The Northern Lights has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Alaska, Scandinavia, and the other northern reaches of the planet. This striking light display, occurring due to the Earth’s relationship with the sun, has been present since the dawn of time, with humans mythologizing it throughout history due to its majesty. While traveling to the Arctic to see the Northern Lights has never been easier, many wonder if it’s possible to see auroras without spending boatloads of money.
The answer is yes. Travel to the Arctic has never been more economical, and with careful research and choices, you can see the Northern Lights for very little money. Read on to find out how you can save money when seeing the Northern Lights.
Saving Money When Seeing the Northern Lights
If you reside in the U.S. or Canada, Alaska is the most logical place to see the Northern Lights. Much of Alaska is either within the Arctic Circle or just outside of it, and since auroras generally only occur in and around the Arctic, Alaskans are in prime position to see them on a regular basis. Additionally, much of northern Alaska has clear skies during the winter, making it possible to see auroras without worrying about the sky being blanketed in gray storm clouds.
The natural point of entry for aurora tourists in Alaska is Fairbanks, the largest city in the state’s interior, boasting many services and accommodations for visitors. Fairbanks proper is not the best place to see auroras because of light pollution from cars, streetlamps, and buildings, but the city is only a short drive away from prime viewing locations in the country, and many tour operators take advantage of this by offering services within the city.
Fairbanks has a number of low-cost hotels and hostels that are targeted at aurora tourists. One of the most famous is Billie’s Backpackers, which purports to be the oldest hostel in the entire state. Fairbanks is also served by road, rail, and air links; Fairbanks International Airport offers direct flights to major American cities such as Seattle and Chicago as well as some European destinations such as Frankfurt, Germany. It’s also possible to reach Fairbanks via the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage and the Alaska Highway from British Columbia and Yukon, linking the city to the greater North American road network.
Aurora tourists can also find many prime viewing locations in Canada. The eastern Canadian provinces and territories such as Newfoundland, Quebec, and Nunavut are too cloudy during the winter for aurora tourism, but western Canada’s skies are just as clear as Alaska’s during the cold months. The best aurora viewing spot in Canada is Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Auroras are also easily viewed in the northernmost parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba; Churchill, a small town in northeastern Manitoba along the Hudson Bay, is popular among Northern Lights tourists.
Due to Canada’s northern territories being less populous than Alaska, transportation and tourist infrastructure there is accordingly less developed. However, budget-conscious tourists can easily find tour operators and inexpensive hotels in Yellowknife and other northern towns.
For European travelers, the best places to see auroras are in Russia and the countries of Scandinavia: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland. Auroras can be seen in the northernmost regions of Ireland and Scotland, but due to those countries being well-south of the Arctic Circle, they are not the best places to witness the Northern Lights.
Iceland is regarded as the easiest place in Europe to see auroras; indeed, the capital of Reykjavik frequently plays host to them. However, the best aurora viewing locations in Iceland are located along its northern shore, as nights there are longer during the winter and the region is closer to the Arctic Circle. While Iceland is known as an expensive country to visit, it has a well-developed tourist industry, with many hostels and public transportation options for thrifty travelers.
Budget aurora tourism is also possible in Scotland and Ireland. The Isle of Skye, located in northern Scotland, is acknowledged as Britain’s most scenic aurora viewing location. It boasts the Skyewalker Hostel, a rural hostel that allows for uninterrupted aurora spotting. Aurora viewers in Ireland typically travel to Malin Head, the northernmost location on the island. Note that due to their southerly location, aurora viewing season in Scotland and Ireland is only two months long, lasting from January to February.
The most popular portal for aurora viewers in Norway is the city of Tromsø, located along the country’s Arctic coast. Tromsø is a small city served by road and air links to many European cities and plays host to a large number of aurora tour operators and cruise lines. Finland’s number one aurora-viewing spot is the town of Ylläsjärvi, which has many hostels and business that are geared towards Northern Lights tourists.
Finally, if you’re looking for a truly offbeat aurora experience, consider checking out Russia. A large part of Russian territory lies within the Arctic Circle, and the port city of Murmansk, located close to Russia’s border with Norway, is regarded as the country’s best aurora viewing spot. While Russian visa requirements make visiting the country more difficult compared to other European nations, it has much cheaper accommodation and transportation than those countries.
There’s no reason why you should have to break the bank in order to see the Northern Lights. In an era of low-cost airlines and cheaper accommodation thanks to sites such as Airbnb, traveling to distant locations such as the Arctic Circle has become infinitely easier. No matter whether you live in Asia, Europe, or North America, you can plan a Northern Lights trip that will give you the experience of a lifetime without making your wallet scream for mercy.