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Travel bucket list ideas:

Last updated: 13 August, 2023

The world’s greatest light show is Mother Nature’s own – the famous ‘Aurora Borealis’ – or more commonly known as the ‘Northern Lights’. It’s an extraordinary natural spectacle of ethereal shapes in shimmering colours, constantly forming and dissolving.

No wonder seeing them features on so many travel bucket lists.

See our FAQs at the bottom of the page for a summary of why they form, when and where. If you’re thinking of a trip to see them, we’ve listed the best destinations to go to in the so-called ‘Aurora Belt’.

There is, however, no specific one best place or time to see them, even in these optimal destinations, so we recommend pairing it with another bucket list experience – a thrilling snow or husky dog sled ride, a cruise on the magnificent Norwegian fjords, or just lying bed in a luxury glass igloo – as part of a broader holiday adventure. See below for our recommendations.

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Cruise Alaska's pristine wilderness

Alaska, United States of America (USA)

Bucket List Experience

Dazzling in its raw, remote beauty, Alaska is compelling for lovers of wildlife and the outdoors.

Visiting by ship allows for days on deck marvelling at pristine forests set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

And with Alaska being in the Aurora Belt, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in their full glory are excellent.

Best for ages: 13+ | Varies | Min 7 days

Cruise Norway’s Fjords

Western Norway, Norway

Bucket List Experience

Endless skies, snow-capped mountains, sheer-sided fjords, ribbon-like waterfalls and emerald green meadows ablaze with wildflowers – all combine to make Norway’s Fjordland one of the world’s most beautiful and serene cruising routes.

The water is one of the best vantage points from which to admire the Northern Lights.

Best for ages: 10+ | Varies | 3-5 days

Cruise Norway’s western coast


Bucket List Experience

The 2,400km coastline between Bergen and Kirkenes is one of the world’s most dramatic – studded with astonishing fjords of geological grandeur, alpine mountains, and picturesque rural settlements.

Drift past snow-covered mountains and fjords by day, see the Northern Lights by night. Some cruise liners offer guaranteed sightings – or a free cruise.

Best for ages: 8+ | Varies | Min 5 days


Go husky dog sledding at Harravinia, Finnish Lapland

Muoni, Lapland, Finland

Speeding over the tundral plains and through dense boreal forests of Lapland‘s wilderness is one thing. Doing it on a sled pulled by husky dogs, with Aurora Borealis lighting up the night sky, is special.

The Harriniva Hotel is the biggest, best and most authentic husky centre, offering short- and multi-day tours.

Official star rating:

Go snowmobiling in the wilderness

Lapland, Finland

Bucket List Experience

Snowmobiling at up to 100km/h is the high-octane way to experience the Arctic wilderness, allowing you to cover huge distances and get a feel for just how remote and vast the area is.

Opt for a multi-day camping-out adventure, where you’re almost guaranteed to see the Northern Lights, or a shorter ‘Aurora hunting’ snowmobile tour.

Best for ages: 15+ | £30

Ride the Arctic Explorer train journey, St Petersburg

Ride the Arctic Explorer train journey, St Petersburg


Golden Eagle offer (pricey) 12-day itineraries that start in Moscow, finish in St Petersburg, and in between travel up to the Arctic Circle to specifically see the Northern Lights.

There are enticing (optional) excursions, including husky dog sledding, snowmobiling and Snow Castle stays, and a guest astronomer on board.

Best for ages: 18+ | £20,000 | 12 days

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Sleep in a treehouse, Swedish Lapland

Harads, Norrbotten County, Sweden

If staying in a treehouse AND seeing the Aurora are both on your travel bucket list, then this is the place. Even if they’re not, go anyway. This extraordinary hotel in Swedish Lapland has 8 unique treehouses – including a UFO and a bird’s nest.

See the Aurora from your room, the jacuzzi or on special Northern Lights tours.

Official star rating:

Sleep in an igloo, Finnish Lapland

Saariselka, Lapland, Finland

Bucket List Experience

The iconic igloo has been used by generations of Inuit for shelter. Air pockets in the ice insulate the inside, while outside, temperatures plummet to -40°C. Unlike the indigenous Inuit people, you’ll be supplied with cold-reflecting thermal mats, reindeer furs and expedition-grade thermal sleeping bags.

When the walls start shimmering green, just crawl outside.

Best for ages: 13+ | £60 | 1 night

Small tepee village with people sitting outside tents staring up at Northern Lights

Sleep in an Indian teepee, Yellowknife, Canada

Yelowknife, Yukon, Canada

Bucket List Experience

Centred under the so-called ‘Aurora Oval’ – the area of the atmosphere with the highest geomagnetic activity – the Yukon is North America’s Northern Lights capital, offering the most vibrant and frequent light displays anywhere.

It’s remote, though – if you make it, camp out in an Indian tepee at the Aurora Village in Yellowknife.

Best for ages: 4+ | £300 | 1+ nights

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Soak in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Bucket List Experience

Iceland’s world-famous, steaming outdoor thermal baths need little introduction. Soak away in the striking black lava landscape, scooping up the white silica mud from the bottom of the pool to rub all over, and if you’re lucky, the show will begin…

Best for ages: 4+ | £35


Stay at Hotel Ranga, Iceland

Hella, Iceland

This character-filled hotel is the perfect base for exploring the volcanoes and glacial lagoons of southwest Iceland.

It’s also a great spot for Aurora watching; staff will wake you when/if it strikes, and turn off all the lights. There’s an on-site observatory, with multiple telescopes, for superb stargazing, and talks by a local astronomer.

Official star rating:


Stay at the Arctic Bath Spa Hotel, Swedish Lapland

Harads, Lapland, Sweden

Wilderness really doesn’t get wilder, remoter or more pristine than this daring wellness resort in Swedish Lapland. Guests come for mindfulness, to reconnect with nature, for traditional treatments and to see the Northern Lights.

