Known as ‘the greatest show on Earth’, the northern lights have dazzled humans for millennia and, even today, NASA are mystified by these strange, celestial lights. Inspired by Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, it was Galileo who coined the name ‘aurora borealis’. And, more than 400 years on, we’re still just as fascinated by the northern lights.

Seeing these cascading curtains of light dancing across the sky as they shape-shift, surge, and fade is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience – which is why it’s at the top of most UK travellers’ bucket lists. Part of the reason the lights are so special is due to their unpredictability, and seeing them depends on factors including time, geography, weather, and light pollution.

However, if you want to catch a glimpse of the lights, there are some destinations where you’re much more likely to have success. While these are, obviously, all in the northern hemisphere, each place has something unique to offer – and because seeing the aurora borealis can’t be guaranteed, each destination has enough going for it to keep you busy, even if the lights don’t make an appearance.

Between 2024 and 2025, increased solar activity means the lights will be brighter, more intense, and more frequent than they’ve been for the past eleven years, so if there’s ever a time to chase the aurora borealis, it’s now!

From Swedish and Finnish Lapland to the most northerly tips of the Scottish Isles, here are the 10 best places to witness nature’s greatest light show.

1. Tromsø, Norway

Tromsø, Norway

Tromsø is northern Norway’s largest city, and its remote location – surrounded by icy fjords and snow-capped mountains in the heart of the aurora zone – means that it’s considered one of the best places in the world to spot the lights. From September to April (the dark season), your chances of seeing the lights here are high, as both cloud cover and light pollution are at a minimum.

Another perk to chasing the lights in Tromsø is how easy it is to get to. It might be above the Arctic Circle but flights from London take just three-and-a-half hours – and once you get here, there’s lots to do. Popular activities include snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, whale-watching, and sleigh rides, while the city itself is vibrant and buzzing, with more pubs per capita than anywhere else in Norway.

2. Iceland

Iceland

Located at about 65 degrees north, Iceland in general is a great destination for aurora seekers, and most visitors base themselves in the capital, Reykjavik. Packed with culture and history, as well as geothermal pools and excellent volcano tours, Reykjavik will keep you entertained if the lights are feeling shy – but the nightly northern lights tours from the city have a high success rate.

If you’re happy to travel outside the capital, the more northerly city of Akureyri enjoys clearer skies and less light pollution, so your chances of witnessing the lights are boosted here. Or, if you’d like to watch the lights in cinematic surroundings, why not head to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? Seeing the lights shimmer over towering icebergs is an otherworldly experience.

3. Shetland Islands, Scotland

Shetland Islands, Scotland

You don’t have to leave our shores to spot the northern lights – and because the solar cycle will peak between 2024 and 2025, sightings of the aurora have become much more common in the UK; you can even glimpse them in England! However, as Britain’s most northern outpost, visiting the remote, staggeringly beautiful Shetland Islands will maximise your chances of witnessing the lights.

In a country that’s been largely tamed, these islands remain wild, rugged, and wonderfully unspoiled. Plus, their proximity to Norway means the islands are sprinkled with Scandinavian traditions (the locals even have a Scandi lilt to their accent!). From hiking to wildlife watching, there’s lots to do, which will soften the disappointment if you don’t catch the ‘Mirrie dancers’, as the lights are known locally.

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4. Yukon, Canada

Yukon, Canada

In the far northwest of Canada is Yukon Territory, a remote wilderness that’s known for its stunning mountain scenery. And while your best chances of seeing the northern lights here are in December, the lights swirl across the sky from late August to April, which is an unusually long period. However, because the Yukon is so vast and wild, you might want to join a lights tour rather than try to see them independently.

If you do want to chase the lights by yourself, you’ve got a good shot as long as you’re somewhere dark. The lights are seen pretty frequently just 20 minutes outside the province’s capital, Whitehorse, although Klondike, Campbell, Kluane and Watson Lake are great for glimpsing the lights too. In your free time, you can go hiking, visit glaciers and alpine lakes, spot bears, and learn about the gold rush.

5. Finnish Lapland

Finnish Lapland

In Finland, legend has it that the northern lights were created by an Arctic fox running through the snow so fast that it sent sparks flying into the sky. The lights are called revontulet – ‘fox fires’ – and today Finnish Lapland remains one of the most popular places to see the aurora borealis. Because Lapland is located above the Arctic Circle, you can see the lights throughout the entire region.

