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11 Unexpected Places to View the Northern Lights

·7-min read

People travel every winter to seek out the elusive Northern Lights, a celestial phenomenon that occurs when solar wind hits Earth's atmosphere. Witnessing the resulting glow of green and purple lights swirling in the sky (usually during the winter months) is an experience on most travel bucket lists. You probably know of some popular locations for chasing the aurora borealis, like Iceland and Alaska, but we've also rounded up some more under-the-radar destinations that you may not have considered—some of which are in the contiguous United States.

If you do want to travel somewhere more well-known, we have you covered there as well. There are tons of ways to make these popular Northern Lights destinations feel completely unique, whether it's by floating in a frozen pond in Finland or sleeping in a bubble room in Iceland.

While there's no guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights in any given location—they are infamously fussy, requiring perfect timing and weather conditions—we think these 11 spots are worth visiting no matter what.

RELATED: 15 Best Places to Stargaze in the U.S.

northern lights in michigan
northern lights in michigan

Getty Images

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

If you're lucky (and armed with the best travel tips), you can spot the Northern Lights without having to leave the United States. One great place to start is Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which benefits from both northern geography and a lack of light pollution. Head straight to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, a 550-acre county space off the coast of Lake Michigan. The park's website recommends looking north sometime after midnight for the best viewing chances. And even if you don't catch the show, the stargazing here is always incredible.

bubble hotel room outside with northern lights in background
bubble hotel room outside with northern lights in background

@bubbleiceland, Instagram

5 Million Star Hotel in Skálholt, Iceland

A little under two hours east of Reykjavik, the 5 Million Star Hotel is easily one of the coolest places you'll ever stay, offering nine individual bubble rooms that give unobstructed views of the night sky—and its 5 million stars. Each bubble is heated and comes with a double bed, lamp, and outlet for charging your phone.

Ferdamenn Islands, the company behind the hotel, offers a complete Golden Circle tour package for those wanting to soak up more sights during their visit. The tour stops at iconic Iceland landmarks like Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park, before dropping you off at the hotel in the evening.

northern lights in fairbanks, alaska
northern lights in fairbanks, alaska

Getty Images

Fairbanks, Alaska

Thanks to its location near the Arctic Circle, Alaska is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. To up your chances, visit the central city of Fairbanks, about a six-hour drive north of Anchorage. Fairbanks has a longer-than-average aurora season (August through April) and tons of great hotels and lodges for cozying up. Book a stay at one of the region's hot spring resorts (Chena Hot Springs Resort is always a good choice), many of which offer Northern Lights packages.

ice hotel with northern light in background, sweden
ice hotel with northern light in background, sweden

@icehotelsweden, Instagram

ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

There's a good chance you've heard of Sweden's famous ICEHOTEL, a full-fledged complex made entirely out of snow and ice. While the exact design changes every year (it melts in the spring and must be rebuilt each winter), the ICEHOTEL always has a restaurant, artist-designed suites, a main hall with frozen chandeliers, and even a reception space for weddings.

The hotel is located in the small town of Jukkasjärvi, which also happens to be a great spot for Northern Lights chasing—and ICEHOTEL has you totally covered on that front. They offer several excursions that take guests away from all light pollution, with guides to show you the best photo angles and teach the mythology surrounding the aurora. There's even a horseback tour for people who really want to connect with nature.

northern light in voyageur national park, minnesota
northern light in voyageur national park, minnesota

Getty Images

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Located right near the Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park received its International Dark Sky Park certification in late 2020. That means it's one of the country's best places to see constellations, the Milky Way, and, yes, the Northern Lights.

To get the full Voyageurs experience, rent a houseboat to camp out overnight (one-third of the park is covered in water). Check out Rainy Lakes Houseboats or Ebel's Voyageur Houseboats for a wide array of options ranging in size and amenities.

woman floating in the ice under the northern lights
woman floating in the ice under the northern lights

Safartica.com

Aurora Ice Floating in Rovaniemi, Finland

Finland is a pretty popular place for chasing the Lights, but you can make your experience totally unique if you know where to look. Try checking out Safartica, a Finland-based tour agency famous for its "Aurora ice floating" excursions.

The name describes the experience pretty well: you put on a special dry suit, dip yourself into a frozen lake, and float on your back as you look up at the Northern Lights. The suits are specifically designed to help you float and stay warm, so you really don't have to do any work. Even better? Safartica keeps the exact location of the lake a secret, so you and your group will have the space all to yourself.

isle of skye scotland milky way night sky
isle of skye scotland milky way night sky

Getty Images

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Scotland may not be the first place that jumps to mind when you think of the Northern Lights, but parts of the country are actually on the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska. The famous Isle of Skye is home to nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites, making it one of the best places in Scotland for stargazing and Northern Light hunting.

Glamping fans should check out the Shulista Croft Wigwams, situated on the beautiful Trotternish Peninsula. With en-suite bathrooms, kitchenettes, and flat-screen TVs, they're about the most comfortable accommodations you'll find in the Scottish wilderness.

outdoor bed with northern lights in background
outdoor bed with northern lights in background

Off the Map Travel

The "Aurora Bed" in Tromsøya, Norway

Watching the Northern Lights from the comfort of a king-size bed? Sign us up. That's just one perk of Off the Map Travel's "Aurora in Bed" package, a four-day, three-night itinerary curated by Arctic travel experts. The package takes care of every step of your trip: an airport pick-up in Tromso, accommodations at Villa Telegrafbukta, private chef-prepared meals, and excursions ranging from fjord cruises to dogsled rides. (You even have 24/7 access to a chauffeur-driven Tesla.)

But the main perk of the package, of course, is the villa's rooftop balcony with an "Aurora" bed. Simply cozy up under goose-down duvets and sheep's wool blankets, sip a mug of hot tea, and watch the dancing night sky until you fall asleep.

northern lights in yellowknife canada
northern lights in yellowknife canada

Getty Images

Yellowknife, Canada

Located in the Northwest Territories, the city of Yellowknife is known as the "Aurora Capital of North America"—a fitting title, given that the lights are visible a staggering 240 days out of the year. For a viewing experience that won't give you frostbite, book one of the cozy teepees at Aurora Village, an Aboriginal-owned company that provides guests with hot beverages and wood-burning fires. You can even upgrade your stay to include a three-course meal served in your private teepee.

northern lights in greenland
northern lights in greenland

Getty Images

Greenland

Greenland is one of the best locations on the planet for viewing the Northern Lights—in fact, there's hardly anywhere on the huge island where you can't see them. But if you really want to increase your chances, Greenland's Tourism Board suggests heading to one of these four places: Kangerlussuaq, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Nuuk.

All four locations benefit from relative accessibility and up to 300 clear nights per year, and all have many options for guided tours. Ilulissat might be the most beautiful spot, however, thanks to its coastal position against Disko Bay. That means you'll get to see staggering icebergs and fjords as you look out into the distance, hopefully illuminated by a celestial show.

hot air balloon in the sky, northern lights
hot air balloon in the sky, northern lights

Off the Map Travel

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Swedish Lapland

Just when you think you've exhausted your options of unique hotels and tours, Off the Map Travel swoops in with yet another one-of-a-kind Northern Lights viewing experience: "Aurora in the Sky", a three-night tour that lets you chase the lights in a hot air balloon.

The entire trip starts and ends in Swedish Lapland, and includes meals, private transfers, accommodations in lodges and glass teepees, and snowmobile rides across the wilderness. The featured balloon ride takes place on the second night, rising about 130 feet into the sky to get you that much closer to the stars and—fingers crossed—lights.

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