Viewing the aurora borealis is a magical, memorable experience — but it doesn't have to cost the earth! If you're looking to see the phenomenon yourself, read up on these nine vacation spots to travel to that will save you from going over your budget.
Located halfway between Norway and the North Pole, the Svalbard Islands experience polar night — perpetual darkness — from November to February. Visitors flock to the settlement of Longyearbyen (pop. 2,000), where it's possible to see the phenomenon twice in a single day.
The world-famous Icehotel, where rooms are constructed from snow and ice, provides a unique experience for northern lights chasers (the exclusive hotel also has heated rooms). From October through March, the best viewing months, guests can go on a snowmobile ride and learn about the science and folklore of night skies.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
It's actually possible to see the northern lights without leaving the continental U.S. A Gold Level International Dark Sky Park, Cherry Springs — located three-plus hours northeast of Pittsburgh — is known for its awesome stargazing. And when the timing is right, the aurora borealis can also make a spectacular appearance (if not, on clear, dark nights, the Milky Way casts a shadow!).
Greenland is one of the best places to see the northern lights. Because of its location and climate, it has one of the longest seasons, from the end of September through mid-April. In Kangerlussuaq, a former U.S. military camp has been converted to a budget-friendly hotel.
For a luxurious view of the aurora borealis, Finland's Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort features private cabins with glass igloos so you can see the sky from the comfort of your cozy bed. The phenomenon is visible for about eight months of the year, from late August until early April.
More than 300 nights a year, visitors to this Manitoba town are treated to an awesome sky show. As charged particles from solar winds collide with molecules in the earth’s atmosphere, they give off a pale green or pink glow. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre, 30 miles outside town, provides paying guests with a heated dome and outdoor observation deck, while others offer tundra buggy tours, yurts and a heated pod for viewing.
Although the city is sometimes cloudy (northern lights are best seen on clear nights), it is possible to experience the aurora borealis in the city. Those with a car can drive to Thingvellir National Park, about 30 miles outside of the capital.
Shetland, Orkney, Scotland
In autumn and winter, the "Mirrie Dancers," as locals call the northern lights, can be seen throughout Scotland, depending on light pollution. The isles of Shetland and Orkney are good options, as is Galloway Forest Park, in the south, which is a Dark Sky Park.
According to Inuit mythology, the aurora borealis was caused by the spirits of ancestors playing ball with a walrus skull. From August to late April, Fairbanks is the best spot to catch the action. Local operators offer excursions outside the city.