Seeing the Northern Lights in Europe is a magical experience, or anywhere in the world, really! We’re lucky that in Europe there are so many amazing places to visit where you may have the chance to see this wonderful display. After all, seeing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed! But there are some things you can do to increase your chances, and if not, still have an amazing trip anyway.
I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights while visiting Iceland. On my first visit, there were lights, but they were really only visible through the camera, but on my second visit, we were treated to an absolutely amazing display that I’ll never forget!
Below I’ve laid out where you can see the Northern Lights (you might be surprised by some of them!), the best time to see the Northern Lights in Europe, and some top tips to make it happen.
Then I asked my fellow travel bloggers to share some of their experiences with viewing the Northern Lights across Europe, so hopefully, you can follow in our footsteps!
Where to see the Northern Lights in Europe
Europe is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights because there are so many accessible places in the north where you have a great chance of seeing them.
You have the chance to see the Northern Lights in lots of different countries, not just the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Norway, but also the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Netherlands, amongst others!
Basically, if you’re in mid-north Europe over the winter, it’s worth keeping an eye on Aurora sites to see what the activity is like, especially if you’re outside of the city and staying where there is less light pollution.
However, some of these have to have particularly good conditions to see the lights, so you have a higher chance in some places than in others.
Best time to see the Northern Lights in Europe
Technically, the Northern Lights are active all of the time, but that doesn’t mean we can always see them.
The Northern Lights are most active for viewing from late September to late March, although they can sometimes be viewed in August and April too, depending on the conditions. You want to have clear night skies and little light from the moon or other sources.
The best countries to see the Northern Lights in Europe are the Nordic countries that are in or near the Arctic circle, so that means Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
There is never a guarantee that conditions will be right AND the lights will be active, so you want to give yourself at least a few nights, and even then, you need a bit of luck too!
Tips for viewing and taking photos of the Northern Lights
Photographing the Northern Lights takes a bit of preparation and patience. If it’s a short display you might find you only manage a few photos, thanks to needing a long exposure time. So you want to be prepared!
- Take a tripod: You need to keep your camera as steady as possible, so take a small, portable tripod with you.
- Turn your flash off.
- Set your focus: Set your focus to infinity, and practice focusing on something far away or on a star.
- Use long exposure: Get comfortable with your camera’s manual settings. You want the lens to be open as long as possible, so set your aperture (f-stop) to at least f4, and up to f2.8 if that’s an option. Any lower and you might get grainy/noisy photos.
- Use a slow shutter speed: This can depend on how bright the lights are. Between 5 and 10 seconds is good when they’re really active, then up to 20 seconds for more slow-moving aurora. If they’re only faint, then you can even stretch to 25 seconds.
- ISO settings: The higher the ISO the more light is captured, but the grainier the photos can be, so you may need to experiment.
- If you have it, use a cable release or remote to take the photo to avoid a blur from pressing the shutter and the camera moving.
- Make sure you look up and enjoy the display!
13 Places to see the Northern Lights in Europe
Here are top tips from travel bloggers on where to see the Northern Lights in Europe!
Snaefellness Peninsula, Iceland
Located in Western Iceland, around an hour and a half drive from Reykjavik, the Snaefellness is well worth a visit when you’re in the country.
Visiting Iceland in winter can make driving a little nerve-wracking, but you’ll find plenty of sites worth it here! The most well-known is Kirkjufell, a large mountain whose name literally translates to Church Mountain, but there’s also the Gerðuberg Cliffs, Bjarnarfoss waterfall, Búðakirkja Black Church, lava fields, black sand beaches, and more.
We stayed for two nights in Arnarstapi, which we would recommend to give you time to explore the peninsula, and at the right time of year, see the northern lights. There isn’t much light pollution, so we could see them easily from our accommodation, and from the hot tub!
We were visiting in the first half of November, which I would recommend as you have a little more daylight and it’s not as cold as the following couple of months.
The location of these isles far off the north coast of Scotland, towards Norway, means that they’re an ideal place to see the Northern Lights in the UK, or Mirrie Dancers, as they’re called there.
The best time to see them is mid-October to mid-March when there is no full moon.
It’s not the easiest place to spot the lights, as there’s generally more cloud cover in December and January, so you have no guarantee that conditions will be suitable, and may have more luck with other spots in Europe. However, if you’re in the isles over the winter, then keep an eye on AuroraWatch just in case.
Oulanka National Park, Finland
By Suzanne from Meandering Wild
Oulanka National Park is in the north of Finland, close to the border with Russia. It is a wild and exposed region with dark skies and vast landscapes. This makes it the perfect place for hunting the northern lights with minimal light pollution and clear skies to the horizon.
