The Northern Lights at Tromsø, Norway

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Written by: Nadia

We are a winter couple, we love cold, snow, ice… And one of our biggest dreams had always been seeing the Northern Lights. Luckily, we were able to make our dream come true in 2013 and the view of the Green Lady will remain forever in our memory.

But that trip was special for a million reasons because we made many activities, like dog sledging or exploring the sami culture, including a delicious traditional dinner that felt like heaven.

In this post we’ll tell you where and how we saw the aurora, the activities we practiced and everything we found out about this little polar paradise, including a 132 PAGES TRAVEL GIDE FOR FREE where you can find all the winter activities and the schedule for each one and information about many local attractions. Ready to travel to the ice land? Let’s go!

Where is Tromsø exactly? How can I get there?

We had already heard about Tromsø being a perfect place to see the auroras, so we included it on our Scandinavian tour (we’ll tell you about the complete tour in another post). It’s a very small and charming town on the northern coast of Norway.

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The best airline to get there is Norwegian. It has direct flights to Tromsø from many European and American cities. We flew from Oslo because, as I said, we were on an Scandianvian tour.

Norwegian is great, it’s low cost but the service is perfect and you even get wifi onboard, which is so cool. You can also enjoy a movie because each seat has its own screen with a multimedia panel. Just like a Ryanair plane, right? Hahahaha!

We traveled in December and it was snowing A LOT. Our pilot tried to land like three or four times. It was quite scary seeing the plane going down and up and not knowing if you’ll be able to land, but our pilot was very skilled and we were totally safe during the process.

How do I get from the airport to Tromsø centre?

The best way to get to Tromsø from the airport is by bus. You have two options:

  • Flybussen: Direct bus from the airport to Tromsø centre. It’s a quick way to get to town and it costs 100 NOK (about 10€).
  • City Bus: It’s cheaper, it costs 50 NOK (about 5€). The lines that take you to the centre are 40 and 42.

Of course, you can also take a taxi or a private transfer, but that’s not the cheapest one.

If you are renting a car, have in mind that you’ll need chains if you travel in winter and there will be ice on the road.

Where should I stay?

We looked for accommodation through Airbnb but we didn’t find anything convincing, so this time, we stayed at a hotel called Smart Hotel. We are happy we chose this hotel because its location is perfect: it’s very close from the airport bus stop and just 2 minutes walking from the main street, so we had a quiet place to sleep but very close to the main attractions. The deco was cool and the room was comfy and clean. Temperature inside the hotel was nice.

If you want a discount for your next accommodation with Booking, click here.

If you prefer Airbnb, click here to get your discount.

I am traveling in winter, what should I wear?

Ok, you should keep in mind it will be VERY COLD. As I said, we absolutely love cold weather and we wanted to live a polar winter so we were brave and went there in December. To simply go for a walk, we wore all this clothes at the same time:

  • Thermal leggings
  • Cotton leggings
  • Jeans
  • Thermal undershirt
  • T-shirt
  • Two long sleeve tees
  • Sweater
  • Winter coat
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Winter boots/mountain shoes
  • Hat, scarf and gloves

And when we went to chase the aurora, we also got to wear a thermal jumpsuit OVER ALL THE CLOTHING WE ALREADY HAD ON, including the winter coat. We also got special boots for the snow. Even though, we were very could during our chase and if it wasn’t for the bonfire and the hot chocolate, we would have frozen out there. Temperature was about -32 ºC. Look at the snap, we look like bears.

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How did you manage to see the aurora?

First thing you need to know: the Green Lady is capricious. She doesn’t show up every day and definitely, not always at the same place. But don’t worry, there are some good professional aurora chasers who will look for the exact place and time chosen by the aurora to dance under the stars. They drive their van and chase her everywhere.

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We booked a chase with one company but it got cancelled two days in a row. The first time because the chaser hasn’t sleep enough and the second one because, according to him, the aurora would’t show up that night because the sky was cloudy. Yes, we got a full refund but it was the last day of our trip and we still hadn’t seen the aurora. It was a disaster.

