It’s always fun to look up at the stars, but it’s a whole different story when the stars become a striking light show like the northern and southern lights, or aurora borealis and aurora australis. To catch these amazing natural phenomena, you often have to travel to the ends of the globe for a good seat. Luckily, there are a few spots short of Santa’s workshop that will net you a good show, so check out some of the best places to witness the most amazing shows the night sky has to offer.
Starting up in the north, Canada’s Northwest Territories and Yellowknife in particular are prime locations to see the northern lights. The city of Yellowknife has plenty to offer and is packed with companies that can take you farther away for a better show (as always, less light pollution equals clearer views of the lights). Plus, you can squeeze in a sleigh or dog sled during the day while waiting for the sun to go down!
Denali National Park, Alaska
Alaska is well known for its prime position to see the auroroa borealis, but Denali National Park takes the prize for viewing points. Just south of the Arctic Circle but more accessible, Denali is a few hours outside Fairbanks and offers a way to view the lights far from the city lights. Whether you camp out or take advantage of the many lodging options available, it’s something that shouldn’t be missed.
Tromsø, Norway, with its nine months of near-constant darkness, is also a prime location for seeing the northern lights, though not necessarily your best bet for getting a good tan. Actually north of the Arctic Circle, it’s close to the North Pole, so it’s a near sure thing to get a phenomenal show, especially on clear nights.
Oulanka National Park, Finland
The dense forests of Oulanka National Park may not seem like the best choice to look up at the sky, but any clearings you find in the canopy can provide a front-row seat. Especially striking in the fall (October-November) or spring (March-April), borealis is in full display in this park and worth a visit (plus, you can stay in an igloo)!
Abisko National Park, Sweden
Abisko National Park in Sweden’s Lapland offers the ideal dark-night, clear-sky conditions for prime northern lights viewing. The Torneträsk Lake in particular creates a pristine patch of sky that remains clear, despite inclement weather, to view the north’s light show.
Stewart Island, New Zealand
Moving into the southern hemisphere, Stewart Island off of the southern tip of New Zealand, is home to Rakiura National Park, a Maori word that translates to “glowing skies.” Hint hint. It’s a fantastic spot to see aurora australis as long as it’s not raining (which, granted, can be difficult to predict. Its proximity to Antarctica makes it a prime location if you luck out on the weather.
South Georgia Island
One of the most southern islands in the world, South Georgia Island is often inaccessible due to a covering of sea ice for much of the year. If you manage to plan correctly, however, you can hit it in the early spring, mostly in March, to see the southern lights. Though the island doesn’t have any permanent residents, its summer months host a decent population of visitors, so you’ll be able to find lodgings as well as company on your trip. The island is used mainly as a research destination rather than tourist spot. The only way to gain access is by boat or helicopter (cruise ships are usually the easiest route, for those looking for a quick stay).
Islanders of Tasmania off the southern coast of Australia have seen the southern lights from time to time, though the elusive phenomena are always difficult to spot without prime conditions. Beyond the light show, however, Tasmania has tons to offer visitors. Known for its plentiful and unique vegetation and wildlife (one of the only places that offers the chance to see a real-life Tasmanian devil,) it’s worth the trip either way.
The southernmost city on the globe, or at least the southernmost place still attached to a land mass, Ushuaia is even closer to the Antarctic Circle than the others on this list. Cloaked in darkness for up to 17 hours a day during the peak of winter, it’s fairly easy to spot the aurora australis as long as you manage a clear day (australis is notoriously harder to catch than its northern counterpart, but worth it if you manage it). Even if you miss the light show, Ushuaia has incredible wildlife to see, as well as its own airport, so it’s not terribly hard to get to.
Not surprisingly, the only place in the world that offers a near-certain chance of catching aurora australis is the Antarctic Circle, or the South Pole. The only way you’ll really be able to get there is attached to some type of research project, but you’ll have the opportunity to see the show during the prime-time winter months. Tours and cruises do travel down to the Antarctic Circle during the slightly warmer months, but with an almost completely inhospitable environment, it’s not the hottest tourist destination.