Travel Tips

15 Expert Tips For Planning A Trip To See The Northern Lights

When it comes to our planet, there are so many beautiful places that blow our minds and are a privilege to see. One of the most special places—and something which a lot of people plan to see—is the Aurora Borealis. However, planning a trip to see the northern lights can be slightly daunting.

The northern lights are a phenomenon visible only during the winter every year and this show occurs when particles from the sun crash into particles in our atmosphere, giving off energy as colored light. They are unpredictable and can be easily missed.

If you want to see this stunning spectacle this year or next, here are 15 things you need to consider when planning a trip to see the northern lights.

1. Timing

It is incredibly important to time your trip right if you plan to see the northern lights, and there are certain times of the year where the lights won’t show up like they do in others.

The winter season from November to February has to be the best time to see Aurora Borealis because the nights are much longer. This gives you more time to see the lights dancing in the sky before the sun comes up.

Despite common belief, coldness has nothing to do with seeing the Aurora Borealis. People only suggest winter because that is when it is darker longer.

2. Choose The Right Countries

Planning A Trip To See The Northern Lights Guide
Westfjords Region, Iceland

Deciding where to see the northern lights could be a make or break decision in successfully seeing them. This is because some locations are better than others for seeing the northern lights. Some simply have more dramatic light displays while also being in areas where they happen more frequently.

These best places include Iceland (e.g.  Reykjavik), Greenland (e.g. Kangerlussuaq), Russia (e.g. Murmansk), Norway (e.g. Tromsø), Finland (e.g. Rovaniemi), Sweden (e.g. Abisko), Alaska (e.g. Elim), and many parts of Canada (e.g. Yellowknife, Northern Saskatchewan, Torngat Mountains National Park, etc.)

More on this topic here.

3. Check The Forecast

Like other activities such as surfing, there is a northern lights forecast available which predicts how active the northern lights will be each and every day. Before you head out it is a good idea for you to have a look at this forecast to see if you will be in for a good show or not.

Ideally, you will want the number on the scale to be Kp=3 or higher for the best chance of a great light show when the sun goes down.

4. Stay Around 5 Days

If you really want to see the northern lights, it’d be a good idea to stay in the area for around 5 days to increase your chances of seeing them.

Often the northern lights will appear for up to 3 nights in a row and then not show for a number of days, thus staying around 5 days increases your chances of seeing them in case you happen to arrive on an off-day.

5. Plan For Winter

Planning A Trip To See The Northern Lights Guide
Sauðárkrókur, Iceland

Because the northern lights are much more visible during the winter months of the year, it is important to take the time to plan your trip and be ready for the cold weather.

It is always a good idea to check the sunrise and sunset times if you are planning a self-drive tour of the lights because driving at night in a snowy country can be pretty dangerous.

6. Self-drive?

One of the decisions you will want to make for yourself when you choose to go and see the northern lights is whether you will find a dedicated Northern Lights tour operator to join for the trip, or if you will instead simply drive yourself to the spot where you think you’ll be able to see the lights best.

It is totally a matter of personal preference and you can always think of different ways to make the most of your own northern lights trip. Of course, if you do choose a tour guide they will know the best spot to see the lights, but it is still up to you if you would rather go it alone.

If you do choose a northern lights tour, Bubble Tour and Blue Lagoon can be a good place to stay.

7. Book Ahead Of Time

If you’re traveling with someone else, then you’ll want to make sure that you get the best chance to see the northern lights together by booking your stay ahead of time.

It is always super important for you to take the time to book your holiday ahead since it will allow you to take more time to prepare for the trip, as well as ensure that you can save yourself some money on the tickets.

8. Check The Weather

The weather when you are about to go away will have a massive impact on the trip you have and your ability to see the northern lights. It stands to reason that if the sky is covered in cloud or it is raining that you won’t be able to see the lights very well, if at all, and this can be a huge annoyance.

Try to pick a day which will be clear and this will give you the best opportunity to enjoy the lights in all of their glory.

9. Expect Different Colors

Planning A Trip To See The Northern Lights Guide
Eagle River Nature Center, Anchorage, US

The northern lights can appear in a spectrum of colors, including grays. Which means that if there are clouds in the sky, it may be hard to spot the lights if they show up as gray.

Although green is the common color, don’t be surprised to see a few others too. Now you know what to look out for!

10. Face North

Ok, so you’re already in the northern part of the world, so why bother facing north? Can’t the lights just start anywhere if you’re already north? Not necessarily.

You’re more likely to see the northern lights if you’re facing north. So, since you’ve already traveled a long way north to get there, why not just face north too?

11. Bring Snacks, Lots Of Snacks

The day will be long for you if you decide to take a walking tour of the lights through the mountains. Because of this, it is super important for you to bring along some food and some drinks to keep you healthy and energized for the hike.

When you set off for a hike you can always think about something which is high in sugar such as a Kendal mint cake or something which has a lot of protein such as a nutbar. Also, make sure you drink water in small increments to keep you hydrated but to stop you needing the restroom every few minutes.

12. Layer Up

Planning A Trip To See The Northern Lights Guide

The day and nights are going to be incredibly cold for you when you head off for your trip, and because of this, you’ll need to make sure that you bring lots of layers with you for the trip. It is a good idea for you to visit an outdoor clothing store to gather up things such as sturdy boots and socks, thermal under layers and thick pants and coats for the walk.

Don’t forget to bring items to cover your eyes and face because it can get pretty freezing in these northern countries.

13. Prepare For Walking

It is always a good idea to get away from light pollution when seeing the northern lights, and so you may need to trek a few miles away from cities to best see them.

If you haven’t walked for a while and you want to go and see the northern lights, it’d be best to practice a little bit before going. Walking in your local area and in the mountains in your own home country is a good way to get used to the idea of walking and to build up your stamina a little too.

14. Take A Camera

This one should be a no-brainer when planning a trip to see the northern lights, but don’t forget to bring a camera and a tripod! You’ll want to capture and treasure this sight forever.

Be sure to set your camera to long exposure capture to take the best shots.

15. Go For The Destination As Well As The Lights

The northern lights can be unpredictable, sometimes the aurora forecast can be at a Kp=4, but you’ll still not see anything. Moreover, sometimes you won’t even see the northern lights at all. If you were to just plan a trip to see the northern lights and that was all, this would be a huge disappointment!

To lower the potential disappointment factor, make sure the country you’re visiting to see the lights is also one you’re interested in.

Without sounding too pessimistic, plan a bulletproof holiday itinerary that doesn’t include seeing the northern lights so that, if the worst were to happen, you’d still have a good time and wouldn’t feel too short-changed.

If you’re in the middle of planning a trip to see the northern lights, we hope these 15 tips were helpful for you. Let us know how you get on and share more tips below!

Suggested next reading: 6 Best Places In The World To See The Northern Lights

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