The Northern Lights aka the Aurora Borealis are a mystical, unpredictable beast – and a sexy one at that! A natural phenomenon, the Auroras are a collision of particles from the sun’s atmosphere and the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in extra-terrestrial shades hovering above the northern and southern hemispheres. With the sun freaking out from September to April, NOW is the time to see the Northern Lights. By staying in hostels, you can get front-row seats on a budget! Are you polar ready? 🌠 Here are the best places to see the Northern Lights.
Cleary Summit Aurora Viewing Area, Fairbanks 📸:@ttoommy
Alaska is known as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. Head to the town of Fairbanks, as it’s a great spot to catch this night-time neon glow. There are also lots of things to do, so you can make the most of your trip, like skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling. Fairbanks is also easily accessible as the town has its own airport. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is between mid-September to late April.
While on this colourful journey, check out the hostels in Fairbanks! While Aurora Borealis hunting make Billie’s Backpackers your cosy home! Billie’s is Alaska’s longest running hostel, described by one customer as, “like sleeping at your eccentric Great Aunt’s house”. It’s clear from the reviews that Billie is a local ledge and the family vibes – dog in tow – are one of a kind.
Tip: The best view of the lights is away from the city centre, closer to the vast wilderness of Denali and Yukon. Billie’s is just outside of Fairbanks with regular shuttle buses to these sites, and you can even visit Bus 142 from “Into the Wild”.
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According to Sami folklore, the Northern Lights are caused by a fox running across the skies of Lapland and lighting them up with its neon tail. This sounds a lot more fun than the real reason – charged solar particles reacting to the Earth’s magnetic field.
Embark on a wintery escape to Lapland for the ultimate Northern Lights adventure. In this region of Finland, the lightshow runs for around 200 nights a year (late August to April). What a performance! If you need some activities in the daylight, why not ice swimming at Koskipuisto Park?
A great place to stay for your foxy light show is the cosy AF 7 Fells Hostel in Ylläs. 7 Fells is run by Tinja, a retired backpacker, who means business when it comes to spotting the lights. At your request,Tinja will personally wake you up or send you an SMS when the aurora spectacle is nigh. On top of this personal service, there’s an onsite sauna and moonberry picking in the summertime when the midnight sun is out. Sounds like a dream…
Tip: The town’s street lights are turned off every night, so we recommend renting a bike from the hostel and riding to Äkäslompolo Lake. Here you’ll get a wide-open view – perfect for some mega photographs!
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Fit in with the Scottish highlanders as you head up North to see that famous neon dancing glow in this rugged and wild country. To see the aurora here, get as far away from any city street lights as possible – the further north the better! The Isle of Skye, AKA Cloud Island, is a charming stop that reveals the Borealis from October to March. The Isle also has nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites, perfect for your inner astronomer! What can you see in the stars? While on your interstellar adventure, soak up the incredible landscapes like The Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing.
With charming hostels in the Isle of Skye to match, you’ll feel nice and cosy while the cold battles on. Skyewalker Hostel (yes, it’s Star Wars themed!) allows you to lose yourself in a world of stars with their dome dedicated to “star gazing”. Choose from a dorm, or for extreme cosiness a dreamy Jedi Hut!
Tip: If the solar storm is strong enough then you might be able to see the pillars high in the night sky, but a clear view of the Northern horizon will give you a better chance of seeing the weaker solar storms. The coast of Caithness, Loch Lochmond and the Cairngorms National Park are decent aurora stops too.
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Thórsmörk, Iceland 📸:@r3dmax
Iceland is possibly the best place to see the Northern Lights, partly because it’s the most accessible. Pop over between September to April to see this natural wonder. If darkness is your old friend, visit Iceland during the winter equinox (which means 22-24 hours of darkness a day) when you’ll have a higher chance of seeing the lights. You can travel around Reykjavik to see if you can spot it, otherwise hiring a car or going on a tour is your best bet. Keep your eye on the Icelandic Met Office, as they report on if and where you might see them on that day.
If you want to stay in a hostel in Reykjavik, we recommend Loft Hostel where you can often catch sightings from their rooftop. However, the nights are longer in the North which increases your chances of seeing a full-on show.
If you want to be more remote, Héraðsskólinn Hostel is a lakeside 1920s building that is conveniently located on the Golden Circle trail – perfect if you’re on a road trip. Not only can you regularly see the northern lights from your bedroom window, there are Icelandic ponies frolicking in the nearby fields!
Tip: If you’re flying to/from Keflavik Airport, get a window seat – you might get lucky and see the shiny glow from the plane!
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Moraine Lake, Banff National Forest 📸:Getty Images
We must accept that the lights won’t always play ball, so try and pick a place for the destination rather than the lights alone. Canada is one big wilderness fest which will struggle to disappoint. Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories is a popular Aurora Borealis hunting spot because of its flat terrain and consistently clear skies. Banff is another quality option, with the Northern Lights glowing over the mountains of Banff National Park. Stay clear of eastern Canada as it’s too cloudy, but you can spot the NL pretty much anywhere else. Head west to the auroral zone to Churchill, which is well known for its celestial displays and polar bears. We think it’s time to get on that tundra buggy!
