The Northern lights are indubitably one of the magnificent natural wonders in the world that are on everyone’s bucket list. Though this phenomenon natural light display in the earth’s sky can be witnessed in a number of places, this post will be showcasing some of the best places to see the Northern lights in Europe.
Also known as the Aurora borealis, the Northern lights are a result of electrically charged particles from the sun interacting with those in the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed. This interaction causes a natural display of dancing colors in the sky that have seen a number of tourists travel thousands of miles in hopes of having a front-row seat as they get blown away by this incredible sight.
Although the commonest natural colors display is green and pink, there are also chances of seeing, yellow, blue, red and purple creating a beautiful mismatch of colors. The colors displayed in a certain place are as a result of how high the charged particles from the sun are when they hit the earth’s magnetic field and which elements in the earth’s atmosphere they collide with. This means that you might not see all the colors on a single display but rather at least 2 or 3 depending on where you are and at what time.
Though there is no guarantee of the best places to see the northern lights in Europe, these places listed below offer high chances of witnessing the dancing colors in the nighty sky. But before you choose which place to go to see the northern lights in Europe, there are a number of factors you should put into consideration.
What is the best time to see the Northen lights in Europe
Since it’s a natural phenomenon whose appearance entirely depends on the solar activity, it’s hard to know the exact time it will happen but we at least know the best months to see the Northern lights in Europe.
The best time to see the Northen lights in Europe is during the cold dark nights of winter with clear skies during the months of September to March – or at least that’s when they are visible to human eyes. There is no specific best time of the year to see the North lights, but these months offer great chances of spotting the Aurora borealis.
Where is the best place to see the Northen lights in Europe
There is no clear cut answer to the best place to see the Northen lights in Europe as there are a number of them. But there are great chances of spotting them if you head up north in the Aurora zone between 65° and 72°.
And since you cannot 100% guarantee that you will be able to see the Northen lights in Europe since a lot of factors have to be in play, you should at least choose a destination that not only has aurora activity but also other things to do so that in an unfortunate incident that they don’t appear, you still have other things to do in that area.
Other factors to consider before choosing where to see the Northern lights in Europe are, easy accessibility, beautiful scenery to get perfect photos. Regardless of where you choose to go to chase the Northern lights, the place should be perfectly positioned in the Aurora Zone and experience auroras frequently to maximize your chances of seeing this spectacular display of colors.
Now that we know it’s hard or even impossible to pinpoint one destination as the best place to see the northern lights in Europe, let’s look at some of the places in Europe where you’ll have chances of seeing the Northern lights.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Europe
1. Abisko, Sweden
Located north of the Arctic Circle, Abisko is a small village in Sweden that has increasingly become a popular destination to see the Northen lights in Europe.
Due to its prime location as the farthest place in the North of Sweden, and having the clearest skies during the cold months across Europe, it means that even the weak auroras can be easily seen here.
And also the lack of light pollution at Abisko has made it one of the best places to see the Northern lights in Europe for people who want to gaze at this natural wonder.
On top of that, the Abisko National park’s Aurora Sky station provides the best spot to see the lights and the fact that it’s located in the middle of the Akanderna mountain ranges creates even more perfect conditions to view the northern lights by reducing the heavy cloud cover.
With a place sparsely populated with just 150 permanent residents, it is the perfect place to see the northern lights if you don’t want to run into clouds. And it is also believed that these residents see the northern lights 159 nights a year – so with all those chances, clear skies, low light pollution and being on a high altitude, Abisko is where you should go to maximize your chances of seeing this phenomenon display of colors.
And after being amazed by the Northern lights in Abisko, head up to Jukkasjärvi and stay at one of the world’s famous Ice hotel which is also the first ice hotel in the world where everything is literally made out of ice.
2. Alta, Norway
Located directly under the Northern lights oval, Alta in Norway is commonly known as the city of Northern lights due to the fact that it houses the first Northern light Observatory in the world.
With plenty of clear skies in winter nights that are favorable for the aurora and being one of the most northern cities in the world, Alta is on the places where you have the greatest chances of seeing the Northern lights in Europe.
It is reported that Alta receives the Aurora 200 nights a year which creates a greater chance of spotting the natural display for the northern lights chasers.
Your best bet to see the northern lights in Alta is through the months of September to March where the nights are cold and the skies crystal clear.
While you’re there, don’t miss to see, the huge modern church of Nothern lights church, the ancient rock carvings at Alta Museum and participating in various winter sports like snowshoeing, dog sledding and many others.
3. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland is generally a great destination to see the northern lights in Europe with many parts of the country offering a chance to see the elusive natural wonders.
With Reykjavik being the capital, it’s even better for people who want to enjoy the Aurora without going far away from the center. The long dark nights which approximate to 20 hours and the clear skies make Reykjavik the best place to see the northern lights in Europe. Reykjavik is also one of the cheapest places to see the northern lights in Europe.
With a big city like this, some of the places to go to spot the dancing colorful lights are Grotta lighthouse and Seltjarnames Peninsula which are located in the northwestern part of the capital. With little to no pollution, you’ll be in luck to see the northern lights given that the skies are clear.
You can also head up to the geothermal tub to warm your feet up as you anxiously wait to see the greatest natural show that paints the skies with different colors.
4. Tromso, Norway
Located 70° north of the Auroral oval, Tromso is the largest city in Northern Norway and also one of the easily accessible places in the area to chase the lights.
