Northern lights (Aurora Borealis), is a dream of many people to see at least once in their life. Tourists from different parts of the world travel to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Alaska to see this incredible natural phenomenon during the dark and cold Arctic winter. I have been lucky to see the Northern lights not once but on a number of times during my travels to Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland. In this blog, I will write only about the European destinations as I haven't been to Alaska myself yet.
It is important to choose a place according to your interests and budget. Scandinavia is an expensive place to visit but you can still have relatively cheap holidays especially if you cook your own meals and find cheap accommodation. In this blog, I will list my favourite places to see Northern Lights and why I think you should consider visiting these places for your Arctic adventure.
I have personally visited all these places and it is my own personal experience. Your experience might be different from mine.
I will rank all the places based on three factors
This is the most important factor in choosing a particular place to see the Northern Lights. The first time experience to see Northern lights dancing all over the sky is hard to put in words and from my own personal experience a great location can enhance this experience further and it will live with you forever. As you already know, Northern lights can only be seen when the solar activity is relativity high and the sky is clear. Therefore, it is more important to visit a place with a better Landscape that if the conditions are not favourable to see the Northern Lights you can at least enjoy the surroundings and you can still have great Artic adventure even without seeing the Northern Lights.
Choose a location where you will have plenty of options for daytime activities to explore the breathtaking Arctic environment. The most common daytime activities are Sightseeing, Hiking, Snowshoeing, Dog sledging, Snowmobile, Skiing etc. For some of these activities like Snowmobile, Dogsledding etc. you will have to take tours and these tours can be very expensive and will take a big chunk of your budget. The most common free activities are hiking, snowshoeing and cross countries Skiing by renting the necessary equipment in case you don't want to carry your own. Have a look at the area you are going to visit and see if you can explore without taking tours to avoid staying all day in your room.
Accommodation in Scandinavia, in general, is expensive but there are certain areas where you can still find some cheap rooms, cabins, apartments on Airbnb or hostels. Another option will be to rent a campervan which is probably my prefered way of travelling and be flexible to stay overnight anywhere you want to. From my own experience, I can say it is one of the most comfortable to see the Northern lights by not standing outside in the cold waiting for the lights to appear. It is possible to find some cheap offers since winter is not high tourist season.
Tromso, surrounded by incredible Arctic landscape and due to its vibrant city life is the best place to see the Northern Lights. There are plenty of accommodations options and you can find anything from hostels to beautiful cabins in stunning locations. The city can keep you busy during the daytime and you don't need to take any tour to see the Northern Lights. The city has plenty of quite locations with little or no artificial lights to see the Northern Lights. Moreover, the city has a good public transport system and you don't need to rent a car but if you want to travel around and explore the surrounding areas you should consider renting a car.
The islands of Lofoten and Senja are among the most visited places in Norway and renowned for their natural landscape. The islands offer its visitors a true Arctic experience. There is a public transport system but its better to rent a car to explore the islands on your own pace. There are plenty of accommodation options and if you are flexible you might find some cheap rooms or cabins on Airbnb. We found very cheap rooms on Airbnb in Lofoten only a few kilometres away from Haukland beach which is one of the best places to see the Northern lights and not far from the beautiful village of Reine.
The Finnish Lapland is probably the cheapest among all the other destinations and the winter landscape in Lapland with its snow-covered trees is surreal. Winter is also the main tourist season in Lapland and the tourist department does a great job by maintaining the paths in national parks. You can even stay overnight for free in the wilderness huts inside the national parks. The tours like Dogsledding and Snowmobile are much cheaper in Lapland compared to Norway and Sweden.
Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries but its weather is very unpredictable especially during the winter season. The weather is also the main reason why it is not my favourite destination for Northern Lights. Don't take me wrong, it is 100% worth visiting Iceland even in winter but due to its highly unpredictable weather and winter storms you might not see the Northern Lights. Winter is probably the cheapest time to visit Iceland. You can find some great offers on car rental and accommodation. We didn't see the Northern lights due to bad weather but we still had great holidays.
Abisko is probably my least favourite place due to limited accommodation options and expensive tours for daytime activities. We found it very hard to explore the national park without taking any tour. We did decide to take the Snowmobile tour and ended up paying more than 150€ for a half-day tour. It is a very small town and there are only a couple of hostels which are also very expensive. You might end up staying all day at your hostel due to expensive tours which will be very boring.
Northern Lights can only be seen between the months of September and March but the solar activity is usually high during the months of September, October and March. The other factor is weather which is usually very unpredictable during the autumn and early winter season which gets stable towards the end of winter. Considering the weather and solar activity, the second half of February towards the end of March is probably the best time to see Northern Lights.