The Northern Lights should be on everyone’s bucket list. The beautiful yellowish-green phenomena occurs near the magnetic poles in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Southern auroras are often not seen however, since they are concentrated around Antarctica and the Southern Indian Ocean.
The best places to view the lights are parts of Canada ( Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories), Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and the northern coast of Norway. (If you are headed to Iceland, check out some of my other posts about Visiting Iceland)
So, you’ve wandered to one of these places and now you’re thinking, “Ok, I may never be here again, and I don’t want to miss my opportunity to see the lights!!”. Do not fret, below are my top tips for viewing the northern lights!
Tip #1: Get Far Away from Light Pollution
If you are trying to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, it needs to be as dark as possible. That means getting as far away from any city and all light pollution as possible. Don’t underestimate how powerful the lights from a city can be. Just because you’re out of the city and it seems dark doesn’t mean that you are far enough from the light pollution. If you are in a smaller country with a smaller city then you do not need to go as far.
For example, if you are visiting Iceland you need to get about an hour out of the capital, Reykjavik. Anywhere else in the country should be fine. BUT there was one time I found out the northern lights would be visible form southern Ontario and drove 2.5 hours out of the city to try and catch a glimpse, and even still, I should have gone further (but I had work the next day and I had to be realistic).
If you are visiting Iceland and are trying to find somewhere to go, I found this website which outlines the best places to see the northern lights in Iceland.
Tip #2: Check the Cloud Coverage
You want to go out when there is the least amount of cloud coverage. That being said, don’t be too discouraged since cloudy skies are dynamic and often you’ll see the sky open up and you’ll be able to get a glimpse at the northern lights.
Tip #3: Check the Moon Phase
This tip is similar to Tip #1 in that it has to do with light pollution. You want to aim for either a new moon or a partial moon. Again, it just comes down to, the darker the sky, the better.
Tip #4: Watch the Northern Lights Forecast
Yes there is a Northern Lights Forecast, and yes you should probably check it out if you want to optimize your chances of seeing the northern lights. These forecasts show you the KP Index which predicts how far south the northern lights can be seen. However, you cannot always rely on this to accurately predict when the lights will appear. Check out this site for a good forecast.
Tip #5: Take a Look out of your Plane Window
I was very lucky that I got to see the Northern Lights right from my plane window! After doing some research, turns out this is pretty common, but keep in mind that this happens during overnight flights…. So you’re going to have to stay up if you want a shot of seeing them!
Tip #6: Give Yourself a Couple Nights of Trying to See Them
Don’t make the mistake of looking at the forecast and picking the best day and only going out to try and see them the one night. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s really hit or miss and you can’t always rely on the KP Index, so I’d say give yourself 4 or 5 nights of trying to spot them and your chances will be pretty good!