The ultimate how-to guide to chasing the elusive Northern Lights (2018/2019 edition)

Often crowned as a sight to remember forever – the Northern Lights – also known as the aurora borealis – is an awe-inspiring, spectacular sight only visible from the most extreme ends, the North and South Poles, the coldest reaches of the Earth.

However, only the North Pole is accessible to the public masses.

While it should go without saying that anyone willing to make the trip to the borders of Iceland to see the Northern Lights would undoubtedly like to catch sight of the beautiful streaked blue-green-purple aurora across the sky, the sight of it is elusive, and unfortunately, that means that not all who go even manage to catch a glimpse of it.

The ideal conditions to see them are when it’s cold and dark outside and the Aurora activity is high. The cold per se is not a factor but the sky has to be clear, and it usually is on very cold nights.

Ideal weather conditions for Northern Lights

Even though there are multiple places you can view the Northern Lights, it varies with each location, mostly due to weather conditions, as well as light pollution levels – in other words – as far away from the city area as possible!

The ideal weather conditions to see them would be when the sky is clear, usually on very cold and dark nights, at around midnight – so usually, autumn and winter months would be ideal.

Want to be super certain? Check out this auroral forecast to check the auroral levels on any given day.

Basically, the higher the auroral level on any given day, the more likely you will be to see the aurora borealis.

Locations with the best views of the Northern Lights

Updated for the 2018/2019 season, we’ve compiled a list of places all along the Nordic countries where the Northern Lights are most visible.

1. Reykjavik (Vik), Iceland

northern-lights-travel-tips-1
Source: happycampers.is

This is probably one of the most popular destinations to chase the Northern Lights amongst tourists, owing to the fact that Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital. Journey to the nearby town of Vik, watch the night sky come alive while you listen to the ocean waves on the black beach.

When the Northern Lights will be visible: September to April are the best months to see the aurora borealis.

2. Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland

northern-lights-travel-tips-2
Source: laplandthemagazine.com

Located right above the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is also famous for being the hometown of Santa. Snuggle up in one of Finland’s famous glass igloos on the outskirts of Rovaniemi for a fantastic view of the Northern Lights without the chilly, biting cold of the North Pole.

When the Northern Lights will be visible: September to April are the best months to see the aurora borealis.

3. Tromsø, Norway

northern-lights-travel-tips-3
Source: mappingmegan.com

One of the largest cities in the Northern region of Norway, it is often called the “capital” of the Arctic, and widely regarded as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights.

Easily accessible with just a 3.5 hour flight away from London, it often hosts overnight camps for tourists and locals alike eager to see the stunning view of the aurora borealis.

When the Northern Lights will be visible: September to April are the best months to see the aurora borealis.

4. Swedish Lapland

northern-lights-travel-tips-4
Source: wallpaperstudio10.com

Home to only 18,000 inhabitants, and a mere 600 inhabitants in the further outskirts of the Swedish Lapland in Jukkasjärvi, this is where the lights are most visible. Enjoy a peaceful stay in its local Ice Hotel, where you’ll be surrounded by ice, ice, and more ice (sculptures), as well as a treat to the beautiful Northern Lights.

When the Northern Lights will be visible: October to March are the best months to see the aurora borealis.

5. Ilulissat, Greenland

The place with possibly the most stable conditions, thanks to its low levels of wind, and rain – the likelihood of seeing the mystical aurora borealis is the highest here.

The third biggest known country with only a total of 5,000 inhabitants, enjoy nature in its most unadulterated form, away from noise pollution, light pollution, and people.

When the Northern Lights will be visible: September to April are the best months to see the aurora borealis.

6. Yukon, Canada

northern-lights-travel-tips-6
Source: wexas.com

The only non-Nordic country on our list, this is one of the only places where you might not have to bring a warm, stuffy parka as the aurora borealis can come as early as summery August.

Remote, wild, beautiful, and most certainly underrated, this is a destination you shouldn’t cross out simply because it isn’t in the Nordic region.

When the Northern Lights will be visible: August to April are the best months to see the aurora borealis.

How to prepare for your aurora-chasing trip

northern-lights-travel-tips-7
Source: robertharding.com

To avoid being disappointed, you could check out the auroral forecast, just a few days before you plan on seeing the Northern Lights, and drive to a nearby town vicinity to stay, or a cabin nearby so that you can always be on the look out for it.

