11 places where you can see the northern lights
The sky seems to be spreading watercolor: green, blue, purple, sometimes – red or pink lights flash on a dark background. The northern lights are a winter sight, which everyone must see at least once.
Northern lights glow – a unique phenomenon among the most amazing phenomena of nature. To admire this beauty, many are ready to rush across half of the globe to the other end of the world – to the place where the sky is dancing with magic flashes. Shall we go hunting for northern lights?
Legends of the northern lights
The Vikings believed that the northern lights were the light from the swords of the Valkyries, the girls who escorted the glorious warriors who died in battle, from the earthly world to the world of heaven. The glow was called the “dance of the spirits.”
In Canada, it was thought that a great fire was lit in the sky, and the radiance was the light from it. It was also thought that the northern lights were the shiny tails of foxes frolicking in the sky. Ancient people admired the radiance so much that images of it are found even among the cave drawings.
Also people in ancient times believed that in this way deceased ancestors communicate with their descendants on Earth. By the way, the legend of “communication” did not arise for nothing. And it is true, sometimes radiance makes sounds – a little noise or crackle. Not everyone can hear it, but if you have an excellent ear and the weather is windless, everything is possible.
In fact, the aurora is created by solar particles that enter the atmosphere. The stronger the solar activity – the brighter the aurora borealis will be. Therefore, the aurora borealis is often called the “solar wind”. It turns out that even from magnetic storms there is a benefit, and it is in beauty.
When can you see the northern lights
When to wait for a natural miracle? Alas, it is impossible to say exactly when the northern lights appear. Months in which it most often occurs – December and January. It is best to go hunting for northern lights for two weeks. Then there is a chance to see even a few auroras. In general the periods of possible northern lights occurrence last from September to March.
But the question “at what time” has a more precise answer: from 21:00 to 00:00. It is impossible to see aurora borealis during the day, but you are welcome to do it at night. The only condition is to go far away outside the city, because the city lights will not let you enjoy the shining sky.
The most beautiful thing is the northern lights from space.
The brightest aurora borealis is on. Jupiter. From time to time NASA astronauts share stunning videos of the beauties of planet Earth. And among them is a view of the northern lights from space. It looks just magical!
Where to see the northern lights abroad
If you take our planet it is better to look for northern lights at the North Pole. And also – in northern Europe.
1. Finland .
If you do not like to take risks and certainly want to see the lights, the best choice is Finland. In Rovaniemi, the village of Kilpisjärvi and the municipality of Sodankylä the northern lights occur almost every day. Go for it – you won’t miss it!
In Finland, there are special guest houses with glass ceilings. We even mentioned them in our review of the world’s most romantic hotels. You can lie on the bed, looking up at the ceiling – and contemplate the colorful sky. Despite the abundance of glass, these hotels are very warm inside, which means that nothing interferes with the enjoyment of beauty.
If the weather is favorable for the aurora, in Norway it happens even several times a day. From 6 p.m. until midnight. In Norway, winter tourism is well developed – they will tell you all about the lights, take you to the exhibition, and invite you to ride on a cruise ship under the shining sky. And lovers of outdoor activities can go on an expedition into the harsh nature.
In any city or village in Sweden, you can see the northern lights. Those who wish can take a wilderness survival training, go skiing or sledding with dogs, and learn how to make a campfire that will keep you warm while you admire the sky.
Stockholm’s New Year’s Eve sky is colorful, even without the glow. And when it’s colored in different colors.
While hunting for the northern lights, you can visit the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. And also the town of Stokeseiri – over it the aurora borealis happens most often.
If there is a heavy frost in Scotland and the weather is generally clear, there is a huge chance of seeing the aurora borealis there. Go to the north of Scotland – the chances of seeing colorful skies increase there.
Also don’t forget the Orkney Islands. The fields on the islands are as if specially designed for sky-watching.
Remembering the legends of the northern lights, we mentioned Canada. The very location of the country in the north makes it all good for observing celestial lights, but it is still better to look for the northernmost spots. For example, the Yukon, famous for its gold deposits, would be a good choice for aurora borealis hunting.
7. New Zealand.
In addition to the northern lights there is also the southern lights. It differs from the northern one only in its name. So if you have long wanted to visit New Zealand – do not forget to visit the Otago Peninsula, over which the sky is often colored in different colors.
This is the sky above Lake Moke on the Otago Peninsula:
And in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, you can see the pink glow against the backdrop of illuminated clouds:
The Aurora Borealis can be seen in Australia and South America, in addition to New Zealand.
Where can you see the Northern Lights
Do you dream of seeing the enchanting flashes of the sky with your own eyes? Learn how and when the northern lights appear. Learn about aurora borealis tours and places to 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 the Sun emits. 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 at high altitudes easily reacts with the charged particles of the solar wind. 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 watch the northern lights in the country of Suomi! Finnish cities are connected by beautiful highways. Tourists drive outside of lit 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 like 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. Their prices are not robbery and they have interesting programs.