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BlogTravel buzzThe best places to visit in 2024 and 2025 to see the northern lights
Travel buzz

The best places to visit in 2024 and 2025 to see the northern lights

May 29, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Have you ever dreamt of seeing the northern lights? These mysterious light shows have captured our collective curiosity for as long as human beings have been on the planet. Did you know that there’s a Japanese myth that says the northern lights were the spirits of babies waiting to be born? Norse legends tell many stories about the Valkyries, or ancient warrior women; one tale claims that the northern lights was light reflecting off their weapons, shields, and helmets.

The northern lights—or as they’re also called: the Aurora Borealis—are considered one of the most awe-inspiring natural occurrences in the world. And like any nature-based experience, their elusive nature makes seeing them a bucket list item for travelers all over the world. If you’re lucky enough to live within the Arctic Circle, where they’re typically most visible, this may be old news to you, but for the rest of us, seeing the northern lights could be a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Scientists are predicting that 2024 and 2025 will be the best time to see the northern lights—and we’ve got the tours that will get you there.

What are the northern lights?

One of the reasons why we’re trying to learn everything about the northern lights could be because they’re so hard to understand. When you see photos of these swirling colors in the sky, I’m sure more than one of us have playfully asked: Is it because of aliens? But the scientific explanation for this magical phenomenon is pretty simple: The northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, are the results of the sun’s solar energy making contact with the Earth’s magnetic field. And the reason why they’re usually most visible in Earth's polar regions (instead of everywhere) is because that’s where the magnetic field directs all the solar particles as they approach the planet. When they enter our atmosphere, colliding with the particles there, that impact creates the swirling light show of green, blues, and pinks. And, yes, in case you were wondering, there are Southern Lights, too, called Aurora Australis.

Why are 2024 and 2025 the best years to see the northern lights?

Conditions to see the lights are based on solar activity. The best time to see the northern lights depends on how active the sun is as we need an increase in solar energy to make contact with our magnetic field and atmosphere. If you’re hoping to see the northern lights in 2024, you’re in luck! Scientists are predicting that we’re about to enter a solar maximum, or a period when the sun is expected to see a significant boost in solar flares and storms. There are reports that solar activity will likely be at its strongest in 2024 and 2025. You may have already witnessed this in parts of the world that don’t typically get the northern lights on May 10 and 11, 2024, when the northern lights were reportedly visible as far south as Florida. If that trend continues, the northern lights in 2025 should be pretty spectacular, too.

If you’re trying to identify the best time to see Aurora Borealis on tour, you might want to book one of our wintertime Iceland tours or Norway tours now!

See the Northern Lights on tour

Why the northern lights should be on your bucket list

As you might have already been able to tell, we love the northern lights around here. If you’re not already convinced, take it from staffer Claire, who was treated to a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle while on our Iceland: Reykjavik & the Northern Lights tour.

“This experience was absolutely a bucket list one for me, though I didn’t really know how special it would be until I saw it,” Claire said. “I had an idea that it would look like the passing of clouds, but this was a dancing display of utterly cosmic light. It felt like I was witnessing magic in the sky. There is nothing like it.”

Staffer Meaghan agrees! She saw the northern lights in Tromsø while traveling in Norway. Like Iceland, a Norway tour is full of natural beauty, but things only get better when the northern lights make an appearance. “For sure it was a bucket list item,” Meaghan said. “I would say it even surpasses the hype, just seeing the natural beauty of the world on display. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Best time of year to see the northern lights

When to see the northern lights is a frequently asked question from travelers eager to have their first glimpse of these natural wonders. But because we are talking about nature here, the best time to see northern lights on your trip can be difficult to pin down. Most scientists will tell you that the auroral period stretches from September to April. Within this timeframe, the winter months are typically when you give yourself the best chances to see them, because that’s when the Arctic Circle in the northern hemisphere has their longest stretch of night. (The northern lights are best viewed when there’s very little light pollution.) You also want to avoid traveling over a full moon when that brightness could interfere with a northern lights sighting. Given that scientists are predicting intense solar activity in 2024 and 2025, you might be surprised where and when you can see them.

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Best places to see the northern lights

To give yourself the best chances of seeing the northern lights in 2024 and 2025, you want to travel in the winter to destinations farther north; places where there’s low light pollution, which means you want to stay away from big cities. But if what scientists are predicting turn out to be correct, you may be able to see auroral activity farther south than usual, as well as lights dancing over cities like Reykjavik.

Here are our suggestions for where you’re most likely to see the northern lights in 2024. But if that’s too soon, you can also go next year. The following tours will work for mission northern lights 2025, too.

1. Iceland

Though almost all of Iceland is located just south of the Arctic Circle, it’s still one of the best places for a northern lights sighting in 2024. If you go on our Iceland tours between October and April, you may very well see the northern lights regardless of which itinerary you take. Our Iceland: The Golden Circle & Ring Road tour takes you all over the island, which only increases your chances of seeing auroral activity.

Since seeing the northern lights makes winter one of the best times to visit Iceland, we have our Iceland: Reykjavik & the Northern Lights tour, which runs from fall to spring to maximize your opportunities to see the lights. You’ll tour its picturesque Old Town, stop at Thingvellir National Park to see the Althing, an open-air governmental assembly established in 930, have lunch at a geothermal farm, and marvel at the South Coast’s black sand beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, and glaciers. In your free time, you can sign up to soak in Iceland’s iconic Blue Lagoon.

