Watching the Northern Lights dance through the night sky is easily one of nature’s most spectacular shows, and it’s definitely Worth Traveling For. To witness this dazzling display, you must visit one of the best places to see the Northern Lights around the world, which includes the U.S., Canada, Iceland, and Northern Europe. You can even make your Northern Lights vacation extra special by staying somewhere memorable with a fantastic view, like a glass igloo, rustic wooden cabin, or even your own private open-air thermal pool.
This shimmering display is quite elusive, popping up whenever it feels like it and dancing away quickly across the sky. Sometimes the Northern Lights last for mere minutes, while other times it fires brightly for hours on end with mesmerizing swirls of green, blue, purple, silver, and gold among the twinkling stars.
We’re highlighting top Northern Lights hotels and Northern Lights tours that’ll make for an unforgettable experience.
What Are the Northern Lights?
Also known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are a colorful light display that happens in the dark night sky every year, generally from late August through early April and only in certain countries. Expect to see the night sky lit up in a kaleidoscope of green, purple, yellow, blue, orange, and red.
In scientific terms, the Northern Lights occur when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms from the Earth’s atmosphere. In travel terms, they’re considered a can’t-miss, and many global travelers admit to chasing this unpredictable phenomenon. Time your trip for when the lights are most apt to show up, and give yourself at least a few nights to maximize your chances of catching them in real time.
What Do You Need to Photograph the Northern Lights?
If you’re just there to catch the Earth putting on a spectacular nighttime show, simply pack some cozy blankets, a headlamp or flashlight, a hot beverage, and some great company.
Photographing and filming the Northern Lights requires a bit of skill, but with practice you’ll become a natural. For high quality photos, you need a DSLR digital camera with a wide-angle lens, though a smartphone will do, as well. Adjust the settings on your camera for low aperture, which allows more light and color to be captured.
Another tip: Set your camera or phone on a tripod and use a remote shutter release so images are steady, crisp, and clear. You can also play with low shutter speed, which also allows more light to enter the frame and can create a swirling effect. The darker your location, the better! Experiment and have fun with the process, and you’ll get better over time.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Alaska
Hands down (and eyes up)—one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the U.S. is Alaska. Known for its clean air, clear skies, natural wildlife, rugged remoteness, and freezing winter temperatures, the further north you travel toward the Arctic Circle the greater your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
See the Northern Lights: Alaska’s third-largest city, Fairbanks is a sweet spot for witnessing the Northern Lights where just a short drive from the city you’ll find some of the clearest skies and coldest temperatures on this list. This awesome one day tour leaves from Fairbanks and crosses the Arctic Circle to chase the Northern Lights in Alaska’s untouched wilderness.
When to Go: Late August through late April and sometimes into early May.
Northern Lights Hotel in Alaska: Located 30 minutes outside of Fairbanks, Aurora Villa is a luxurious and Scandi-style villa with a warm wooden exterior, cozy textiles, and beautiful floor to ceiling windows for stunning views of Alaska’s natural wonders. The property even has a firm 10 p.m. lights out policy to help eliminate light pollution. We also recommend Sheldon Chalet and Borealis Base Camp.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Finland
Like much of Scandinavia, there is something about Finland that seems therapeutic, tranquil, and a little magical. Maybe it’s because there are more saunas than people or perhaps it’s how natural wonders are woven into the fabric of the vibrant culture. The Finnish capital, Helsinki, is a clean, modern city with beautiful architecture, a blossoming culinary scene, and exceptional public transit. Outside the city, you are met with quaint lakeside communities and dense forests ripe for exploration.
See the Northern Lights: You can see the Northern Lights right in Helsinki, but venturing to smaller towns like Levi, Ruka, and Rovaniemi in Lapland is another sure bet. During the day you can go dog sledding, snowshoeing, or even try your hand at herding reindeer. While in Rovaniemi you can even plan a tour of Santa’s Village and meet Father Christmas himself. As a popular spot to see the Northern Lights, a slew of creative accommodations — like traditional huts, luxury treehouses, and glass igloos — have popped up that allow you to totally immerse yourself in the experience.
When to Go: In Lapland, you will have the luxury of seeing the Northern Lights almost every other clear night between September and March, and it’s March that is known for having the clearest, cloudless night skies.
Northern Lights Hotel in Finland: Far from bright city lights, Arctic Fox is located along the beautiful Lake Ranuanjärvi. The location is remote but you’re by no means roughing it. Each glass igloo has unobstructed views of the night sky, plush beds, and a private sauna. It’s also the perfect environment to warm up after taking part in an arctic safari or visiting the nearby arctic fox park. The main igloo serves as the dining room where you’ll feast on three-course meals made from locally sourced ingredients. We also recommend Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort and the Northern Lights Ranch.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Canada
There are many reasons to visit Canada, like its buzzy international cities Toronto and Vancouver, amazing National Parks like Banff and Jasper, the French romance of Montreal, and of course Whistler’s world-class skiing. It’s also considered one of the best places to see the Northern Lights around the world, particularly at Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
See the Northern Lights: Yellowknife, located in Canada’s Northwest Territories offers some of the brightest and most frequent displays of the colorful Northern Lights anywhere in the world thanks to its low levels of light pollution and clear winter skies. You can also see the light sensation from Jasper and Churchill, but for us, there’s nothing quite like the vibrancy on show at Yellowknife.
