Wondering where you can see the Northern Lights in Europe? Trying to find the PERFECT European location where you can open your door and see the Aurora Borealis twinkling overhead each night?
There are two main rules that the experts say to follow if you want to see the Northern Lights in Europe. More on those below.
Having said that, we've broken these ‘rules' every time we've seen the Aurora!
Best place to see Northern Lights in Europe
I hate to start this post off with some frustrating news, but there is NO best place in Europe (or anywhere!) to see the Northern Lights. They are a moving phenomenon and the ‘best places' change from month to month (even week to week).
That said, there are some places where you can see the Northern Lights in Europe consistently well (or at least with an increased likelihood)
Ther two main rules that the experts follow if you want to see the Northern Lights in Europe are:
- Get North of the Arctic Circle between October and March
- Get inland, away from the sea. Mountains are good because they help keep the sky clear
And rule 3:
- Be PATIENT– and accept that it's a gamble! There is NEVER any guarantee of seeing the Aurora in any location.
Where can you see the Northern Lights in Europe- break the rules!
We've been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights on 7 separate nights. In fact, out of the 8 nights we've spent Aurora hunting, only one was unsuccessful. We've been very lucky- and we've broken rule number 2 pretty much all the time.
Our first trip was a Hurtigruten cruise from Tromso up the Norwegian coast. It was a great trip (years before I started this blog sadly), and we spent every night sitting on deck in FREEZING temperatures, watching the Aurora swirl overhead and reflect on the sea. It was utterly magical.
The second time was in Iceland. We stayed in a small hotel on the South Coast, and saw the Aurora 3 out of 4 nights. We had our own car, so drove miles into the wilderness to enjoy the show without any light pollution at all! It was pretty awesome.
Both times, we chose our trip based on a possibility of seeing the Northern Lights, but with other attractions which allowed us to have a good holiday regardless. Personally, I think that is the best plan. Going to any of these places is expensive- and you don't want to leave disappointed. So pick somewhere where there is something else awesome to do!
What month is best to see the Northern Lights in Europe
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Europe is between October- March, north of the Arctic Circle. The sun sets very early up here, which allows plenty of darkness to give the lights a chance to show up.
Many people say Autumn or Spring are the best times– winter is almost TOO cold. Both times we've been has been March, but we know many people who've seen them in other months- it really is luck of the draw. (Travelling in Autumn? Here are some amazing ideas for places to see in Autumn in Europe)
Practical tips for seeing the Northern Lights in Europe
- Get far away from cities and other light pollution, including roads
- Allow about 30 minutes of darkness for your eye to adjust to the night
- Try and find a location with an open view towards the North- the Aurora tends to show over the North Pole
- Mountains and/ or lakes are perfect backdrops for AMAZING photos
- After Twilight or just before dawn are common times for the Aurora to show
- Wrap up warmly- you're going to be outside for a while!
- Learn how to use your camera and research settings beforehand so you can set it up quickly
- Take a tripod for amazing photos!
Where to see northern lights in Europe
The places below are the places most highly recommended by hundreds of travellers. Of course, there are other places where you can see the Northern Lights in Europe- that's part of the fun!
I've heard stories about them being visible as far south as Manchester, England on some (rare!) occasions!
Northern Lights Finland
Finland has recently become one of the most popular Northern Lights destinations in Europe. It's also one of the first places in Europe that the Aurora tends to be visible- sometimes as early as mid-August!
Rovaniemi, Finland is the home of Santa (no, seriously) and is also one of the most popular places for Northern Light hunters. You can even stay in log or glass cabins specially built in areas away from light pollution to allow you a better chance of seeing them from your doorstep!
Finland has a low population ratio, so has beautiful dark skies free from light pollution, plenty of stunning scenery including lakes to reflect the Aurora and a warmer temperature until November. (Those lakes are also the perfect spot to try out ice fishing in Finland– you might even be able to do it while watching the Aurora overhead!)
In Rovaniemi, the chance of seeing the Northern Lights on clear nights as around 40%, which may not sound like much but is actually very good!
Best time to visit
September- November (before the big snowfalls arrive. Snow= cloud= not much chance to see the sky! Spring (March/ April) can be good too- but the skies get lighter quicker so there is less time.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Finland – How to get there
There are direct flights to Rovaniemi airport (Santa's airport!) from UK and Europe during the winter.
Northern Lights Sweden
Sweden is the least populated country in Northern Europe. Which means less light pollution. Which means more chance to see the Aurora Borealis in all its glory.
Sweden also enjoys a fairly mild temperature until mid-November, which means clearer skies. Which means more chance to see the Aurora Borealis in all its glory.
Kiruna is famous for the amazing Ice Hotel which is built each year. You can stay in one of the rooms, or just visit for a tour. It's also one of the best European cities to visit in Europe in winter.
But if you REALLY want to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, head north from Kiruna to the little town of Abisko.
This pretty place is VERY remote, but is in the mountains, whose winds help to keep the skies clear but also to regulate the temperatures. And the total lack of light pollution means even weak Aurora displays can be seen.
