Europe is one of the best places in the world for a life-changing Northern Lights holiday. The northern reaches of the continent are situated in the Arctic Circle and feature many of the world’s most extreme environments.
We’ve been lucky to witness the aurora borealis in Europe on several trips, and we know which regions provide epic light shows. From Iceland to Finland, the continent pushed us to the limits with its treacherous weather conditions, but we left each trip with no regrets.
After hunting the Northern Lights on multiple trips, we’re excited to share our top 7 spots to see the aurora borealis in Europe. We’ve personally visited around half of the places on this list but have added others to expand your options to view the Northern Lights in Europe.
What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are one of nature’s mysterious phenomena that have inspired humans for thousands of years. Also called polar lights, the magnificent display of luminous colors can only be spotted above the Earth’s magnetic poles. The dancing lights are referred to as the aurora borealis at the northern pole and the aurora australis at the southern pole.
Beautiful shades of green, violet, yellow, red, and blue fill the night sky, and witnessing the Northern Lights is truly a life-changing experience. The lights are caused when solar wind collides with the gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. The reaction causes a release of energy that manifests itself in the awe-inspiring Northern Lights.
When to see the Northern Lights in Europe?
Clear, dark skies are needed to see the aurora borealis in Europe, and your trip must be the time of year with the longest nights. Winter has the longest nights of the year, and these frigid months give you the best chance to find the Northern Lights in Europe.
In general, October to March is the best time for a Northern Lights holiday in Europe but your specific destination will determine the months the aurora borealis is visible to the human eye. It’s possible to see the Northern Lights in late-August or early-April in some locations.
The most common countries to find the Northern Lights in Europe include Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The aurora zone where most Northern Lights sightings happen is between the latitudes of 65 and 72 degrees North.
However, it’s possible to hunt the Northern Lights in other areas when there are powerful geomagnetic storms. When such instances occur, you can spot the aurora borealis in places such as Scotland and the Faroe Islands.
What do the different colors of the Northern Lights mean?
Although green is the predominant color, the aurora borealis glows a wide variety of shades beneath the night sky. The primary cause of the different colors is the altitude in which solar particles interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. Numerous gases make up the Earth’s atmosphere, and specific colors coincide with the gases that collide with the charged particles.
The majority of solar particles react with the atmosphere at an altitude of 60-150 miles, and oxygen is the primary gas involved in these reactions. This results in most auroras displaying a luminous green color.
Red auroras are also reactions with oxygen, but these rare occurrences happen at altitudes above 150 miles. Blue and purple auroras occur when nitrogen reacts to solar particles at altitudes 60 miles or less. When some of these auroras combine, it’s possible to see pink and yellow.
How can you see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are unpredictable and finding them often results as a fortune of good luck. That’s why you should pick a destination high on your bucket list, and you’ll have a fantastic time if you don’t see the Northern Lights.
The most important thing you need to see the Northern Lights in Europe is a dark sky with no cloud cover. Clouds are the #1 enemy while hunting for the aurora borealis, and it’s impossible to predict clear skies far in advance.
Solar activity is also needed, but this can be a little easier to predict thanks to aurora forecast apps. You can download apps such as ‘My Aurora Forecast’ to your smartphone for hourly solar forecasts or predictive models for the coming weeks.
Forecasts tell you the best areas for hunting the Northern Lights in Europe and the KP-index to indicate the power of impending geomagnetic storms. The KP-index is a scale that measures the disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. It ranges from Kp 0 to Kp 9, and measurements closer to Kp 9 indicate a higher chance of seeing the aurora borealis.
How to photograph the Northern Lights?
It takes more than a simple iPhone camera to snap quality photos of the Northern Lights. Whether you’re an aspiring nature photographer or wish to have a memento from your Northern Lights holiday, follow these tips for taking pictures of the aurora borealis in Europe.
What you need:
- Camera that allows you to use manual settings
- If you’re in the extreme cold: Extra battery (TIP: keep the battery close to your body, so it will be warmed by your body heat. A battery exposed to the cold will drain without even using it) + camera sleeve, to protect your camera from the cold. Something like this one!
- Aperture (f): As wide as possible, 2.8 is optimal. If your camera doesn’t allow this, use the widest aperture possible.
- Focus: Focus to infinity.
TIP: If your camera doesn’t have a clear setting for this, set your ISO as high as possible to use a short shutter speed. This won’t provide beautiful pictures, but it does allow you to shoot pictures quickly, so you can see if your focus is right.
- White balance: It’s extremely important to get the colors right, especially when you shoot in snowy circumstances. It’s best to manually set the white balance and you can check your camera settings to do this. Otherwise, try different white balances on your camera settings to see which one results in the best colors.
- ISO: Set this as low as possible. The lower your ISO, the less noise. This will take trial and error, but you also have to keep your shutter speed in mind.
