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These stunning spots give you a great chance of experiencing those famous skies.
The aurora borealis are an otherworldly lightshow, a watercolour painting of the night skies that astonishes anyone lucky enough to stand beneath. For the best seats in the house -- er, world -- look for places with a magnetic latitude above 55° and low light pollution…in other words, you’re getting off the beaten track! Here are six of our favourite places for spotting the Northern Lights:
Even leaving aside the northern lights, Iceland is an incredible place to visit, an island of stunning glaciers, massive geysers, pristine waterfalls and fascinating Viking history. But in terms of where it sits on the globe, the country is an aurora viewing jackpot. The weather doesn’t always cooperate, but Iceland’s famous coastal drive lets you chase clear skies. Perhaps the best aurora viewing happens on the west coast. When a lightshow is at its peak, you can even spy Lights from Reykjavík’s suburbs: The Grotta Lighthouse is a popular local spot to try for a look.
Early September to late March.
Yellowknife is capital to the Northwest Territories and ground zero for Lights spotting on the shores of Great Slave Lake. This inviting city is so serious about the Northern Lights that it offers a purpose-built Aurora Village. That means a cosy viewing spaces away from the winter cold! Your chances of experiencing the aurora at this outpost are excellent: They paint the sky roughly 240 nights of every year. In fact, nearly all of Canada offers front-row seats to the Northern Lights, courtesy of its northern latitude and low light pollution. For excellent alternatives to Yellowknife, we recommend Wood Buffalo and Jasper National Park in Alberta.
August to late April. For Churchill and Wood Buffalo, early August to early May.
Whitehorse in the Yukon is another of Canada’s top viewing places (and that’s in a country known for its Lights!). Here there are heaps of incredible viewing places: Watch from a piping hot mineral bath at Takhini Hot Pools. And outside nearby Dawson City, gaze up from the Midnight Dome, a wildly beautiful overlook that draws folks for the Lights in winter and the Midnight Sun in summer. Join a viewing tour, which can mean anything from trips to lodges to trips by dog sled. Or simply drive down any road towards Fish Lake. Don’t be surprised if you’re sitting in a Whitehorse bar and someone calls out “Northern Lights!”—watch the whole crowd rush outside because, after all, this is not a drill.
Late August to mid-April.
Sitting just two degrees below the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks and its surrounds are the best place for Lights chasing in the United States. Fairbanks is the only “city” in Alaska’s nearly untouched interior and still has a charming small-town feel: Go for a beer at local favourite HooDoo Brewing and you’ll see everybody knows each other. Just an hour drive out of the city, find spectacular viewing from lodges like Chena Hot Springs Resort. Or a short flight away, head for Bettles Lodge, which sits right under the Auroral Band and has some of the highest aurora activity in the Northern Hemisphere.
Early September to mid-April
Nestled in Finland’s famous Lapland region, Rovaniemi reigns as a gateway town to nearby national parks. Almost totally destroyed during World War II, today it’s a charming city and a top spot for viewing the Northern Lights. You’ve probably seen haunting images of snow-covered trees (Tykky) creating icy sculpture gardens against the northern lights: That is very likely Rovaniemi! Aurora aside, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus and the year-round festivity of Santa Claus Village and SantaPark. Look out for Arktikum, a museum and science centre devoted to Arctic exploration and Finnish history. The Pilke Science Centre features interactive exhibits on the surrounding northern forests.
Mid-September to late March
Tromsø, the largest city in northern Norway, sits 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, which sounds bone-chilling. But by the good graces of the Gulf Stream, the Norwegian coastline enjoys surprisingly moderate temperatures … by Artic standards. Wintertime highs hover at a balmy 0°. Tromsø and its surrounds are stunningly beautiful and feel sublimely remote, a landscape of magnificent fjords framed by the snow-swept peaks of the Lyngen Alps. All around Tromsø are fantastic spots to take in the Northern Lights: We recommend a trip to the village of Ersfjordbotn, about 20 miles from Tromsø. Even further afield in Norway, look for the aurora in the remote Lofoten Islands and the far northern towns of Alta, Nordkapp and Kirkenes.
The Northern Lights truly are a once-in-lifetime spectacle in the sky!
Read more about the Nordic countries here.
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