The Sky Aglow: 5 Places to View the Northern Lights Around the World
by Zahra Pettican
If the Northern Lights are on your bucket list, you’re not alone! It seems everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the phenomena which occur when charged particles from the sun react to the Earth’s atmosphere. The result is a spectrum of crimson, violet, green, electric blue, and bright yellow patterns of light in the sky.
The general rule is that the further north you go, the better your chances of seeing the aurora borealis. Ultimately, it depends on the right atmospheric conditions combined with a clear night sky. These five destinations are top spots to take a front-row seat for Mother Nature’s greatest light show.
The “land of the midnight sun” is one of the best places in the world to catch the Northern Lights at their shimmering best. Tromsø is a good place to start, particularly the Nordnorsk Vitensenter (science centre), which features more than 80 interactive exhibits and a documentary film about the aurora borealis set in a 360-degree dome. Once you’ve finished educating yourself, head out and see the streaming tapestries of blue, green and red for real!
Alaskans are privileged when it comes to the Northern Lights. Fairbanks has some of the best displays of undulating, vibrating curtains of light that form into wisps, pillars, and haloes. Between late September and early April, glimpse a mix of gently glowing and vibrant colors dancing above the skyline. Indigenous peoples believed they were the spirits of their ancestors, while others thought they were past and future events being mapped out in the sky.
Considering how the Northern Lights are often seen in the most remote corners of expensive countries, Iceland is surprisingly good value. Off-road jeep tours take you across an enchanting landscape of ice not far from Reykjavik. The Northern Lights are notoriously difficult to predict with accuracy until a couple of hours in advance, but Iceland is a great place to try your luck.
4. Northern Michigan
Michigan is the best place in the Lower 48 to catch the Northern Lights at their most vivid. Head to the Keweenaw Peninsula, the state’s northernmost frontier. Further South, Marquette is the unofficial capital of the Upper Peninsula; it benefits from a vacation infrastructure and minimal light pollution. Marquette is also surrounded by hundreds of miles of shoreline along Lake Superior, enjoying unobstructed views of the night sky from the low horizon.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park, a few miles west of Mackinaw City, comprises two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline. It is one of the few dark sky parks in the country and is open all year. Sightings of the aurora borealis depend on luck, the weather and solar activity.
5. The Yukon
Canada’s Yukon Territory is great for adventurous travelers and with 80% wilderness, dark skies aren’t a problem. For a taste of frontier life, follow in the footsteps of Jack London and Gold Rush poet Robert Service, who undoubtedly got a front-row seat to an ethereal display from their cabins. Visitors to Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse, can go to the Aurora Centre at Watson Lake, a dedicated spot that teaches the science and lore of the lights.
Photo: Alaskan Trex
Zahra Pettican is a freelance writer who specializes in travel and culture. As much as she loves big cities like Paris and Istanbul, she also seeks out less mainstream destinations. You can follow her @ZeePett on Twitter.