Discovering the northern lights: A guide to viewing Aurora Borealis

Whilst standing under a vast, starlit sky, there are few natural delights more majestic than the Northern Lights.

The ethereal dance of colours swirling overhead from the Aurora Borealis is one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena. But whilst many of us are familiar with what this looks like from pictures and video clips, seeing them in person is another thing entirely.

The Northern Lights are not just a natural wonder but an experience so, for travellers seeking to enjoy the Aurora Borealis as nature intended, you’ll need to make some careful plans. Fortunately, you’ll find everything you need to know below, so you can discover the best times and places to witness this spectacle, alongside tips to make your experience truly once-in-a-lifetime.

What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are a mesmerising natural light show, painting the sky in dazzling shades of green, purple, pink, and sometimes red or yellow.

This spectacle occurs when charged particles from solar storms on the Sun travel millions of miles and collide with Earth’s magnetic field, towards the North and South Poles before going into the atmosphere. The particles reacting with atoms in the atmosphere cause the colourful light, creating beautiful waves in the sky.

The colours you see all depend on the type of gas particles involved and their altitude. Green, the most common hue, is produced by Oxygen molecules, while higher altitudes may yield purplish-red or blue hues due to Nitrogen.

The blend of scientific wonder and cultural mystique surrounding the Northern Lights makes them a compelling phenomenon for travellers seeking to experience one of the planet’s most extraordinary natural displays.

What’s the best time to see the Northern Lights?

To catch the Northern Lights in their full glory, timing is everything. Fortunately, it’s never been a better time to plan your trip as according to, the next few years may be one of the best times to see them due to heightened solar activity.

Time – While they can flicker into life at any moment of darkness, the best viewing season stretches from October to April as during these months the nights are longest, providing a dark canvas for the lights to paint their colours.

Condition – The ideal conditions for witnessing this natural spectacle include clear, dark skies away from city light pollution. This often means venturing into more remote areas where the nights are uninterrupted by artificial light.

Solar Cycle – The solar cycle peaks every 11 years, and we are currently in Solar Cycle 25, due to reach its maximum in July 2025. During these peak times, solar activity increases, making the Northern Lights more frequent and vivid. However, even during quieter solar periods, stunning displays are still possible, especially if you’re near the Arctic Circle.

What are the best locations to view the Northern Lights?

There’s no doubt that getting to see the Northern Lights for yourself is one of the most spectacular naturally occurring displays you’ll ever see. But knowing where to go can make all the difference in what you will experience.

Unfortunately, not everywhere gets to enjoy this sight equally and if you aren’t lucky enough to already live somewhere that has a prime viewing spot, you’ll more than likely need to travel.

There are many locations you can visit, so here are a select few of the best places across the globe where you can get a great view of the Aurora Borealis:

  • Tromsø, Norway – Nestled above the Arctic Circle, Tromsø offers a high chance of seeing the Northern Lights, coupled with stunning Norwegian landscapes. The city, located 300 km North of the Arctic Circle, is a popular base for aurora hunting expeditions into the surrounding wilderness away from light pollution as well as exploring the Lyngenfjord by boat.
  • Reykjavik, Iceland – While the lights can be seen from the city, venturing into the countryside offers darker skies and a more vivid display. Iceland’s unique landscapes add an extraordinary backdrop to the auroras, with Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on the south coast of the island worth the trip for a stunning view.
  • Fairbanks, Alaska, USA – With its location directly under the Auroral Oval, a ring-shaped zone with concentrated aurora activity, and stable weather conditions, Fairbanks is ideally situated for Northern Lights viewing, especially from August to April.
  • Yellowknife, Canada – Also positioned directly under the Auroral Oval and the capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife boasts clear nights and excellent viewing opportunities, with auroras visible up to 240 nights a year, making it one of the best spots in North America.
  • Finnish Lapland – Offering a magical Winter landscape, Finnish Lapland within the North of Finland not only provides great chances to witness the Northern Lights but also offers unique accommodation such as glass igloos where you can watch the lights dance from the comfort of your bed.
  • Shetland Islands, Scotland – Closer to the Arctic than any other part of Britain, the Shetland Islands offer a unique opportunity to view the Northern Lights without venturing too far north. The remote location and minimal light pollution make Shetland an emerging favourite for aurora enthusiasts during the Winter on clear nights.

Each of these locations offers something unique, from cultural experiences to breathtaking landscapes, enhancing the awe-inspiring trip of witnessing the Northern Lights. Which you choose is up to you depending on how far you want to travel, and which location interests you the most.

How to plan your Northern Lights trip

Planning your trip will require a bit of foresight and flexibility to ensure the best possible experience. Here are some key tips to consider:

  • Stay flexible – The auroras are unpredictable, and sightings cannot be guaranteed. Plan to stay in your chosen location for at least a few nights to increase your chances of witnessing this natural spectacle and ensure you choose to go away during the best times of the year as mentioned above.
  • Prepare your documents and insurance – Ensure you have all necessary travel documents, including a valid passport and any visas required for your destination. You’ll want to seek out comprehensive travel insurance that covers trip cancellations, medical emergencies, and specific activities you may take part in. You can experience unpredictable conditions whilst aurora chasing in remote locations, so this will provide peace of mind.
  • Check the forecast – Before and during your trip, keep an eye on both the weather and aurora forecasts. There are websites dedicated to predicting solar activity and its visibility on Earth, such as the 30 Minute Forecast from the Space Weather Prediction Center, and forecasts from the Met Office.
  • Consider a guide – Especially in remote areas, guided tours can enhance your experience. They often know the best viewing spots and can provide valuable insights into the phenomenon. Research tours for the area you are visiting before setting off to choose official tour operators.
  • Dress warmly – Chasing the Northern Lights usually means being out in the cold, and Arctic nights can be freezing. Layer up to stay comfortable during long viewing sessions.
  • Don’t forget your camera and tripod – Whilst you may have your smartphone camera handy, an SLR camera with a wide-angle lens can give you the best results. A tripod will also ensure your camera is stabilised during long exposures needed to capture the auroras.

Get ready to be amazed

Witnessing the Northern Lights is a profound experience you’ll never forget. Whether you’re capturing it through a lens or soaking in the moment with a loved one, the Aurora Borealis is best viewed live to be truly appreciated. You’ve seen what it looks like in the pictures, now it’s time to book your own adventure with confidence – good luck Aurora chasing!