Glow and Behold: 7 Stellar Spots to Witness the Northern Lights

Think Scandinavia, Alaska and parts of Canada—dark, cold and perfectly positioned for the greatest show above Earth. Gear up for the season's highlight with our guide to the best Northern Lights hotspots.

Churchill, Manitoba. Universal Images Group via Getty

Flit through any die-hard travel bucket list, and you’re bound to find the Northern Lights etched at the pinnacle. Why? Because this cosmic show is more than just a dazzling array of colors splashed across the night sky—it’s the universe flexing its muscles. Wondering what causes this ethereal light show, anyway? In simple terms, just imagine the sun’s most energetic particles throwing a punch at our atmosphere, and boom!—we terrestrials are treated to a light spectacle that makes the neon blaze of the Vegas Strip look dim in comparison.

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Gone are the days when chasing the aurora borealis was just for the gritty, all-night trekkers. Now, it’s the ultimate crowd-puller, reeling in everyone from the adrenaline junkies to those who like a side of luxury with their star-gazing. The Northern Lights craze? It’s everywhere.

As winter began this year, the Northern Lights went rogue, showing up in places they had no business being. Imagine, Italy and Greece, known more for their ruins and beaches, suddenly turning into stages for this Arctic light show. Even Atlanta got a taste of the Arctic magic. But if you want the real deal, you gotta head north. It’s all thanks to the sun’s charged particles high-fiving Earth’s atmosphere, creating a luminous halo over the geomagnetic North Pole. The light show is at its jaw-dropping best within 1,500 miles of the pole, far from city lights and moonshine. Think Scandinavia, Alaska and parts of Canada—dark, cold and perfectly positioned for the greatest show above Earth. So, gear up for the season’s highlight with our guide to the best Northern Lights hotspots.

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Arctic Circle Cruise. Tommy Simonsen

Arctic Circle Cruise

Catching the Northern Lights from the sea is an experience like no other. Most aurora-centric cruises are not just about gazing at the sky; they’re mini schools at sea with photography lessons, engaging lectures and all sorts of starry activities. The best part? Some cruises offer a wake-up service if the auroras decide to put on a show while you’re snoozing. Prefer to keep your feet on land? Reykjavík’s Old Harbour has got you covered. Just a stone’s throw from the heart of the Icelandic city, you can hop on a short cruise with Elding. For less than $100, Elding whisks you away from the city’s glow for an evening under the stars, every night from September to March, with a 360° viewing deck is a stargazer’s dream. If the weather’s a bust or the lights play hard to get, you’re handed a rain check valid for two years. Hurtigruten has a similar viewing-guarantee approach with its 12-day voyage in Norway. Stops include the Northern Lights Planetarium in Tromsø and prime spots to witness the lights. No sweat if the lights are a no-show, as Hurtigruten promises a complimentary cruise the following season. Now that’s a Northern Lights chase with a safety net.

Tromsø, Norway. Lightscape/Unsplash

Norway

Norway’s loaded with front-row seats to the Northern Lights, and topping the list? Svalbard. This isn’t just any cluster of Arctic islands—it’s smack dab midway between Norway and the North Pole. Thanks to the polar night phenomenon, which blankets the area in darkness from mid-November to February, Svalbard’s the only spot on Earth where you can catch the aurora even during daylight hours. Fancy a unique twist? Jump on a snowcat safari for three hours of frosty fun or zip through the snow on a snowmobile, warming up with hot drinks and biscuits along the way. 

Then there’s Tromsø, the big shot of northern Norway, sitting pretty right in the heart of the auroral oval. This city turns into a buffet of Northern Lights tours during its dark season from late September to late March. Here’s a pro tip: take a cable car up Mount Storsteinen for the best view in town.

Fairbanks, Alaska. Jo San Diego/Unsplash

Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks isn’t your average Northern Lights destination. Its viewing season is a marathon, not a sprint, stretching from early September to mid-April. This gives you ample time to pick the perfect moment to witness Alaska’s aurora borealis, with experiences ranging from snowcat tours and evening ice-fishing escapades to flights above the Arctic Circle. And for those who fancy a bit of comfort, there are heated viewing lodges complete with snacks and photography tips. 

