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Best places to see the northern lights and when to visit

Who hasn’t dreamt of seeing the northern lights or Aurora Borealis – one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena? The videos of beautiful greens and purples dancing in the sky looked too good to be true. We wanted to experience this magical event for ourselves. That’s how the research began for finding the best location to see the northern lights in action.

See this incredible video of how the lights look from space!!

We spent countless nights researching prospective locations, scouring the internet to get in-depth information on this topic. We even contacted some scientists at the Geophysical institute in Alaska – yes, we are nuts!!

We finally decided to head to Finnish Lapland for the trip during 2nd or 3rd week of March and we loved it!

Wait!

Before we move on and get to the itinerary, we will share with you the process of coming to this conclusion and some of the other shortlisted locations.

Here’s what we found – there are two components to seeing the lights – “where” and “when”

This post is part of the Finland Series. Other posts in this series:

  1. Best places to see the northern lights and when to visit – This post
  2. Arctic adventure and northern lights itinerary in Finnish Lapland
  3. Adventures at the Lake Inari transparent mobile cabins
  4. Seeing the northern lights from a glass igloo
  5. Staying in a lakeside chalet & experiencing the husky safari – Coming soon
  6. 24 hours in Helsinki and making most of it – Coming soon
  7. How to get to Finnish Lapland & Arctic circle using miles and points – Coming soon

Choosing the best location for viewing northern lights


In general, the closer you are to the arctic circle, the better. Here are some other key factors for choosing prospective locations:

  1. Solar activity –

How do the northern lights occur?

The solar flares interact with earths magnetic field which produces the northern lights. The size and strength of these geomagnetic storms can vary greatly. The higher the solar winds / activity, the better chances of viewing the lights.

We don’t have much control over the mighty sun so unfortunately this variable is out of our hands. It’s still a good idea to look at the forecast for solar winds so you know the probability of seeing the lights.

  1. Cloud free night –

This one seems obvious enough. Stay in a location for several nights so you can maximize chances of viewing the aurora. By moving from location to location, you might not hit a cloud free night and if you do, statistically you might not see the aurora that night.

  1. Away from city lights –

Even if the northern lights are in full force, the ambient light from the towns can make it very difficult to see them just like it is with seeing the stars in the city. It is best to get away from the ambient light and get into the wilderness to enjoy this natural phenomenon. Plus, overall it just makes for a better experience.

  1. Magnetic latitude –

Latitude is one of the most important factors – you can see the lights starting at 60 degree N latitude to 75 degrees – pretty much within the arctic circle.

How can you determine which locations have a higher chance of viewing the lights?

Kp index or Planetary K-index is a number from 0 to 9. It indicates how far south you can view the northern lights.

For example, in southern Scandinavia or in mainland US or Europe, you may see northern lights if the Kp index is higher than 7. As you can imagine, it is extremely rare. Even a kp of 4 or 5 happens infrequently so staying within the arctic circle gives you a chance to view the lights even when the kp is 3.

Before we get to our shortlisted locations, lets look at the 2nd factor “when” so we can put all of this information together.


Best time for viewing the northern lights


Winter months between late Sep to late March bring longer nights and shorter days making it a good time to see the see the lights.

Initially, I was leaning towards visiting between Dec to Feb since the daylight is the least during these months. After a lot more research, I found around the equinox (March 21st) to be the best time to visit – when the north pole is closest to the sun which increases the chance of earth’s magnetic field to interact with the solar winds. Plus, it is not as cold in March as it is during Dec to Feb which makes it pleasant to stay out to see the lights and explore the beautiful arctic scenery.


Putting it all together


After understanding all the different factors involved, we decided to visit during the 2nd or 3rd week of March and narrowed down our choices to –

  1. Tromso, Norway
  2. Fairbanks, Alaska
  3. Inari, Finland
  4. Swalbard, Norway
  5. Yellow knife, Canada
  6. Northern, Iceland

These locations seemed to check all the boxes. After researching each of these locations further, it finally came down to one thing –

Choice of accommodation!

All these towns have many choices of cabins or hotels but we knew that we will most likely miss the lights because it is not practical to keep looking outside the windows and stay up all night.

Finland was the only location which offered unique options which would allow us to enjoy the northern lights from our room such a glass cabin on a lake in Inari with 360-degree views or a glass igloo.

Another route is to go northern lights hunting where you are driven to different locations at night but it is tiring and expensive to do it every night.

We used this app to monitor the solar winds, cloud cover and kp levels during our stay so we had a better idea of when the probability of seeing the lights would be higher.

We just returned from Finland after visiting during equinox and were lucky to see lights on several nights within a week. So glad we did this research because it truly paid off!

Stay tuned for our next post on our detailed itinerary, places to stay and other adventures in the arctic circle.

Message us with any questions / comments.


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Best places to see northern lights

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5 Responses

  1. Boris Minevich
    | Reply

    Did you ski?

    • When2trip
      | Reply

      No, unfortunately we did not. The ski resorts were a little away. Plus staying up all night to see the lights takes a bit of toll.

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