So that morning we called some chasers but they were already full (of course). But then, we found an Scot man on the other side of the phone line who told us we could chase the aurora with them that night. The company was Marianne’s heaven on earth aurora chaser. They are professional photographers and aurora chasers.

It sounded perfect to us so we agreed to meet at 19:00 (it was already dark since 13:00). We knew that was going to be one of the most special nights ever.

It was already meeting time and we waited for them together with four Filipinos who, by chance, were the same group of people we were supposed to meet at the chase that got cancelled. It seems destiny really wanted us to meet.

Then, the white van arrived to pick us up and the Scot came out of it. He told us to get in the van and he explained a bit how the aurora is produced. Do you want to know?

Well, it seems auroras are the result of extremely high solar activity. When there’s a solar storm on the surface of the Sun, the wave and the beams travel to our planet and when they reach the atmosphere, gas bights in green and purple.

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The Scot sat on the copilot seat because Marianne was driving. She is Norwegian, tall strong and quiet. He was smaller but very talkative. They were a middle-age couple and they talked in English.

They told us that night would be difficult to see the aurora over or around Tromsø because it was cloudy but they were willing to take us ANYWHERE to see it. We smiled a lot.

They also said it was their free day but they agreed on taking us out for a chase because of what happened and because we both, together with the Filipinos were 6 people, so it was a good group.

After a 3 hour ride over a dark mountain trail, we stopped to try to see the aurora because Marianne was in contact with the forecast service and the sky was clear on this spot.

We got out the van and set our cameras and equipment. Since they were professional photographers, they helped us to set the cameras right to capture the aurora the best we could. Unfortunately, the cameras we had in 2013 weren’t as good as our current cameras so they told us it would be difficult to capture the aurora right.

We waited for a long time but the Green Lady didn’t show up so we went back to the van. After a few more tries, Marianne decided we should cross the Finnish border because her contact told her the aurora was likely going to show up on the north of Finland. So we got our passports ready and headed east to cross the border.

But to crossing to Finland over the mountains was much easier than we expected and we didn’t need our passports. As easy as winking, we were already in another country.

It was already midnight and Marianne decided to stop somewhere over the Finnish mountains. There was a forest, a lake and animal footprints. We had our cameras ready and kept our expectations high. But it was freezing cold!

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And suddenly, out of nowhere, there she came. The Green Lady made her appearance dancing with the stars and shaking her green and bright tail. We all screamed and it was magical. I get stickles by just remembering it. It wasn’t the most powerful aurora ever, but it was strong enough to make you speechless and hypnotized by its dance.

 

The way the aurora looks is very cool. Have you ever seen a rainbow? Have you ever observed the rainbow is half transparent? The aurora looks just the same but all in green and purple. It’s half transparent and you get to see the stars through it. It also moves, dances and rotates. It’s totally amazing.

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We tried so hard to get nice pictures of it, but our cameras weren’t good enough and, at some point, they froze. So lesson learned: always take a good camera with you to chase the aurora. Luckily, Marianne was very kind and she took a few shots for us with her camera, so thanks to her, we have some nice snaps. Most of the good captures of the aurora you’ll see in this post are Marianne’s. She’s a great photographer and a very nice person.

After the first half an hour of euphoria, the Scot made a bonfire and Marianne gave us sandwiches, snacks and hot chocolate. I swear, sitting around a bonfire under the stars and the aurora dance somewhere over the Finish mountain with so many interesting people is something I will never ever forget.

We enjoyed a nice dinner, we talked, we laugh, we took some more pics, we drank Scottish whisky that warmed our hear and then, we went back to the van and headed Norway. We got back in Tromsø at 7:00 and they took us to our hotel. Marianne even helped me get to the lobby, because there was ice all over the way and it was a difficult walk.

The chase had been 12 hours long! But we enjoyed every minute of it and the image of the Northern Lights dancing over the sky is something UNIQUE and MAGICAL that we will never ever forget.

