Beyond Scandinavia – Here are 5 unlikely places where you can see and truly enjoy the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights might be easier to finally visit than you ever realised. Photo: Jonatan Pie/Unsplash


The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, have long been a universal source of awe, wonder and inspiration. People travel great distances just to view them. Now, most people think of Norway, Sweden and Denmark when they start planning their trips. But with the auroras floating over the North Pole in a big band, those Scandinavian countries are not the only places you can visit to witness the lights’ breathtaking beauty.

Since the start of a new decade is all about change and new beginnings, why not enjoy this timeless sight in new, unconventional locations? Below are five other destinations you can visit to finally check out the Northern Lights for yourself.

Churchill, Manitoba, Canada :
Churchill is Canada’s answer to a picture-perfect experience of the Northern Lights. Located along the Churchill River in northern Manitoba, the city sits right under the majestic ribbons of the Auroral Oval. Here, the lights are on display for up to 300 days a year. But while it is open to visitors almost all year round, the best time to visit Churchill is during its coldest months – specifically, between February to March. This is because the auroras are strongest and at their most vivid during this time of the year. The temperature in this town can get as low as -30 degree Celsius, so ensure that you’re sufficiently bundled up and well equipped for the freezing cold.

Best time to visit: February to March

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Fairbanks, Alaska, USA :
Another destination that sits inside the Auroral Oval is Fairbanks, Alaska. The fact that it is close to the North Pole also renders it somewhat of a cult Christmas destination. But Fairbanks is best known for its selection of fun, out-of-the-box outdoor activities that visitors can enjoy. To take your skywatching adventure to a whole new level, you can always hop on a snowmobile, trek unique aurora paths with trained huskies (an activity called dog mushing), or fly over the snow-capped Brooks Range. When all is said and done, you can even go for late-night ice fishing.

Best time to visit: late August to mid-April

Ilulissat, Greenland :
To know Ilulissat’s appreciation of the Northern Lights is to understand the phenomenon through the eyes of the Inuit people. According to their beliefs, the magical light dance represents their ancestors playing football with a walrus skull. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Ilulissat would be the darkest nights during the autumn and winter seasons. To make the most of your time here, you can purchase tour packages that not only guide visitors through the best spots for viewing the auroras but also offer them a first-hand experience of the Inuit way of life.

Best time to visit: late August to mid-April

Rovaniemi, Finland :
The capital of Finland’s northernmost province, Lapland, Rovaniemi is immediately recognised for two things: for being Santa Claus’s official hometown, and its share of the Northern Lights. Roomy cabins and dome camps are rampant here, but glass-roofed igloos would provide a unique skywatching experience. Those with a love of knowledge will also appreciate this city, as it is home to a number of science centres and museums. Chief among them is Arktikum, a museum that explains the Northern Lights, the history of Lapland, and happenings the Arctic region in great detail. Another must-visit is the Science Centre Pilke, where many interactive exhibits are hosted to explore the significance of Rovaniemi’s northern forests.

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Best time to visit: late August to early April

Orkney, Scotland :
Who knew that Scotland is a Northern Lights hotspot? Indeed, there is much more to this country than whisky, haggis, tartan and James McAvoy. All you need to do is make your way to Orkney, a cluster of islands located off the country’s northeastern coast. Here, the auroras are known as the “Merry Dancers” and are a huge source of inspiration to locals during wintertime. People love them so much, they would often attend gatherings hosted by enthusiastic Facebook groups such as the Orkney Aurora Group. Their main activity is capturing long exposures of the Northern Lights, so don’t forget to bring along your camera – and a good tripod – to join in the fun.

Best time to visit: December to February

Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.