( Lonelyplanet) – 2019 might not be the best year to see the Aurora Borealis, but that doesn’t mean it’s a total lost cause.
If you plan ahead, pick the right destination (head north, toward clear skies and open spaces), and book at the right time (your odds are best from January to March), you still have a good chance of catching the show – without breaking the bank. Courtesy of Hostelworld, here are five places to stay in five different countries, all of which cost a max US$30 (€27) per night and offer a front-row seat for one of nature’s best performances.
1. 7 Fells Hostel, Finland
If floating on an Arctic lake in Rovaniemi sounds like an extreme way to see the lights, look two hours north to Ylläs, in Lapland, and the 7 Fells Hostel. The property has free kick sleds available during the winter months, so you can ride to Äkäslompolo Lake, revel in the lack of light pollution, and frame the perfect shot. Plus, the retired backpacker who runs the place will wake you up or text you when it’s go-time. Expect shared toilets in the hall, shared showers and a communal sauna in an annex building, and a self-described “friendly but sarcastic” staff. From US$30/€27 per night.
2. Skywalker Hostel, Scotland
When you’re planning a Northern Lights trip, Britain isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind. But if you head toward the North Pole, your odds of seeing the aurora increase – solar flares and other conditions permitting, of course. Situated on the Minginish peninsula, on the Isle of Skye’s west coast, Skywalker Hostel makes a solid base of operations. Keep an eye out for pillars of light high in the sky or solar storms on the horizon, count the constellations from the stargazing dome, then bed down in a shared dorm or spring for a Jedi hut. From US$25 /€22 per night.
3. Billie’s Backpackers Hostel, Alaska
During the winter, Fairbanks is “ground zero for viewing the Aurora Borealis,” and from its perch on the outskirts of town, Billie’s Backpackers Hostel puts you in prime position to take it all in. A family-run spot that more than one reviewer likened to staying at grandma’s, it’s conveniently located – walking distance to shops, pubs, restaurants, and bike trails, a short taxi ride to both the airport and the train terminal, and a shuttle ride away from Anchorage, Denali, Yukon, and the Arctic Circle – with private and communal rooms, dorm beds, tent camping, and a glass gazebo dorm sans heat that’s only available during the summer. From US$30/€25 per night.
4. Sandrock Holiday Hostel, Ireland
Though it’s a bit more rare, and the viewing season is short, you can occasionally spot the aurora in Ireland – and you’ll have the best luck if you make for the island’s northernmost point in January or February. Malin Head served as a filming location for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, and during the summer, it’s one of just a few places in the world to see basking sharks at play. But its other claim to fame is Sandrock Holiday Hostel, a well-positioned property that overlooks the fishing pier, the beach, and the Donegal highlands across the bay. Reserve a bed in one of two ensuite dormitories, pick up local seafood from the nearby fishery, and prepare it to your liking in the communal kitchen. From US$16/€14 per night.
5. Loft Hostel, Iceland
“A magnet drawing cool-weather visitors,” Iceland is one of the most popular destinations for Northern Lights tourism, offering dark skies and good odds as long as you time it right. Though the season officially runs from mid-September to mid-April, you’ll have the darkest nights – and the iffiest weather – during peak winter months. To increase your chances, visit around the equinox (September and October, or March and April), when the colorful show goes up twice as often. You won’t even have to head out into the wilderness to see it – the rooftop terrace at Reykjavik’s Loft Hostel makes for a fine viewing platform. From US$28/€25 per night.