Destinations

Can I see the Northern Lights in Greenland?

Advice on seeing the Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon that's out of this world – literally. These shimmering bands of light that span the spectrum from lime green to crimson are actually the result of solar winds interacting with particles in the earth’s upper atmosphere, about 62 miles from the surface. The form, colour and level of movement of the auroras depends on the level of acceleration, excitation and ionisation of these particles. The Aurora Borealis and its southern cousin, the Aurora Australis, occur in high-latitude regions (around the Arctic and Antarctic respectively). These auroras are widely known as the Northern and Southern Lights.

Most of Greenland lies within the Arctic Circle, making it a prime location for watching the Northern Lights. The phenomenon is so widespread here that it has played a role in the traditional beliefs of the Greenlandic Inuit for generations. One legend tells that when the auroras appear in the sky, the dead are playing football with a walrus skull, while another contends that the lights are instead the spirits of babies who died at birth, dancing across the sky in the afterlife. Some groups here still believe that children conceived beneath the glow of the lights will be particularly intelligent.

Although auroras can occur at any time of day, sunlight renders them all but invisible, which means you’ll have to plan your safari to coincide with a time of year when the sun sets on Greenland. The island’s high latitude means it endures months of midnight sun which eliminates any chance of seeing the Northern Lights, as well as months of near-darkness which hamper wildlife sightings. A trip that takes place when both day and night occur will ensure you make the most of your time in this beautiful polar destination. The advantage of ship expeditions is that you are often miles from any source of light pollution, and this combined with fair weather and a clear night sky provides the perfect conditions for viewing auroras.

Although the Northern Lights can start to be seen in most of Greenland from around August, when the summer begins to wane and the days start getting shorter, your best bet is to travel when winter has begun to set in a bit more. As the year leads into December, daylight dwindles more and more until the sun peeks over the horizon for just a few hours each day, and in more northerly locations it may set for over a month at a time. The dark, clear, cloud-free nights that are conducive to viewing the Northern Lights usually last until the beginning of April. Visit our When to Go page or talk to one of our Destination Specialists for more information about ideal Northern Lights viewing spots.

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