Is seeing the Northern Lights on your bucket list? Top tips and ideas for 2024

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing the northern lights in person. The colors and movements are hypnotizing, graceful, and mysterious, and they have captivated people for millennia. If seeing the northern lights is a bucket list item, know that 2024 is an especially active year due to ongoing solar storms, predicted to peak in 2025. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to have us craft the getaway you’ve dreamed of! Here are our top tips for the year.

What causes the aurora borealis? The brilliant lights occur when solar particles reach the Earth’s magnetic poles, heating up gases in the atmosphere. While the lights can be many colors, the most common are green, which is caused by oxygen in the atmosphere, and blue or pink, which is created by nitrogen. The displays you see can be as near as 80 miles above the Earth’s surface and extend for thousands of miles.

When is the best time to go? In the northern hemisphere, the darker months of November through February offer the best time to see the lights. The strongest lights tend to appear between 9pm and 2am, with 11pm to midnight having some of the best sightings. Because the weather is often more stable closer to the fall or spring equinox, late November or early February offer a blend of (relatively) warmer and calmer weather, while still having longer nights. In some locations with 24/7 darkness in the deepest part of winter (such as Svalbard, Norway or Utqiagvik, Alaska), the northern lights can be spotted around the clock.

Top destinations. The lights are most seen within a band between 60 and 75 degrees of latitude. This includes Alaska and Iceland, southern Greenland, and the northern parts of Canada, Norway, and Finland. While the northern lights may be physically present, light pollution and cloud cover impact your ability to see them. This can mean making a tradeoff between destinations that are fairly accessible, such as Reykjavik, Iceland or Anchorage, Alaska, and getting to an optimal, dark, clear destination that is more remote. Some locations for optimal viewing include:

Yellowknife, Canada and Fairbanks, Alaska, which are popular due to their northern latitudes and relatively clear winter skies. The communities are small, but both have regularly scheduled commercial air from major cities and host a variety of tours and excursions to choose from.

Iceland, due to its stunning volcanic landscapes, friendly people, and an abundance of year-round activities. Nothing beats a visit to the popular geothermal Blue Lagoon spa in the middle of winter after a long flight. If you’re looking for a unique, modern winter destination with plenty to do, Iceland should be a top choice. However, the light pollution of Reykjavik plus relatively less stable weather compared to other places means your chance of seeing the lights might be lower.

Northern Norway or Finland, if seeing the northern lights is your main objective. These destinations are often noted as having the best views due to the remoteness and normally clear skies. Spend a night in a luxurious ice hotel beneath the arctic sky, take a winter cruise, or experience life in the small communities enveloped in the peaceful winter darkness.

For a truly unique adventure, consider a trip to see the aurora australis, known as the southern lights, with May through August being the prime spotting season. Southern Argentina and Chile, New Zealand, and Tasmania (Australia) can host amazing displays.

Managing expectations. The aurora can be elusive, it’s part of what makes them special! Some evenings the lights are bright and colorful, on others they can barely be seen or are hidden beneath cloud cover. If you set the expectation ahead of time that you may or may not see the lights on any given night, you’ll be able to appreciate experiencing the solitude and beauty of the arctic landscape regardless. Plus, if you do happen to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, it will be an experience you’ll remember forever.

If seeing the northern lights is on your life’s bucket list, contact Denise to learn about travel packages. These include land, rail, and cruise tours (even in winter) and are suitable regardless of your adventure level.

About Denise

My goal is to simplify travel-planning through an equal exchange process where I acquire your ideas and expectations for your trip relieving you of the worry, hassle, stress and time that accompanies Do-It-Yourself planning.

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