Chasing Northern Lights in Tromso
Chasing Northern Lights in Tromso
Chasing Northern Lights in Tromso, in the Northern area of Norway, had been on my bucket list for a long time.
First I need to explain you that as much as I love warm beach holidays, I am completely passionate about remote and intrepid North destinations with extreme cold temperatures covered by a white blanket of snow.
I had already been to the North of Finland and to Iceland with the objective of seeing the Northern Lights (and not being successful). In December 2017 I decided to give it another chance and headed to the northernmost part of Europe for a few days in New Year.
Tromso is a city located in the Polar Arctic Circle and it is often considered one of the best destinations to see the Northern Lights, whilst offering great options for the perfect Winter getaway, beautiful outdoors and nature and an interesting cultural life.
Winter in Tromso is magical and from early December to mid-January is the season of polar nights with less than one hour of daylight. It seems strange if it’s the first time that you go to this latitude in winter, but I assure you it is an unique experience.
Don’t miss the opportunity yo visit Tromso. It is a great city and it gets vibrant in Winter time. You can easily spend there several days entertained during the day with different activities and during the night with your chase for the Northern Lights.
In Tromso I recommend to walk around the city centre with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes and a cozy atmosphere. In December it gets especially beautiful with all the Christmas decorations.
Go to the Harbour area for great views to the sea and the mountains in front of the city.
The Polar Museum is also quite interesting, offering a lot of information about the life in this remote part of the world and the sometimes harsh conditions to survive. At the same time it provides an overview of the natural life in the area and the culture of its people.
Polaria is another great place to visit to know more about the Arctic marine wildlife.
Cross the modern Tromso bridge to the other side of the city – you can easily walk there but be ready to face the cold – or take a bus. There you will find at the exit of the bridge the Arctic Cathedral, Ishavskatedralen, a landmark of Tromso created in 1965.
One of my favorite experiences in Tromso was taking the cable car in Fjellheisen to see the best views of the city. It runs up to the mountain ledge Storsteinen, 421 m above sea level. The viewing platform at the upper station offers spectacular panoramic views of Tromso and the surrounding mountains, fjords and islands.
You can also walk around the station but watch out if the weather is not good. I adventured myself for a small walk and suddenly was surprised by a snowstorm and I almost got lost without any visibility. Luckily, as suddenly as the storm started, it calmed down a bit and I was blessed by breathtaking views and visibility of the way back.
There are so many things to do around Tromso that the most difficult is to choose your preferred ones. From snowmobiles to reindeer and dog sledding, to snowshoeing and visiting Sami farms, the offer for day tours in Tromso is vast.
I had already had some of those experiences in Finish Lapland, so I decided to take a tour to the famous Norwegian fjords, long and narrow inlets with steep sides or cliffs, that were created by a glacier.
Norway is well known by its fjords and the natural landscapes are undoubtedly stunning, so the tour was an excellent choice to discover Norwegian outdoors.
I visited places like Kvaløya, the fifth biggest island in Norway with a typical local fishing village. Sommarøy is another beautiful small island known for its dramatic scenery. Finally I went to the area of Hella with its rock carvings. Along the way I was lucky enough to see whales, reindeers and some other arctic wildlife in the middle of astonishing natural landscapes like fairytale mountains, open sea and desert frozen beaches.
Northern Lights: the Magic of the Arctic
The ultimate experience in Tromso is definitely chasing Northern Lights. Aurora borealis, commonly known as northern lights, is probably the most magical natural phenomenon that Mother Earth has to offer us. It is caused by charged particles coming from the sun that get trapped entering the atmosphere in earth’s magnetic fields. It causes an otherworldly natural spectacle of colourful and dancing lights in the sky.
The auroras can be seen in polar latitudes above 55° across the world, mainly from September to March, and Tromso is actually considered one of the best regions to spot them. But they don’t appear every night and in order to see them it’s necessary to gather several conditions: clear and dark skies, strong solar activity and a lot of luck. Usually there are more chances to catch them from 10pm to 2am for periods from only a few minutes to several hours. There are apps where you can track aurora activity level and your chance to see them. If the level is low you will see fainted auroras similar to clouds (that’s what happened to me in Iceland). But when the activity level is strong, combined with proper weather conditions, you will see the most stunning natural spectacle in the world.
Usually auroras are green but occasionally they show other colors from blue to purple or pink. It depends on the density and composition of the atmosphere and the altitude of the collision when the sun particles reach our atmosphere.
Be aware that auroras captured in cameras look much brighter than with human eyes. This happens because cameras have different sensitivity to the light. So try to bring a good camera to capture the moment.
Another advice before I share my Northern Lights chase in Tromso: wear warm clothes, bring with you some food and hot beverages and be ready to wait for a few hours outside to to see them if you are lucky enough.
In Tromso my first attempt to see the Northern Lights with a tour took me to Finland. In those tours the guides are permanently checking the best conditions to spot the auroras. If needed they can drive you hours through the icy roads of those Arctic lands to find the best place to watch them. That‘s what happened in my first night in Tromso. We drove three hours, crossed the Finland border and then waited several hours next to a fireplace in the middle of the polar Winter for the Northern Lights to show up. They didn’t.
A few days after I checked the auroras forecast and it seemed to be likely to see them. It was my last night in Tromso so I didn’t thought twice and I joined another tour. Finally I was lucky and that was the night. Less than half an hour after starting to chase them, our car stopped, we went outside and I couldn’t believe what my eyes were witnessing. The Northern Lights finally decided to amaze me, as bright and vivid as I‘ve always imagined they would be, dancing in the northern skies for more than half an hour. It took me 3 years, 3 countries and 4 chasing nights to see the Northern Lights, but it was without any doubt one of the most magical moments ever.
For some more travel inspiration to chase Northern Lights, check my Travel Guide to Kiruna in Sweden, a perfect Winter getaway.