It’s no surprise that the aurora borealis has had such a profound impact on folklore throughout human history. The very idea that the ink-black night sky has the power to suddenly transform into an ever-changing ripple of blues and greens seems so inherently magical that many cultures have had to rely on storytelling as a way of making sense of it all.
In some Nordic countries, it was once believed that the Northern Lights were the beams of light reflecting off the armour of the Valkyries, while in others it was said the lights were the dying breathes of fallen soldiers. In Finland, the name for the Northern Lights is ‘Revontulet’ – or ‘fire fox’. The name originates from a tale about mythical foxes, who were said to have run so fast across the night sky that their tails caught fire, leaving trails of light in their wake.
Elsewhere, the lights are typically associated with children. In Iceland, the lights are said to ease the pain of childbirth – with women advised not to look directly at them at risk of giving birth to a cross-eyed child, while in Greenland it is said the lights are the spirits of children who have died in childbirth.
What is clear from the sheer abundance of stories about the Northern lights is that they have captured our imagination for millennia; something they continue to do to this day. Here, we’ve put together a list of the most interesting and unusual places that you can spot for the famed Aurora Borealis, from Finnish lakes to remote Scottish Islands.
The best places to view the Northern Lights:
If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights without having to venture out into the bitterly cold Icelandic winter, then look no further than Iceland’s 5 Million Star Hotel.
Offering tourists the chance to gaze up at the aurora borealis dancing across the crystal clear night sky from the comfort of one of their unique, entirely transparent bubble rooms, The 5 Million Star Hotel, guarantees the experience of a lifetime – despite not being able to guarantee you’ll actually see the Northern Lights. You’ll be pleased to hear that each bubble is heated and is furnished with a double bed, lamp, and phone-charging outlet.
Website: 5 Million Star Hotel
Isle of Skye, Scotland
It may come as something of a surprise, but northern Scotland is actually located on the same latitude as some of the best spots to catch the Northern Lights in the world, including, Stavanger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska. So, if you’re a UK resident hoping to catch the ‘Mirrie Dancers’ without forking out a shedload on flights, you’re in luck.
There are a number of places in the Scottish Highlands and Islands to see the aurora borealis, but the most magical is surely the Isle of Skye. With its unique geological features and mysterious history, this magical landscape makes for the perfect Northern Lights adventure.
Website: Isle of Skye
Sweden’s famous Ice Hotel has been capturing the imaginations of Chionophiles (lovers of snow and ice) ever since it opened in 1989. This unique hotel also happens to be one of the best and most unusual places to catch the Northern Lights in the country – that is if you don’t mind sharing the experience with other tourists.
Located in the small town of Jukkasjärvi, the Ice Hotel changes shape each year, melting away in spring only to be rebuilt the following winter. Inside, it contains a restaurant, a variety of specially designed suites, a central hall complete with frozen chandeliers, and much more. The Ice Hotel also offers excursions into the surrounding countryside, including one conducted on horseback.
Website: The Ice Hotel
The North Norfolk coast, England
Alongside the Scottish Highlands, North Norfolk is one of the few places in the UK where you can see the Northern Lights. I’m not saying it’s common, but with some of the clearest skies in the country, this unique coastal landscape, speckled with marshes, bird reserves, and fishing villages, is certainly one of the most surprising locations you can hope to catch the Northern Lights.
Your best bet is heading to one of the two Dark Sky Discovery Sites that Norfolk is home to, where there is such little light pollution that you’ll likely bump into astronomers pointing their telescopes to the sky in the hope of finding interstellar dust clouds and undiscovered galaxies.
Website: North Norfolk
This vanished town, located just north of the Arctic Circle, serves as the capital of the Nenets Autonomous District, home to the Samoyedic ethnic group native to northern arctic Russia, who have been breeding reindeer in the area for millennia.
The city, which once served as a place for the exile and imprisonment of criminals and political enemies, is one of the best – and most far-flung – places to watch The Northern Lights. The best time to visit is in Autumn when you will be able to see the lights and listen to the legends of the forgotten city before the Arctic Winter completely sets in. But, as they say in Naryan-Mar “Never whistle if you see the northern lights! It will immediately disappear”.
Website: Naryan Mar
Finland is teeming with opportunities to catch the Northern Lights, but if you’re looking for a truly unique experience, I’d recommend trying “Aurora ice floating” in Rovaniemi.
This particular excursion, I should say, involves putting on a specially designed suit and jumping into a freezing lake. Don’t worry though, the suit will keep you warm and dry, meaning that you can float on your back and watch the Northern Lights dancing above you, evoking the sense that you’re floating through space. The best part is that Safartica, the agency behind the excursions, make sure they keep the locations secret, so you don’t have to worry about being bothered by other tourists.
Website Aurora Ice Floating
Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife boasts its own village that has special activities for Northern Lights tourism. Jasper National Park and Wood Buffalo are also popular viewing spots in Canada, in what offers a totally unique way in which to phenomena around 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Thanks to its northern positioning Yellowknife is the perfect location to view the aurora. This, mixed with the low light pollution in the areas most popular with viewers, makes it one of the best spots to see the Northern Lights.
Returning to Europe for our final entry, the village of Ersfjordbotn, just 12 miles from Tromsø, is yet another spot popular for aurora searches.
Located in Northern Norway, Tromsø has emerged as a major tourist location in recent years, many visiting the area because of its numerous festivals and idyllic setting. However, its historical commitment to the Northern Lights remains its redeeming pull, setting up the official observatory which was founded back in 1927.
Others locations in the area where you can get a good view include the Lofoten Islands and the far northern towns of Alta, Nordkapp, and Kirkenes.