The northern lights, or ‘aurora borealis’, are a spectacular natural phenomenon which many of us have on our bucket list. But what may surprise you is that Canada is one of the best countries to see them. Read on to find out everything you need to know about these mysterious dancing lights and where you can see them.
Interested? Why not book a northern lights holiday in Canada?
What is the aurora borealis?
The stunning spectacle of the aurora borealis occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with gases upon entering our atmosphere. The collisions emit light which paints the sky with dream-like shapes and patterns.
The Aurora can be many different colours, although the most common shades are green and pink (green for oxygen collisions and pink for nitrogen ones).
When can you see the aurora?
Although the phenomenon of the aurora happens year-round, it can only be seen during winter as the rest of the year, the skies are too bright to see the lights. That means you’ll need to plan your northern lights tour for the wintertime. November to March is usually the best time to see the lights as the skies are at their darkest. The time of night when the light appears varies depending on your region, but usually between 10 pm and 2 am is a good bet.
Where are the best places to see the northern lights?
Much of Canada lies under the auroral oval (a huge ring above the Earth’s Geomagnetic North Pole that displays an aurora), offering excellent opportunities to view the lights from multiple locations. Although Northern Canada is regarded as the best place to see them, you can also see the aurora from British Columbia and Alberta in the west to Québec and Newfoundland & Labrador in the east. Simply decide which region you’d like to visit and find the spot to suit you!
One of the best places to experience the magic of the aurora is Whitehorse in the Yukon, where you can combine the best of the sky’s incredible light display with exciting winter activities. These activities include:
•Walking around the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
•Snowmobiling on Lake Laberge
•Visiting the outdoor pools at the Takhini Hot Springs
The northern lights are a regular sight for those lucky enough to visit Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, between autumn and spring. Northern Lights tours take you away from the city to view the dramatic displays where there is no light pollution.
Our favourite way to watch this amazing light show is in an exclusive viewing spot – a comfortable, warm cabin resembling those from the Gold Rush era – complete with snacks and hot drinks. Allow the beauty of the aurora to take your breath away while you sit back and enjoy the view, listening to local stories about the area and its ancestry. Tours will transport you to the darkest spots, set up tents or cabins and provide the drinks, snacks and storytelling.
Vancouver is the nearest major airport and fortunately, there are lots of cheap flights to Vancouver available from the UK. After spending a day or two in this Pacific Coast city you can then travel to Whitehorse, which has so many places to stay in. Try a romantic night in a Caribou tent or a more glamorous stay in a central downtown hotel. Discover an authentic experience in a local lodge or cabin on the shores of Lake Laberge.
Not only does Whitehorse offer exclusive viewing spots at night, but there is also so much to explore during the day.
Visit the city’s most popular attractions including Main Street, the Old Log Church Museum and Schwatka Lake. You can take a dip in the Takhini Hot Springs – a natural mineral outdoor pool providing a warm sanctuary in the cold weather. There’s also the nearby Yukon Wildlife Preserve that you can visit which is home to species including the wood bison, woodland caribou, elk and lynx.
Try our Northern Lights of the Yukon Tour. This six-night tour will see you spend three-nights in Whitehorse with nightly northern lights tours and three-nights in vibrant Vancouver. As part of this holiday, you can relax in a heated cabin or walled tent, while guides treat you to hot chocolate, tea and marshmallows beside a bonfire. The price also includes admission to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and a trip to the Takhini Hot Springs.
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Yellowknife sits on the shores of Great Slave Lake and is one of the closest cities in Canada to the North Pole. Yellowknife is one of the top northern lights destinations for two good reasons: it is directly under the auroral oval and, due to the area being mostly flat, it offers unobstructed views of the aurora borealis above.
From a history in gold and diamond-mining to the popular month-long Snowking Festival, there is so much of interest in this provincial capital.
During winter, the surrounding lakes freeze and the flat landscape is ideal for unobstructed views of the skies. Low levels of rain in the region mean that most nights the sky is clear. The latitude of Yellowknife also means that the northern lights appear directly overhead rather than on the horizon as with more southern regions.
Choose a modern, all-suite hotel which boasts the opportunity to see the northern lights directly from your private balcony. Alternatively, there are many other hotel options in the centre of Yellowknife which offer easy walking distance to the area’s main attractions and activities..
Sitting on the shores of the Great Slave Lake, this provincial capital has a lot of activities for visitors to try (dogsledding, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling to name a few!)
The Northwest Territories are renowned for their wildlife, so during your visit, we recommend making the most of the opportunity to spot wolves, moose and bears in the wild. The nearby Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is home to a herd of free-roaming wood bison. Did you know these magnificent animals are bigger than polar bears?
Try our Yellowknife Nature Discovery Experience for six-days, which includes meals and accommodation, as well as Aurora hunting, a float plane trip and a tour of the bison sanctuary.
Known as the ’polar bear capital of the world’, this area is desolate and achingly beautiful in equal measure. The town sits under the auroral zone and Travel Manitoba says the northern lights can be seen dancing in the sky over 300 nights a year.
