Although winter in Greenland is long, dark, and cold, there is literally a bright side to it. Due to the country's small population and hence minimal light pollution, the island is considered the best place on the planet to view the northern lights or aurora borealis dancing over the night skies.
What is Aurora Borealis?
The fascinating natural phenomenon occurs when the sun's electrically charged particles interact with the molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. The Northern Lights usually appear in green, purple, and yellow colors, but shades of red, blue, and pink have been reported too. The color of the shimmering light depends on the molecules and altitudes. For example, the prevailing green appears when oxygen is between 62 and 124 mi (100 and 200 km). The shades of red appear when oxygen is above 124 mi (200 km), while nitrogen at less than 62 mi (100 km) results in blue hues.
When to see Northern Lights?
If it wouldn't be for the midnight sun, Aurora Borealis would be seen all-year-round. The season is limited to fall and winter months, namely September through early April. In southernmost areas, the light show occurs as early as the end of August. The prime time is November to mid-March. Come in the dead of winter, and you'll be sure that Greenland lives up to its colorful name. Also, take into account the clarity of the sky and the phase of the Moon. To eliminate extra light, choose the week that will have a New Moon. A week before would be even better if you want to go to bed earlier.
Where to see Northern Lights?
The Aurora Borealis regularly flickers above the dark and clear skies of South Greenland. You can look for the lights anywhere from Nanortalik in the south to Uummannaq to the north-west and Ittoqqortoormiit to the north-east. However, some places are considered the best.
Kangerlussuaq & Sisimiut
If you are traveling from Copenhagen, Kangerlussuaq will become your getaway to Greenland. With nearly 300 clear nights per year, this small town on the western side of the island is one of the top sites to capture Aurora Borealis. Kangerlussuaq is among the best not just within Greenland, but across the entire Arctic circle. For the utmost conditions, head out on a northern lights tour. A great option would be a mountain safari in the coastal town of Sisimiut. Also, check out other famous sites of the area, such as Greenland Icesheet or Russell Glacier.
Ilulissat (Disko Bay)
Another ideal place on the west coast is the town of Ilulissat. The flickering curtains of Northern Lights regularly appear over the Ilulissat Icefjord and the Disco Bay. Enormous icebergs below the cliffs on the background make for surreal landscapes and unbeatable experience. To make the most of this beautiful place, explore it further on snowshoes, a snowmobile, a dogsled, or a drive.
Ironically, standing in the very center of the largest city in Greenland, you can still see the lightshow. Nuuk must be the only Arctic capital that can boast such a luxury. Locals may call it ‘Nuuk York’, however, the city's population is less than 1% of NYC. The night tours to the darkest outskirts of the city naturally offer more to see. You'll be lucky if you spot the green glow over the iconic Sermitsiaq mountain. Use your days to explore the city and its culture, and discover its stunning fjord system deemed to be the second-largest one in the world.
East Greenland (Tasiilaq & Kulusuk)
At last, explore the eastern side of the island for aurora borealis sightings. One of the most popular spots to check out includes Tasiilaq. With nearly 2,000 residents, it's the seventh-largest town in Greenland and the most populated community in East Greenland. Another hot spot is a small coastal town of Kulusuk with an international airport. The main benefit of eastern coastline of the island is its high and pointed mountain landscape creates a perfect background for the northern lights photos. Springtime is the most vibrant time here with a plentitude of activities to enjoy along with polar lights.
What to wear?
If you've decided to chase aurora borealis in Greenland, that means you'll be visiting amidst the coldest season. Therefore, appropriate clothing is essential to make your aurora encounter as enjoyable as possible. Dressing in layers is always the key. We recommend overdressing as you can always remove the layers. Also, some tour operators provide heavy winter clothing but make sure to double-check with them what is included in the tour you're interested in.