The Best Places to See the Northern Lights

Scott Dunn provides a wide range of tailor-made trips to a number of destinations for the best holidays to see the Northern Lights, including Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. We have a range of luxury boutique boltholes from where you can look up at the sky in hopes of catching the Aurora. Whether you sleep in a luxury tented camp, a glass igloo, a log cabin in a remote forest, a tree house, an ice hotel or a traditional hotel, we have a range of options up our sleeves.

Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are one of Earth’s most spectacular natural phenomena and are at the top of many people’s bucket lists. They can be elusive and unpredictable, which makes catching a glimpse of them even more breathtaking. With the peak activity expected in 2025 (more on that below) the next couple of years are when the Northern Lights will be at their strongest. If you’re seeking the Aurora, here’s our all-encompassing guide to nature’s greatest light show.

What are the Northern Lights?

The Aurora Borealis is visible in the northern hemisphere while the Aurora Australis can be seen in the southern hemisphere. These magnificent “dancing lights” occur when charged particles from the sun hit atoms in our atmosphere, which then release light particles.

We see vibrant Aurora displays when geomagnetic storms occur, and a coronal hole opens on the sun. This causes a Coronal Mass Ejection which then creates the incredible displays sweeping across the night sky.

The sun follows an 11-year cycle with the peak activity last occurring in 2014, and increased activity is typically seen 2 years on either side of each peak. This means our next peak will be in 2025 and currently the activity is getting stronger, with recent sightings as far south as Kent in the UK. The Aurora can still be seen outside of the peak period but can be trickier to spot with less frequent displays.

What Colour is the Aurora Borealis?

Usually when we think of the Aurora, we picture vivid green-yellow lights, but the colours can change depending on which gas particles in our atmosphere are charged from the sun’s particles.

Green is produced by oxygen closer to the Earth’s surface whereas a rare, red Aurora occurs when high-altitude oxygen particles are charged. The purple and blue Aurora happens when nitrogen particles are charged.

Where to See the Northern Lights?

The further north you travel the more likely you are to see the Aurora Borealis, with remote locations, further away from light pollution, offering darker skies. Alaska, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Norway are the five best places for trips to see the Northern Lights and below are some of our favourite Northern Lights hotels that offer the incredible conditions for catching a glimpse of the Aurora.

Plan Your Trip

Iceland (Across the island)

Northern Lights in Iceland

Best time to see the Northern Lights: September to March, between 9 pm and 2 am. 

Best time to visit generally: June-August, December & January

Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice due to its vast volcanic landscape and glaciers. 

Located 65° north on the southern edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is also known as one of the best places in the world to witness the Northern Lights.

It’s easy to get to somewhere dark on the island, which is necessary to see the natural lightshow. It’s the only place besides Greenland where you can in theory see the lights from any point in the country. With a population of just 376,000, you can take full advantage of the remote areas in Iceland that escape light pollution. 

From September through to March is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Peak viewing times tend to appear between 9 pm and 2 am. 

It’s never guaranteed that you will see the Northern Lights, but Iceland has a lot of other things to see too. The island’s hot springs, waterfalls and ice caves will give travellers plenty of memorable experiences whilst offering a unique backdrop to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis. 

Explore our Iceland Northern Lights tours.

Hotel Ranga, Iceland
Hotel Ranga, Iceland

With minimal light pollution there's a good chance to witness the Northern Lights at Hotel Ranga in winter and it features in our Northern Lights Safari across Iceland. During these months the hotel provides Aurora forecasts and wake up calls so guests don’t miss out on viewings. Witness the Northern Lights and Midnight Sun from the glass walled restaurant, the balcony from your room or suite or even from one of the geothermal powered hot tubs between the hotel and its namesake, the River Ranga.