Ever dreamt of sleeping under the Northern Lights? The igloo-shaped domes at Borealis Basecamp turn that dream into reality, offering a panoramic view of the sky from your bed. And for those who find the Alaskan chill a bit too biting, Chena Hot Springs Resort‘s natural hot tubs let you marvel at the aurora from the warm embrace of a boulder-enclosed lake. Can’t make the trip just yet? The University of Alaska, Fairbanks streams the aurora live, giving you a sneak peek of the ethereal spectacle you’re bound to see one day, whether it’s on a dedicated journey or during a potent solar storm that brings the aurora to you.

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Greenland

Greenland is a Northern Lights jackpot with its minimal light pollution and stellar visibility. Book a three- to four-night stay between September and early April. You’ll likely be coming in from Copenhagen with Kangerlussuaq as your Greenland gateway. This former U.S. military base boasts about 300 clear nights annually, making it a prime spot for aurora sightings. South Greenland’s skies regularly play host to the aurora’s mesmerizing dance. From Nanortalik in the south to Uummannaq and Ittoqqortoormiit in the northwest and northeast, the views are stunning. But some spots are top-tier. Nuuk, Greenland’s largest city, offers an unlikely yet spectacular viewing spot right in the heart of an Arctic capital. It may be nicknamed “Nuuk York,” but with a population less than one percent of NYC, it’s a whole different world. On the west coast, Ilulissat is another gem. Here, the Northern Lights twirl above the Ilulissat Icefjord and Disko Bay, creating surreal scenes against giant icebergs. Maximize this unique experience with snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dog sledding or a scenic drive. 

Lake of the Clouds, Wilderness State Park. Pure Michigan

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

With its dark skies, the southern shoreline of Lake Superior becomes a haven for those seeking the ultimate Northern Lights experience in the Upper Peninsula. The auroral oval’s tendency to swing south during periods of intense activity turns this region into a prime spot for the celestial display. For the darkest skies, a visit to Keweenaw Dark Sky Park in Copper Harbor is a must. The park provides an unrivaled backdrop for observing the Northern Lights in their full splendor. Accommodation in the area includes the historic and uber-cozy Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Not secluded enough? Isle Royale, a less-visited national park located on an island in Lake Superior near the Canadian border, offers an exceptional vantage point. Its remote northern location and minimal light pollution create ideal conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. While winter closure may limit access, the fall and spring seasons present warmer temperatures and increased auroral activity, especially around the equinoxes in September and March.

Kilpisjärvi in Lapland, Finland. Sami Matias

Finnish Lapland

In Finnish Lapland, the Northern Lights grace the skies for about 200 nights annually. While adventurous souls might venture out on snowshoes, skis, snowmobiles or dog sleds for aurora-spotting, there’s also the option to enjoy the spectacle from the cozy indoors. The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort lets you doze off under the aurora in a glass igloo, nestled among towering pines. For a more personalized experience, the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Rovaniemi features rooms with all-glass walls, focusing your entire stay on the majestic lights. For luxury amidst the wilderness, Octola’s exclusive 12 rooms and two chalets sprawl across 1,000 acres of private land, providing a secluded spot for aurora viewing. And for those who prefer minimalism, the Kemi Seaside Glass Villas near SnowCastle (the largest snow-and-ice hotel in the world) offer an immersive experience, with their all-glass structure bringing you closer to nature and the night sky. 

Yukon, Canada. Leonard Laub

Canada

Inuit legends have long sought to unravel the mystery of the Northern Lights, and Canada’s Northwest Territories offer some of the best vantage points for this spectacular phenomenon. In Yellowknife, situated directly beneath the auroral oval, the lights are visible up to 240 nights a year, especially during the fall and winter. B. Dene Adventures offers tours in Yellowknife that not only showcase the lights but also delve into their indigenous cultural lore. It’s Churchill, Manitoba, however, that claims the title of Canada’s top Northern Lights destination, with up to 300 nights of auroral displays annually. Churchill also serves as a prime location for polar bear spotting in the fall and beluga whale watching in the summer. For an extraordinary dining experience, Dan’s Diner combines unique local cuisine with polar bear viewing, accessible via Frontiers North’s Tundra Buggy adventure across the frozen Churchill River. The Yukon, another of Canada’s northern territories, shines as a Northern Lights hotspot. Like Churchill, the Yukon’s dark and clear winter nights are ideal for aurora viewing. The Northern Lights Space and Science Centre in Watson Lake provides insights into both the science and folklore behind the aurora’s mesmerizing colors.

Glow and Behold: 7 Stellar Spots to Witness the Northern Lights