Watching the northern lights swirl around the sky above your head is one of the most spectacular sights of the natural world – and seeing the northern lights is easy in Greenland.
But when should you go, and where is the best place in Greenland to view the aurora borealis?
The truth is, the northern lights can be seen anywhere above the Arctic Circle in winter when the skies are dark, so northern Norway, Sweden and Finland are all good bets.
But thanks to low levels of light pollution, plus a remote location and an incredibly low population density, Greenland is generally regarded as one of the best places on the planet to get a good view of the amazing aurora borealis.
Why is Greenland so good for seeing the northern lights?
The further north you are and the less light pollution there is, the higher your chances of seeing a really spectacular northern lights show.
More than two thirds of Greenland lies above the Arctic Circle and its northern tip is only 500 miles from the North Pole, so the season for viewing the northern lights is pretty long.
Add to that the fact Greenland is the world’s largest island, with a resident population of fewer than 60,000 people, and you’ll see that it’s very easy to get away from the crowds here!
In fact, Greenland’s largest settlement Nuuk has a population of less than 20,000 so even in the larger settlements there’s little light pollution.
When is the best time to see the northern lights in Greenland?
The darker the skies, the easier it is to see the lights, so clearly in mid-winter when it is dark for 24 hours a day above the Arctic Circle you have a very good chance of viewing the lights provided the skies are clear.
But that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to visit in the darkest depths of winter, when temperatures can be far, far below freezing and there is barely any sunlight for sightseeing during the day.
In the north of Greenland the northern lights are visible from early September to late March or even early April, so it has one of the longest viewing seasons of any country in the world.
But the peak time to view the northern lights in Greenland is from November to mid-March.
Generally speaking, the shoulder seasons (late Oct to early December, and again between late February and early April) are the best times to visit if you want to mix some aurora spotting with daytime sightseeing.
Where is the best place in Greenland to see the northern lights?
Most people fly into Greenland from Copenhagen in Denmark and arrive at Kangerlussuaq on the island’s west coast.
There’s a reason that Greenland’s main international airport was built here and that’s because it’s a relatively sheltered spot, with a calm micro-climate and fewer clouds and storms than other parts of the island.
In fact, it has almost 300 clear nights a year, which makes it the best location for seeing the northern lights in Greenland.
Another excellent place in Greenland where you can see the northern lights is Ilulissat. Perched on the edge of the spectacular Disko Bay, it has stunning views of the lights dancing above the huge icebergs in the fjord.
On the east coast the small towns of Tasiilaq and Kulusuk are both good destinations for spotting the northern lights, though you’ll have to fly in to both of these.
And you can even get views of the northern lights from Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. Despite the city’s lights, you can often see the aurora borealis in the skies above, and Nuuk is small enough that you can simply walk to the edge of the town away from any streets lamps to get a better view.
And if you want some help with getting the best view of the northern lights, you may want to book a tour. Experienced guides will be able to take you to the best viewing spots and give you the lowdown on the lights.
This two-hour northern lights’ tour from Nuuk also includes a hot chocolate and a warm place to wait for the lights to appear – let’s face it, it’s freezing out there!
Alternatively, you could take this northern lights’ boat tour, which heads out from Nuuk harbour into the fjord in a warm boat to get great views of the aurora borealis away from any light pollution.
Greenland northern lights hotels
Ilulissat is a good place to base yourself for sightings of the northern lights and it’s also home to the world’s most northerly four-star hotel.
The Hotel Arctic looks over the huge icebergs in the UNESCO-protected Icefjord, and you can often see the northern lights from the bedrooms, through large picture windows.
The hotel even has some igloos perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the fjord that you can sleep in. Made of aluminium, these cosy igloos have windows in the roof so you can lie in bed and look at the stars.
They’re only available from May to October though, so September and October are your best options for seeing the lights from them.
And if you fancy staying in a more authentic igloo, Igloo Lodge has six real igloos carved out of snow and ice, in the traditional Inuit style.
You travel out to the igloos from Ilulissat by snowmobile then spend the night in the cosy snow domes. Inside, sheepskins, super-insulated sleeping bags and candles keep things warm, and there’s a heated wooden hut nearby where dinner is served.
What kit do I need to see the northern lights in Greenland?
The most important thing you’ll need is warm weather clothing. It’s cold in Greenland, and if you’re outside at night tracking down the northern lights, it will be even colder.
Daytime temperatures in Greenland rarely exceed 10°C in summer, and the average daily temperature usually only goes above 0°C in July and August.
In winter, nighttime temperatures can go as low as -50°C! So, come prepared with thermals, fleeces, water- and windproof jackets, gloves, thick socks, boots and a hat.
Other than warm clothing, a good torch is useful and a camera, of course, for capturing the light display.
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