Torfhus Retreat, Iceland
Torfhus Retreat, Iceland

A truly unique retreat where you can stay in your own traditional turf house ‘Torfhus’ offering a superb level of quirky luxury in this very special location. These two-bedroom properties, centred around the Langhus where you can enjoy bespoke dining, also benefit from their own private geothermally heated hot tub, making this a wonderful place of relaxation. Due to its remote location in Southern Iceland, you are perfectly placed to spot the Northern Lights during the winter months.

Finland (North, Finnish Lapland)

Northern Lights over the Aurora Village in Finnish Lapland

Best time to see the Northern Lights: August to early April, between 10 pm and 2 am.

Best time to visit generally: December-March

Finland is often considered the world’s happiest country and is nestled in the heart of Scandinavia, encompassing Finnish Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland. Due to its latitude of 67° north, it places Finland on the path of the Northern Lights.

With around 75% of its surface covered in forests and an average December snowfall of 30cm, Finland feels like a true winter wonderland when the Aurora Borealis are dancing above you in the night sky.  The lights are best viewed in Finland the further north you go, making Finnish Lapland ideal. The Northern Lights are visible on roughly 200 nights a year in Lapland. 

Rovaniemi, Inari and Levi are some of the best places to visit and offer Husky sledding tours, wilderness hideaways and glass-roofed igloos to stay in during your trip.  Peak light season runs from late August to early April with the best times occurring after nightfall, between 10 pm and 2 am. 

Finland has an abundance of natural beauty. Besides the night sky phenomena, the Nordic setting offers glistening snowy wilderness, mountain backdrops and is home to Europe’s longest free-flowing river.

Combined with a host of winter activities like snowmobiling, skiing and seeing Santa’s grotto in Lapland, Finland offers a special setting to see the Northern Lights.

Explore our Finland Northern Lights tours.

Wilderness Hotel Inari, Finnish Lapland
Wilderness Hotel Inari, Finnish Lapland

There is so much to enjoy during your stay here in this beautiful location on the edge of Lake Inari. The vast, frozen lake offers the perfect playground to enjoy a plethora of winter activities, from snowmobiles to cross-country skis, and the Wilderness Hotel Inari has plenty on offer, all of which can be enjoyed on a private basis, or as part of a small group. Inari is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, heightening your chances of seeing illuminated skies here.

Beana Laponia, Finland
Beana Laponia, Finnish Lapland

Beana Laponia in Meltaus offers a wilderness hideaway with a private feel and the promise of adult only accommodation for couples and friends. Stay in remarkable Lappish surroundings with a private toboggan slope, husky sledding tours and the chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis from the outdoor hot tub with a drink in hand.

Golden Crown Glass Igloo
Golden Crown Glass Igloos, Finnish Lapland

Make the most of your trip to Finnish Lapland by sleeping in one of the Golden Crown Glass Igloos. With the northern skies above you, should the dancing lights appear you will have front row seats from the comfort of your own motorised bed to optimise viewing. As daylight breaks the igloos also offer magnificent views across undulating fells and snow covered trees..

Northern Lights over Aurora Village
Aurora Village, Finnish Lapland

Surrounded by snow capped forests you will be enchanted from the moment you arrive at Aurora Village. Every part of this village will charm you, from the roaming reindeer, bespoke luxury cabins, and outstanding facilities where you can ice skate on the frozen lake or relax in the outdoor hot tub. A very special addition are the bespoke Aurora cabins with glass ceilings, allowing you to relax in privacy whilst looking for the Northern Lights. The sauna is a real highlight, with panoramic views over the frozen lake, so you can gaze upon the endless snowy wilderness whilst enjoying the warmth inside. 

Sweden (Northwest, Swedish Lapland)

Northern Lights over the Arctic Bath Hotel in Swedish Lapland

Best time to see the Northern Lights: September to March, between 6 pm and 2 am.

Best time to visit generally: July-April 

Sweden is famous for its display of the Aurora Borealis, particularly in the arctic wilds of Swedish Lapland, Sweden’s most northwest corner.

