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Many travelers have long had a fascination, even a romance, with the northern lights. Pursuing this natural phenomenon has been at the top of many people’s bucket lists for years, sometimes decades. It involves traveling to the planet’s most extreme locations and waiting for the perfect conditions. In other words, it’s the adventure of a lifetime but one that has become surprisingly accessible, especially for families, due to cutting-edge travel industry infrastructure.
October through March are among the best months to scope out the elusive, dancing green and pink swirls. And you’ll be pleased to know there are many specialized tours, exclusive hotels, and spectacular cruises just waiting to welcome your family on the chase. So where to see the Northern Lights? Keep reading for the full scoop.
Among the best places to see the aurora borealis are the upper latitudes of North America and the Nordic countries of Europe. Fairbanks, Alaska, is an excellent domestic destination, and the Canadian Rockies place you in a spectacular location to observe the swirling and moving bands of color, too.
Scandinavian nations like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark provide excellent locations for aurora hunting. Consider places like Denmark’s Faroe Islands and the northern regions of Norway and Sweden for your vacation.
Smackdab in the North Atlantic you’ll find Greenland and Iceland, which are also well-known for their views of this light phenomenon. And Finland offers wonderful ways to watch shimmering wintertime skies from the warmth of glass-topped igloos.
One of the best and most popular ways to see the lights is by cruising cold-weather destinations during the dark winter months. This approach allows your family to partake in winter activities at ports of call by day. At night, head out to sea, ensuring light pollution doesn’t impact viewing.
The Norway and Northern Lights cruise via the Cunard fleet, a luxury line of cruise ships, departs from the United Kingdom to Norway for 13 days of glorious aurora viewing. Cunard prides itself on family-friendly cruises with fantastic children’s facilities. Moreover, you’ll enjoy generous benefits when booking through Our Whole Village.
If you have more time for exploring, consider a 22-day Northern Lights Explorer cruise with Aurora Expeditions. Along the way, you’ll hit the hotspots for northern lights: Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Denmark’s Faroe Islands. And you’ll be happy to know Aurora Expeditions prides itself on offering kid-friendly adventures with a strong focus on education.
Other families may prefer an overland expedition. The adventure in these excursions is multi-layered. You get to experience local cultures up close and personal, and you’ll savor the wonder of heading into parts unknown for views unhampered by city lights and cloud cover.
The eight-day Northern Lights Adventure Week tour offered by 50 Degrees North lets you chase the lights in Iceland by night. Then, by day, explore other incredible sights like the Golden Circle. The company is known for crafting family-friendly trips your whole crew can get behind.
Head from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska, on Collette’s week-long Alaska Northern Lights tour, affording views of the aurora flickering across North American skies. Children over the age of five may travel on a Colette tour. Child land rates are valid for kids aged five to 12 that share a room with two full-paying adults.
For families with older teens, consider Intrepid’s 11-day group tour of the Canadian Rockies and Northern Lights. You’ll spend days snowshoeing, dog sledding, and ice-fishing. Then, by night, discover the dark terrain near the Peace River in search of telltale glittering and glimmering skies. Travelers must be a minimum of 15 years old for this Intrepid expedition.
The Luxury Travel Designer lets families explore Swedish Lapland for six days while enjoying many ways to see the aurora borealis. The tour includes an incredible stay at Arctic Bath, featuring spectacular views far removed from the light pollution of large cities. These lodgings come with welcome amenities and floor-to-ceiling windows, providing spacious, open views of the night sky.
Although there’s no way to guarantee the weather conditions will be ideal for aurora viewing, there’s nothing like seeing the wonders of the Arctic night sky from the comfort of a snugly bed. This incredible vacation includes ice fishing, fat biking, and dog sledding, providing the most adventurous Scandinavian winter activities your family can imagine.
Head to Finland for a week-long vacation stay with 50 Degrees North that includes two nights in a glass igloo in Rovaniemi, permitting you to watch the Northern Lights dazzle overhead.
Finland has a rich and cozy culture your family will love. Of course, a visit to the nation means endless opportunities to try winter activities, too. Enjoy dog sledding and an exhilarating reindeer safari. Savor delectable Nordic cuisine before cozying up for luxurious nights under the stars.
Local experts are invaluable resources for catching glimpses of the brilliant, vibrant northern lights. These individuals have spent their lives developing regional knowledge and skills to ensure you have the best experience possible.
For example, Sigríður Einarsdóttir, an Arctic pilot with more than three decades of experience, has become an expert at knowing where and when to catch the aurora borealis. She explains, “Like the weather in Iceland, the lights are unpredictable, however, the forecast can be tracked to some extent to give you the most likely time to experience the lights from the ground.”
What does she suggest as the best way to ensure you see them while traveling? Einarsdóttir suggests using an app or website that provides real-time data. The best resources include information about the intensity of the lights, potential cloud cover, and other localized weather conditions.
Excellent choices include the Icelandic Meteorological Office website, which monitors solar activity and uses this data to create six-day forecasts based on geomagnetic activity (a.k.a. the Kp-index). The website also provides info about weather conditions and cloud cover. Another popular site is the Aurora Service Europe, featuring geomagnetic conditions, solar activity, and wind conditions recorded by NASA’s ACE satellite and the NOAA Ovation Aurora Forecast.
Other apps worth considering (depending on your destination) are Hello Aurora and the Aurora Forecast, which provide detailed information on current conditions. Soft Serve News lets you opt into notifications for a fee of $4.95 per month, and SpaceWeatherLive has you covered with tracking tools for solar winds, moon phases, and more.
Northern Lights Iceland contains excellent information on the best places to see the lights in Iceland, relying on satellite imagery. Visit the Forecasts page for the latest map and weather charts, which get updated daily. Finally, My Aurora Forecast & Alerts is available through the Apple store and provides free push notifications. It lets users plan weeks ahead based on the latest weather conditions. These resources cut out some of the guesswork, upping your odds of a family excursion filled with twinkling, colorful lights.
Spending the time, money, and effort to chase the aurora means you also want some photographic proof of success. After all, there’s no better trip memento than what you’ve witnessed with your own eyes. While some people take a tour incorporating a photo workshop, you don’t need lots of equipment and a specialized itinerary to get great snapshots.
When the aurora is bright, even an iPhone can catch beautiful images. Upgrade your phone for the best results and try using the Night mode setting. If you’re after photos that require a little more expertise, consider bringing a DSLR camera with adjustable settings. You’ll want to practice manually adjusting your camera in advance for the best results. Generally, go with high ISO, low aperture, and long shutter speeds. You’ll have to play around with the exact settings based on current light conditions.
Remember that freezing temperatures drain camera batteries quickly. Be sure to pack a spare that you can keep warm in an interior coat pocket. We also recommend a tripod to avoid blurriness during drawn-out exposure times.
Where to see the northern lights? Let us help you find the best fit for your family. Enjoy one-of-a-kind experiences on your next family vacation as you chase the aurora on a cruise, overland experience, or the comfort of a glass igloo. Along the way, discover phenomenal destinations in North America or the Nordic countries. Your family will enjoy incredible activities like cruising, ice fishing, dog sledding, and, of course, aurora borealis hunting.
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