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?
“Happiness is only real when shared.” – Alexander Supertramp
Channel the Supertramp within and head to the supernatural-looking Alaska. It’s within “the zone” so you’re almost guaranteed to see the Auroro Borealis here, and Billie’s Backpackers can be 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”.
- Customer rating: 9.7
- Beds from £11.31/night
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 ?. The 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 you 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 ??.
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 for some mega photographs!
- Customer rating: 8.0
- Dorm beds from £22.61/night
- Private rooms from £56.11/night
To see the aurora here, one must 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 with a charming hostel to match. Skyewalker Hostel 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.
- Customer rating: 9.5
- Dorm beds from £17/night
- Private room from £60/night
@hargi at Loch Lochmond
Iceland is possibly the most accessible place for catching the old Borealis! If you are staying 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. 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 lights from the plane ?✈️
- Customer rating: 8.7
- Dorm beds from £35/night
- Private rooms from £83.16/night
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, and 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 lyfe!
Tip: Stay clear of eastern Canada as it is too cloudy, but you can spot the NL pretty much anywhere else. From Banff head west to Calagry or Yellowknife, both awesome aurora spots. From here you can take a train across 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! ?⛄️
- Customer rating: 8.6
- Dorm beds from £19.44/night
- Private rooms from £51.11/night
There are many opps to see the Auroras here, all you have to do is cross the Irish Sea and travel upwards ?. Sandrock Hostel is as good as it gets with it being *literally* on Ireland’s Most Northerly Point, Malin Head. Your down-to-earth hosts will welcome you with hot drinks and biscuits, and views of the Atlantic from the living room are ?. If you fancy 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! ?✨?✨
Tip: The optimum viewing time for seeing the northern lights is January and Feb so best get booking ?
- Customer rating: 9.7
- Dorm rooms from £11.31/night
Greg Clarke at Bamba’s Crown, Malin Head
Being just above the Arctic Circle, Norway is hands down one of the best places to see the NL. Recently, the government even added them to its passports as a back light feature ! Ålesund is a small town that burnt down in 1904, and by 1907 it had been built back up again in a distinct Noveau Art Style. Harking back to this era is Alesund Hostel, a special place surrounded by the striking scenery with added social vibes. After stopping here, we recommend taking a road trip across the Northern Cao further to the lively university town of Tromsø. It’s full of fjords and snow-capped peaks and famed as one of the best northern lights in the country ?.
- Customer rating: 8.8
- Dorm rooms from £27.43/night
- Private rooms from £69.73/night
@lamarnaud in Tromsø
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. 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 such as Traveller’s Place (below) and Polostay Hostel.
If you are on a tour of Northern America, remember to look up! In October, a solar storm sent the Northern Lights across the north and the aurora was seen as far as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois so you might get lucky in these regions. We are obsessed with Buffalo right now, and Hostel Buffalo Niagra is right in the middle of the Theatre District and next door to the Town Ballroom. How delightful! There’s regular live music and you can get a local bus from the hostel to Niagra Falls for a round-trip cost of just $4. So even if you miss out on the lights, you’ll still get to experience nature’s epic-ness. Remember to keep checking your aurora forecast here.
Tip: Take a trip to Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park for some serious constellations. With its dark skies, it’s a haven for astronomers, star hoppers and moon gazers ?.
- Customer rating: 9.0
- Dorm beds from £27.58
The Milky Way at Cherry Springs State Park by Derrick Cleveland
The Faroe Islands
Unfortunately we don’t have any hostels here, but if you’re travelling from Iceland or Scotland, hit up the Faroe Islands. 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.
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