Witnessing the dancing glow of the northern lights sits atop many adventure-minded travelers’ bucket lists. Such a spectacular natural phenomenon has the power to stop one in their tracks, bringing them face to face with a raw and elemental sight—that epic and soul-stirring moment so many of us seek throughout our travels.
And yet… never has the idea of “being in the right place at the right time” mattered as much as when figuring out where and when to see the Aurora Borealis. When it comes to the best places to see the northern lights, Norway and Finland top the list, thanks to their extreme northern location and lack of light pollution. Technically speaking, these countries are in the “Aurora Zone,” also known as the “Northern Lights Belt,” at 65 to 72 degrees north in latitude, just inside the Arctic Circle. While Greenland, Iceland and Sweden also fall into this zone, for our purposes, we’ll focus on Norway and Finland. If it’s prime viewing in these Nordic countries you seek, here’s where to go:
Known as the “Capital of the Arctic,” Tromso is widely considered one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. Due to its small size and charming character, it’s just as fun to poke around during the day as it is to stay into the evening to view the mesmerizing light show. Many northern lights expeditions start from here, taking you out to spots completely free of light pollution.
If you’re seeking a one-of-a-kind Norway northern lights hotel, stay the night in Kirkenes, near the Russian border. The hotel is rebuilt entirely out of snow and ice each season, so your stay will never be the same as the year before. You’ll get comfy accommodations, plus one of the best locations for viewing the stellar spectacle above you.
The Lofoten Islands
Get a new perspective on the aurora borealis—from sea, not land. The dancing lights flicker on the water as you watch from a boat or on the shoreline of the Lofotens—a serene archipelago known for its quaint fishing villages.
North Cape (Nordkapp)
If it’s north you want, it’s north you’ll get in Nordkapp—the tip of mainland Norway (Svalbard is the only land mass left between you and the Arctic). The polar lights are particularly beautiful when set against this stark landscape (which also happens to be a mecca for birders).
Yes, Svalbard is known first and foremost for its polar bears, but don’t forego a trip to this remote archipelago halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, to view the merry dancing sky. Outside Tromso, it’s considered one of the best spots in the world for northern lights viewing.
Widely known as the best region for northern lights viewing in Finland, Lapland provides good viewing opportunities from just about anywhere within its bounds, thanks to its setting above the Arctic Circle. Aim for wide open spaces with no artificial lighting and hope for cloudless skies. Finnish Lapland is sparsely populated and the towns are small, so it’s quite easy to step out from your hotel and see the lights, without having to venture out on an hours-long tour (although that’s fun, too!).
Here in the “hometown” of Santa Claus, you can stay at authentic inns and savor hearty meals, visit with reindeer and go dog sledding—all before your evening snowmobile excursion to see the northern lights. If snowmobiling isn’t your speed, this larger Lapland city offers countless ways to get out into the snowscape to view the light show in the skies above.
South of Rovaniemi, Kemi is still in the Aurora Zone and offers a smaller-town ambience. Set out on an aurora borealis hunt with a local guide or take a tour and get a glimpse from an icebreaker ship. Light pollution is exceptionally low here due to the remote location on the shores of frozen Bothnian Bay.
If you’ve dreamt of spending the night in an iconic Finland igloo hotel, Lapland is the place. Consider one of the glass-igloo resorts in Saariselka, specifically designed for your enjoyment of the polar lights. One of the most well-known is Kakslauttanen, where you can snuggle up in a cozy glass orb, gazing at the twinkling starry sky above you, and enjoy the sauna, hot tub, hearty dining and more.
When Is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Norway?
Bundle up—without a doubt, winter is the best time to see the northern lights in Norway. Between September and March (more specifically, November and February), you’ll get dark nights where there’s only very dim daylight or twilight from 9 am to 2 pm each day. Keep in mind, however, that while there’s practically nothing in the way of light pollution, you may be contending with cloud cover or snowstorms that could hamper your efforts to view the undulating sky lights.
You might also consider visiting in September or October, when the famous Midnight Sun is waning. There is a lot of solar activity at this time, so if you’re patient, you’ll likely be rewarded with some spectacular viewing. For this same reason, March and early April offer a better chance at seeing the lights than, say, the middle of summer.
When Is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Finland?
Even during the summer months, when the Midnight Sun is in full effect, the northern lights are doing their thing in the skies above Finland. However, like in Norway, the best views will be in the winter, when the skies are the darkest for the longest period of time.
Visit between December and March and you’ll have plenty of winter activities to choose from, even if the viewing is hindered by cloudy, stormy weather. Rest assured, though, that if you’re in Lapland for several days, you’ll more than likely be treated to those awe-inspiring polar lights, whether you’re on a guided lights tour or staying in Arctic luxury at Kemi’s SnowCastle Hotel.
February and March tend to bring clearer skies, so while the towns in Lapland may be a bit quieter at this time, your chances of seeing the aurora increase.
Even armed with this knowledge of how and when to see the northern lights in Norway and Finland, consider the ease of allowing someone else to do the planning for you. Guided Arctic northern lights adventures can whisk you through the prime viewing areas at just the right time, arranging for stays at incredible ice hotels and excursions into the polar landscape for a dramatic performance by the aurora borealis above.