If the northern lights are on your bucket list, you’re not alone. This unique astronomical event is unforgettable – and luckily there are lots of places to see it around the world. Europe is one of the best places to try and see the aurora borealis. In this post, we’re detailing all of the best places to see the best northern lights in Europe.
The northern lights or aurora borealis are caused by the interaction of particles from the sun interacting with those in earth’s atmosphere. The phenomenon occurs year-round. However, the northern lights are only visible under dark sky conditions during the winter months of the year in the northern hemisphere. Here are the top countries and best spots aurora across Europe.
Read on to plan your trip to see the northern lights in Europe in some of the best destinations across the continent.
The 20 European Countries Where You Can See the Northern Lights
Europe is one of the best continents in the world to try and see the northern lights. With several major northern countries and loads of tourism infrastructure, you’ve got a great chance to see the northern lights in Europe. Here’s a shortlist of the countries which are far north enough to see the aurora in Europe:
- Northern Ireland
- The Faroe Islands*
- The Netherlands
*Legally part of Denmark
The most common places to see the northern lights in Europe are Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
European Countries Where It’s Rare to See the Northern Lights
In this post, we don’t go into all of the countries listed above. To begin, in some of these countries, it’s quite rare to see the northern lights. These opportunities are so few and far between that it’s hard to suggest places where you might see the northern lights on those infrequent nights. We therefore don’t go into detail about seeing the northern lights in Belarus, Belgium, England, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Poland, or Wales.
European Countries We’ve Already Written About
Additionally, we’ve already written about many of the best countries in Europe where you can see the northern lights:
- Finland – 14 places, including Rovaniemi, Kemi, and near Helsinki. Click to read.
- Greenland – 6 places, including Kangerlussuaq and Nuuk. Click to read.
- Iceland – 16 places, including Thingvellir, Jökulsárlón, and near Reykjavik. Click to read.
- Norway – 14 places, including Svalbard, Tromsø, and the Lofoten Islands. Click to read.
- Scotland – 8 places, including the Shetlands, Orkney, and Galloway Forest Park. Click to read.
- Sweden – 8 places, including Abisko National Park, Kiruna, and Jukkasjärvi. Click to read.
We’ve focused on the countries listed above because they are by far the most likely ones if you want to see the northern lights in Europe. We also have forthcoming posts specifically on seeing the northern lights in Ireland and Russia; we’ll add those links once the posts are live. However, there are other countries where the aurora can be seen on nights of greater activity.
For the rest of this post, we’ll focus on those less-common European countries where it’s still possible to see the northern lights in Europe under the right conditions. These countries are Denmark, Estonia, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Where to See the Northern Lights in Denmark
It’s important to start by saying that seeing the northern lights in Denmark is rare. It is one of the more northerly countries in mainland Europe, and that means that on some occasions – especially during periods of greater solar activity – it is possible.
Most of the great photos and videos you see of the northern lights over Denmark are more beautiful than you’ll see with your own eyes because the camera lens collects more light and color than our eyes can. However, there are a few spots where you can see the aurora in Denmark under the right conditions.
The Faroe Islands
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.
Grenen is a peninsula at the northernmost part of Denmark on the European mainland. From the area, you can have expansive views of the northern sky looking toward Gothenburg in the east and Norway much further north. Base yourself in Skagen, a small town, before setting out to see the northern lights from the nearby beach.
Kjul Strand (“beach”) is located just outside the town of Hirtshals in northern Denmark. Hirtshals is the town from which ferries leave for ports on Norway’s southern coast; its northern location and northern view make it a good spot to try and see the northern lights. The beach of Kjul Strand is the best place since it has less light pollution than the nearby town.
Thy National Park (Nationalpark Thy) is located on Denmark’s western coast. While this isn’t as ideally situated for seeing the northern sky that will allow you to see the aurora borealis, there are parts of the national park that do give good northerly views. In particular, this part of the Danish coastline curves northeast, so under good dark sky conditions, you may see the aurora by looking northwest or north from the coast.
Klitmøller is the largest city near Thy National Park and a good base for exploring the park by day and night.
Like the Faroe Islands, Samsø is an island that takes advantage of its remoteness to improve your prospects to see the aurora borealis. However, it is further north than other locations where you might see the northern lights in Denmark, and your view of the northern sky from Samsø will be somewhat affected by the lights from Aarhus which is a large city due north of Samsø on the Danish mainland.
Where to See the Northern Lights in Estonia
Most people head to the popular Western and Central European countries to try and see the northern lights… but don’t overlook the Baltic states. At a higher latitude than Denmark, Estonia is your best bet for seeing the aurora in the region. (It is possible in Latvia and Lithuania but much less common.) Here are some of the best places to see the northern lights in Estonia.
Saadjärv, in Tartu County, is one place we found consistently recommended by locals who go aurora chasing in Estonia. Unlike other spots we recommend, Saadjärv is in central Estonia, north of the city of Tartu. From Saadjärv, you’ll be out in the forested inland of Estonia where the skies are dark and the aurora dance in the northern sky. Vooremaa Maastikukaitseala (MKA) (Vooremaa Nature Park) is a great spot to spend a few nights.
