The biggest town above the Arctic Circle is an ideal and easily accessible base to use while trying to spot the aurora borealis. While Murmansk city is not the best place to try and see them, due to the light pollution that cities and towns inevitably emit, there are some well-known locations around this old port town that are. The dramatic coastline of Teriberka, the setting of the Oscar-nominated film Leviathan is about a three-hour drive away, and Kirovsk, near the Khibiny Mountains, is another great spot to see them. Of course, if you don’t want to travel that far, a short drive out of Murmansk will also do the trick.
Also above the Arctic Circle, the town of Arkangelsk sits on the banks of the Dvina River where it meets the White Sea. Just like Murmansk, you can catch the northern lights in town if you’re lucky, but your chances increase significantly if you head at least a little bit out. Arkangelsk also has a handful of traditional wooden houses remaining that are worth exploring during the day.
Home of the reindeer-herding Yakuts, one of Russia’s many indigenous people, Yakutia offers several places to watch the northern lights. The easiest place to spot them is from just outside the capital, Yakutsk, which is well connected to other parts of Russia. This northern Siberian republic is for the intrepid and adventurous only, as it is home to some of the coldest places in Russia and the world. So don’t forget to pack every warm thing that you own.
Again, above the Arctic Circle, this time in the Komi Republic, a visit to Vorkuta is a chance to see the aurora borealis and a lesson in Soviet history. Thanks to its far-flung locale, Vorkuta was home to one of the biggest gulag camps during the USSR, which provided the labour for the nearby coal mines. The town has struggled since the closure of the gulag brought an end to the economy it generated. In an attempt to generate town revenue, a former mayor suggested turning the old prison camp into a gulag-themed holiday destination, where visitors can experience a recreation of detained life.
A beautiful student town found on Lake Onega, north of St Petersburg and not far from the Finnish border, the town has an inviting, European feel to it, making a few days here a pleasant stay. In the summertime, the town is the jumping-off point for exploring Kizhi Island; however, in the winter, it is one of the easiest-to-get-to places if you want to see the northern lights.
There is not much land farther north than the Taimyr Peninsula, in any country. Only a few Arctic islands and parts of Greenland are closer to the North Pole. It is a rugged land full of wild reindeer, musk oxen, arctic foxes and polar bears. This far north Siberian locale never really has a summer. The warmer months only reach around 5°C (41°F), while the winter months can plummet to below -60°C (-76°F)! Each year, it has up to 285 days of winter, its dark days making it ideal to spot the northern lights, especially when they are no longer visible in other areas.
In the Nenets Autonomous Region in northern Siberia, this remote outpost is way off the beaten track. As more routes opened up connecting the region to the Urals and other parts of Siberia, Naryan-Mar has become even more removed and isolated. As a result, Nenet culture is well preserved here. It is the place to go to learn about customs and hear folklore, as well as see the northern lights.