What are the Northern Lights?
The Aurora Borealis is named after the Roman goddess of the sunrise. It appears when highly-charged electrons from solar winds collide with different atmospheric elements in the ring surrounding the North Pole.
When is the best time to travel to see them?
When exactly these magic solar winds will appear we cannot predict with any real certainty (get the latest on the Aurora forecast). But we can suggest some of the best viewing spots for seeing the Northern Lights, and offer some alternative activities for when they don’t show up.
Where are the best places to see the Northern Lights?
1. Ivalo, Finland
Light-gaze from the comfort of your own glass igloo, or stay in a traditional log cabin complete with sauna and open fire. The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, in Finnish Lapland, is one of the coolest places to stay in the world.
There are loads of snowy activities nearby, too, if the Lights are a no-show. Head out on a reindeer safari, or rent walking skis and explore the neighbouring Urho Kekkonen National Park. There are no direct flights to Ivalo from Ireland, but there are indirect flights, via Helsinki, from Dublin.
2. Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
You’ll find the country’s first ice hotel in the Kiruna region of Sweden in the village of Jukkasjärvi, known as Jukkas. See the Northern Lights on a night flight operating from Jukkas, or at ground level. Take a tour of the Esrange Space Center and appreciate Sweden’s starry skies, or try your hand at snowmobiling if the lights don’t play ball. There are indirect flights from Dublin to Kiruna via Stockholm.
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3. Reykjavik, Iceland
One of the most accessible places in Europe to see the Northern Lights, Reykjavik’s popularity with Aurora hunters continues to grow. Aside from the light show, there’s plenty to do. Take a dip in the steamy Blue Lagoon, go snowmobiling and skiing, and be amazed by some of the world’s most powerful waterfalls. Or explore beyond Reykjavik to discover Iceland’s Game of Thrones filming locations.
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4. Northern Canada
Canada is one of the more reliable places to see the Northern lights. The ‘Aurora Oval’ blankets the majority of the country, including the provinces of British Columbia, Newfoundland, Northern Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Yukon.
Your chances of seeing the phenomenon here are high (given the right conditions) and once you have you can fill the rest of your holiday with other snowy activities, such as skiing. Zero in on prime viewing spots with Dark Sky Finder and Canadian Geographic’s map of aurora locations. There are flights to dozens different airports in Canada, many with awesome names such as Thunder Bay, Deer Lake and Yellowknife.
5. Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland
You don’t have to travel far to be within eyesight of the mystical Northern Lights. With scenic views and a lack of light pollution, the north coast of Ireland is ideal for seeing the Aurora Borealis – if conditions are right. Some absolutely incredible photos of nature’s most wondrous spectacle have been taken on the Inishowen Peninsula, near the most northerly tip of Donegal – Malin Head, Dunaff, Mamore Gap and Dunree are the best spots to catch a glimpse of the Lights.
With toasty pubs to warm your bones, jaw-dropping scenery and ancient sites to explore, you will find plenty to do if the Lights are a no-show. Make sure to sign up for Aurora alerts with Astronomy Ireland. Fly to Donegal airport, or rent a car from Derry or Belfast and drive to the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal.
6. Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard is about as high as you can get. The Norwegian archipelago, up between the 74th and 81st parallels, is well up into the Arctic – and generally the higher the latitude, the better your chances of spotting the Lights.
From November to February, your odds of witnessing the Northern Lights here are pretty darn good. However, the majority of visitors come for a different natural phenomenon: the Polar Night, night-time darkness that lasts for more than 24 hours. Svalbard is without daylight from mid-November to the end of January (a blue twilight being the lightest it gets) so your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis are really good.
If you decide to visit when there’s daylight, outside of the dark period, you’ll be much more likely to see walrus, reindeer and polar bears than the Lights. Fly from Ireland to Oslo, then onto Longyearbyen – the largest settlement on Svalbard and the logical base for exploring, with a selection of hotels.
6 best places to see the Northern Lights this winter
- Ivalo, Finland
- Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
- Reykjavik, Iceland
- Northern Canada
- Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland
- Svalbard, Norway
*Revised September 2019. Information correct at the time of publication but subject to change and/or availability.