Saaremaa is the opposite of Saadjärv from a geographic perspective: this island takes advantage of surrounding waterways to cut down on light pollution. Located off Estonia’s west coast, Saaremaa can be reached by ferry and car, and there are several small communities where you can base yourself for an aurora-chasing trip; the largest is Kuressaare on the southern coast.
Many people are curious about northern lights viewing prospects near capital cities in each European country; after all, that’s where you’ll most likely fly into if you’re planning a trip. The nearest aurora spot we found near the Estonian capital of Tallinn is Paljassaare. Paljassaare is a peninsula north of Tallinn, with views across Tallinn Bay toward Finland.
Also near Tallinn, Viimsi is a peninsula located northeast of the capital city. Home to several protected areas including Mäealuse MKA and Krillimäe MKA, there are plenty of pockets of dark sky to spend an evening trying to spot the aurora.
Lahemaa National Park
Lahemaa National Park is the most northerly of the places in Estonia where you can see the northern lights, based on local recommendations. This large national park on Estonia’s northern coast includes several peninsulas that jut out into the Gulf of Finland and offer good views of the sky. If you plan ahead to make a road trip to this region, you can stay in some of the small towns while exploring the region.
Where to See the Northern Lights in Germany
With a large stretch of coastline along its northern border, Germany is a surprising but reasonable European destination to see the northern lights. To see the northern lights hear, you’ll need a clear view of the northern sky to the horizon – trees or mountains that block your view will make it hard to see the aurora since Germany is so far south. Under the right conditions though, you can still make it happen from this popular European tourist destination.
Kiel is a German city of nearly 250,000 people, located on the Jutland peninsula near the border with Denmark. What makes Kiel an ideal base for trying to see the northern lights is that it is one of the few cities that has good views of the northern sky looking out over the southwestern Baltic Sea toward Denmark.
Drive out of Kiel toward Wisch and the coastal access road there to get the best view.
Westhavelland Nature Park
Westhavelland Nature Park is one of Germany’s dark sky parks, located two hours outside of Berlin. By day, it is home to wildlife and birds; at night it has some of the darkest skies in this part of Europe. If you want to see the northern lights from Westhavelland Nature Park, keep an eye on aurora forecasts and plan to drive out on the night that conditions are right.
Ostrügen is a large island archipelago located in northeast Germany. This region is largely covered by Biosphärenreservat Südost-Regen, a large nature reserve. This helps reduce light pollution even more, making it a good, remote spot to try and see the northern lights.
Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft National Park
Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft is one of those classically named German locations that’s almost too long to pronounce – but it’s also a great place to try and see the northern lights in Germany. Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft National Park is located on the coastline with great northern views across the Baltic Sea toward Sweden.
Rostocker Heide is another natural area on Germany’s northern coast. Slightly more accessible from the city of Rostok (population 207,000), Rostocker Heide has both coastal and inland areas that are undeveloped and offer dark skies where you can try and see the northern lights.
Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer National Park
Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer is located in northwest Germany along the coast in the shadow of Jutland peninsula. It’s more easily accessed from Hamburg if that’s the part of Germany you’re traveling to. This national park is a protected coastal zone with northern views toward Norway (far beyond the horizon) so there’s a fair chance to see the aurora borealis here under the right conditions.
Where to See the Northern Lights in the Netherlands
The southernmost of the European countries we recommend for trying to see the southern lights, the Netherlands is an unconventional destination – but a fun one if you’re already planning to be in the region. You won’t be able to see the aurora dancing above the tulip, but in the right locations with a clear view to the northern horizon, you may get lucky.
Nationaal Park Lauwersmeer
Nationaal Park Lauwersmeer is one of the best dark sky spots in the Netherlands. Lauwersmeer is located right on the border of the Netherlands and Germany, making it one of Holland’s northernmost spots. This nature preserve is a great spot for birding during the day, and the lack of developments in these marshlands make it well protected from light pollution.
Lauwersmeer has good northern views looking out over the Wadden Sea toward Nationaal Park Schiermonnikoog, another good aurora-viewing spot that’s a bit harder to reach.
Nationaal Park Schiermonnikoog
Nationaal Park Schiermonnikoog is one of the barrier islands off Holland’s northern coast. There’s no major development here and you’ll need your own boat to reach the island (or to charter one from the coast) but this isolation helps Schiermonnikoog to be one of the darkest parts of the country – and thus ideal if you’re trying to see the northern lights.
Dunes of Texel National Park
Texel is a small island off the western coast of Holland, accessible by ferry from the town of Den Helder. The Dunes of Texel National Park takes advantage of the island’s remoteness and underdevelopment to give you good views of the night sky to the west, northwest, and north. This is the southernmost place we recommend, but some locals say it’s possible to see the northern lights here on nights with strong solar activity and clear, dark skies.
These are our top recommendations if you’re trying to see the northern lights in Europe. We’ve based our research on popular stargazing spots and local recommendations from those photographers and videographers who have spotted the aurora in Europe.
Do you have questions or comments about these or other spots to see the northern lights in Europe? Let us know in the comments.