Northern Lights: 11 best places to see the aurora borealis
They’re unpredictable though, so anyone hoping to catch a glimpse needs to head to aurora hotspots to increase their chances of glimpsing them.
And keep their fingers crossed.
The regions where you have the most chance of seeing the Northern Lights are at a latitude of 66 to 69 degrees north — a sliver of the world that includes northern Alaska and Canada and bits of Greenland, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia.
“This band can expand when solar activity is high.”
You can also head south, for the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights), lighting up from around March onwards.
Here are some of the places auroras show up.
Best spot: By the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
“You just need to stay within the boundaries of the Arctic circle, find a clear sky and check for electromagnetic activity on the kp index.”
The iceberg-filled lagoon reflects the lights, making the experience all the more awesome.
Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Best spot: In a hot spring.
Two major challenges when hunting the Northern Lights are the cold and fatigue. Watching them in a hot spring alleviates both.
If you fancy soaking while you watch, Geophysical Institute researchers recommend Chena Resort and Manley Springs.
Chena is better equipped and better connected with Fairbanks’ airport.
The resort also provides an aurora alarm service, alerting guests if the lights “switch on” in the middle of night.
Paatsjoki, Finnish Lapland
Best spot: From the Paatsjoki Bridge, Nellim, near the Finnish-Russian border.
“Paatsjoki Bridge provides unparalleled Aurora sightings,” says McLean.
Unstad, Lofoten, Norway
Best spot: Along Unstad Strand during Lofoten Masters.
Surfing and Northern Lights aren’t the most common duo — but they are on the Lofoten islands, Norway.
(It’s also where that famous proposal took place.)
About a decade ago, the first Lofoten Masters — dubbed the world’s northernmost surfing championship — took place, attracting only a handful of local surfers.
Today the annual event welcomes a host of international surfers keen to brave the icy waves — and more importantly perhaps, to surf under the Northern Lights.
Open to surfers of all levels, the organizer describes Lofoten Masters as more like a festival than a competition, with facilities such as mobile hot tubs, sauna and food stands.
And if you can’t make it during the competition, Unstad Arctic Surf school provides surfing courses year-round and beachside accommodation.
Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Best spot: In your own caravan — ideally with a cup of tea.
Up in the Scottish Highlands with a vast dark sky and little light pollution, Cairngorms National Park — the largest national park in Britain — is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the country.
To make the experience even better, the Cairngorms is packed with other activities including snowsports, hiking routes and 12 golf courses.
It’s also home to Britain’s only sled dog center and a bridge-based bungee jump.
Best spot: On a dog-sledding expedition.
With the only international airport in Greenland, Kangerlussuaq is the gateway to the rest of the country.
With an average 300 clear-sky days per year, it’s also another top location for aurora hunters.
The hotel also organizes an ice-cap tour nearby.
Best spot: On a heated viewing chair.
Not only do you have a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights around the city of Yellowknife, but the surroundings — and seating — are especially congenial.
You’ll need your warm seat — it can hit 40 C below zero here.
Best spot: On the deck of a traditional steamer ship.
Sometimes called the “Paris of the North,” the city of Tromsø is a beautiful and accessible location for catching the Northern Lights.
Best spot: While tucking into a four-course Swedish dinner.
Cloud cover — the aurora hunter’s arch enemy — shouldn’t trouble you around the village of Abisko, in northern Sweden.
“Mountains and favorable prevailing winds combine to create some of northern Scandinavia’s most cloud-free skies,” McLean says.
Muonio, Finnish Lapland
Best spot: A cabin in the Lapland wilderness.
The village itself isn’t much of a tourist destination.
However, its location in Fell Lapland, the western region of Lapland known for its moor-covered hills, makes Muonio a great stop for exploring the nearby fells including Olos, Levi and Pallas.
Best spot: At the end of a continent.
Antarctica’s the best place to view the aurora australis — the Southern Lights — but it’s also the most inaccessible, unless you’re a scientist or a supporting person (cook, doctor, pilot and so on) on a research expedition.
However, you can still see the lights from the southern tips of South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
•This story was updated in March 2017