From polar bears to northern lights, Churchill offers a truly unrivalled Arctic experience. Boasting excellent displays of the Aurora, you can find a little bit of everything here.
The northern lights are best viewed when the sky is darkest (which is usually between January and March). In winter, watch nature’s greatest show from the comfort of a plexiglass Aurora Dome, which has been specially made to maximise the views of the sky.
For the comforts of home, choose to stay in a cosy Churchill hotel. For a more authentic experience, opt for a traditional lodge stay while onboard a Tundra Buggy explorer trip across this wild expanse of the Arctic.
Perhaps best-known for its excellent wildlife, it would be silly to miss out on seeing polar bears during your time in Churchill. The best way to get up close and personal to the bears is on a Tundra Buggy tour. Climb aboard custom-built Tundra vehicles and drive out into the wilderness for a unique view of the bears, which have been known to come right alongside the vehicles to sneak a peek at visitors.
Hudson Bay is also famous for the thousands of beluga whales which migrate to its rich waters each year. However, this migration happens during the summer when it isn’t possible to see the Aurora because of the long days (and even midnight sun!)
Try our Churchill Town and Tundra Enthusiast tour. This exciting trip combines the opportunity to see polar bears in the day with the northern lights at night.
While it’s generally best to escape the bright lights of a city to see the northern lights, residents of Alberta’s capital see their share of the aurora borealis. There is even a dedicated website called Aurora Watch which predicts aurora activity in the Edmonton region.
In the past, Edmontonians have captured incredible displays dancing above the city’s skyscrapers on clear nights. If you’re renting a car in Canada, there are lots of dark skies located a short distance from Edmonton where you can see the northern lights in their full glory.
There is no perfect place in Edmonton to watch the lights. You can even see them over the city itself sometimes, but they will be faint due to the light pollution. For the best chance of seeing them, we recommend driving out of town to the quiet, dark countryside. Elk Island National Park, less than an hour’s drive from Edmonton and is a great place to
We’ve got plenty of hotels in Downtown Edmonton which are perfect for staying at while you’re in the city. Edmonton lends itself well to a fly-drive (self-drive) holiday as it is easy to fly into the city, hire a car and get yourself around. The city’s roads allow easy access to its attractions, especially with Edmonton’s ring road, known as the Anthony Henday Drive.
Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and widely regarded as one of Canada’s key urban centres. The city boasts a family-friendly and fun atmosphere, with all ages being able to enjoy the city’s wide-open spaces, festivals, museums and amazing shops.
Elk Island National Park is known for its conservation efforts for wood and plains bison herds. It’s a beautiful place in winter, full of aspen woodlands, elk and howling coyotes. You could also try a snowy Segway tour of the River Valley. Just remember that Edmonton is very cold in winter, so bring your snow gear!
Our Prairies to the Pacific driving holiday takes in Edmonton as well as other northern lights hot spots like Jasper and Drumheller. The holiday lasts 13 nights and 14 days and includes your return flights and nightly hotels.
The northern region of Québec is located right beneath the auroral oval. On the west shore of the Koksoak River, Kuujjuaq is a great place to see the northern lights.
Kuujjuaq is the largest village in Québec’s Nunavik region and the community is closely tied to the river as the ebb and flow of its tides are continually altering the landscape.
If you’re looking to get a great view of the aurora borealis then simply drive a little way out of the village so you are away from any light pollution and look up to see the incredible displays.
If you are staying in Québec you should look to spend some nights in the provinces two biggest cities: Montréal and Québec City.
If you are staying in Kuujjuaq for a few days, then try your hand at trout fishing or go on expeditions to see local wildlife such as caribou and Musk Ox, which were imported back in 1967 and now whose population stand at over 2,000.
Québec is perfect for a family fly-drive holiday and we’d recommend browsing through our east coast fly-drive holidays. This way you can hire a car and explore Kuujjuaq in your own time.
Top tips for seeing the Lights
•The best time to view the lights is between November and March. This can vary by location, so it’s a good idea to check for your region
•Be prepared to stay up late!The best chance you can have to view the lights is usually between around 10 pm and 1 am, and most sightseeing tours will operate around these times
•Find somewhere dark– light pollution will seriously inhibit your opportunity to see the lights. If you’re heading out to see them yourself, drive away from the city to somewhere well out of town. Remember to drive carefully and carry supplies with you
•Wrap up warm!Nights in Northern Canada in the winter can be very cold. Make sure to wear thermals, a hat, gloves, an insulated jacket and snow boots. If you go with a tour group, they may provide suitable clothing for you.
•Bring provisions– a hot drink and snack will keep you awake and keep the cold at bay. Aurora hunting groups will often provide a snack and a drink around a campfire for you, in which case you only need to bring your storytelling.
How we can help
A holiday to see the northern lights is an unforgettable experience, and with so much to do and see in Canada, our best piece of advice is ‘don’t forget your camera!’ Whatever you choose to do on your holiday to Canada, Canadian Affair can offer help and advice on where to go and what to do. We offer cheap flights to Toronto, Montréal and to the other major airports in Canada, so give our experts a call and book today.