When I first decided to go to Norway on my own, one of the main things I knew I wanted to see was the Northern Lights, I just wasn’t exactly sure where you see them. For someone who doesn’t know any better, like me, I thought you could pretty much just see them anywhere in Norway, but obviously that is not the case.
I literally did a search for, “Where to see the Northern Lights in Norway”, and the entire first page pointed me to a place called Tromsø. I hadn’t heard of Tromsø before, but then again, I haven’t heard of the majority of small towns in the world, so I did a little more research, and found that it’s actually the place with the highest statistical success rate of seeing the Northern Lights!
The reason why it has these high success rates, is because it’s located on the Arctic Circle, where the Northern Lights often occur. It’s a charming little town, that reminds me of Christmas in the winter, and gave me a good taste of what it’s like to live in the movie Frozen! So if you’re planning on taking a trip up to Northern Norway, and you decide to head to Tromsø, here are all of my tips for traveling there:
While it could technically be helpful to watch the weather if you’re planning on chasing the Northern Lights, you can’t always guess when they’ll happen, but you can guess when there will be cheaper flights! Well, kind of. You can use flexible dates to actually find them like I show in my SkyScanner “flexible technique”; just enter the departure airport (I flew from Oslo) and enter the airport for Tromsø, then use the “whole month” or “cheapest month” option for dates to see when it would be cheapest to go.
While the Northern Lights can technically happen at any time of the year, they are said to be most visible in the winter when it’s mostly dark. The “best months” for visibility are September through March with recorded best visibility overall in October and March according to the Aurora forecast site Norway-Lights. During the summer there’s a period of 24 hours of sunlight, which is also interesting to see because you get a glimpse of the peculiar, but really pretty, midnight sun. Depending on which natural phenomenon you want to see, you can decide on which season to go.
I’ll admit, there were a few times when I was either too cold to be outside, or needed to get work done from my laptop, which is why I requested a room with a view at the Scandic Ishavshotel which overlooks the Tromsø bay area. It also acted as a weather-radar tower, so I could see when the sun snuck out and I could run down stairs to take photos. But most of all it gave me a birds-eye view of the bay and the quaint little homes across from it, that I wouldn’t have been able to get from anywhere else.
I’m pretty picky when it comes to taking tours when I travel. I don’t like feeling like I’m being herded to a tourist spot to take pictures solely for the purpose of profit. I researched quite a few companies and ended up going with a newer one called Chasing Lights because they seemed to be the most authentic, and genuinely passionate about seeing the Northern Lights. They also offered photos with the tour, which I’m really happy about considering none of my photos came out nearly as amazing as theirs did.
The natural phenomenons are not all there is to see in Tromsø! Aside from the beauty and charm of the little Arctic city, there’s also quite a few cultural landmarks worth checking out. You’ll see the iconic Arctic Cathedral immediately as you enter the area; with it’s triangular architecture that almost makes it look somewhat like the Sydney Opera House. There’s also Polaria, the uniquely designed polar animal exhibit, where you can see seals swimming year round, and various fish species.
Norway’s natives are the Sami people, who still live and work right in and around Tromsø. You can learn about them at one of the various museums, or hear their stories in real life when you take one of their tours, like the reindeer sled ride. I got to do one with them and learned about how reindeer are still one of their main source of incomes…even though that has a lot to do with harvesting the meat.
My reindeer sled ride was at a place called Camp Tamok in Lyngsfjord, which is about an hour away from Tromsø. The tour picks everyone up right outside the Scandic Ishavshotel, and takes them along a beautiful scenic route by the water (which was frozen when I was there), before ending at the winter-wonderland-like camp. They also offered snowmobiling and dog-sledding tours, and afterwards everyone gathered in one of the circular well-built teepees for some hot Reindeer soup and a traditional Sami dessert.
Although I thought I did pretty good at packing warm winter clothing to layer in Tromsø, I still ended up buying more wool socks and gloves at a local sweater store. If you don’t already have them, get 100% wool undergarments as well, which they sell at most shops in town anyway. Also make sure you have some form of waterproof outer wear and shoes, and that you leave enough space around your toes to move them around so they can increase circulation!