Some destinations are easy to get visit; you need to hop on a plane, get a passport stamp, and enjoy the culture, history, or food you came to experience. When it comes to destinations where you can see the aurora, even some of those are easier to get to than others. It’s relatively easy, for example, to visit Iceland or Norway to see the northern lights.
Greenland on the other hand? Not as easy – but maybe that’s what makes seeing the northern lights in Greenland more rewarding! Whether you’re traveling to Greenland specifically or passing through Greenland while sailing the Northwest Passage, it’s possible to visit and see the northern lights in Greenland.
If you’ve set your sights on heading to Kalaallit Nunaat (the Greenlandic name for their icy, frozen homeland) to see the aurora borealis, you’ll be well rewarded. Greenland is one of the best aurora destinations on the planet, and though you may have to take an extra flight or two, your chances of seeing the northern lights are good enough to make the travel worth it.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about seeing the northern lights in Greenland, including the best destinations, and some tour suggestions to help inspire your trip.
This post was originally published in July 2018, and was updated most recently in November 2022 for this winter.
What are the Northern Lights?
If you’ve made it to this post, you likely already know what the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis, are. In case you’re not familiar with the science behind this amazing astronomical phenomenon, here’s a quick explanation.
The sun is constantly emitting particles; these electrically charged particles from the sun collide with gases in the earth’s atmosphere. As these collisions occur in different gases, light is produced in a variety of colors, depending on the altitude of these collisions. For example, at a certain altitude, oxygen produces the common red color seen in the aurora; lower, it produces the green most commonly seen in the night sky.
In the northern hemisphere, the northern lights are called aurora borealis. This name came from none other than Galileo, who named them after the Greek word for the north wind. If you’ve ever seen a picture of the aurora, you can understand why he thought they looked like the wind!
When to See the Northern Lights in Greenland
Greenland is widely considered one of the best destinations in the world to see the northern lights – in part because it has one of the longest possible windows to see the aurora! Read on to learn about the seasons (yes, plural) when you can see the aurora borealis in Greenland.
Autumn (September to October)
As soon as the autumnal equinox has passed, it’s ‘aurora season’ in Greenland. From late September through into winter, you have a good chance of seeing the northern lights in the skies above Greenland. Weather in autumn can be pretty dynamic, so if you’re trying to plan an aurora-hunting trip in the autumn, be sure to check the forecast and plan for weather that changes quickly… and is getting colder every day!
Winter (November to April)
The long winter season is understandably the best opportunity to see the northern lights. From the dark days of November through the faintly less-dark days of April, you can feel confident that if the aurora is out and the skies are clear, you’ll probably be able to see them from any of the top places for aurora watching in Greenland.
While visiting Greenland in the winter months isn’t easy, and you’ll definitely need to pack layers for any northern lights viewing opportunities, it will be well worth it if you capture a view like those in this post!
Spring (May to June)
By the end of April, as Spring comes to Greenland, your chances of seeing the northern lights will become increasingly limited. Longer days and shorter nights make it less likely you’ll see the aurora than earlier in the year.
Summer (June to September)
Summer, as you’d expect for most northern hemisphere destinations, is the wrong time of year to see the aurora – but it is the second-most popular season for visiting Greenland. If you want to see the colorful houses of Nuuk, sail the fjords between icebergs, or hike the mountains and valley, this is the time to visit.
The Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Greenland
Greenland is, for the most part, mostly uninhabited. That said, this plays to your advantage if you hope to see the aurora during the seasons where it’s possible in Greenland. Each of these communities is a great base to explore the countryside of Greenland and for planning aurora-viewing sessions.
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.
Sisimiut is the second largest city in Greenland. This makes it a great place to visit for those who enjoy the comforts of a small town but aren’t afraid of roughing it also. Outdoor activities such as dog sledding and hiking are very popular here.
It’s in this regard that you’re most likely to see the Northern Lights. To improve your chances of seeing them, you’ll want to go outside of the city on a night between September or March. Once you’re away from the city lights, you have a good chance of seeing the aurora borealis.
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.
Nuuk is the capital of Greenland. It is also its largest city. There are a great number of things to see and do here, making it a tourist’s dream come true.
One might think it would be impossible to see the Northern Lights from Nuuk because of light pollution. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. While you will have a better chance of seeing it if you go outside the city, you don’t have to travel as far as you might think. In fact, you have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights on any dark night during the months of December or January.
On the other end of the spectrum is Kulusuk, a small village with a population of 250. Despite its small size, it’s still a popular tourist destination because of the Kulusuk Airport. It’s also a good place to have the quintessential Greenland experience with hiking, dog sledding, and fishing being popular activities.
Kulusuk is also among the best spots in Greenland to view the Northern Lights in the winter months. There are dog sledding tours available that will take you deep into the heart of Eastern Greenland where you have a great chance of seeing the aurora borealis.
With a population of 2000, Tasiilaq is the largest city on the eastern coast of Greenland. In this city, you get the best of both worlds. Not only do you get the amazing outdoor adventures you’d expect from Greenland, you also get an excellent arts and crafts scene.
And of course, Eastern Greenland in the wintertime is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. As with Kulusuk, you can go on dog sledding tours that will take you to some of the best spots for viewing this amazing natural wonder.
The Best Aurora Alerts in Greenland
There aren’t a ton of Greenland-specific aurora tools, but AuroraReach has a page dedicated to Nuuk which is certainly helpful if you’ve gone through all the work to plan your trip to Greenland to see the northern lights!
Popular Day Trips & Tours to See the Northern Lights
Because the northern lights are one of the main reasons people visit Greenland (and especially during the winter), there are many tours available if you want to book a guided itinerary. Here are some of the top options:
- Greenland Tours offers four-day aurora and iceberg tour and an eight-day option that includes dog sledding, among others.
- While Aurora Arktika sails in the early spring, it’s still possible to see the northern lights on their tours, including the Arctic Fjordscapes eight-day cruise and 15-day Forbidden Coast cruise.
- Greenland Travel lists a large number of aurora tours. Whether you want an autumn eight-day tour, an eight-day tour through East Greenland, and a five-day aurora-chasing city break from Copenhagen.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, Greenland pun intended. ❄? Have other questions about seeing the northern lights in Greenland? Let me know in the comments!