What activities have you done?

Apart from chasing the aurora, we went for a night ride on a dog sledge and we enjoyed a delicious sami diner in their traditional cabins. The company we chose to do so was Tromsø Villmarkssenter. They picked us up at the centre of Tromsø and took us to their facilities.

It’s funny because the big garden is full of dog houses. Each dog has its own little house and they maybe have around 300 dogs with their 300 houses. They are sweet and lovely, they are not aggressive and the love to be pet. It’s not dangerous for kids because dogs are tied and, as I said, they are not aggressive.

After playing a bit with them, we put on the jumpsuit and sat on the sledge. It fits perfect for two people. They cover you up with a nice blanket so you are not cold. Behind you, the driver controls the sledge.

You could also drive yourself, but it requires a lot of effort and previous experience so we just sat and enjoy the ride under the moonlight and stars.

At that latitude, the full moon shines just like the sun and that special light makes the snow seem glitter, or maybe cream full of fairy dust. It was a perfect view and the sky was clear so we hoped to see the aurora, but she was shy and she just showed up weakly.

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After a magical ride that lasted about an hour, surrounded by snow and mountains, we went back to the camp, we took off our jumpsuit and went to the sami cabins to enjoy dinner.

The menu was fantastic: traditional sami soup with meat and vegetables, sausages to grill on a bonfire, corn, pancakes, coffee, tea, marshmallows, hot chocolate… Delicious!

It was a perfect night and the drivers and the sami people were nice and treated us perfectly. We highly recommend to do this activity, it’s been unforgettable.

We also wanted to go to the Wolf Park to see wolfs on their natural environment and maybe be able to stand close to them, but we didn’t had the time and money to do so (oh, we’ll have to go back to Tromsø, then…)

What are the main attractions of Tromsø?

Tromsø is a very small town but it’s very interesting and charming, especially if you go in Christmas, just like us. Just walking the streets full of lights is wonderful but if you want to visit some nice places, we’ve got some recommendations for you:

Polar Museum of Tromsø:

There you’ll find everything you need to know about the sami people and their culture, their History and their traditions. And you get to see real historical documents of Arctic expeditions, Viking discoveries and many other things. It won’t take you long and there are many interesting things.

 

The Arctic  Cathedral:

Ecclesiasticallly talking, it’s not a cathedral, it’s just a regular church but it’s called the Arctic Cathedral because it seems a Cathedral and it’s made out of glass so it looks like ice. It’s a beautiful building and it really deserves a visit.

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The cathedral of Tromsø:

This real cathedral is the only one of Norway made out of wood and it is the most northern cathedral OF THE WORLD. It really deserves a visit, it is majestic.

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The oldest cinema OF THE WORLD:

Did you know the oldest cinema of the world is located in Tromsø? It’s the Verdensteatret Kino and it still Works as a cinema nowadays. Don’t even doubt it, just go and enjoy a movie.

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Polaria:

The aim of this facility is to make tourists and locals aware of the climate change and its consequences to the Polar Circle. It has exhibitions, documentaries, it preserves some Arctic species… It might be very interesting to see.

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The streets and upper Tromsø:

Just walk the streets of Tromsø and enjoy its charming environment. And if you go to the upper side, you’ll enjoy amazing views and spots.

Do you still want to experience more magical moments? You can chase the aurora by boat, by horse, you can camp under the stars, visit the Wolf Park, go whalewatching, do trekking… There’s tons of things to do in Tromsø and if you want to know every activity and festival in town, you can check this 132 PAGES GUIDE FOR FREE. It was written by the Tourism Department of Tromsø. There you’ll find, activities, company info, schedules, festivals… So you can make the most of your polar experience.

So, are you convinced of visiting Tromsø yet? If you need anything or if you have some questions, leave us a comment and we’ll answer all your questions.

Have you been in Tromsø already? Leave us a comment and let us know your experience!

 

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