Planning Trips To See The Northern Lights Isn’t Always Easy!
Whether you are looking for northern lights tours in Canada or Norway, there are a few places that are considered to be the best places to see northern lights. Sometimes referred to by their scientific name (the aurora borealis), we usually know them as the northern lights – nature’s most beautiful light show! True Fact: you can see the lights in the southern hemisphere as well – they are called the “Southern Lights” and seen in parts of Chile, New Zealand, and Australia!
Eric has been lucky to see the northern lights in a few places now: northern Ontario in Canada, Scotland, and even from a plane flying over Iceland! While spectacular to watch, they can be tough to find/get to and even tougher to enjoy if you are doing it all on your own. That’s why doing a trip to see the northern lights can be a good investment. There are quite a few different ways you can do that.
If you are pressed for time, a day trip from Tromsø, Norway or Reykjavik, Iceland can be a quick and easy way to see the lights in only a few hours. If you are looking for a cruise or a vacation package, you might find a multi-tour northern lights tour to be to more your style! Often, however, northern lights trips are not cheap. That said, here are six countries that are great for seeing the northern lights – and a few trip ideas to get you planning!
Best Time to Go on a Trip to See the Northern Lights
Because of the way the lights work (charged particles in the atmosphere) and the location on the Earth where they are best viewed (near the poles), the winter months from November to March are the best time to see the lights. You CAN see the lights in the summer months and at lower latitudes but it is far more rare.
Seeing the northern lights is more about how dark the sky is and NOT about it having to be cold. This is a common misconception. It just so happens that the best circumstances for darkness/earth angle in the northern countries near the poles are during the winter months. Lucky you!
Things To Consider When Planning To See The Northern Lights
Before you head off to see the lights, you need to remember that it takes effort to see the northern lights. Unless you live in one of the best countries for viewing already, you can’t just wake up and head out to see the lights easily. Trip planning is a must-do for you to have the best experience for your timelines, taste, and budget!
The northern lights tour industries have exploded in recent years for a variety of reasons (social media) that we won’t dive into right now. That said, this means that you get to choose the type of tour, activities, and locations that works best for you. Trips can be as “off-the-beaten-path” or as comfortable as you want it to be. It’s your experience, after all!
As for trip length, northern lights adventures can range from a few hours driving out into the darkness on a nice, warm bus to multi-day adventure tours where you camp in the snow. Trip lengths also depend on where your tour is starting from and ending at.
In general, seeing the northern lights can be expensive. This is because they are a hot attraction in many areas and it takes effort/more transportation to get up to where you can see them (eg. flights to the Yukon of Canada). The price is worth it for the experience, though.
When booking a trip or tour, be sure to check what is included in the base price – usually this includes on-tour transportation and the guide (for day trips), and accommodations a few meals (for multi-day trips). It’s very likely that you will be covering the costs for flights to and from the start/end points, travel insurance, and any additional excursions/activities that are optional while out on tour.
On a multi-day trip, the biggest thing that usually makes the trip expensive or not is the accommodations. Different accommodation styles will cost differently. Sleeping on mats in a warm cabin is very different from a hotel up in the northern cities, for example, but both are possible!
If you are heading out on a day trip or extended tour to see the northern lights, the risks are usually pretty minimal. Guides know their stuff, tours are well laid-out, and companies don’t take unnecessary risks when it comes to weather and changing conditions. Of course, there are always risks involved with travelling in the winter.
The biggest risk to you is probably the cold weather making your experience not enjoyable. This is usually, however, because you don’t have the right gear/clothing for the adventure. We cover what to pack in the next section if you are worried about not being warm enough.
Other risks aren’t actually related to the viewing itself but the other activities you might do like hiking out onto a glacier or riding a snowmobile. In the end, if you listen to your guide’s instructions and use common sense, you will have a fun, safe, and enjoyable trip out to see the lights wherever you are!
Things To Pack For A Trip To See The Northern Lights
As a a general rule, the northern lights are experienced during the cold winter months. As such, you should definitely plan to pack warm clothing. Some trips might even outline what they require you to pack or suggest what you should wear so that you are both warm and comfortable while you gaze at the sky.
Sometimes, tours will provide you with gear like parkas and blankets but always check before to see what is expected for you to bring with you/what you should be wearing. If you are going to be doing walking/hiking, a good hiking boot is probably a good idea. We both have warm parkas but we couldn’t find the exact ones because they are both older models. Here are similar women’s parkas and similar men’s parkas as a good place to start.
If you are heading to parts of Europe on an extended trip, you might be interested in reading about our packing list for Europe. We cover winter gear in it since we travel Europe (and live here) during all seasons.
Best Places To See The Northern Lights – Trip Ideas
Okay, now it’s time to list off the best places around the world to see the northern lights. Keep in mind that this list isn’t comprehensive. We don’t mention them here but you CAN also see the northern lights in Greenland, parts of northern Scotland, and Russia, for example. That said, these locations below are some of best/most popular!
One of the most popular countries to see the northern lights is Finland – specifically up in Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region. In fact, visiting the Lapland is on our experiences of a lifetime list! This region borders Sweden, Norway, and Russia on all sides so you can imagine how north it is. Northern lights tourism in Finland happens from November through March so you have to dress warmly.
Most northern lights tourism runs through Rovaniemi, the wintery capital city of Lapland. This northern city is also the “official home” of Santa Claus! That said, you can find tours that start from Helsinki and take you up to the Lapland but the bus ride can be super long to get up there!