The absence of light pollution ensures viewing, from August to March, is nothing short of fantastic.

Official star rating:


Stay at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Lapland

Saariselka, Lapland, Finland

This brilliant resort in Finnish Lapland is an outdoor adventure paradise, but is best known for its luxury glass ‘igloos’, constructed of thermal glass that functions like a two-way mirror – you can see out but no-one can see in.

Simply lay back in your thermal-blanketed bed and wait.

Official star rating:

Beautiful picture of massive multicolored green vibrant Aurora Borealis, Aurora Polaris, also know as Northern Lights in the night sky over winter Lapland landscape, Norway, Scandinavia

Stop by the Polar Lights Centre, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Laukvika, Northern Norway, Norway

This rural science centre provides both an excellent vantage point for viewing and informative lectures about the science of the lights.

It’s run by a friendly Dutch couple who man a collection of astronomic instruments that determine exactly when the Aurora is about to strike.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

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Boeing plane in flight with Northern Lights behind

Take the Aurora 360 flight, Whitehorse, Canada

Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

An ‘astrotourism’ first, this private Boeing 737 offers you the chance to fly into the Northern Lights – on a special 3-hour flight. Take-off is from Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport, conditional on a positive Aurora forecast.

It’s a multi-night package that includes guest speakers, cultural events and optional local tours.

Best for ages: 4+ | £500 | 3 hours

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Dark silhouettes of a couple standing on hilltop with Northern Lights behind

Visit the Aurora Sky Station, Abisko Sweden

Abisko, Lapland, Sweden

This mountain-top observation station lays on an enticing evening for Northern Lights watching. After a 20-minute chairlift up from Abisko village, you’re treated to a four-course dinner inspired by Lapland and Nordic cuisine, and a guided tour.

Being 900m up, in the heart of the Aurora Oval, sightings are excellent.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

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What causes the Northern Lights?

The phenomenon occurs when electrically-charged particles from the sun are carried in the solar wind to Earth, where they collide with gaseous particles in Earth’s atmosphere. The energy released from those collisions is emitted as billions of small sparks, creating the effect we see. It occurs on other planets too.

When can you see the Northern Lights?

The atmospheric shin-dig happens throughout the year – every time a solar wind arrives bringing ions with them. Spring and Autumn are therefore usually best – as you need clear skies which are, of course, harder to come by in winter.

Natural light in summer months or any man-made light pollution also dilutes their visual impact and makes them harder to see. You need a dark, inky black sky, as far away from any urban centre as possible.

Still, the Northern Lights are notoriously fickle performers; they can appear anytime, anywhere. But if you’re in the right part of the planet, at the right time of year, for more than a couple of days, your chances of seeing them are excellent.

You also don’t need to stay up all night hoping they show up. The build-up of energies that give rise to the lights is closely monitored, such that impending displays can be accurately predicted by monitoring stations. Many hotels and tour operators use their forecasts to offer a handy alert service, so you can be gazing skyward for that first ethereal streak. You can also sign up for your own alerts (Europe only) with the free Aurora Service.

Where’s the best place to see the Northern Lights?

You can see the phenomenon in both polar regions – it’s known as the ‘Southern Lights’ (Aurora Australis) in the south. They form in these regions specifically because the earth’s magnetic field attracts the arriving electro-charged particles to the poles.

The viewing is better in the northern hemisphere (hence why no one ‘hunts’ the Southern Lights); within the north, there’s a so-called ‘Aurora Belt’ between the Earth’s latitude parallels of 66° and 69°, where the phenomenon appears with the most intense light and greatest colour variations. So that’s where you need to be.

If you’re thinking of a holiday or vacation to see the Northern Lights, below we’ve listed the best destinations to see them, the recognised global hotspots. They’re all located in the Aurora Belt, are all accessible (some more than others), and all have a wide range of accommodations, tours and experiences specifically set up for seeing the Lights.

Alaska, USA

The US’s westernmost province, neighbouring the Yukon, is a pristine wilderness renowned for raw, remote beauty and dreamy snow-capped mountain vistas. Cruises to the region are not only the best way to access this vast landscape, but they also provide outstanding Northern Lights viewing from the comfort of a deckchair – or hot tub. See our summary of where to see the Northern Lights in Alaska.


Iceland is a land of striking volcanic topography, creating some of the most spectacular Northern Lights-lit landscapes. Just outside of the capital Reykjavik, the skies are perfectly dark. Cruise around its circumference, hike on glaciers, 4WD through harsh volcanic landscapes, whale watch or just soak in the Blue Lagoon. See our summary of where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Lapland, Finland

Lapland’s vast wilderness is about as far from civilisation as you can get in mainland Europe, with star-studded, inky black skies, and offers Scandinavia’s best displays. Pair the Northern Lights with snowshoe safaris, reindeer sled rides, ice fishing, husky dog sledding – or an outdoor Finnish smoke sauna. See our summary of where to see the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland.

Norway’s western coast

Norway’s long, fjord-studded coastline is an ideal destination for seeing the Northern Lights – dark skies, vast and spellbinding scenery, and a prized location on the so-called ‘Aurora Belt’. It’s also a Mecca for cruising and outdoor activities like whale watching, husky dog sledding and snowmobiling, perfect entertainment while you wait. See our summary of where to see the Northern Lights on Norway’s west coast.

The Yukon, Canada

Centred under the so-called ‘Aurora Oval’ – the area of the atmosphere with the highest geomagnetic activity – the Yukon is North America’s Northern Lights capital, offering the most colourful and frequent light displays anywhere. Its remoteness, though, means getting there is a challenge – if you make it, camp out in an Indian teepee.