The area is close to the ski resort of Ruka and a short distance from Kuusamo, where there are daily flights from Helsinki.
You can visit the national park on your own, and there is warm accommodation and daytime skiing, ice climbing and snowshoeing from the basic but comfortable Basecamp Oulanka. This is on the shore of a lake which is frozen in the winter and makes the perfect location to wait for the lights to appear.
If you are more adventurous, you can walk through the forest to the small water mill called Myllykoski Mill and watch the northern lights above the mill and the rapids.
By Bella from Passport & Pixels
Almost everyone who visits Iceland starts and ends their journey in the capital, Reykjavik, so why not take a tour to see the Northern Lights while you’re there?
There are numerous companies that offer Northern Lights spotting tours from Reykjavik, and they all follow pretty much the same format. The bus will pick you up from your hotel and drive you away from the bright city lights into the dark of the countryside to a scenic spot where you’ll be able to get the best views of the Northern Lights.
And then you wait! After 3-4 hours of watching the night sky, you’ll be dropped off back in the capital.
The advantage of taking a tour is that it takes away the guesswork. Your expert guides will check the forecast, decide on the best place to go, and even give you Northern Lights photography tips. And if the weather isn’t good and the Aurora aren’t out that night, you can rebook for another time at no extra cost.
By Janae from Adventures With TuckNae
While in Iceland, one of the best places to view the Northern Lights is near the coastal village of Vik. It is located on the south coast of Iceland, about a 2 1/2 hours drive from the capital city of Reykjavík.
One thing that makes this location great is the minor light pollution. There is a designated Aurora Viewing Spot on Route 1 just northwest of Vik, about 5 minutes out of town. It is often quite crowded with cars hunting the Northern Lights.
If you want an even better location with some privacy to view the Northern Lights from, drive a little bit further out to the Dyrhólaey viewpoint. It is a steep drive so be cautious, especially if it is already dark.
From here, you will have an amazing panoramic view perfect for taking in the Northern Lights! This is truly one of the best things to do near Vik, Iceland!
By Bradley from Dream Big Travel Far Blog
Located in Pyhätunturi, Finland, is a beautiful igloo hotel called Pyhän Asteli, which is undoubtedly one of the most unique places to see the Northern Lights in Europe. This is a relaxing way to experience the aurora, as the area is secluded from flashing city lights.
The igloo chalets have glass-domed ceilings through which you can wait for the polar lights—all from your own comfortable bed. With wood accents throughout the entire and warm heating, you can stay all cosy while staying up all night.
This four-star resort also has facilities like a shared lounge, sauna, bicycle rental, an on-site restaurant, and three-minute access to the beach!
Pyhätunturi itself is a ski town around a 1.5-hour drive away from Lapland and offers plenty of activities to do during the day. It’s best to come during winter when the chance of spotting the Northern Lights is higher, and it might even coincide with the Christmas markets in Lapland, which will round up the entire visit.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
By Izzy from The Gap Decaders
The Lofoten Islands in Norway are a wonderful road trip destination in Norway and a top spot from which to see the Northern Lights. This is because the latitude of 62 degrees north means the lights are often visible, even when there’s low activity.
The best time of the year to see the Aurora Borealis in Lofoten is between late September and mid-April. The earlier or later in the season you go, the more clement the weather will be, but the chances of catching the lights will lower because of the longer daylight hours.
Go during the Polar Night, when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, and you’ve got the perfect conditions to spot the phenomenon 24 hours a day!
Travelling independently to the Lofoten Islands in the winter is possible, but you do need an adventurous spirit! As well as the lights, there are amazing photography opportunities and winter activities to enjoy, and many hotels and restaurants now remain open year-round. You can drive, fly or even get the Hurtigruten ferry to Lofoten throughout the winter.
Once there, there are a number of tour companies who can take you Northern Lights chasing or put together packages which include photography tours, safari RIB tours, and other winter activities.
By Ellie from El On The Move
Kiruna, in Swedish Lapland, is Sweden’s northernmost town. In the Arctic circle, its industry is iron mining but is surrounded by lovely countryside and forest. Because of the low population density, the surrounding countryside has very little light pollution making it the perfect place to spot the Northern Lights.
Kiruna has a polar night that lasts 28 days between December and January. This is the perfect time to visit as the nights are long, meaning maximum time for spotting the Northern Lights.
There are many northern lights tours offered by tour companies working in Kiruna. However, if you have a car, there are many country roads that are not lit, so even a quick drive out of the city will reduce the light pollution. The more isolated the spot, the clearer the Northern Lights will be.
Kiruna is very easy to access throughout the year. There are daily flights from both Stockholm and Oslo. The airport is prepared for cold weather, so flying in winter is no issue. As it is a mining town, there is a train line that goes through it. It is approximately 17 hours from Stockholm.
