Against the night sky, the shifting curtains of light known as the aurora borealis – the northern lights – appear in vivid shades of green, violet and even red or blue during the darkest times of the year.
It takes a bit of travel, a bit of luck and warm clothes to spot them, but these 10 places offer the best odds.
1. Kilpisjarvi, Finland
This small Sami village on the shores of Lake Kilpisjarvi, near the borders with Sweden and Norway, is a prime spot for experiencing both the culture of Lapland and the northern lights. The town’s position at the 69th parallel north puts it in the middle of the aurora band, meaning your chances of seeing the lights are quite good.
2. Tromsø, Norway
In this stunning city in northern Norway, you’ll have your choice of staying in a regular hotel or an ice hotel while you watch the lights overhead. When you’ve had your fill of the skylit specta-cle, head into town and experience a little of the city’s nightlife, including the world’s north-ernmost brewery.
3. Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland
Western Iceland, in particular the town of Reykjanesær, experiences clear weather ideal for aurora hunting. Near Reykjanesær you’ll find brightly painted houses and churches, and a light-house standing alone at the end of the peninsula makes for quite a picturesque photo of the lights.
4. Yellowknife, Canada
Pack an extra down jacket or two, because Yellowknife can get cold (like 40 below cold), and you’ll want another layer while you’re watching the light show. Viewing is excellent around the city, and in places like Aurora Village, you’ll find heated benches from which you can comforta-bly watch the lights.
5. Fairbanks, Alaska
In Fairbanks, the Geophysical Institute and the University of Alaska issue aurora viewing fore-casts, which means you can stay indoors until you rush out to see the lights. Or you can head out of the city to the village of Manley Hot Springs where, if you’re lucky, you can watch the lights from your very own hot tub.
6. Churchill, Canada
There are dark skies and aurora activity more than 300 nights a year in the skies over Churchill, which makes this tiny town in northeastern Manitoba on the shores of the Hudson Bay an ideal spot for aurora viewing. Expect greens and blues, and occasional pink flashes, as the lights play in the sky and reflect on the bay below.
7. Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
This town is home to the country’s only international airport and some 300 clear-sky days every year, making it a destination for aurora seekers. You can see the lights in the city, but the show is even better if you head into the dark countryside. Join up with a tour group or, better yet, take a dog sled expedition to find lights near the city.
8. Moray Coast, Scotland
With its reputation for foggy, rainy weather, Scotland isn’t on the radar of many aurora hunt-ers, but it should be. Along the Moray Coast, in northeast Scotland near Aberdeen and Cairn-gorms National Park, you can spot the northern lights in coastal towns or from high spots in the park. Both locations offer exceptionally dark skies and vivid displays.
9. Kola Peninsula, Russia
Located almost entirely within the Arctic Circle, Kola Peninsula is a land laced with rivers and crystalline lakes, tundra and taiga. In winter, the northern lights add another element. Head to Murmansk, the largest city in the region, for nightly treks away from the city lights, or try a snowmobile, ski or dog sled adventure.
10. Faroe Islands, Denmark
At this rugged archipelago between Norway, Iceland and Scotland, the northern lights shine in their typical green ribbons and arcs, but frequently flash violet, adding to their mystery. You can see the lights from September to April, but thanks to the Gulf Stream, the islands only occa-sionally dip below freezing (a bonus for any winter expedition).