The city of Rovaniemi is the most popular destination with tourists, as not only does it have its own airport, but it’s bursting with festive fun (it’s the home of Santa Claus Village and Santa Park!). However, wherever you go in Lapland, you’re pretty much guaranteed a snowy, outdoorsy adventure: why not go snowshoe trekking, husky sledding, cross-country skiing, or ice fishing?

6. Alaska, USA

Alaska, USA

Thanks to the lack of light pollution across this wild and bleakly beautiful part of the world, Alaska is one of the best places on Earth to see the aurora borealis. While the lights can be seen anywhere in the state, they’re most visible in areas known for clear, dark skies, like the interior and Arctic regions. However, the lights are still often seen from cities – though you’ll get better views on the outskirts.

The best time to chase the lights in Alaska is between August and April, but the lights dance across the skies throughout the year – and because you don’t need to travel in the depths of winter, you’re better able to explore one of the world’s last frontiers. Cruise along the Inside Passage, marvel at the beauty of Glacier Bay National Park, go whale-watching in Juneau, and step back in time in historic Skagway.

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7. Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Another UK destination makes the list – this time, it’s Scotland’s gorgeous Outer Hebrides. Located off the west coast of Scotland, these remote islands are scattered like stepping stones across the churning Atlantic, and the dark skies here mean it’s a real hotspot for the lights. The northernmost islands of Harris and Lewis (coincidentally the main islands) are the best places to catch the lights.

Unlike other destinations, there’s a real element of fortune to seeing the lights here, and sometimes you only have to look out the window on a dark, clear night to be dazzled. If the lights are shy during your visit, fear not, because there’s plenty here to inspire: lunar-like landscapes, mysterious standing stones, wild mountains, white sand beaches, crystalline blue waters, and a fascinating Gaelic culture.

8. Greenland

Greenland

Greenland might be one of the least-visited destinations on this list, but it’s absolutely one of the best places on the planet to see the northern lights – especially if you want to escape the crowds. As the most sparsely populated country in the world, light pollution is low, the dark skies are clear, and thanks to the lack of rain and low winds, the conditions are pretty much perfect for light chasers.

The glacier-capped town of Ilulissat might be Greenland’s third-largest settlement, but it’s still only home to 5,000 people. Ilulissat is located in the heart of Greenland’s aurora belt, so you have a great chance of seeing the lights here – as well as spotting humpback, fin and minke whales. And, if you feel daring, why not go Arctic caving?

9. Swedish Lapland

Swedish Lapland

Swedish Lapland is another verifiable winter wonderland, and there are several northern lights hotspots here. Located on the edge of the wild Abisko National Park – and right in the eye of the aurora oval – the village of Abisko has an exceptional record when it comes to seeing the lights. According to locals, if you stay for three nights, you have an 88% chance of spotting the aurora!

Getting to Abisko is trickier than other destinations with airports, but Kiruna airport has a daily bus service. Jukkasjarvi, just a hop and skip from Kiruna airport, is another aurora hotspot, and watching the lights flash above the frozen Torne River is a magical experience. The Luleå archipelago also often hosts the lights, and the scenery will take your breath away; plus, there are direct flights from the UK.

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10. Svalbard, Norway

Svalbard, Norway

If you really want to get away from it all – or feel like an intrepid explorer – why not head to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard? As the final frontier before the North Pole, it doesn’t get more remote or brutally beautiful than Svalbard. This is a place where there are more polar bears than people and the sun never rises above the horizon in winter – creating perfect conditions for the lights!

Even staying in the main settlement of Longyearbyen feels like a hardcore adventure, but when you strike out into the true wilderness here, you’ll feel like you’re at the ends of the Earth. The barren, treeless landscapes are perfect for snowmobiling and husky sledding, and taking a wildlife tour is pretty much essential. You can spot reindeer, Arctic foxes, walruses, and even the elusive polar bear.

Final thoughts…

Seeing the northern lights might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the prices don’t always need to reflect that.

While trips to remote destinations like Svalbard and Greenland don’t come cheap, you might be lucky enough to catch the lights from the most northerly corners of our shores. And because other destinations, like Iceland and Alaska, are some of the best places in the world to seek outdoor adventure, there’s plenty to keep you occupied, even if you’re not lucky enough to see the lights.

In some places, there’s a certain amount of serendipity involved in catching the aurora borealis, but if you time your visit right, your chances of seeing these ethereal lights will be boosted. With aurora activity set to peak over the next two years, now’s the time to make your dreams of witnessing the northern lights a reality!

To see when you might have the best chance of seeing the lights in the UK, head over to AuroraWatch.

Have you seen the Northern Lights? If so, where did you see them? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.