The Northern Lights probably need no introduction. That being said, finding the best places to see the Northern Lights is a totally different matter!
The images of them are so iconic and they are a natural wonder that is even more amazing to see in real life. Seeing them in person is an experience I cherish so much and would recommend to anyone anywhere to try to do!
The day I saw them for the very first time was actually quite cloudy but as per my photos, you can see that they are still very bright and visible despite the clouds.
They light up the sky and are a natural wonder truly worthy of the awe people typically ascribe to them. Honestly, they’re so incredible to see and there’s a heap of the best places to see the Northern Lights dotted all across the world.
We have since then seen them again in Iceland, Norway, Alaska even more recently in Sweden and in Lapland, too. We’ve also seen them from the plane, whilst flying over Canada (which was equally incredible).
Now, before I go on to the list of best places to see the Northern Lights, here are a few tips and tricks that will help plan your trip,
Northern Lights Photography Tips and Settings
1.) Don’t bother with your iPhone
It looks like you could take a photo on it when you actually see the lights but you will end up with just a dark screen. The low exposure setting can work for really bright Northern Lights, but you will get a lot of noise and won’t be the best.
(*Sidebar: There are some apps that can help take Northern Lights photos now but you’re better off with a proper camera for this.
2.) The best setting is ISO 200 and a 30-second exposure
Plus, if you can make it even longer – go for it! Set your aperture (the f value) as low as it will go on your camera.
Higher ISO adds a lot of noise but you could try ISO 400 – 800 too but try not to go higher than that.
Full frame cameras can handle a higher ISO than cropped sensor cameras so ISO 800 will likely be fine on full-frame cameras but most likely not on cropped sensor cameras.
3.) Get yourself a tripod
It doesn’t matter what kind really (preferably something sturdy of course) but as you will be pointing your camera to the sky and using long exposure you will end up in terribly blurry photos.
This is especially true if you don’t have a stable base for the camera to sit on.
4.) Take photos on manual focus
If you’ve got enough darkness around you to see the lights, autofocus will struggle and you’ll end up taking no photos.
For focus, try to focus initially on something far away (a distant light, a bright star, the moon – if it is out), then when you have this focus correct, switch to manual and take your photos in that setting.
5.) Use the GI Alaska University Website: Northern Lights Forecasts
This helped so much when we were in Island and helped us plan which day to actually make an effort to see the Northern Lights.
The first day, we only tried as we were already up in the mountains but the second day was the day the website forecast the display of the Northern Lights and they were right on the money.
6.) Drive out of the city
It’s important to move away from sources of bright lights (cities, towns..etc) if you want to stand a chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
The city/town lights won’t let you see the sky properly as the sky will ‘suffer’ from light pollution. Effectively, the city lights are too bright to see the sky properly and so you will miss the Northern Lights even if they’re out.
On occasion, you can still see them sometimes if it’s pretty there’s a strong show of the Northern Lights but chances are that you probably won’t so just plan ahead and find yourself a nice dark viewing spot for the Northern Lights.
7.) Be patient
We tried for two nights (which was quite lucky) before getting to see them.
Lloyd was just about to drive off when I thought I saw something in the distance and lo and behold within 5 minutes and then for over an hour, the sky was lit with the Northern Lights.
This was around 2 am! (In fairness, we did didn’t leave the hotel till around 11 and naps were had all round!)
8.) Play around with the settings
It is better to have a few terrible photos and a few good ones that all terrible ones if your settings are all wrong.
This includes the ISO, shutter speed and manual focus (you can’t really go wrong with the F-value – just go as low as possible as this allow more light in which you’ll definitely need).
Best Places In The World To See The Northern Lights
1.) Reykjavik, Iceland
Easily one of my favourite places in the world, Reykjavik boasts not only warm and friendly Icelandic people but also a city with an amazing backdrop of stunning vistas.
As though these weren’t enough, it is also a really great travel location for seeing the Northern Lights. You don’t have to drive too far off to immerse yourself in an awesome display of colours in the night sky.
The best part is, with your car, you can also explore a lot of other sights Iceland has to offer in addition to seeing the Northern Lights. You see, although the city is not a great place to see them on their own, driving 30-minutes into the countryside, you’ll be treated to the best northern lights.
Not only that, but Iceland is also chock-a-block with other natural wonders light waterfalls, geysers, natural springs.
You’ll be spoilt for choice on things to see and the whole island is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights for sure.
2.) Tromsø, Norway
Tromso is also another great city to be in if you want to see the Northern Lights.
The best part about being located in a city is that you get to do other things during the day to distract yourself and enjoy your holiday and then you can spend the nights looking out for the Northern Lights.
We loved exploring the area around Tromso and caught the Northern Lights on quite a few of the nights we visited.
3.) The Shetland Islands, Scotland
These are a bit more of a remote location and not lacking in the grey skies that the UK is famous for (haha!) but the Shetland Islands, like a lot of other destinations in the UK, offer one of the most tranquil and beautiful holiday locations in the world.
That being said, at certain times of the year, you might be lucky to catch the Northern Lights. They’re typically not as strong as places like Iceland or Norway but it’s a place you can be lucky to see them.
Throw yourself into a rather rustic and relaxing holiday when you go to the Shetland Islands and make sure you go out exploring nature while you’re there.
And don’t forget to pack a raincoat and wellies, especially as you’ll be spending lots of time outside to when searching for the best places to see the Northern Lights.
4.) Lapland, Finland
The home of Father Christmas! Need I say more? 😉
Lapland, of course, is much more than that – this is also a great destination to enjoy some winter sports and a bit of icy fun! 🙂
Careful when driving there of course (potential icy roads – especially if you go off the beaten track).
Though, the best part is that you’re more likely to find a place with less light pollution here. This all means that you don’t have to venture too far from your new (temporary) ‘home’ to see the Northern Lights.
It really is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, with a little festive spirit thrown in, too.
5.) Svalbard, Norway
This is one for the adventurers! This is a rather remote Island and probably one that’s more rugged travellers.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a family vacation here with young kids – unless your kids are made of pretty strong stuff (and the parents too of course).
As you can imagine there is barely anything there so it’s not one for a ‘long’ holiday.
Probably best for a night or two but this is so rewarding as it’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. Also, if you have extra time (or can find a safe way to do this) it’s also great for seeing polar bears. Just make sure to go with an expert guide and never alone.
6.) Alaska, USA
Similar to Iceland, Alaska is full of natural wonders and sights to see so this is a great holiday destination albeit a remote one.
There’s not as much to do as Reykjavik in terms of city life but this is one destination I would recommend for a nice relaxing time immerse is the most beautiful of natural surroundings.
It’s easily one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, for sure!
7.) Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
Again, not much going on here in terms of a long holiday but an amazing location to see ‘icy sights’ – think glaciers, steep ice walls, ice sheets…etc.
It also has a lot of wintery wildlife – reindeer, musks, peregrine falcons…etc so it’s a great place to immerse yourself infauna that you might otherwise not get to see on other holidays.