Traveling abroad gives us a chance to experience the culture, food, history, and architecture of a new place, and Europe is full of destinations to do just this. But often, it’s the natural phenomenons that really can wow us as tourists, from the tallest waterfalls to deepest canyons. One such phenomenon on many traveler’s bucket lists is the Northern Lights.
Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this light shows ripples across the night sky like a live painting when particles charged by the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere. It’s not surprising that special conditions must be met to create this effect, and though Auroras can be seen in many places around the globe, the best conditions are a dark sky between 10 and 20 degrees latitude from the earth’s poles. For Euro-bound travelers, this means we need to head north.
It can be very intimidating to plan a European trip on your own, let alone one that brings you to the far north in the cold of winter. As your European travel expert, I have a few ideas to inspire your trip and are available to offer you a customized trip itinerary to make sure you make this bucket list trip a success.
Experiences to see the northern lights can be customized to each traveler’s desires, including a specific country such as Norway, Sweden, or Finland or even lesser-known viewing spots such as Iceland, Greenland, or northern Scotland. So let's dive deeper into the best destinations to view the Northern Lights.
For those wanting an easier travel route, especially from Central or Southern Europe, the Scandinavian countries are a great choice.
Norway is no stranger to hosting tourists to see the northern lights, and Tromso is a very popular destination. Its relatively mild winter temps (for being so far north) make it a more comfortable experience if you come from a more temperate climate.
Plus, it’s quite the cultural hub with art museums, an international film festival, and the northern lights festival, which takes place in January. Tromso also experiences a type of Polar Night from mid-November to mid-January when the sun doesn’t reach over the mountains, so the dark sky is waiting for a chance to host the Aurora.
For travelers wanting a more isolated experience, Svalbard is a string of islands between the North Pole and continental Norway known for rocky terrain, polar bears, and an excellent view of the Aurora Borealis.
Norway’s neighbors Sweden and Finland also offer unique experiences for winter travelers. Lapland stretches from northern Norway, Sweden and Finland to Northwest Russia. Not only will you find one of the best places to view the northern lights in Finnish Lapland, but you will also be in the cleanest air in the world.
Finnish Lapland can experience the northern lights from late-October into March, and multiple towns are available to host travelers looking for exciting winter events. Approximately 1/3 of Finnish Lapland is protected land, including 7 national parks and 12 wilderness areas.
Rovaniemi in offers dog sledding and snowmobiling in the arctic wilderness. Even further north, you’ll find Kakslautten, which offers multiple winter cabins and even igloos in which you can stay.
One of the best parts of chasing the Northern Lights is the extraordinary accommodation options. Lapland offers hotels in vibrant resorts, to discrete, luxurious, and very remote private cabins and villas. Snow igloos and glamping provide some once in a lifetime
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If the UK is more to your liking, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Northern Scotland, where they go by the name Mirrie Dancers.
The Shetland Islands also offer the ability to see the lights along with nesting puffins.
Try the Isle of Lewis to see the natural wonder of the Mirrie Dancers paired with the man-made wonder of the Callanish Standing Stones, a stone circle dating back to the Bronze Age.
Alternatively, we can move westward and stay in Reykjavik, Iceland, an increasingly popular tourist destination known for its thermal pools, volcanos, and of course, the bucket list Aurora.
Having ramped up tourism in recent years, Iceland offers much to do in addition to the northern lights and is an excellent trip option.
For the true isolationist, head to Greenland, where you can enjoy the Northern Lights without the tourists in Iceland.
The city of Kangerlussuaq, nestled in a fjord and close to the ice sheet, is known as the “gateway to Greenland” due to its centrally-located airport be known as Sonderstrom Air Base. Unique military history and access to impressive nature could be the thing to draw tourists to this area of Greenland, but beware as temps can dip to -40F in the winter.
Though these are some suggestions for the best places to see the Northern Lights, Endless Routes Travel can help you plan a custom trip to make the most of your vacation. From cold and isolated Greenland to the cultural zone of Tromso, Norway, there’s a trip out there just waiting to be checked off your bucket list, so bundle up and get out there.