Spotting the Northern Lights in person is like watching a miracle unfold. The sky above appears to split to let whatever lies on the other side made of shimmering emerald green, rich royal purple, and bursts of beaming yellow come through. The display is famous in places like Alaska and Iceland, but the glorious display can extend further. Here are five surprising places to see the Northern Lights around the globe.
First, a primer on what causes the northern lights?
As Space.com explains, the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, begin as energized particles from the sun, which travel at speeds up to 45 million miles per hour before hitting Earth’s magnetic field.
“These particles are deflected towards the poles of Earth by our planet’s magnetic field and interact with our atmosphere, depositing energy and causing the atmosphere to fluoresce,” astronomer Billy Teets, the director of Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, explains to Space.com. He adds, the colors we see are because of the unique composition of our planet’s atmosphere.
“Every type of atom or molecule, whether it’s atomic hydrogen or a molecule like carbon dioxide, absorbs and radiates its own unique set of colors, which is analogous to how every human being has a unique set of fingerprints,” Teets says. “Some of the dominant colors seen in aurorae are red, a hue produced by the nitrogen molecules, and green, which is produced by oxygen molecules.”
As for when it will strike, how long, and where, that can be a bit of a mystery, though Space.com says you can likely bet on seeing it between September to April, when the sky is dark enough to see them. Your best bet is to also head out between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. and when there is a waning or new moon, so there’s no light interfering. And, of course, if you can, plan to head out on a cloudless night.
The site also explains, the prime spot to see them is within the “auroral zone,” a.k.a. the region within a 1,550-mile radius of the North Pole. Not willing to travel that far? Here’s where else you can spot them.
Aroostook County, Maine
Aroostook, the northernmost county in the state of Maine, is a place where Mother Nature still reigns supreme. The county is home to more than 3.5 million acres of undeveloped land, making it a pristine place to find a spot with little to no artificial light from man. One of the best places to find the Northern Lights is by camping out at the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge. For a cozy getaway, book a stay at the Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast, or grab this adorable log cabin in nearby Fairfield.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye in Scotland is in the prime northern location to spot the nighttime magic, especially because it’s home to several Dark Sky Discovery Sites that promise clear, lightless conditions. On the island, book a few nights at the Skeabost House, a one-time hunting lodge turned hotel that happens to be the only hotel on Skye with its own golf course. Those who want to stay closer to nature can also book a stay at the Shulista Croft Wigwams, a glamping site on the Trotternish Peninsula. Don’t worry. The accommodations come with all the accessories you’d crave, including en-suite bathrooms, televisions, and even a few with personal hot tubs.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Voyageurs National Park is often regarded as one of the darkest places in America. It was even named an International Dark Sky Park in 2020. There are several campsites throughout the park for guests to enjoy, though visitors may want more cozy accommodations like this log cabin on Airbnb or by booking a stay with Northern Lights Resort and Outfitting. The latter will even help you figure out the best time to come visit to see the nighttime show.
Ice Floating in Finland
Finland is a well-known spot to see the Aurora, thanks to its far north location. However, there is one way to make it a unique experience — by taking part in an Aurora ice floating expedition. Offered via Safartica, the three-hour tour sets off from Rovaniemi, before taking guests to a frozen lake where they suit up in a high-quality rescue suit, which covers the entire body, making it a cinch to hop into the zero-degree water. Make the experience even more extraordinary by booking a stay at Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle, which offers all-glass rooms so you can sneak a peek at the night sky whenever you wish.
Yellowknife is both the capital of the Northwest Territories and one of the best spots to see the Northern Lights in the world. Again, thanks to its location in the far north (it’s just about 300 miles south of the arctic circle), Yellowknife offers visitors the chance to glance up and see the dancing lights above. But, to get the best show possible, make sure to head out of the center of town and into places like Prelude Lake Territorial Park. Though, you could always leave the planning up to someone else by booking a trip with Aurora Village. The company is a one-stop shop for Northern Lights getaways, and with its Aurora-Viewing Hotel Package, it will set up your accommodations, roundtrip airport transfers, and Northern Lights guided trips.