Who doesn’t want to see those glimmering ribbons of green, purple, blue and gold at least one time in their lives? If you’re ready to plan a trip to see this amazing phenomenon, you’re probably wondering about the best time to see Northern Lights and where you should go to get the best view. We’d love to tell you all about it so you can plan the right trip, but first: a quick science lesson.
Get to Know Where and When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights
What Are the Northern Lights?
First and foremost, the Northern Lights are not alone in their existence. Auroras, or the shining curtains of color that hang in the sky, are also present in the far southern regions of the world as well.
The celestial phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) or Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) occurs in high-latitude regions, where the Earth’s magnetic field is weaker and allows radiation through in higher doses. This radiation knocks into electrons in the Earth’s atmosphere, increasing their energy state and causing them to release photons, which are light particles. Voila! A once in a lifetime experience for your viewing pleasure.
The lights do sometimes come as far south as Oregon or California on the West Coast of the United States, or Virginia on the East Coast. Typically, however, they aren’t as strong here, and in any case, it’s so rare you cannot plan for it. Because of this, the Northern Lights are an event best viewed in the northernmost reaches of the globe.
Where to See the Northern Lights in the Northern Hemisphere
— Wolf Paunic (@Exluppo) December 13, 2017
There are several amazing places to see the Aurora Borealis. These include:
In all of these places, the Northern Lights are common enough that you can safely plan a trip and expect to see them. Because they vary widely, you can pick your trip based on the other factors you’re hoping to enjoy: food, culture, hotels and resorts, outdoor sports such as skiing or snowboarding, and anything else that to you makes for the best trip.
You can also take into account where you live, and save on your travel expenses that way. For instance, if you live on the West Coast of North America, you’ll be closest to the lights in Western Canada and Alaska. East Coast dwellers find Greenland and Europe very accessible. Again, though, you should plan your trip mainly on the basis of what else you want to see besides the lights.
The Best Time to See Northern Lights
“The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is Sep-April when night’s are darkest. Although some may argue Nov-Feb, these months can have the worst weather with lots of rain and snow.”
— Recline (@Reclineio) December 12, 2017
The Northern Lights are mostly a cold-weather phenomenon. There’s a strong chance of seeing them anytime between September and April, but the most reliable months are December through February in most places, when winter is at its deepest.
They show clearly at night, and are most noticeable between the hours of 5 p.m. and 2 a.m., and are best seen in remote locations where lights from cities don’t compete. Within cities or even brightly lit towns, you may not be able to see them at all, so plan to escape to a hotel or bed and breakfast in the country for a reliable viewing experience.
Sightseeing Options Commonly Combined with Northern Lights
Of course, you’re not going to travel all that way just for the Northern Lights, no matter how spectacular they might be. Other events travelers commonly choose to experience this magical time of year include:
- Whale migration sightings
- Holiday festivals or decorations in quaint little towns
- Geysers and volcanos in destinations such as Iceland
- Glacier tours in Greenland
- Sailing the fjords of Norway
- Dog sledding in Alaska and Canada
- Stays at tree hotels in Sweden
… and so much more. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to bring a LOT of cold-weather gear with you. It’s not enough simply to bring gloves and a wool coat. The best viewing areas for Northern Lights are extremely cold, necessitating parkas and snow pants, sturdy boots and thick gloves, as well as hats and thick undergarments. Don’t come underprepared, or you likely won’t enjoy the experience as much as you should.
Watch this video from Maciej Winiarczyk and enjoy the beauty of nature:
On a final note, the Northern Lights can be difficult to capture accurately on film or digitally, so check out this quick tutorial on the best ways to get a good shot. Other than that, it’s time to jet set and enjoy magnificent viewing!
Now that you know where and when the best time to see northern lights is, when will you see it?