Chasing the Northern Lights in Norway

March 25, 2016

Northern lights, polar lights, Aurora borealis – whatever you want to call it, it is always a magical experience to see in the dark night sky. Norway is in the centre of the northern lights zone, so the probability of seeing it is close to 100% on any cloud-free night between October and March. Although we can’t predict when the magic solar winds will appear for the light show, we can advise on some of the best Northern Lights viewing points in Norway and offer some ideas on where to stay and what to buy and bring back with you! 

Accommodation prices in Norway vary. Hostel dorm rooms cost between 200-500 NOK ($24-58) per night and private rooms are around 750 NOK ($89) for a single. Hotels begin at around 1,000 NOK ($117) per night for a double room. 

Couchsurf or use Airbnb to rent a room or apartment so you can save your money for sightseeing!

Camp. You can camp in the parks and public lands for free as long as you have your own tent.

Food. Fast food starts from 80 NOK ($10), restaurants will cost around 285 NOK ($34) or more for a main course. For a cheap quick snack Norwegian-style, a hot dog or sausage for will cost around 30-50 NOK ($4-6). You can also buy your own food, which will cost about 570 NOK ($67) per week. 

Transportation. Trains around Norway cost between 300-610 NOK ($35-70) between cities. Book trains in advance then you will be on the cheap side. You can also use express buses that connects cities all over Norway. Usually the tickets go from 290-700 NOK ($34-82), although they can cost over 815 NOK ($86).

Flights to Norway. For flights you can check Kayak, Hipmunk, Expedia and Priceline to find the best price for you! From the USA to Oslo the flight will cost around $380, from Europe around $170, and from London around $60. You can always check Skyscannerand Momondo aтв some low cost airlines like Ryanair.

What to take. Pack clothes including a hat, gloves, waterproof jacket, thermal underwear, and boots. Many hotels provide guests with a thermal suit and boots for snowmobile trips and outdoor activities, so there’s no need to buy special kit as long as you are average size. A driving licence is required to drive a snowmobile. Don’t forget binoculars!

Before you go. Check out BBC DVD Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights. Northern Lights by Polly Evans, is a good handy practical guide, while Lucy Jago’s The Northern Lights: How One Man Sacrificed Love, Happiness and Sanity to Solve the Mystery of the Aurora Borealis is appropriate bedtime reading. Good apps include Aurora Forecast and Star Walk.

Svalbard

Scientifically speaking, the best place in Europe for northern lights is Svalbard, which is a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean about half way between continental Europe and the north pole. Less than 1,000 miles from the North Pole, the Svalbard archipelago lies between the Greenland and Barents seas, nearly three hours by plane from Oslo. In the winter months you can watch incredible aurora shows right over your head while having your lunch, at midday!

From mid November to late January the sun doesn’t rise at all so it remains pitch black in Spitsbergen (Svalbard) – it’s known as polar night. During these dark months you have the best options to also see the northern lights during the day; this daytime aurora creates a different color palette and is an absolute must see.

Spitsbergen offers Arctic experiences on the edge of the inhabitable world, but it’s not as inaccessible as people might think. Start in the morning from central Europe and you will be in Longyearbyen by mid-day.

Some tips:

– Join an organised Northern Lights tour, where shelter and warm clothes are included. Choose the tour that lasts the longest and ends the latest.

– Some operators organise mobile Northern Lights tours by boat, car, or minibus, which gives you a better chance of encountering clear skies. Again, the duration is of importance. The longer, the better.

– Take part in dog-sledding, scooter trips, and sleigh rides in the evening. You will be sure to have fun – along with a front-row seat if and when the Northern Lights appear.

– As far as possible, make sure to be outside at night between 18.00 and 01.00, either on an organised tour or on your own. 

Svalbard offers a whole range of unique winter activities that have a magical dimension due to the aurora borealis. So here are some suggestions: go on a snowmobile safari; take a husky tour; experience the magic of an ice cave.

How to get there: Although Spitsbergen may not be the most obvious travel destination, it’s still quite easy to get there. There are daily flights between Longyearbyen and the mainland, via Oslo and Tromso. You can book via SAS orNorwegian Airlines. Best time to book flight: 6-7 weeks before departure.

Where to stay: A range of accommodation is available only in Longyearbyen, which offers camping, guesthouses, and luxury hotels. The camping site is located 300m from the airport and is the only place where camping is permitted in relatively close proximity to Longeryearbyen. For travellers looking to bring the cost down, it is much cheaper to camp than pay for guesthouses and the camping site is free to use outside season. Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund also have a single hotel each.

Tromsø

Sometimes called the “Paris of the North,” the city of Tromsø is a beautiful and accessible location for catching the Northern Lights. It is one of the top places in the world to view shimmering green lights. 

Light pollution limits the visibility of the Northern Lights so to see them at their best you’ll need to leave central Tromsø. Travelling by coach, passengers on anArctic Guide Service travel around northern Norway for six to seven hours, their route determined by data calculating where the Lights are most likely to appear. There is no guarantee of success and travelling for hours in complete darkness can be disheartening, but patience is often rewarded.

The “hunt” includes a stop for hot chocolate and biscuits, but do bring your own snacks and a Thermos, and wrap up warm or rent one of the thermal suits (£20) from the booking office before departure. The Gulf Stream protects Tromsø from the extremes of Arctic weather but things are different inland – temperatures recently dipped to -27F (-33C).

You can cruise Norway’s fjord-lined coast aboard a Hurtigruten ship and get wake-up calls to head out on the deck when the lights appear.

An Astronomy Voyage runs from September to March, following the Aurora Borealis with astronomy lectures on board. The trip also includes a visit to theNorthern Lights Planetarium in Tromsø.

Another option is the village of Ersfjorden, 40 minutes from Tromsø, in the countryside between towering snow mountains and a fjord. A bus service between Tromsø and Ersfjorden runs until midnight.

Or you could join a Northern Lights chase with knowledgeable bus drivers.

How to get there: There are many daily flights from Oslo to Tromsø Airport Langnes and the flying time is less than two hours. Tromsø Airport Langnes is only 5 kilometres from the city centre, and the airport express coach stops at several hotels in central Tromsø. Most international flights to Tromsø require changing planes at Oslo Airport. There are seasonal flights directly from big cities such as London, Helsinki, and Stockholm.

Where to stay: For a special treat, check out Rica Ishavshotel. Doubles from 2,275 NOK  ($268), including breakfast. The Radisson Blu Hotel Tromsø is a more modern alternative, but service can be curt. Doubles from $186. For a mid-range –Thon Hotel Tromsø is a stylish, straightforward choice with free Wi-Fi and competent staff. Doubles from $173, including breakfast. The Thon Hotel Polar is a slightly more budget option just down the road. On a budget? Perched on a hill and overlooking a small park, Ami Hotel offers basic but cosy rooms and has plenty to offer budget travellers. Room rates include access to a guest kitchen and complimentary Wi-Fi. Doubles from $112, not including breakfast.



Don’t forget that you can sign up as a Grabr Traveler to make extra cash during your journey! 

This article was written by Olga Feoktistova.

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