Abisko also has an Aurora Sky Station, which is an open chair lift taking you up to an observation lounge and restaurant on a mountaintop, where you can watch the Aurora whilst enjoying a 4-course meal. Wrap up warmly, but the views are SPECTACULAR!
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Sweden?
September to end of March
Other activities to enjoy
Husky sledding, photography tours, Lapland tour, skimobiles or relaxing in a beautiful log cabin, far away from the world!
There are daily flights to Stockholm from the UK and Europe and from there you can get a flight to Kiruna. You can also get a train from Stockholm, including the night train which just sounds like fun!
To get to Abisko, you will need to use the train or bus from Kiruna.
Northern Lights Iceland- one of the cheapest places to see the Northern Lights in Europe
Iceland is a cool destination in its own right- the fact that you might see the Northern Lights as well is just an added bonus! It's also one of the cheapest places to see the Northern Lights in Europe.
Don't expect huge snowdrifts- but the lack of snow clouds is one of the reasons you get such high viewing stats in Iceland. Again, the Gulf Stream works its magical magic (technical term) and somehow the temperatures are slightly warmer than they should be. All those volcanoes help keep the temperatures warmer too!
Don't get me wrong, it's still cold in winter, but get away from the cities and you've a great chance of seeing the Aurora.
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
October to end of March. Autumn and Spring are considered the best times.
Other activities to enjoy
Rent a car and do your own tour- a 4×4 is a great idea! Otherwise, book onto several tours to visit Geysers, Volcanoes, Glaciers, Waterfalls, boat cruises and the Blue Lagoon (which we DIDN'T do when we went and we regret it. So now we have to go back!)
Getting to Iceland
There are frequent flights to Rekyjavik from the UK and Europe.
Northern Lights Norway
Svalbard is a group of islands north of the Northern coast of Norway. It's the northernmost inhabited place in Europe and it's famous for its polar bears.
Svalbard lies in the Arctic Ocean halfway between Norway and the North Pole. It's remote, desolate and a perfect place to see the Northern Lights!
It's covered in untouched glaciers, HUGE mountains and a wide range of wildlife (although in winter much of it will be hibernating or hiding!
During the summer, the sun never sets in Svalbard, and during the winter (November to February), there is NO daylight. None.
This is why you stand such a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Svalbard- it could literally appear at any time of the day or night.
In October and February, you will experience a twilight and ‘dawn' with blue light, which is also amazing to see. (Here are some ideas for other great places to see in Europe in October)
Other things to do in Svalbard
Dog sledding; Snowmobiling; Glacial Ice caving; Snow-shoeing; many photography and Aurora hunting tours.
Getting to Svalbard
Svalbard has the world's most northern airport accepting scheduled flights. The most common route is from Oslo which takes 3 hours- not many places in UK or Europe have scheduled flights to Longyearbyen.
NOTE: You WILL need a passport or other Government-issued ID to get to Svalbard.
Tromso is the largest city in Northern Norway. It's north of the Arctic circle and, although it's on the sea, it's surrounded by fjords and mountains which help keep the sky clear AND give an amazing backdrop for the lights to show off on.
For best views, try to get out of the city for the evening- there are LOADS of tour options which allow you to do this!
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway?
Other activities to enjoy in Tromso
Dog sledding; Snowmobile tours; Polar bear museum and in January there is the Northern Lights Festival– a music festival showcasing local and international artists ranging from classical to jazz!
Getting to Tromso
Plenty of direct flights to Tromso from UK and Europe. There's also a train from Oslo.
Northern Lights Scotland
Where can you see the Northern Lights in Europe? Shetland, Scotland
The Shetlands are the best place in the British Isles to see the Northern Lights. The Arctic Circle is just 650 miles north and winter is DARK.
The Shetland Islands are an archipelago of more than 100 islands, sitting between Norway and Scotland. They're technically closer to Norway than Scotland, so they're not exactly next to the Scotland Mainland.
15 of the Shetland Isles are inhabited and, although they are very remote, they have a unique culture and heritage, with lots of Viking museums and memorabilia to explore whilst you're waiting for the Aurora to show up.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Shetland- how to get there
There's a ferry, but I really don't fancy those stormy winter seas! The best way is by plane from either Bergen in Norway or several airports in Scotland.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Switzerland
The short (and somewhat surprising answer!) is yes. But not often. Occasionally the Aurora Borealis is so strong that it will reach all the way south and you can see the Northern Lights in Switzerland. But there is no way to predict when this will happen and it happens very VERY rarely (every few years or so.)
So don't book your trip to Switzerland based on that! (But do still go- Switzerland is AMAZING!
So, where is the best place for Northern Lights in Europe?
Wherever you are and they are at the same time! Seeing them is breathtaking and unforgettable. I sincerely hope you get that chance!
Safe travels- and let me know how you get on!
Want some other options for Europe in Winter?
Want to save this post for later? Pin it to your Winter in Europe board