- Shutter speed: Try 12-15 seconds to start with. Don’t go longer than 30 seconds, because the stars will start to move if you use longer shutter speeds, which results in small stripes in your pictures instead of crystal-clear shining stars. The shorter your shutter speed, the sharper the Northern Lights will appear. So, you really have to play around with the shutter speed and the ISO to get the best combination. This will be different in every situation.
Top 7 places to see the Northern Lights in Europe
1. Akureyri in Iceland
Best time for Northern Lights in Akureyri: September – April
While we traveled through Iceland, we saw the Northern Lights in Akureyri when we were couch surfing. Their house had a glass roof that let us stargaze into the night sky from the comfort of our toasty mattress on the living room floor. The stars alone were incredible, but the aurora borealis appeared out of nowhere to make it an even more spectacular experience.
Due to its northerly location, Akureyri has longer winter nights than Reykjavik and gives you a better chance to find the Northern Lights. The lengthy winters are windy, frigid, and have lots of cloud cover. Despite the possibility of overcast, you’ll have a fantastic chance to see the Northern Lights when the sky clears.
Find out more info about the winter weather in North Iceland and the best time to travel to Iceland for an unforgettable holiday.
Akureyri is the capital of North Iceland, and it has one of the country’s most important harbors. There are several fun winter attractions in town, such as art galleries, museums, swimming pools, and a ski resort. Hunting for the Northern Lights remains the most popular winter activity in Akureyri for locals and tourists.
This town is a fantastic starting point for tons of Northern Lights tours in the area, and your guides will take you to the best viewing areas around town. Join your host inside a bus or 4×4 jeep to get a front seat to one of the best Northern Lights shows in Iceland.
If you’re up for a wild adventure, you could try camping near Akureyri to sleep in the outdoors beneath the stars and aurora borealis. Check out our tips on cold weather camping to be well prepared for your night in the outdoors.
( Norwegian archipelago)
Best time for Northern Lights in Svalbard: October – February
Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean and the first place we saw the Northern Lights. We anticipated a beautiful show and lots of polar bears, but others who had been there laughed at us. When someone shouted that Northern Lights were here, we rushed outside in -35 degrees Celsius to snap a picture.
Our excitement was short-lived since we only saw a cloudlike glow. We took a picture, and it came out green. We thought this whole Northern Lights thing was one big joke and all fake. S0, our first Northern Lights sighting was a big disappointment.
The next day was a completely different story, and we saw what the aurora borealis was supposed to look like. Green and purple lights danced amidst the darkness as the sky acted like a canvas. This time we absolutely didn’t need a camera to behold this natural phenomenon. Watching the dancing Northern Lights was hypnotizing, and we laid down in the freezing cold snow until our muscles and bones were so cold that we could barely walk back to the guest house.
Svalbard was an enchanting place to see the Northern Lights in Europe for the first time. This mystical landscape in the Arctic Circle is known for its snowy mountains, sharp cliffs, massive glaciers, and incredible wildlife. The archipelago is home to reindeer, arctic foxes, polar bears, and other resilient animals.
Its untamed scenery creates epic snowmobile, dog sledding, skiing, and ice caving adventures. Hunting for the Northern Lights during Svalbard’s winter is unique since much of the season is in complete darkness. From mid-November through January, the archipelago witnesses its “Polar Night” period where its night 24 hrs per day.
Svalbard’s environment is unreal, and it’s the only place in Europe to witness the aurora borealis during the day. Some of the Northern Lights tours offered here include sled dog tours, snowmobile rides, and camping adventures for an unfathomable experience.
3. Kakslauttanen in Finland
Best time for Northern Lights in Kakslauttanen: September – April
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is famous for its glass igloos that let you watch the Northern Lights without leaving the comfort of your accommodation. The village also offers rustic cabins, log chalets, and traditional houses with fabulous amenities such as an outdoor jacuzzi and a cozy fireplace.
We had a once in a lifetime Workaway opportunity here and spent over a month taking care of the huskies that pulled tourists around in sleds. Our duties included cutting meat, cleaning dog poo (which is really not that bad when it’s all frozen, just the fresh ones might stink a little!), fastening them in front of the sleds, and placing them back into their living spaces.
The Northern Lights were frequently dancing during our time in Kakslauttanen, but we didn’t bother taking many pictures due to the insanely cold weather. It would sometimes reach -50 degrees Celsius, and your hands would feel frozen trying to snap photos. Although the snow in this part of Finland is treacherous and buries you, it has some of the most amazing Northern Lights in Europe.
Kakslauttanen is only 30 minutes from Ivalo Airport and hosts incredible Northern Lights hunting trips. Drive through the wilderness on a snowmobile, ride on a sleigh pulled by horse or reindeer, or push through the thick snow on skis.
Complete your Northern Lights holiday with the resort’s other fun-filled winter activities like husky safaris, snowmobile safaris, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding.