Due to its location near the Aurora oval and being surrounded by fjords, mountains, and islands, there are chances of seeing the northern lights even right in the center of the town in cases when the Auroras are really strong. But if you go further away from the town where there is less light pollution, the chances of spotting the magnificent display of lights will increase.
The best spot to witness the northern lights is at the top of the nearby mountain which can be accessed by Fjellheisen cable car.
Whilst the major reason to go to Tromso is to see the northern lights, you can also participate in other activities like visiting the Polar Bear museum, reindeer farms, snowmobile tours.
And if you travel to Tromso in January, don’t miss to attend the annual Northern Lights Festival – where tourists come together with the locals to enjoy live music and other fun outdoor activities.
5. Svalbard, Norway
Situated right in the middle of the Arctic ocean is a collection of islands called Svalbard. Being the northernmost inhabited place in Europe with almost no daylight during the polar night period, the chances of seeing the northern lights are almost guaranteed if you spend a couple of days in the area.
And on top of that, Svalbard even offers a chance of seeing Aurora borealis during the day due to the polar bears if you visit between the months of November and February.
But before you head to Svalbard to enjoy the phenomenon wonder of natural lights, you should know that during the Polar night period, the place is dark for almost 24 hours a day which means that there will be limited activities to participate in.
So if your trip has only Aurora borealis, then the best place to see the northern lights in Europe is Svalbard in Norway but if you want to do other activities, then you might want to consider other places on the list.
6. Rovaniemi, Finland
Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland in northern Finland. It is not only the official home town of Santa Claus but also a great destination in Europe to see the northern lights.
And what’s even great about visiting Rovaniemi is that it’s possible to see the lights within and around the city – but for stronger lights, it’s better to move away from the city where light pollution is minimal.
Some of the great spots in Rovaniemi to watch the northern lights include the Arctic Garden which is just behind the Arkikum museum – a major tourist spot, at the top of Ounasvaara fell which is a picturesque hilltop and Syvasenvaara Fell which is commonly known as the Santa park.
With over 150 nights of the Aurora appearing in Rovaniemi during the long cold winters and cold temperatures in Autumn, chances of seeing the magnificent northern lights are high.
7. Ilulissat, Greenland
Located on the western coast, Ilulissat is the third-largest city in Greenland – and with just around 5000 inhabitants, you get to enjoy the northern lights without the crowds as you take in all the nature the city has to offer.
Though there are many options to see the dancing lights on the sky in Greenland, Ilulissat is the perfect place to go. It is the most popular tourist destination in the country due to the massive Ilulissat Icefjord that was named a Unesco world heritage site in 2004.
If the Ilulissat Icefjord has also been on your bucket list for so long, then visit Ilulissat in either Autumn or winter to experience both these incredible wonders at once.
For an even better experience, you can join tours in your quest to chasing the northern lights as the tour guides always know the best spots to start with.
8. Shetland, Scotland
Though Scotland might not be the first place that comes to any northern lights chaser’s mind, for people who want to enjoy this magical wonder of colors without leaving the British isle, Shetland in Scotland is your best bet since it is the closest to the North pole.
The shetland archipelago is a collection of over 100 islands located near the North pole compared to any other place in the British isle, with cold dark winters and clear skies making it one of the best places to see the northern lights in Europe.
Since the northern lights can’t be guaranteed, make sure to plan other activities as you head to shetland so that in case the curtain of lights don’t cover the sky, you still have something else to do.
Other than the northern lights, you can visit some of the archeological sites and if you happen to visit between January and March, don’t miss out on one of the fun fire festivals in Shetland.
9. Inari, Finland
Inari is located right under the Auroral zone and close to the north magnetic pole making it a perfect destination to see the northern lights in Europe.
Even though there is no certainty on when the northern lights will show up, the Finnish Meteorological institute states that the dazzling dancing lights appear on the skies of Inari 3 nights out of 4 – this means that the probability of witnessing this natural wonder is high if you travel to Inari in Finland.
Watching the northern lights at the frozen lake of Inari adds to the beauty of the sight creating a perfect backdrop of the curtain rays of light. The best time to watch the northern lights in Lapland is between the months of September and March.
Inari is not just about watching the northern lights, you can also participate in other activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and skiing – the winter activities you can do in Inari are almost endless.
10. Murmansk, Russia
Another destination that is always overlooked when it comes to chasing the Aurora borealis is Murmansk in Northwest of Russia just next to Finland. With a population of 300,000 people, Murmansk is the world’s largest city beyond the Arctic circle.
The other reason to choose Murmansk to see the northern lights is that it is fairly cheap compared to other destinations like Norway, Sweden or Finland – this means that you get to enjoy one of the best natural phenomena on a budget.
The best time to catch the lighting glory in Murmansk is between November and February which is Russia’s winter season when it’s dark, cold and with clear skies. To even further your chances of gazing at the splendid lights, head to the small village of Teriberka – you can either do it on your own or book a guided tour.
Other things to do in Murmansk aside from chasing the northern lights include; visiting the first-ever atomic-powered icebreaker at the port of Murmansk which is now a museum after being decommissioned and trekking up to the Alyosha Monument to catch a beautiful sunset over the city.
If you were wondering where you can see the northern lights in Europe, I hope this post gave a number of alternatives to consider depending on where you’re traveling from. Have you ever chased for northern lights in any of these places? Lucky you – but don’t forget to share your experiences with me in the comment section.
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