By Chris from Around the World With Me
One of the best places to see the northern lights in Europe is in and outside of Akureyri in northern Iceland. While this part of Iceland regularly receives more snow overall than southern Iceland, the skies are often clearer at night, which is key for northern lights viewing. Akureyri is also almost always along the path of the solar winds and often has high KP forecasts, the other key ingredient for the northern lights.
The best times to visit Akureyri for the northern lights are late September-October and late March-April. The weather isn’t quite as bad as those brutal Icelandic winters, and solar storms are frequent around the equinoxes.
You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to get outside for some daytime activities like horseback riding and hiking.
The most spectacular place to view the northern lights in the region is from the Godafoss waterfall. A view of the northern lights dancing across the sky with the massive waterfall in the foreground is what winter dreams are made of.
For the best chance to see the lights in the comfort of your accommodation, you’ll want to stay outside of Akureyri city. Even though the city has barely 20,000 people, there is still some light pollution that could make a faint light show less visible. Though anywhere you stop in northern Iceland will be fantastic for northern lights viewing!
Senja island, Norway
By Ela & Beata from Stunning Outdoors
Senja island is a hidden gem of Northern Norway. Located high above the Arctic Circle, a short drive southwest of Tromso, Senja is a perfect location for chasing the Northern Lights. And due to its location, this stunning phenomenon can be enjoyed as early as the end of August till April, and it is very likely you will see the vivid colours of green and purple with the naked eye.
When conditions are favourable, with a high level of solar activity and clear sky, you do not need to go far to spot the aurora. Contrary, you will be able to enjoy it from your cabin or a deck of your accommodation. You may, however, choose some more exciting locations such as the saddle between Segla and Hesten mountains or Ersfjorden beach.
Remember that preparation is key: check solar activity online, observe the sky and dress very warmly. Watching Aurora is very absorbing, and you can easily spend half of the night just standing outside, possibly in freezing temperatures.
By Andreea from Andoreia.com
Abisko, Northern Sweden, is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights on a budget in Europe.
This tiny village is located on the edge of lake Tornetrask, which together with the surrounding mountains, forms a microclimate that allows it to have more clear nights than other locations inside the Arctic Circle.
The locals call it the “Blue hole”, and it is said that if you’re spending three days in Abisko, you’re almost guaranteed to see the lights.
On top of this, you don’t need to book an expensive Aurora Borealis chasing tour. You can simply go out on the lake and see the wonderful spectacle that Mother Nature has to offer.
Abisko is easy to reach by either train or plane from Stockholm, but you should know that you might need to spend a night in Kiruna if you choose the latter.
The best time to view the Northern Lights is from September until March, when the nights get longer.
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
By Victoria from Iceland Trippers
If you want to admire some of the Northern Lights in Europe, then you can’t beat a visit to Thingvellir National Park in Iceland.
After all, this magical place is only a 45-minute drive away from Reyjavik and has supremely dark skies that make northern lights viewing a breeze.
However, do time your visit between October and March. Also, plan to visit the park between 11:00 pm and 2:00 am since this is when the northern lights are at their most impressive.
You’ll also want to check the weather forecast in Thingvellir National Park prior to your visit since cloudy skies mean that you won’t be able to see much.
Other than that, just enjoy a stunning natural wonderland that was initially created in 1930. It’s also a place that is a major stop on the Golden Circle. So, you could easily book one of the best Iceland northern lights tours if you want to visit with a group.
Otherwise, just enjoy your magical visit since this place is where Iceland’s parliament was initially founded between the 10th and 18th centuries. In fact, remains from this institution still exist and can be seen here along with the Þingvellir Church.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
By Moumita & Sankha from Chasing the Long Road
The Isle of Skye is a stunningly beautiful island in the Inner Hebrides of Northwest Scotland, famous for its rugged coastline, windswept landscapes, rich wildlife and fascinating Highland history. Skye is also known to be a great location for Northern Lights sightings in Scotland. The island is home to nine Dark Sky Discovery Sites in Britain, making it one of the best places in Scotland for stargazing and catching the Northern Lights.
The best time of year to watch the Northern Lights dazzling over Skye is the autumn and winter months when the nights are longer and darker.
The Trotternish peninsula at the north of the island is an ideal place to watch them due to the vast stretch of unpolluted skies and remoteness. Glendale, where the famous Fairy Pools is situated, is also a good location for aurora hunting. There are several other remote areas on the island which are away from any light pollution. All you need is a self-driving car and ideal viewing conditions for spotting the lights.
There are so many other places too, but this is a great list to get you started!