Northern Lights in Russia

Discover the best places to see the Northern Lights in Russia.

What's the Aurora Borealis?

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) is the northern version of Aurora Polaris - a natural phenomenon occurring when electrically charged particles (protons and electrons) from the Sun collide with gases in Earth's atmosphere, emitting light as the result. The amount of light largely depends on the number of arriving particles and their energy.

Earth's magnetic field magnetize solar particles to polar areas around the north and south magnetic (geomagnetic) poles where the field is strongest. Thus, the number of collisions and the light emission are higher closer to the magnetic poles.

The magnetic poles are located in the ends of the magnetic axis and near, but not exactly at, the geographical poles. It means that the further north or south you get the brighter Polar lights you may see.

Polar lights in the Northern Hemisphere are known as the Northern lights or Aurora Borealis. In southern latitudes, Polar lights are referred to as the Southern lights or Aurora Australis.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Russia?

Much of Russia lies in high-latitude regions north of the Arctic Circle, offering good opportunities to view the lights from multiple locations. Although Murmansk region is regarded as the best place to see them, you can also see the Aurora in Yamal, Chukotka, Karelia, Komi Republic, etc. Below is the list of the northernmost towns and cities of Russia.

  • The northernmost town in Russia is Pevek in Chukotka Region - 69.7° North.
  • The town of Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Region - 69.19° North.
  • Murmansk, the World’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle - 68.58° North. Check out the selection of the Northern Lights tours in Murmansk, Russia
  • The town of Vorkuta in Komi Republic - 67.49° North.
  • Naryan-Mar, the capital of Nenets people region - 67.38° North.
  • Salekhard in the Yamal Peninsula is located on the Arctic Circle - 67.33° North.
Foreign nationals have to obtain a special permission for visiting Pevek, Norilsk and Salekhard as these towns are located in a “Border Security Zone”. Visiting Vorkuta, Naryan-Mar and Murmansk is not restricted.

Northern Lights in Murmansk

The best place to hunt for the Northern lights in Russia is Murmansk Region, which occupies the Kola Peninsula. The city of Murmansk is easily accessible by plane or train from Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Northern Lights in Murmansk, Russia
Keeping in mind its north location, you already have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights when the kp-index of geomagnetic activity is as low as 1-2.

If strong enough, the Northern Lights are visible in the very city of Murmansk. However, Murmansk is a relatively bright city with much of artificial light pollution. The local temperature is often higher and the city is more likely to be persistently covered by clouds than the nearby rural areas. That is why a chance to spot the Northern Lights is reasonably higher on a certain distance out of the city.
There are four roads from Murmansk: towards Pechenga and Norwegian Kirkenes in the West, towards Verhnetulomsky in the Southwest, towards Olenegorsk in the South and towards Teriberka in the East. Local guides decide which direction is optimal, taking into account cloud forecast and driving conditions. Standard Northern lights midnight hunt starts at 9 p.m. and lasts for 3-4 hours.

In order to avoid city light pollution, some travellers choose accommodation in woodland and rural hotels, guesthouses and glampings. In the recent years, a few properties of this kind have been built near Murmansk and in Lovozero region.

Daytime winter activities in the Kola Peninsula include sightseeing, dog and reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country and downhill skiing. A couple of so-called “Sami villages” offer Sami culture experience with meeting Sami people, tasting traditional food, reindeer sledding etc.

Northern Lights in Karelia Republic

Aurora is frequent in the north of Karelia, but the range of accommodation and activity options there is rather limited. The latitude for the regional capital, city of Petrozavodsk is 61.7782° North. It is likely to see the Northern Lights when the kp index is 4 or greater.
Northern Lights in the city of Petrozavodsk, 23.04.2023
Lake Onega waterfront is a popular place for spotting the Northern Lights in Karelia, but going out of the city is still a better strategy.

What is the best time for the Aurora?

The Northern lights season begins in late August and lasts until early April. September and October are good for chasing the Northern lights in Russia without bringing too much of winter clothes. You can enjoy beautiful autumn colours as tundra and forest are packed with golds, reds, and orange. Lakes and rivers are ice-free and you may see the Aurora reflecting in open water.

Winter comes in November and continues until April. Depending on latitude, the Polar night begins in November and ends in January. During the Polar night, the Sun does not rise above the horizon, but it is not completely dark during the day. In Murmansk, the Polar night lasts for 40 days (from about 01 December till 10 January).

February and March are particularly good for hunting the Northern lights in Russia. Nights are still dark and days are long enough for winter activities - dog sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, ice fishing, etc. Seeing the Aurora Borealis is not guaranteed, that is why activity-packed days help keeping the holidays interesting.