However, that being said, the appearance of it can often be fickle, with a Redditor likening it to a “blind play that happens daily…you don’t now how good or bad the play will be and when it will start or end and when the best part of the play will be. You just have to show up to watch it in its entirety.”

We can’t put it any better than this.

In addition, you could be staying out in the cold, waiting to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis for long hours at a time, which means that bundling up is essential!

Other tips to take note of is that you should be prepared to walk: deciding to walk just a bit could possibly determine seeing the Northern Lights, or not at all, as the appearance of it is highly dependent on clear skies, and light conditions. Consider moving to a darker area, further away from man-made lights from the city area for a clearer view of it (but also be sure to keep safe!).

Travelling

northern-lights-travel-tips-8
Source: travelbuddiestalk.com

If you’re dead set on definitely seeing the Northern Lights on your trip – we suggest going by yourselves, by rental car, so that you can go at the most optimum conditions possible, and if the lights don’t appear on that fateful day, wait a day or two!

Alternatively, if you choose to go by local tours such as Chan Brothers, CTC Travel, and others, cross your fingers, and pray for a little luck – who knows – the aurora borealis may choose to bless you on the only day you happen to be in the Arctic region!

We wouldn’t recommend it though, as tours are often fast-moving. That being said, if you choose to go via rental car by yourself, or in a small group – remember to take note of safety! Roads are icy and slippery, easier to lose control of, and thus easier to get into accidents. Certainly doesn’t hurt to drive a tad slower and more cautiously!

What to prepare

northern-lights-travel-tips-9
Source: pinterest.co

The next important question would be WHAT to prepare, since we’ve emphasised exactly how important keeping warm is.

To give you a little sneak peak, winters in the Northern regions can be as chilly as −30 °C.

For those inexperienced with the cold, frostbites – when the blood circulation in the more susceptible areas of your body like your fingers, toes, and ears can literally stop functioning and have to be amputated – and hypothermia pose as real risks to unprepared travellers like yourself.

A list of winter clothing you should come prepared with

northern-lights-travel-tips-11
Source: tours.aurora-service.eu
  • A winter hat – to protect the ears, the top of the head, cheeks, and neck.
  • Hand wear – AKA gloves, to protect your fingers. Consider insulated mittens, which keep fingers warmer than regular gloves, or consider heat packs, which you can get cheaply at your local Daiso.
  • Warm, waterproof boots with an insulated inner lining. Alternatively, consider thick, wool socks paired with either snow or hiking boots, to probably trek the snowy, slippery grounds – you don’t want to be slip and sliding – and possibly falling – in the dark remote areas where you can see the Northern Lights. In other words – absolutely no sports shoes!
  • Thermal underlayers – try to get both thermal underlayers under the jacket, as well as for the pants.
  • Ski pants.
  • At least two layers of jackets (fleece + outer jacket)
  • Snow and wind protection jacket, or parkas.
  • Lip balm to protect your lips from the dry weather, and sunscreen – it may be cold, but winter suns can be straight up brutal in terms of brightness.
  • Optional: Hot chocolate – a nice cuppa hot chocolate – or whatever hot beverage of your choice! – can do wonders in combatting the chilly cold. To keep it warm, bring along a handy thermos.
  • Also optional: a swimming costume, if you want to soak in the mineral hot spas of the volcanic region!

Photography tips to capture the Northern Lights

northern-lights-travel-tips-10
Source: travgear.com

Naturally, if you want to see the Northern Lights first-hand, what better way to flaunt your sick adventure than photographic evidence to show to your friends and family?

  • Bring along a sturdy tripod
  • Bring a good camera – like a DSLR with a high ISO capability that will allow you to easily capture the Northern Lights without producing significant noise in your images.
  • Make sure to use wide angle lens (14 – 24mm range), with a long shutter speed, which will provide you with the ability to incorporate enough of the dark night sky in your image for contrast and scale.
  • Avoid bright-lit areas – particularly places that are highly populated – try to find a nice, dark field with a nice foreground, like large pine trees.
  • For those without professional cameras, you can simply download phone apps that have these functions such as Northern Lights Photo Taker, or Camera+.

  Latest Stories

More Articles