Humans have been fascinated with this aerial phenomenon since biblical times. The Northern Lights (also called the Aurora Borealis) figure in legends, folklore, and superstition from many different cultures and countries in the northern hemisphere. Ancient Babylonian writings on stone tablets depict a possible sighting as early as the year 567 BC.
And though there is some debate as to the first official recording of the Aurora Borealis, there is no doubt that early civilizations were just as fascinated by the phenomenon as we are today.
You can actually see the Northern Lights from many destinations. Probably more than you think. In general they are the most brilliant on either side of deep winter (November, December, and February, March) and the farther north you go, the better. Technically the lights are in the sky all year round, but only visible to the naked eye in winter.
Our favorite Destinations for Northern Lights
Abisko National Park – The little outpost of Abisko is about as far north as you can get in Sweden, and in recent years it’s become a real mecca for aurora spotters.
Sodankylä – This is the location of the historical landmark, Finland’s National Observatory of Northern Lights. Therefore a pretty great place for viewing!
Nellim – on the banks of the Inari, Finland largest lake, this small town is a bit south for prime viewing, but the views across the lake are extraordinary. It’s also very close to the border with Russia.
Utsjoki – The northernmost town in Finland, on the border with Norway, this is a classic Northern Lights viewing area
Tromso – Known as the “capital of the arctic” and 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Tromso is an ideal viewing area for the Northern Lights. Many arctic activities are available in the area, making it a great all-around winter holiday.
Lakselv – Home to many national parks where you can observe rare plants and animals native to Finland, Lakselv is the perfect place to visit for nature lovers. The expansive natural areas make it great for viewing the lights as the interference of artificial light is extremely minimal.
Svalbard between mid November and January, you will get to experience the famous “Polar Night”.
Kulusuk – This island off the east coast of Greenland brings you up close and personal to the frigid temperatures of the arctic, but also presents one of the clearest views of the aurora.
Ilulissat – For the truly adventurous, you can take a trip via dogsled to an eery Icefjord landscape.
Kangerlussuaq – This inland area of Greenland boasts 300 clear nights a year. The perfect conditions for viewing the night skies lit up with the Aurora. It’s also a great place to come for photographing the lights against the beautiful Russell Glacier.
Nome – The official home of the iditarod race, Nome offers expansive snowy landscapes for viewing the lights. And if you happen to be there during the iditarod, nothing could beat observing this most ancient mode of travel under a sky lit up with the aurora.
Denali – Stunning Denali National Park offers wonderful viewing opportunities. Staying right in the park is the best way to go.
Barrow – This very small town in far north Alaska, in fact north of the Arctic Circle, is great if you’re interested in learning about local Inuit cultures. You can also try your own hand at dog sledding under the night skies as the aurora comes into view.
As it was getting dark, the aurora gradually appeared, though it was dim and overshone by the bright stars. The aurora in bud looked pearl white, and slowly grew stronger concentrating its power to blossom. Later, it became slightly glowing bands of light, still static and stationary. As the lights built in intensity, the darkened color turned to green while the lights started to move and transform. When the activity grew to a greater level, they split into ribbons, floating around. In minutes, the ribbons gathered like crimson silk curtains hung vertically in the sky. The lights danced like curtains swinging in a light wind.
JIE JI, “Deep into the North, in Search of Aurora”, Boston University News Service, March 24, 2016