On two nights of the trip, you’ll go hunting for the northern lights—and hopefully the KP index forecast (a tool that measures solar activity) will be in your favor on your Iceland tour.

“We drove to see the northern lights about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, where there was less light pollution,” Claire recalled. “The first night was a faint but evident sighting, but the second night blew us all away! It was such fabulous conditions that we could see them clearly in Reykjavik city when we returned from our hunt.”

Don't miss the Northern Lights in Iceland

2. Norway

Another European country that travelers choose for their northern lights hunt is Norway. Like with Iceland, a Norway tour during prime auroral season will likely yield a sighting or two. But you can also opt for our immersive Northern Lights of Norway: Oslo to Tromsø tour to lift your chances. This dynamic itinerary will show off Norway’s incredible mix of cultural and natural delights. You’ll get to explore the Nobel Peace Center and the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo before heading to Narvik where you’ll have the opportunity to visit a Sami village and spend time with a Sami family to learn about their age-old traditions. In the charming city of Tromsø, where many go to begin their Northern Light hunt, you’ll check out the Ice Domes, a collection of ice sculptures within an ice structure built every year in Tamok Valley.

In both Narvik and Tromsø, your Tour Director will guide you through a nighttime excursion in hopes of an auroral sighting. On another night in Narvik, you can take an optional excursion to board the Northern Lights Train, Norway’s northernmost passenger railway. It’ll take you high up the mountain towards the Swedish border while your guide tells you age-old folklores and local history. Hopefully, the northern lights will also put on their own show.

Experience the Northern Lights in Norway

3. Alaska

Alaska’s remote northernmost location makes it a great choice for a northern lights hunt. One of our Alaska tours that head as far north as Fairbanks will hopefully yield an auroral sighting. The Alaska’s National Parks: Denali & the Kenai Fjords tour is an especially fantastic choice because you spend two nights in Fairbanks, one of the northernmost parts of Alaska that travelers visit.

The itinerary focuses on Alaska’s immense natural beauty as well as its wildlife. You’ll visit both Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to learn more about the work being down to preserve local ecosystems. Then you’ll tour Denali National Park (keep your eyes peeled for bears!), take an Alaska Railroad train ride (with massive windows that put thundering waterfalls into view), and sail a Kenai Fjords National Park cruise (the best way to see enormous glaciers) for a well-rounded adventure around the state.

At night, you should try to stay up a little later, this far north and with very little city life around you, you may just get the treat of a lifetime if the northern lights were to make an appearance.

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4. Canada

The Great White North is also known as a fantastic travel destination if you’re after a northern lights show. While you might think you’d have to take a Canada tour much farther north, a trip to the Canadian Rockies might just do the trick as towns like Banff are known to experience auroral activity throughout the year. In fact, during the May 2024 geomagnetic storm, the province of Alberta was among those that enjoyed some of the most vibrant displays.

To give yourself the best chance at catching a similar show during a Canada tour, opt for our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour in May or September. The trip starts with four days in the Banff region, a picturesque area full of snow-capped peaks and glistening lakes. You’ll also likely spot incredible wildlife such as bears, elks, and moose. After the lively group dinners, don’t hesitate to stare up at the night sky. Banff is known to get its own auroral visit from time to time, and given that 2024 is one of the best times to see northern lights around the world, you may just get a cosmic surprise.

Catch the Northern Lights in Canada

5. Glacier National Park

A dark-sky collaboration between Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park minimizes light pollution in both destinations, making them fantastic for northern lights hunting. While you may think that you’re too far south to see the Aurora Borealis in northern Montana, when the conditions are right, Glacier National Park is typically one of the best U.S. National Parks for an auroral sighting.

To have your own northern lights experience here, take our U.S. National Parks: The Grand Canyon to Yellowstone tour and then extend for two additional nights in the Glacier National Park region. To set yourself up for the best chance at a sighting, book the trip in October when the nights are longer. The trip itself is a spellbinding survey of the country’s best national parks, from the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon,, and the Grand Tetons. (If solar activity is fierce enough, the northern lights have been spotted over the Tetons many times!) And in Glacier National Park, find yourself surrounded by cedar forests, rocky cliffs, and crystalline lakes during the day. At night, hopefully, you’ll be looking up with the northern lights dancing above you.

Watch the Aurora Borealis in Glacier National Park

The northern lights are elusive.

While 2024 and 2025 are promising to be among the best times to see northern lights shining above us, remember that they are still a natural phenomenon. Whether you’re on a National Parks tour or a Norway tour, these lights are as elusive as they are beautiful, meaning there’s no way to guarantee them. Their mysterious quality is part of what makes them so much fun to hunt after! That’s part of the adventure of it all: Getting on a bus with your new travel buddies, everyone buzzing with excitement, as you drive into the dark night hoping for a moment with the Aurora Borealis is an unforgettable experience in itself. And the fact that you’re getting to do it while exploring a gorgeous pocket of the globe? Well, that’s well worth the price of admission.

Ready for your own northern lights adventure in Iceland, Alaska, and beyond? Shop our tours and find out for yourself why 2024 and 2025 promises the best views of the Aurora Borealis.

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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