In Banff, HI Banff Alpine Centre is a great starting point for your hunt. Nature enthusiasts will love this wooden cabin next to Banff National Park, especially with the huge bay windows overlooking Mount Rundle. There’s no shortage of food here with the hostel’s two kitchens, walk-in fridge and “Cougar Pete’s Kitchen and Lookout” on the deck. We could get used to this Banff life!
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Malin Head, 📸:Greg Clarke
There are many opps to see the Auroras here, all you have to do is cross the Irish Sea and travel upwards. It’s suggested that the best time to catch them in Ireland is from November to February – so get booking! You literally can’t get any better than Ireland’s most northernly point, Malin Head. The Inishowen Peninsula is admired by nature photographers and the remote location is perfect for stargazing! But you might forget about the Northern Lights completely when you see the stunning rocky coastline of Malin Head. Stop by Banba’s Crown – the northernmost tip of the country, for some incredible seaside views.
Stay at Sandrock Holiday Hostel in Malin Head and your down-to-earth hosts will welcome you with hot drinks, biscuits and views of the Atlantic from the living room. If you fancy a walk, the nearby beach is full of precious stones and you can often see the tails of sharks and dolphins glimmering in the distance. See, magic exists people!
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Tromsø city, 📸:Getty Images
Being just above the Arctic Circle, Norway is hands down one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. Recently, the government even added them to its passports as a back-light feature!
The lively university town of Tromsø is the ideal place to see the Northern Lights as a backpacker, because as well as being one of the best viewing spots in the country, it’s also got an exciting nightlife scene. Tromsø has more bars than any other city in Norway! The lights here last a while, starting from September all the way through to April.
Tromsø Activities Hostel will have you seeing the Northern Lights from right inside your dorm, as the building is decorated in colours that you could very well see in the sky. It’s not all about the NL though! Check out the Polar Museum, Arctic Catherdral and the Fjellheisen (cable car) while you’re conveniently located in the city centre.
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Kola Peninsula, 📸:Getty Images
Call yourself a hard-core Aurora chaser? Well if you head north to Siberia you’ve got a good chance of seeing them – if you can handle the temps that is! The Kola Peninsula is right next to “the zone”, and Murmansk town is also renowned for its displays. In the peak of winter, Murmansk experiences 40 days of pure darkness, so if you’re beyond keen to see some lights, chances are you will! Otherwise, keep yourself entertained by skiing or sledding. From Moscow or St Petersburg, you can get a 2 hour flight to this snowy dreamscape.
If you’ve got time, stop at St Petersburg on your way back – it’s packed with artistic culture, hosts a top underground music scene and you’ll find some seriously quirky hostels here, like Baby Lemonade Hostel, a 60s and 70s music and culture themed hostel. This means quirky rooms, neon lighting and social vibes!
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Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota 📸:Getty Images
If you are on a tour of the USA, remember to look up! The aurora has been seen around Michigan and Minnesota so you might get lucky in these regions. It’s a good idea to head to the National Parks for the best opportunities to spot it.
In Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park is a popular place for aurora spotters, as unlike the rest of the USA, there is minimal artificial light. The National Park suggests that the best places to spot them are the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, Woodenfrog Beach and any of the lakeside campsites.
In Michigan, Lake Superior is the go-to place. Not only is it in a beautiful location, the clear waters double the glow of the aurora! Head to the north of Michigan for some dark AF vibes (literally), to Headlands International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City. While you’re in Michigan, stop by the hip city of Detroit. Hostel Detroit wants guests to experience the authenticity of the city and offers personalised tours and tailor-made suggestions for things to do.
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10. The Faroe Islands
If you’re up for an Aurora Borealis experience like no other, head to The Faroe Islands. Its an ideal stop if you’re coming from Iceland or Scotland and want to extend your Northern Lights journey. This remote archipelago in the Northern Atlantic is home to puffins and fresh winter skies, and the Faroes are the most likely place to catch the elusive lights in Denmark. These 18 small islands are full of rugged beauty and Nordic history, so take the time to explore!
Abisko, North Sweden 📸: Getty Images
Northern Sweden’s Aurora Borealis spotting may be their best kept secret. This space is hardly inhabited, making it a perfect place to hunt the Northern Lights. Swedish Lapland is not only stunning, but is regarded as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights by locals. In Abisko National Park, there’s a dedicated Aurora Sky Station on the top of Njullá mountain – so basically if you’re gonna see them anywhere, you’re gonna see them here. Running from November to April, you’ve got plenty of time to spot these neon sky streaks.
Why not take a tour of Sweden while you’re there? Check out the hostels in Stockholm and get to know this Nordic city. City Backpackers Hostel offers free skate rental in winter and a free evening sauna to warm you back up.
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There you have it! Our top picks for the best places to see the Northern Lights. Have you seen the Aurora Borealis? Have any tips on how to spot this natural wonder? Let us know in the comments!