4. Trysil in Norway
Best Time for Northern Lights in Trysil: December – March
Trysil is Norway’s most popular ski destination, and we spent 10 days on the slopes of the Scandinavian Mountains. The resort is only 2.5 hours from Oslo and one of the best places in Norway for a winter getaway. With the opening of the new Scandinavian Mountains Airport in 2019, flights put you within 45 minutes of the alpine region.
The resort offers a variety of skiing adventures such as terrain parks and off-piste runs. Some slopes are open during the evening, and this allowed us to witness an incredible light show. Although several of the slopes have flood lights, the lack of light pollution allows you to see the aurora borealis.
During winter, cloud cover is limited, and the skies are dark from the early afternoon until the next morning. Since the ski resort and accommodations are right on the slopes, you can participate in Northern Lights tours on foot.
5. Abisko in Sweden
Best time for Northern Lights in Abisko: September – April
Located in Swedish Lapland, Abisko National Park takes you far away from civilization and into a glorified aurora zone. The park lies within the Arctic Circle, and clear winter skies provide endless chances to see the Northern Lights. There is high solar activity in this region of Sweden, and you’ll have plenty of darkness during winter nights.
Rugged mountains dot the landscape, and there are tons of exciting winter activities inside the park. Dog sledding, snowshoe walks, and snowmobile rides are among the other popular winter outings at Abisko. However, hunting for the aurora borealis is the star attraction during those dark, frigid months.
The best place in Abisko National Park to watch the Northern Lights is inside the Aurora Sky Station. Situated on Mount Nuolja, the watch tower has a knowledgeable staff and superb facilities to ensure you have a magical experience.
To accommodate park visitors that wish to see the Northern Lights, Abisko offers several tours. Join professional photographers to take flawless pictures of the aurora borealis, hunt down the Northern Lights with a tour guide, or warm up by the fire while watching one of the best Northern Lights shows in Sweden.
6. Isle of Skye in Scotland
Best time for Northern Lights on the Isle of Skye: October – March
Although it’s tougher to spot the Northern Lights in Scotland, the otherworldly Isle of Skye is a beautiful area to search for them. The geologic wonderland lies amongst the Inner Hebrides of the Scottish Highlands and rests at a similar latitude to parts of Norway.
Nights become longer and clearer as winter approaches, and the island lacks major cities with light pollution. You might have to stay awake late into the evening, but solar activity consistently illuminates the northern reaches of Scotland.
Before running out of sunlight, make sure to discover Skye’s mind-blowing natural scenery. The weather may be wet and chilly, but the Old Man of Storr, Fairy Pools, and the Quiraing are just a few places to explore on a road trip around the island.
Upon nightfall, drive to Rubha Hunish, the northern tip of Skye, to gaze into the direction of the North Sea for the best chance of catching the Northern Lights.
The northerly Trotternish Peninsula is home to the Shulista Croft Wigwams, a beautiful glamping location for stargazing and witnessing the aurora borealis in Europe. Also, the Isle of Skye has several Dark Sky Discovery Sites for breathtaking views of the night sky.
7. Viðareiði in the Faroe Islands
Best time for Northern Lights in Viðareiði: November – February
The Faroe Islands are an archipelago smudged between Iceland, Scotland, and Norway. We spent 10 days driving around the volcanic islands, and it was an exhilarating road trip. Our trip was in October, but the days were short enough for a Northern Lights sighting.
The weather during the fall and winter is extremely unpredictable, and you should prepare for anything. This is the rainiest time of year, and the temperatures hover around the single digits Celsius. Winter days are roughly five hours long, and the archipelago’s lack of light pollution gives you incredible chances to watch the aurora borealis.
Despite the short days, winter is a wonderful time to visit the Faroe Islands with a sharp reduction in crowds compared to summer. Most visitors arrive during this season for a Northern Lights holiday, but there are other fun activities to pass the time. Join the locals for concerts, sports, and beer tasting, or drive around the archipelago to admire its untouched scenery.
Viðareiði is the northernmost village of the Faroe Islands, which naturally makes it one of the best places to hunt for the Northern Lights. The coastal settlement is a fantastic area for hiking due to its jaw-dropping landscapes. Hiking the Villingadalsfjall mountain is a rewarding challenge, and you’ll have an incredible view of Cape Enniberg, one of the world’s tallest sea cliffs.
The Faroe Islands are becoming a more popular location to watch the aurora borealis in Europe due to its wild environment, and you can combine a Northern Lights hunt with the archipelago’s natural sights. A self-driving tour takes you to waterfalls, scenic cliffs, and rugged coastlines before peering for the Northern Lights.
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Thanks for checking out our top 7 spots to see the Northern Lights in Europe. Hopefully, this has provided the information you need to pick the best location for an adventurous Northern Lights holiday in Europe. If you have travel experiences from any of these European destinations, or if you have a question, please leave a comment below.