Covering a quarter of the country, Swedish Lapland is home to mountains, forests, wild rivers and frozen lakes. Abisko National Park, Kiruna and Luleå are considered some of the best places in Sweden for Northern Light spotting. These locations offer once-in-a-lifetime access to unique stays such as Sweden’s Icehotel and Treehotel and charming Scandinavian tipis. 

The endless days between September and March give visitors the benefit of long winter nights which are ideal for seeing the Northern Lights. On clear evenings, the best time to spot the lightshow is between 6 pm and 2 pm.

Swedish Lapland is not short on arctic activities to complement aurora-spotting. Ice-fishing, hover crafting over frozen lakes and moose safaris give visitors to Sweden a unique itinerary.

Explore our Sweden Northern Lights tours.

Aurora Safari Camp
Aurora Safari Camp, Swedish Lapland

What could be better than an African-style tented camp experience in the wilds of Swedish Lapland from where you can sit back and watch the Aurora Borealis in all of its glory? Run by acclaimed photography, Fredrik Broman, you’ll get top tips on how to capture that perfect image of the Northern Lights. Sit around the camp fire, snuggled under reindeer furs, looking out over stunning views of the adjacent lake before trying activities such as husky sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiles and ice fishing.

Treehotel, Lapland
Icehotel & Treehotel, Swedish Lapland

Combine two totally unique hotels; one the designer Treehotel, and the other the legendary Icehotel in Sweden’s Lapland – with a multitude of activities on offer during the day, it won’t all be able seeing the Northern Lights, and meeting with the local Sami people is a real highlight. The two are linked by a lovely train journey through the snowy wonderfulness of wintery Sweden. Maybe combine your stay with a few nights in Stockholm.

Arctic Bath Hotel, Sweden
Arctic Bath Hotel, Swedish Lapland

A brand new hotel opening in February 2020. The star of the show is the uniquely designed floating hotel on the river, which freezes over in the winter to create a truly magical experience. The central feature of the hotel is an open-air cold bath - offering a refreshing antidote after experiencing the different saunas or hot bath; the hotel has a strong focus on wellness offering detoxifying spa treatments. Why not be one of the first to stay here and indulge in all the luxury it has to offer?

Norway (North - Tromsø and Svalbard)

Northern Lights over Lyngen Lodge in Norway

Best time to see the Northern Lights: September to March, between 6 pm and 1 am.

Best time to visit generally: All year round

Once again, heading north to Scandinavia will give you plenty of options to hunt for the dazzling Northern Lights.

Norway is a hotspot for aurora hunting as the seasons change quickly, meaning there are longer nights.  Its latitude of 62° north means it is ideally located on the northern lights belt, giving visitors a high chance of seeing the night sky’s lightshow.

Home to narrow fjords, lakes and notable natural landmarks like Nordkapp, Lofoten Islands and Svalbard, Norway offers arctic exhibitions amongst some of the most photographed locations in the world. 

Tromsø and Svalbard are regarded as the best places in Norway to see the light show. Hotels offer picturesque views of snowcapped mountains, open log fires and hot tubs to warm up from the cold.

The lights season in Norway is from September to March during the hours of 6 pm to 1 am.  Other local activities to try include snowmobiling, reindeer-driven sleigh rides, ice fishing and snowshoeing.

Explore our Northern Lights Norway tours.

Lyngen Lodge, Norway
Lyngen Lodge, Norway

Lyngen Lodge is possibly the most luxurious lodge you can find so far north in the Arctic Circle. You will fly to Tromso in Norway and drive across to Lyngen Fjord where the lodge is positioned. With a hot tub, fine dining and wonderfully comfortable rooms, you might think you are in a Scott Dunn chalet in the Alps – but look up and hopefully see the Northern Lights appear over the Fjord. There is a multitude of winter activities on offer, and if you like off-piste skiing you are in for a treat.

