great Slave Lake Lake once it freezes enough to hold weight. You can either drive or walk on the ice road, which provides a big, open space to view the northern lights. Note that the Ice Road is only open during the winter, usually during the months of January to March.
- Tin Can Hill: This hill, located on a trail on the outskirts of the city, offers sweeping views of Yellowknife Bay and Great Slave Lake.
- Boat Launches: There are several boat launch areas around the city that make for fantastic northern lights viewing spots during the winter.
4. The Faroe Islands, Denmark
As one might imagine, the Faroe Islands are the best place to see the northern lights in Denmark. This island chain is part of the Kingdom of Denmark but autonomously governed, like Greenland.
It’s much farther north than other parts of Denmark or Europe and ideally situated for seeing the northern lights during the dark winter months. Additionally, the Faroe Islands are less developed than other parts of Europe and this remoteness ensures a lack of light pollution to interfere with your aurora viewing.
5. Rovaniemi, Finland
As you might expect from a country that’s as far north as Finland, there are a lot of great spots where you can see the northern lights. In fact, under the right conditions, you can see the northern lights anywhere in Finland!
That said, the city of Rovaniemi is among the best places in Finland to see the Northern Lights. This natural wonder can be found here up to 150 times a year. You might have to walk a little way outside the city for the best view, but it can sometimes be seen even within its limits.
6. Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
Many people overlook Greenland as an aurora destination, but Kangerlussuaq is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. This is especially true between the months of October and April. Its combination of ideal location, clear skies, and low population makes it an optimal spot for witnessing this incredible phenomenon.
You can catch an even better glimpse from the top of the Greenland Ice Cap. This massive glacier, which covers 80% of the country, is accessible in Kangerlussuaq. It provides one of the best views of the aurora borealis you can possibly see.
7. Ilulissat, Greenland
Ilulissat is the most popular tourist destination in Greenland thanks to the Ilulissat Icefjord. This massive fjord was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and is something anyone visiting town must see.
There are tours available in Ilulissat that allow you to see this amazing landmark while also getting a chance to see the Northern Lights. These tours take place in the Autumn months when the weather is still relatively warm. In this way, you get the chance to see two incredibly beautiful sites all at once.
8. Thingvellir, Iceland
Iceland is, for the most part, not a hugely developed country. Vast portions of Iceland are rural or undeveloped, meaning you can find places to spot the northern lights all over the country. Some of the most popular places are near towns or interesting geologic features, but if you’re traveling Iceland on your own, you can set up pretty much anywhere on a good night and get a great view.
Still, Thingvellir National Park is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Iceland. It also gets surprisingly dark here at night, which makes it a fantastic spot to view the Northern Lights.
9. Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Jökulsárlón is a breathtaking glacial lake, and is one of Iceland’s greatest natural wonders and most popular tourist attractions. When you come here to see the Northern Lights, you have a chance of photographing two amazing works of nature at once!
10. County Donegal, Ireland
County Donegal should be your top destination if you’re trying to see the northern lights in Ireland. Here are some of the top places to see the aurora in County Donegal:
- Dooey Beach – Located on a small peninsula, Dooey Beach has great western views across the water and northern views with limited light pollution.
- Dunree Head – One of the top spots to see the northern lights, Dunree Head juts out into Drongawn Lough and has fantastic northern views.
- Fanad Head – An ideal aurora viewing spot, Fanad Head peninsula has 270° views to the north.
- Glencolmcille – Further south than others on this list, Glencolmcille has decent views to the north and west from the coastline.
- Inishowen Peninsula – The whole of the Inishowen Peninsula, including Dunree Head, Malin Head, and Mamore Gap, is a great base for an aurora trip in County Donegal.
- Malin Head – A northern-facing peninsula, Malin Head is the northernmost part of the main Irish isles, and is the top spot to try and see the northern lights in all of Ireland. If you’re going to see them – you’ll see them here!
- Mamore Gap – Another spot on the Inishowen, Mamore Gap offers mild mountain elevation to reduce light and atmospheric pollution when trying to see the aurora.
- Rosguil Peninsula – The Rosguil Peninsula, including Tra na Rossan Beach, is another northerly peninsula that has great views from the coastline.
