Being the nature lover that I am and enjoying outdoor activities like I do, northern Norway had to be high up on my traveling list for an Europe-trip. Perhaps, this destination is better suited for summer when one can make the most out of what the land has to offer for hiking, climbing, kayaking etc, however, my top priority this time was not only an active journey but to see the great Aurora Borealis. Setting foot above the Arctic Circle had been one of my most awaited trips of all and I made it possible this week when I arrived in Tromso.
Provided the northern lights can only be seen with the appropriate weather conditions and enough solar wind activity, I knew I was in for a bit of “lucky or not” type of trip: it was up to Nature to put up a good light display for our eyes and camera lenses. There were only two things I could do to maximize the chances of seeing the Aurora: staying as many nights possible in a city with one of the highest success rates of seeing the lights on a daily basis and, choosing a good tour provider committed to find a good “patch” in the sky to try our luck no matter how many hours a drive was needed. The fixed 4-5 hour type of tour was not going to cut it for me. After some internet research, I decided the tour company Chasing Lights was my best shot at witnessing and enjoying a few amazing nights. My expectations were far exceeded. I booked two nights of tour with enough time in advance to guarantee seats in the desired dates. This is how our 2 nights developed:
We were picked up outside our hotel at 5.30pm in a Mercedes van in which we traveled together with another 11 more passengers plus the tour guide. Within 10 minutes we had picked up the entire group from the respective hotels and were en-route the inner-land of Tromso´s surroundings in search of the Northern Lights. During the first 30 minutes or so of the trip, the tour guide explained all about this natural phenomenon and answered any of our questions. The weather conditions were not the best to see the lights but nonetheless, the tour guide did not give up to find a good spot to catch at least a glimpse of it. We literally chased the lights all over. We spent a few hours driving around: towards the coast and also towards Finland, however, we only managed to barely see them (the camera did a much better job at seeing the green colors on the sky than our naked eye). Because of this continuous driving around, we did not have the opportunity to make a bonfire and sit around it for dinner (which we did the following day!). At around 3 am, we got back to the hotel slightly disappointed with the little success of witnessing the Aurora Borealis.
On our second tour night we were picked up at hour hotel around the same time. We were more or less the same number of people. Unlike the previous night, we had no need to chase the lights for hours in the van as this time the weather conditions were much better with almost 100% clear skies, which enabled us to find the perfect spot for a majestic light show. The place was just perfect; by a fjord with reindeer feeding by the water and only a few town lights at the very end of the background to delineate a bit the horizon…and…most important of all: the northern lights were in full bloom! There was so much activity!!! The lights were dancing for us with constant shape changes and varying intensities; even some different colors were perceived throughout the night. The tour guide suggested to stay at that same spot the entire night to minimize driving time and maximize our exposure to the lights, to which we all agreed happily. While we were busy getting awed and clicking our photos, the driver and the guide set up a bonfire on the snow and placed reindeer leather pieces around the fire for us to sit around later for dinner. It was such a cool experience: sitting on the leather on the snow in our thermal suits and the dynamic northern lights as our roof. The night tour ended at about 3.30 am with smiling tourist very happy to have witnessed such a spectacular Nature´s show!
Some trip planning info:
- Tour company Chasing Lights provided us with thermal suits and boots for the night (most tour operators include them in the tour cost). Nonetheless, warm clothes are an absolute must to wear underneath the suit. Do not forget your gloves and if possible, bring two pairs: a pair of thin thermal gloves and thick woolen mittens on top. You will need to operate your camera so one hand will have to do without the thick glove!
- You will need a tripod for your camera to take good shots of the lights. Either bring yours or ask for a tripod within the tour package. Chasing Lights provided us with one for each person without additional cost.
- Dinner is provided in the night tours (at least in all the tour companies I researched online) but you might take a while until you get to eat, so a late lunch or a mid-afternoon snack prior to the tour is recommended. Remember you use up a lot of energy to keep your body warm!
- There are plenty of restaurants in Tromso to choose from but they are very expensive, so leave a good part of your budget for meals or look for a supermarket to get some food. You can find several restaurants offering pizza and salad buffets for lunch time at better prices than the other meals on the menus. I recommend trying the delicious Norwegian salmon!!
Others activities in Tromso:
There are plenty of winter activities in this city to keep you busy throughout the day and those nights you are not on a Northern lights-tour: reindeer or Huskies sledging, visiting a Sami community to learn more about their culture, a boat trip around Tromso or a fjord, a few good museums on Arctic life/history/northern lights, skiing, snowshoeing, boat safari to see whales and orcas…
If you are looking for a special winter trip, this is one I would definitely recommend to all outdoors lovers!!! It was expensive but all efforts worth it!!! just plan ahead of time to get better deals! Wish you all happy travels!!! 🙂