The northern and southern lights—also called the aurora borealis and aurora australis—are spectacular natural light shows caused by particles from the sun colliding with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. The lights dance across the sky, rolling, twisting, and turning, in a breathtaking, colorful display. We’ve compiled some of the best places in the world to see the northern and southern lights for a truly unforgettable experience.
Where to see the northern lights
The skies over Finland are graced with auroras about 200 nights a year, making it one of the best spots for northern lights viewing in the world. For a romantic vacation you won’t soon forget, book a glass snow igloo at Finland’s Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, 55 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Snuggle up with your sweetie while watching an unbelievable overhead display from the comfort of a down sleeping bag.
Other accommodations include log chalets, and a kelo-glass igloo, combining the cozy comfort of a cabin with a sauna, fireplace, and kitchenette and a glass dome for a crystal-clear views of the lights.
Sweden’s Icehotel is carved meticulously out of ice from scratch every year, making each visit unique. Situated in the village of Jukkasjärvi, 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the hotel uses ice harvested from the Torne River to construct intricate snow and ice guestrooms. The hotel offers snowmobile tours into the wilderness to view the lights, complete with a rustic dinner. Once you’re done adventuring, glam up with a glass of champagne at the ice bar.
Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
Want to view the lights without bracing the cold? Look no further than the Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters of Rock Lake while taking in the spectacular green, yellow, and purple hues of the northern lights.
Since the Fairbanks area lies directly beneath a band of aurora activity, you’ll have an excellent view of the action. Although the lights are best viewed between 10pm and 3am, there’s no need to stay awake all night. If you stay in one of the resort’s Moose Lodge Rooms, guests receive an “aurora wake up call” when the light show begins.
Where to see the southern lights
The main difference between the northern and southern is the color palette; while the northern lights produce mostly green light, and Southern Lights introduce pink, purple, orange, and gold tones for an even more dramatic spectacle.
The southern lights are also more elusive. There’s less land in the Southern Hemisphere and less opportunity to get away from bright cities in order to enjoy the lights under a completely dark sky.
Lake Takapo, New Zealand
For an amazing view of the aurora australis, visit Lake Takapo in New Zealand’s central South Island. This UNESCO “dark sky reserve” offers skies free of light pollution for a spectacular stargazing experience. For the best view of the aurora, head up to the south-facing Mount John Observatory for an elevated vantage point. When you’ve gotten your fill of the lights, take advantage of other activities in the area, including hot pools, a day spa, an ice rink, and a tube park.
For some of the best views in Australia, head to South Arm Peninsula in Hobart, Tasmania’s capital city. Although popular for surfing and fishing, it’s also a fantastic viewing spot for the aurora, with plenty of large, open spaces and minimal interference from artificial lights. The best time to catch the show is in winter, but the aurora can actually be viewed year-round in Tasmania. Plan to spend the day here walking, cycling, and enjoying the beach before settling in for the natural nighttime light show.
Seeing the northern or southern lights is an experience you’ll never forget. If you’ve seen the lights, where did you view them? Let us know in the Facebook comments!