The northern lights — or the aurora borealis — are one of the most incredible natural phenomena in the world. Caused when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, the sky erupts into a rainbow of color. Sky chasers hunt down the inky green, yellow and pink glow, attempting to photograph its unnerving beauty. But the incredible sight is simply more magnificent in person than captured on film.
To experience the magic for yourself, one must brave the extreme Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere. The exact timing varies by location, but they generally can be seen between September and March, so you’ll need to bundle up for this winter adventure. Click through to find the best places to see the northern lights.
The Yukon Territory, Canada
The Yukon Territory, in the northern reaches of Canada, is blessed with pristine northern lights viewing from August through April. The best place to catch the show is the Northern Lights Resort and Spa in Whitehorse.
Rooms at the bed and breakfast start at $250 per night Sept. 1 to Oct. 31, but all-inclusive packages can run all the way up to $2,650 per person for an eight-day stay. Consider it a life-changing trip that’s worth the cost.
The ultimate Arctic escape dedicated to the wonder, the hotel offers a number of aurora packages and photo tours. Watch the neon sky from the comfort of the outdoor Jacuzzi, from the back of a dog sled or trekking through the wilderness in snowshoes. Don’t have your own camera equipment? The hotel offers DSLR cameras and tripods for rent by the day.
There are plenty of must-visit destinations in Alaska, and Fairbanks is one of them. Fairbanks is perfectly positioned under the “auroral oval,” where the northern lights are visible. A major tourist attraction from Aug. 21 until April 21, you can see them by dog sled, on a Sno-Cat or even flightseeing in the sky.
You can find specially designated cabins called “auroriums,” created to view the lights from an idyllic heated lodge. Or, Aurora Borealis Lodge offers rooms and chalets with a view — rates start at $189 per night.
September through the beginning of April is northern lights season in Greenland. The country is particularly fascinating for seeing the sky as the Inuit people have many legends surrounding the phenomenon’s origins.
You can experience the Auroras from just about everywhere in the country, but you can opt to camp at the incredible Russell Glacier, where the immense ice cap will be front and center in your photos. A three-day tour through Greenland Tours costs about $650.
Camping in the States? 25 Best Low-Cost Camping Spots in America
This colorful fishing village beneath the auroral oval is one of Europe’s best northern lights destinations between late September and late March.
Make your base at Svinøya Rorbuer, which has traditional Norwegian cabins framed by the ocean and the mountains. The property offers guided northern lights tours and photo lessons, but you can also explore the area by horse, kayak and snowshoe on your own.
Rates start at $153 per night. But if you don’t want to visit Lofoten, there other destinations in Norway where you can see this amazing sight.
If you’re wondering where to see the northern lights, Lapland is famous for its viewings, which are available over 200 nights a year from late August through mid-April.
Santa’s Hotel Aurora offers lavishly appointed glass igloos with the touches you’d expect from a luxury hotel, plus photogenic charm. Igloos rent for $428 per night, while standard hotel rooms start at just $104. And if you think these igloos are unusual, check out these unique hotels you probably didn’t know existed.
Home to the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park, you have a good chance of seeing the northern lights between November and March thanks to special cameras, radio receivers and near-perfect weather conditions. In fact, Abisko is blessed with more clear nights than virtually any other destination in the auroral oval.
You can stay nearby at Abisko Mountain Lodge, with single rooms starting at $122. If you want to visit more national parks like the Abisko National Park, consider one of these breathtaking national parks around the world.
If you’re keen on coupling a northern lights trip with a city getaway, consider venturing to Anchorage. The northern lights are best experienced from September to April.
Alaska Photo Treks can help you capture the auroras’ beauty. They’ll take you through a variety of mountain, rainforest and coastal backdrops until the brilliant colors are in full view.
Post up at the landmark Anchorage Hotel — it’s one of America’s most historic sites, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rooms run about $235 per night.
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir is a popular place to see the northern lights, and you’ll want to come when the skies are the darkest and clearest between September and April.
You can camp right at the National Park and World Heritage site for as little as $13 per night. But bundle up because winter in Iceland is no joke.
If you’re looking for a day trip, go see the inside of nearby dormant Thrihnukagigur Volcano, and take the six-minute elevator into its magma chamber.
If you want to plan the ultimate northern lights trip, the famous Finnish igloos at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort should be at the top of your bucket list. Available from the end of August until the end of April, the modern glass domes or hybrid cabin-igloos are a way to cozy up in style.
But the real ice homes will test your tolerance for cold. You’ll be provided a down sleeping bag, but be aware: The temperature inside runs from 21 to 26 degrees Fahrenheit, with everything made of snow. Small glass igloos start at $475 per night, while snow igloos start at $440 per night.
Hotel Arctic’s igloos are a bit modern and even include WiFi access. Made of sturdy aluminum, they’re stationed at the edge of a UNESCO-World Heritage listed Ilulissat Icefjord.
For $429 a night, you can sleep under the stars from May through October, which overlaps a bit with Greenland’s northern lights season, which is September through April.
In Manitoba, Churchill offers a northern lights experience like none other — the most brilliant displays can be seen January through March. Churchill Hotel sets up the Aurora Domes, or heated plexiglass bubbles, from which viewers can watch the magical sky.
Churchill Wild offers an even more unique sky-chasing experience coupled with a polar bear safari. You’ll be flown to one of their remote eco lodges to truly get one-on-one with nature. Prices start at $7,986 for the seven-day all-inclusive adventure.
Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Scotland shares the same latitude as Norway and Alaska, making it a great place to see the northern lights. Whimsically named “Mirrie Dancers” in the Highlands, the ladies come out to perform in autumn and winter.
The national park is one of the best places to catch the show, as the region is home to five of the U.K.’s six highest mountains, with a total of 55 peaks scattered among sprawling forests of ancient trees. Watch the free-grazing reindeer, and visit the 13th-century castle set atop an island.
Cozy up at the Dulaig B&B, which received an AA Guest Accommodation of the Year award for 2016. Rooms start at just $106 per night.
If you’re wondering where the best place to see the northern lights is, Tromsø is home to the Northern Lights Festival, which pairs top musical acts with the incredible outdoor show. A feast for all the senses, prime viewing happens September through April, when you can see the phenomenon on land or on the water.
Cozy up at the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel, which has a variety of standard hotel accommodations, sea houses and cottages. Single rooms start at $139 per night.
This settlement in Western Iceland has a fun claim to fame: heated bubbles. The 5 Million Star Hotel offers several bubble lodges that look like grounded UFOs, making Iceland’s stark landscape all the more otherworldly.
Plan your visit September through March for the best chance at seeing colors dance through the sky. Rates are about $270 per night, but there is a long wait list.
There are actually two aurora seasons in the Northwest Territories: autumn (when the land and lakes are still balmy warm) and winter (when the land and lakes are frozen tundras). You can watch the lights from the intimate Aurora Village, an Aboriginal-style tepee village filled with tents, wood stoves and viewing platforms designed to maximize your comfort.
The village offers add-on tours like dog sledding, ice fishing and snowshoeing. A nightly teepee rental will set you back about $95 per night.