- Tory Island – Small Tory Island is located off the northern shore of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean. As with most islands, it’s an ideal place to see the night sky and aurora with limited light pollution. It does take a ferry to reach the island though!
- Trá na Rossan Beach – Located on the Rosguil Peninsula, this north-facing beach is another popular spot to see the northern lights in Ireland.
11. County Mayo, Ireland
While it doesn’t make every list for where to see the aurora in Ireland, County Mayo has a few spots worth considering. I had the chance to visit Mayo Dark Sky Park last year just after they received dark sky park designation, and can attest that it’s incredibly dark here!
Mullet Peninsula, connected to the mainland at the town of Belmullet, has extensive coastline with expansive northern sky views. It’s undeveloped enough that you’ll encounter little light pollution and a great option for those in Glasgow who want to see the northern lights.
Downpatrick Head is another option in County Mayo. The northernmost point in the county, this small peninsula has unobstructed views to the north all the way to the Arctic Circle!
12. County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s northern county, Country Atrim, is a great option for trying to see the northern lights in this part of the Irish isles. Three popular spots that meet such criteria are Slemish Mountain, Dark Hedges, and Woodburn Reservoir.
Slemish Mountain provides excellent foreground for astrophotography; it’s located outside the town of Ballymena but far enough to reduce light pollution. Most will know Dark Hedges for its popularity in Game of Thrones; it too is a fantastic spot to shoot aurora photography. Lastly, Woodburn Reservoir is one last spot to try and see (and photograph) the aurora – at the right time of year you might even get a lovely reflection in the water, too.
13. Svalbard, Norway
While it’s far from Norway, Svalbard consistently ranks among the best places to see the northern lights in the world – because it’s so far north it almost seems like you’re at the north pole!
In fact, Svalbard is a group of islands located between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. This position gives it uniquely exceptional conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. In fact, it’s the only place in the world where the Northern Lights can be seen in the daytime.
14. Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway. Despite this, you don’t have to worry too much about light pollution interfering with your view. Its location on the auroral oval makes it an excellent spot to go hunting for the Northern Lights.
15. The Lofoten Islands, Norway
Also far north in Norway, the Lofoten Islands are an island group with a surprisingly mild climate. Its position under the auroral oval also makes it an excellent spot to view the Northern Lights. There is a three-night package available where you can watch this amazing phenomenon from the comfort of a cabin.
16. Murmansk (Мурманск), Russia
Murmansk is generally considered one of the top destinations in Russia for seeing the aurora. This is due to its high latitude and proximity to major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. In fact, most guided tour options will visit Murmansk as part of the itinerary.
Located on a similar parallel to Tromsø, Norway and near Russia’s border with Finland, Murmansk offers similar aurora viewing conditions with far fewer crowds. By day, you can explore local history and cultural museums to get a sense for Russian history. Murmansk is a roughly two-hour flight from Moscow or St. Petersburg, making it an ideal destination for visitors.
17. Shetland Islands, Scotland
If you are a true northern lights enthusiast, you’ll be delighted to find so many places in Scotland with great dark skies and good northern views. For the best chance to see the aurora in Scotland, plan a multi-night itinerary.
The Shetland Islands are the British Isles closest to the North Pole. This makes them a good destination to see the northern lights in winter! Stay away from places with street lightning such as Lerwick or you will be disappointed.
18. Orkney Islands, Scotland
The Orkney islands are an archipelago of 70 islands in northern Scotland. Some of the best places to watch include the coast at Birsay, the beach at Dingieshowe, or the top of Wideford Hill. There is even a Facebook group called Orkney Aurora Group where local residents and enthusiasts post the latest information.
19. Abisko National Park, Sweden
With its clear skies and mountainous landscape, Sweden‘s Abisko National Park provides a very good opportunity to see the Northern Lights. This is especially true during the winter months. The park is located far away from any city lights which might interfere with your view. Its dark skies also make the Aurora Borealis especially vivid at night.
Although you’re likely to see them anywhere in the park, you can increase your odds by visiting the Aurora Sky Station. Not only is their observation tower in a prime location for viewing the lights, they also have experts on hand who can answer any questions you might have. In fact, this is considered to be one of the best places on the planet to see the Northern Lights. If you really want the best chance of experiencing the Aurora Borealis in all its glory, then this is where you want to go.
20. Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
The small, northern Swedish town of Jukkasjärvi is famous for being the location of the world’s first Ice Hotel. This is a hotel that’s built entirely out of ice and snow every year. Needless to say, this is unlike any other accommodation you’ve ever seen. The hotel has a few different tours available for seeing the Northern Lights such as a safari and photography tour. It’s a truly fascinating place to stay while you wait for the Northern Lights to appear.
21. Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
Fairbanks is the second-largest city in Alaska and a popular spot on the tourist circuit. It’s definitely going to be on your itinerary during a winter trip because Fairbanks is ideally located for viewing the northern lights. (Fairbanks is substantially farther north than Anchorage, and more close to the Auroral Oval.)
In Fairbanks, you can see the aurora almost anywhere on a strong night. Here are some of the best spots to see the northern lights near Fairbanks if you want to improve your chances during your trip:
- Chena Hot Springs – Imagine viewing the northern lights from the comfort of a hot tub… That’s what you can do at Chena Hot Springs Resort! Are you sold yet?
- Creamer’s Field – Its formal name is Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, and it’s a huge open space not far from downtown Fairbanks where you can see the night sky with limited light pollution.
- Chena Lakes – Chena Lakes is a recreation area where you might find swimmers in the summer or ice fishermen in the winter. It’s also a good place out of town with less light pollution if you want to see the northern lights.
- Cleary Summit – Cleary Summit Aurora Viewing Area sounds like a promising place, right? 30 minutes north of Fairbanks, there’s virtually no light pollution here and it’s a fantastic aurora viewing spot.
- Murphy Dome – Murphy Dome is a 45-minute drive out of Fairbanks. You’ll ascend up to a great open area with views of the night sky in every direction.
Want to sleep under the aurora? Borealis Basecamp has domes designed especially to offer you a view of the northern lights from the comfort of your bed.
22. Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
New England is one of the most densely populated parts of the United States. That means that in the New England states, it’s hard to find a good dark sky!
If you’re willing to make the trek, Acadia National Park is one of the best destinations in the region. Because of its protection as a national park, there’s limited development and less light pollution. However, you will have to contend with the light from nearby communities like Bar Harbor when trying to view the northern sky from Cadillac Mountain.
Bundle up if you’re headed into Acadia to see the aurora; the wind comes roaring in off the Atlantic in the winter months. To start planning your trip, use our guide to stargazing in Acadia National Park.
23. Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan, USA
Among northern states, Michigan was one of the first to embrace the dark sky preservation movement. Headlands International Dark Sky Park was one of the first ten dark sky parks in the world, established in 2011!
Today it’s a prime destination to try and see the northern lights. In fact, they have a whole section about it on their website! There, you’ll find suggestions on recommended forecast tools as well as a few tips to help you maximize your chances of seeing them. McGulpin Point and Johnson Point are both good viewing spots; McGulpin Point Lighthouse is just outside the park but also a good contender.
24. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA
Voyageurs National Park is another great spot to see the northern lights in Minnesota. Located on the Minnesota-Canada border, this park is open year-round but with limited services.
All of the overnight accommodations in Voyageurs National Park require access to a boat or ferry, so if you’re planning a trip consider staying in the nearby town of International Falls. It’s only a 15-minute drive to the Rainy Falls Visitor Center where you can admire the northern sky and aurora from the coast.
25. Olympic National Park, Washington, USA
In the winter months, Washington State isn’t known for clear skies; the state’s reputation as a rainy and cloudy place is well-earned during the aurora-viewing season. However, if you’re going to see the northern lights in Washington, Olympic National Park is one of the best spots to see it when skies are clear.
Located across Puget Sound from bustling and bright Seattle, you can make your way to the small communities of Port Angeles or Sequim to base yourself for a weekend chasing the aurora. These towns on the Olympic Peninsula’s northern coast are in the ‘rain shadow’ of the mountains and have a good northern view if the weather cooperates.
Pro-tip: Colette’s Bed & Breakfast outside Port Angeles has a north-facing property that looks out over the Straight of Juan de Fuca toward Canada. You may even be able to see the northern lights from your room!
There you have it: the 25 best places to see the northern lights in the world. Have you visited any of these places? Which ones are still on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!