Northern Lights Trips in Finland
As for shorter night excursions, we definitely think that a Rovaniemi ice floating experience would be awesome. Floating in the cold water yet staying warm and getting to look up at the nights must be just unreal. That, or a short trip that includes a private sleigh tour to the middle of a dark lake where there is no light pollution would be an experience even if the lights don’t show!
If we wanted to really explore the region, we’d do a multi-day adventure into the Lapland from Helsinki. This way, we get to try other things like ice fishing, snowmobiling, and other fun winter activities!
It’s no secret that Iceland’s tourism industry has increased in recent years. Being a respectful tourist and planing a trip to Iceland is something we have written about before! That said, word got out that Iceland is a great destination to see the northern lights and everyone started flocking there. Iceland is also more accessible now with stopover flights from North America – making the lights slightly easier to see if you go at the right time of year.
As for seeing the lights, Icelandic weather can be a real pain in the butt. Even if you travel in the “northern light season” from late August to April there is no guarantee to see lights. The Icelandic Golden Circle Tour is also popular – and depending on the time of year/how far you are out of the main city you MIGHT be able to see the northern lights. If you are staying over, read our guide on where to stay in Reykjavik.
Northern Lights Trips in Iceland
The northern lights tourism industry is really built-up now so, as an adventurer, you have your pick of the tours and trips that suit your style and timeline while in Iceland. You can easily do a classic minibus excursion from Reykjavik to see the northern lights over the course of a few hours.
Some shorter tours even provide you with Northern lights bus transportation and hot chocolate! The nice thing about this tour is that if you do not see the lights, you will have the chance to re-book and go for free with the company on another night! If you wanted to hop on a multi-day northern lights tour of Iceland’s south coast, this is a great way to see more of Iceland’s natural beauty on the ground while searching for those beautiful lights in the sky!
If you want northern lights, you should definitely consider Canada. If you heading to Canada for the first time, you should know that it’s cold during the winter months. However, the northern parts of the country (once you get up there) boast some of the best places in the world to view the northern lights.
There is plenty of Canada sightseeing to be done, but the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory have the northern lights, the cleanest air, purest land, and some of the best adventures. The best time to visit Canada for lights would be from October to March – but BOY is it cold up there.
Northern Lights Trips in Canada
The thing about the northern lights in Canada is that you usually have to travel to remote towns/cities to best view them. They can be viewed at lower latitudes, but not often. You can’t really do a day trip to see the lights since most of the northern light trips start/end way up in the Yukon or Northwest Territories.
If you wanted to head to the Yukon Territory, there are great multi-day tours from Whitehorse, the capital city. Another option is going on a multi-day tour from Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. You can see the northern lights from Churchill, Manitoba (where you also see a ton of polar bears!), but we think the coolest option would be a northern lights tour from Vancouver. This option seems like the most accessible trip option from any major Canadian city in the south!
Along with Finland and Iceland, Norway might be the most famous place people think of when it comes to seeing the northern lights. Like those other Nordic countries, Norway reaches very high up into the northern hemisphere – meaning there are plenty of great cities/towns to view the lights.
Because of the popularity, there are lots of options for trips – both multi-day or for just a few hours during the night. However, you will still need to travel at the right time – October through March. If you are in a city like the capital, Oslo, you will have to head more north on a multi-day trip to see the lights. (You should spend a night in Oslo, though – it’s a great city!) If you are already in a northern city like Tromsø, then you could go out on a short trip and see the lights pretty easily!
Northern Lights Trips in Norway
Since the light are so popular in the northern regions of Norway, there are lots of tours and trips to choose from. You could head out on a 7-hour nighttime tour from Tromsø to be brought into the dark and beautiful landscape with a warm snowsuit rental included in the price to keep you warm!
If you wanted to go out for a little bit longer, you might consider a multi-day Norway northern lights train tour that starts in Oslo and heads more north to end in Tromsø . Taking the train through the Norwegian landscape along the coast would be a dream come true for Lisa since she loves train rides!
United States – Alaska
The best (and pretty much only) place to see the northern lights in the United States is up in the northernmost state of Alaska. Luckily, Alaska is easy to get to by flight from the mainland US or even fly/drive to from parts of Canada. The capital city is Juneau, but a great deal of the northern lights tourism is based out of Anchorage.
Northern Lights Trips in Alaska
Since Alaska is a massive state that isn’t super easy to traverse the higher you go north, a multi-day snowy adventure is really the best/only option to see the northern lights in Alaska. If this interests you, you can check here for a multi-day Alaskan adventure trip!
Northern lights tourism in Sweden is certainly well-known but not as built up relative to Norway and Finland. That said, there are still plenty of amazing and remote places to get out into the Swedish countryside and see the northern lights. Abisko National Park is a popular area to see the lights and many tours/trips start and end around this region. As with most places in this region, the best season for lights is the winter months.
Northern Lights Trips in Sweden
You can definitely see the northern lights in northern Sweden, and you can also visit Sweden as part of a multi-day trip through Northern Scandinavia to experience the lights. We think that this would be an awesome way to see more than one country and experience a few different cities, towns, and cultures along the way.
And there you have it – some of the best trips and adventures to go and see the northern lights! Seeing the northern lights takes effort – whether time spend travelling, time off work, money spend, or energy used to get to where you can view them. The pay-off, however, is totally worth it. Seeing the northern lights is a mesmerizing experience and we hope that you get to see them one day, too. If you book a trip, let us know where you went and how it went. We would love to hear it!
As always, Happy Northern Lights Waddlin’,