When to Go: In the Northwest Territories you can actually see the Northern Lights around 200 times but your best chance is October through March.
Northern Lights Hotel in Canada: The Northern Lights Resort and Spa is located in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in the northwest part of the country. These glass-front chalets feature large wrap-around windows enabling you to observe the Northern Lights while under the comforter of your bed. The property also has a well-equipped spa with saunas and an outdoor Jacuzzi if you want to see the show alfresco. We also recommend the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and Aurora Village.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Sweden
Sweden is beloved for its clean air, open spaces, exceptional design, easy to navigate public transit systems, and is home to some of the happiest people in the world. The capital city of Stockholm is a dream for lovers of Scandinavian design and architecture. However, guests and locals are constantly flocking to countryside spots like Midsommar to spend time by the lakes surrounded by nature – the winters are long and cold so Swedes have learned to make the most of the sunshine.
See the Northern Lights: The further north you travel into the remote wilderness the better your chances of spotting the lights, like at Jukkasjarvi. While you can see the light with your naked eye this area is known for its accommodations with inbuilt photography tours – these high-tech camera’s sensors pick up more depth of color allowing you to experience the light show literally through a new lens.
When to Go: September through late March is the best time to see them in Sweden. The long winter nights give you the best opportunity.
Northern Lights Hotel in Sweden: Located in Swedish Lapland Arctic Bath is a floating hotel and spa on the Lule River. All of the guest rooms have been designed using natural and sustainable materials like leather, wood, and stone and guests stay cozy in rooms equipped with heated floors and a pellet stove. Visit the spa for a Swedish Massage and don’t forget to take part in the traditional open-air cold bath. The on-site restaurant also lives up to the adventure experience with a local, sustainable, chef planned seasonal menu. We also recommend the IceHotel and Tree Hotel.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Norway
With its scenic fjords, endless hiking trails, abundant wildlife, hundreds of miles of coastline dotted with brightly colored traditional fishing towns, and medieval stave churches – Norway looks like the pages of a fairytale storybook. Although much of the country lies above the Arctic Circle the climate is surprisingly mild and beyond it being a nature lover’s paradise, the capital city of Oslo is an exciting mix of past and present.
See the Northern Lights: There are tons of options to see the lights in Norway, but the country’s largest city Tromso in the north has great hotel options, Nordic pubs, museums markets, and suburb views of nature’s light show. If you fancy heading up a little further north, Alta and Bodo are also great remote spots to enjoy the view.
When to Go: Peak season for spotting the Northern Lights in Norway is November through March.
Northern Lights Hotels in Norway: What better way to get into the Scandinavian spirit than to be down in a glass igloo hotel. Lyngen North, located in Northern Norway has triple-layered insulated glass so you expect your igloo to stay toasty no matter how brutal the weather outside. This experiential intimate five-room hotel offers views of the Lyngen Alps and Lyngenfjord and adjacent you can indulge in a unique dining experience at Solvind where local ingredients like roasted lamb and kjottkaker (Norwegian meatballs) are signature dishes on the menu. We also recommend Eliassen Rorbuer, Funken Lodge, or the unbelievable Villa Telegrafbukta, where you literally sleep on an outdoor bed on a heated balcony.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Iceland has seen a massive boom in popularity in recent years, no doubt thanks to its natural beauty – there’s black sand beaches, 10,000 waterfalls, and geothermal pools – quaint picture-perfect architecture, and the fact the country is home to around 340,000 people. This new European hotspot is also an easy direct less than six-hour flight from NYC.
See the Northern Lights: Inside Reykjavík, Iceland’s thriving capital which is known for its hip culture and design scene, you’ll find Öskjuhlið a densely wooded area that makes for a great vantage point to view the Northern Lights. Word of warning: the weather in Iceland is tough, making it one of the harder places on this list to get uninterrupted views – you may also have some success out along the Golden Circle, the 190-mile loop with waterfalls, geysers, and a volcanic crater in Southern Iceland. However this tiny Nordic island country is so beautiful, it’s worth the gamble.
When to Go: With winter nights lasting up to 18 hours, there’s a great chance to see the lights in Iceland especially between mid-September to late March.
Northern Lights Hotels in Iceland: Torfhus Retreat is a sustainable property in the southern Icelandic town of Selfoss that runs on geothermal and hydroelectric power. The accommodations are adorable guest houses that have living turf roofs, reclaimed wood furnishings, and private basalt stone hot pools outside. The hotel offers an incredible list of activities including horseback riding, glacier hikes and is very close to Silfra Fissure, one of Iceland’s biggest lakes and one of our favorite adventures for the wild at heart. We also recommend Hotel Ranga and The Five Million Star Hotel.