5 Quick, Inexpensive Destinations to View the Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis tops most travelers’ bucket lists, but this gem of the north is actually much easier to access than one may think. With direct flights to a variety of major Northern Lights hubs, it’s relatively quick—and in some cases even affordable—to see this glowing phenomenon.
1. REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
With its cheap flights and dramatic, remote landscapes, Iceland attracts Aurora chasers from all over the world. On a clear, perfect night, travelers can see the lights in capital city Reykjavik. But, with a quick drive or tour outside the city—and maybe a stay in Iceland’s Bubble Hotel—the odds for an Aurora sighting are even greater.
How to get there: Direct flights from New York City (JFK), New Jersey (EWR), and Boston (BOS) are quick—just five to six hours—and can be found for as low as $300 to $400.
2. ANCHORAGE, ALASKA
Mike Juvrud via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Alaska is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, particularly in the less illuminated areas outside of town. Spots like Alyeska Resort, Sheep Mountain Lodge, and Izaak Walton State Park are popular for Northern Lights hunters, but drive anywhere outside the city on a clear and active Aurora night, and the sky will put on quite the show.
How to get there: Direct flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Anchorage can drop below $500, and while flights from New York City (LGA) may be time consuming—between 10 and 16 hours—they can be found for $500 - $600.
3. ISLE OF SKYE, SCOTLAND
The UK isn’t known for clear skies—a necessity for Northern Lights viewing—but in those rare moments the clouds do part, Northern Scotland sure puts on a stunning Aurora display. The Isle of Skye, which has seven hours of daylight during winter, leaves adequate time for daytime explorations, followed by extra hours to catch those lights.
How to get there: Fly direct from New York City (JFK) to Inverness for $700 (and 14 hours of travel), then make an 80-mile, potentially snowy drive up to the Isle of Skye. For those not renting a car, the Isle of Skye is accessible from Inverness via train and bus connection.
4. EDMONTON, CANADA
G Morel via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
While Edmonton, Alberta is best known for its enormous West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall in North America, it’s also an incredible—and easily accessible—place to view those Northern Lights. For those who prefer to plan their Aurora viewing to perfection, the popular AuroraWatch platform monitors geomagnetic activity around Edmonton, and will even send alerts and email notifications when the skies are set to glow.
How to get there: Flights from New York City (JFK) to Edmonton are available for under $500 and take about eight hours. From Los Angeles, flight prices drop to an impressive $300 to $400, and can take as little as three hours direct.
5. HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, CANADA
From November through March, the skies of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador illuminate with vibrant hues from the Aurora Borealis. While Happy Valley-Goose Bay is Labrador’s largest community, it remains a quiet, charming town with little-to-no light pollution and, consequentially, some impressive Aurora viewing opportunities. In fact, the Northern Lights are so prevalent here, the community’s stores and even a dog sled company are named after this natural phenomenon.
How to get there: From Chicago or New York City, flights start around $400 or $650, respectively, but take caution—these low prices come with a lengthy time commitment of two stops and a total of nine to 12 hours.