The Northern Lights: What are they & where to see them

by | 11 Dec 2022

Witnessing the Northern Lights is the crown jewel experience in the world of skywatching. It’s one of the most enchanting phenomena on Earth, but what exactly are the Northern Lights? And where can you see them? We dive into the world of the aurora borealis and reveal the best places to see the show.


The Northern Lights, or the aurora borealis, are an extraordinary phenomenon where waves of green, yellow and purple lights dance across the sky. They may seem like something out of a fairytale, but science has a dazzling explanation for it.

The phenomenon happens when solar wind, or waves of energised particles from the sun, crashes into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. They slam into the atmosphere at speeds of up to 72 million kph. Luckily for us, the Earth’s magnetic field protects us and redirects the particles to the poles of the planet. There are southern lights too, in the southern hemisphere, called the aurora australis. The particles transform into a spectacular atmospheric show that fascinates all who witness it.

Read more: Sleep under the stars and watch the Northern Lights at this iconic hotel


The Northern Lights are most visible around the North Pole from October to April, when the skies are darkest. To see them, it’s crucial to have a very dark, open environment without any artificial light such as street lighting. The best places to lock eyes with the aurora are Scandinavia, Iceland and northern Canada. Although, extremely strong solar storms can lead to sightings in northern England and Scotland.

The lights are unpredictable and inconsistent but there are several weather forecasts that track the sightings and offer alerts for when strong aurora are predicted.

Read more: The Insight packing guide for chasing the Northern Lights


We look at some of the best destinations where you can see the magical Northern Lights.


Located 250km above the Arctic Circle, Ivalo is famed as the Gateway to the North and a fantastic place to spot the Northern Lights. When you travel here with Insight, we’ll spend the night at the Aurora Village, where you’ll stay in an iconic glass-roof cabin in the snowy wilderness. As you snuggle up in the comfort of your heated room, you’ll be able to gaze out at the night sky and maybe even spot the lights dancing right above you.

Experience it for yourself: Northern Lights of Scandinavia


After spending the day exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle, and the nearby hot springs at Geysir and the spectacular Gullfoss waterfalls, settle in Flúðir for a chance to see the night sky light up. We’ll stay at the Flúðir Icelandair Hotel, where you can even glimpse the aurora while soaking in the hot tub.

Experience it for yourself: Scenic Iceland and the Northern Lights


As the northernmost city in Norway, this is an excellent place to catch a sighting of the Northern Lights. We’ll drive along the Porsangerfjord, the fourth largest fjord in Norway, through the subsea Nordkapp Tunnel to the island of Magerøya. There we’ll reach our hotel for the night in Honningsvåg. You can spot the aurora from here, or make the 40-minute scenic drive to Nordkapp (North Cape), mainland Europe’s most northern point. You’ll sip bubbles and savour caviar as you keep your eyes peeled for the Northern Lights (and local wildlife) in this truly special location.

Experience it for yourself: Grand Scandinavia


We’ll take you through the breathtaking land of Iceland’s south coast on the ultimate aurora adventure. From the beautiful waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss to the majestic Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, there are plenty of awe-inspiring places where you could spot the Northern Lights. We’ll spend the night in the charming town of Vík, where you can spend your evening chasing the aurora.

Read more: The land of fire, ice and renewable energy – so how does Iceland do it?


The world’s first Northern Lights observatory was built in Alta in the late 19th-century, making this the perfect place to witness the aurora. It’s also home to the Northern Lights Cathedral and one of the world’s first ice hotels, where you can raise a glass and enjoy an icy beverage.

Experience it for yourself: Scandinavian Heritage


The best places to see the Northern Lights in Canada are destinations in the Northwest Territories, like Yukon, Yellowknife, and Whitehorse. Manitoba is a great place to spot the aurora while also catching a glimpse of some gorgeous polar bears. If you don’t want to travel too far north, you also have a good chance of spotting the lights in Alberta. Iconic destinations like Banff and Jasper National Park get aurora sightings a few times a year. With the breathtaking scenery of the Rockies as your backdrop, this is undoubtedly one of the most stunning places to witness the Northern Lights.

Experience it for yourself: Spectacular Rockies and Glaciers of Alberta


Set on the island of Tromsøya, Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway. Surrounded by snowy mountains and glistening waters, Tromsø is an exceptional place to spot the Northern Lights. Besides the scenery, the city is famous for its charming and colourful traditional wooden houses and fabulous restaurants. It’s also an important place to learn about the indigenous Sami community of Scandinavia. You’ll join a Sami guide for a walk through their camp to feed the reindeer herd and hear stories of Sami life in a lavuu (traditional tent). As you enjoy folk songs around the fire and savour a traditional Sami meal, you may even spot the dazzling aurora twinkling overhead.

Read more: Meet the Sami, the last Indigenous people of Europe


Reykjavík is the colourful capital of Iceland and it’s also a top place to see the greatest show on Earth. Soak in the Blue Lagoon or stroll along the colourful harbor. Check out the famous Hallgrímskirkja church, all while savouring the famous Icelandic icecream. Then try to spot the Northern Lights right on the city streets.

Experience it for yourself: Natural Wonders of Iceland

About kjbirtles
Katie is an experienced traveler and content writer with a focus on food & drink, cultural traditions and travel tips and tricks