Alaska (North - Talkeetna and Denali National Parks)

Sheldon Chalets, Alaska, USA

Best time to see the Northern Lights: August to April, between 9 pm and 2 am.

Best time to visit generally: July-December

Across the pond, the US state of Alaska is considered one of the best places on earth to see the Northern Lights.

Although light shows occur throughout all four seasons of the year, if you’re keen to catch a glimpse at the Aurora Borealis, the best time to visit is during the cold months, between 21st August and 21st April, also known as the ‘aurora season’. 

Alaska is a vast wilderness state, and the further north you travel, the higher your chances are of witnessing the bright colours in the sky.

Talkeetna and Denali National Park, which sit at around 63° north latitude, both offer unique hotels and fly-in accommodation as well as Northern Lights packages. As the lights show becomes more intense with clear black skies, these remote locations are ideal.

It’s a good idea to explore other activities when planning a trip to see the Northern Lights. Dog sledding, hot spring bathing and glacial trekking are attractive options close to Aurora hotspots in Alaska.

Explore our Northern Lights Alaska tours.

Sheldon Chalet, Alaska
Sheldon Chalet, Alaska

From the moment you step off the helicopter at Sheldon Chalet, to be welcomed with champagne and seafood, your world becomes the frozen expanse of the glacier and the mountain peaks beyond. The location and elevation makes this a superb spot from which to see the Aurora Borealis and in turn makes this a once in a lifetime experience. With no mobile signal you can really sign off from the real world here and indulge in the isolation this unique property offers.

Tips for Your Northern Lights Tour

The Aurora Borealis occur year-round but are only visible at night - the darker the sky the clearer they appear. Late autumn to early spring, when the nights are longer, are the best months to see them. Here’s our checklist to make sure you have the best chance to see them for yourself:

  • Find as little light pollution as possible - head away from busy towns or cities to rural areas. Even ships or wind farms can create a surprising amount of light pollution.
  • Avoid a full moon - the smaller the moon, the darker the sky.
  • The sky needs to be clear - the Aurora won’t be visible if it’s cloudy.
  • October to March are the best months in the northern hemisphere.
  • Face north!
  • Give your eyes time to adjust to the dark - avoid looking at screens or lights before viewing.

How to Photograph the Northern Lights

While there is nothing quite like watching the Northern Lights dance through the sky, photographing them is also on many bucket lists. It can be possible to take great photos on your phone, depending on what device you have, following similar steps to the below if your phone camera has settings that can be adjusted.

Try these tips to take the best photos possible:

  • Tripod – use one even for phone photography. You’ll need to have the shutter open for a few seconds to let light in for a longer exposure, which means photos taken on a handheld camera will blur.
  • Wide aperture – this allows the camera to collect more light. Set your aperture between at least f4 to f2.8 – any lower than this and the images could become grainy.
  • Set the camera to manual mode and focus – this allows you to have more control. Find the brightest star to focus your camera on or if there isn’t much in the sky set your camera to infinity focus.
  • Slow shutter speed – start with 5 seconds and go up to 30.
  • High ISO – set your camera to 2500 up to 4000.
  • Use a timer or remote shutter trigger – even pressing the button on the camera or phone can cause enough movement to cause your photos to blur.

A Note from Our Experts:

“Each property we work with in Swedish Lapland offers good chances of seeing the Northern Lights as they are all in remote locations, away from light pollution. As they are a natural phenomenon, we can never guarantee that you will see them, but you are enhancing your chances when staying in these remote areas.

For a more experiential stay, head to the Treehotel, where you can stay in a treehouse suspended in the snowy forest and hopefully spy the illusive Northern Lights. I would recommend staying in the 7th Room for more space and comfort as well as having a balcony you can head out to when the lights are showing. For photography enthusiasts, Arctic Retreat is a great option, the owner is a Northern Lights photographer, and the guides and team here can assist with top tips on capturing the best photographs.”

Milly Darnell, Scott Dunn Travel Expert

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