It’s not uncommon to see the ethereal northern lights dancing across the winter sky in Northern Norway. In fact, Norway is one of the best places to see the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis. We’re going to discuss all you need to know about where to see the northern lights in Norway, when, how, and what to bring!
Table of Contents
- What Are The Northern Lights?
- Where To See The Northern Lights In Norway
- Best Time To See Northern Lights In Norway
- Northern Lights Tours You Can Take
- How Many Days Should You Stay If You Want To See The Northern Lights?
- What Gear You’ll Need To Bring With You
- Other Activities You Can Do While On A Trip For The Aurora Borealis
- Wrapping Up
What Are The Northern Lights?
The celestial aurora borealis, more commonly called the northern lights, is a light display that is the result of the sun’s solar activity disturbing the Earth’s magnetosphere. To put it simply, the vibrant, ethereal, dancing colors that we see on Earth occur due to the collision and excitation of charged particles sent all the way from the sun.
The northern lights take on different colors and different shapes based on the viewer’s position and the position in which the interaction is taking place within the atmosphere. Green is the most common color due to the concentration of oxygen in our atmosphere. Red is the next most common color and associated with stronger solar activity. Red auroras are usually seen higher in the sky than green. Blues and purples are more rare and are associated with even more intense solar activity.
If the situation is right, you may be lucky enough to see a display with a range of all colors!
There are four main forms that the northern lights take. A mild to moderate glow along the horizon is the most common form, followed by patches that appear like clouds. You can distinguish the northern lights from clouds because stars will appear just as bright through the glow, unlike through clouds. Arcs, rays, and coronas curve across the sky and may even appear like curtains.
The four following conditions make it possible to see the northern lights: a high northern latitude, high sun activity and energy, darkness, and clear skies.
Where To See The Northern Lights In Norway
The best places in which to view the northern lights are those situated within the ‘Aurora Belt’. Located around 65°N to 72°N latitude, this “belt” is an oval-shaped ring that circles the northern part of our planet and is where you will see the brightest and most frequent aurora activity.
One of the best places to see the northern lights in Norway is in and around the city of Tromsø, Norway. Situated in northern Norway, 217 miles north of the arctic circle, Tromsø is perfectly located within the ‘Aurora Belt’. This makes it a huge destination for viewing the northern lights and is considered one of the best places in the world!
We were lucky enough to see a faint showing of northern lights from our airbnb located in the heart of Tromsø! This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, however your best shot at seeing the northern lights in this area is to get away from the light pollution of the city. Because Tromsø is the only large city in the area, you don’t have to venture far to find pristine darkness!
The best way to get to Tromsø is by plane, arriving at the Tromsø International Airport (TOS). There are a handful of places that have direct flights into this airport, however if you are visiting from overseas, you can expect a layover in a larger hub.
2. The Lofoten Islands
Another fantastic place to see the northern lights is in the Lofoten Islands which sit between the 67th and 68th parallels. The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago of small islands with stunning mountain scenery surrounded by immaculate fjords. The sandy beaches along the northwest coast, specifically Uttakliev Beach, which provides an unobstructed view of the horizon between the mountains.
This being said, pretty much anywhere within the Lofoten Islands will give you a good chance of seeing the northern lights; just keep in mind that you are looking for a spot away from light pollution. If you’re up for a hike, consider hiking to the top of one of the handful of mountains to get a spectacular view from up high.
Svolvær airport (SVJ) and Leknes airport (LKN) are the two gateways into the Lofoten Islands. Located on the eastern end of the archipelago, Svolvær airport is located in Svolvær, which is the largest city within the Lofoten Islands. The (just slightly) smaller airport in Leknes is located farther west.
Svalbard is a very rugged group of islands accessible by an hour and forty minute plane ride from Tromsø. While it is one of the northernmost inhabited places in the world, the vast majority of the land is wild, home to polar bears, walruses, and reindeer.
While Svalbard is slightly north of the ‘Aurora Band’, it is still a good place to view the northern lights, especially due to the almost complete lack of light pollution! Some of the coolest northern lights adventures are safaris led by dog sled or via snowmobiles. Visit Camp Barentz for a unique experience with a traditional meal included.
Located at 69°N latitude, Kirkenes is positioned in another ideal spot for northern light viewing. It is close to the border of northwestern Russia and because of the close proximity, most street signs are in both Norwegian and Russian. The famous Snow Hotel of Norway, which as you probably guessed, is made solely of snow and ice, is located in Kirkenes.
Kirkenes is a three and a half hour direct flight from Oslo. If you wish to check out a few different northern lights destinations, you have the option of booking a layover in Tromsø!
Nordkapp is a small municipality at the northernmost tip of the Norwegian mainland (and the entire European mainland!), stretching out towards the Barents Sea and Svalbard. One of the best places to view the northern lights is on top of the North Cape Plateau located on Mageroya Island. This tall cliff rises almost vertically out of the Barents Sea and provides an unobstructed view of the horizon!
Nordkapp is accessible via two airports, Honningsvåg and Lakselv. Honningsvåg is an extremely small airport but located just 18 miles or 30 kilometers from Nordkapp. Lakselv is slightly larger however it is 119 mi/193 km away. You will most likely have a layover in either Tromsø or Alta.
Best Time To See Northern Lights In Norway
The northern lights occur all year round, however we can only view them at certain times of the year. Norway, especially the northern territories, experiences the midnight sun, meaning that between May and late July, some places may never see the sun set. This means that, on the flip side, the winter months have long periods of darkness, which is the peak time to view the northern lights.
Since this is a natural occurring phenomenon, there is no guarantee when or if the northern lights will be visible when you visit Norway. However, there are a handful of things that you can do to give yourself the greatest chance!
Late October through February are the best months during which to view the northern lights in Norway. This is because the days become shorter to the point that, in some places, the sun never rises above the horizon. This amount of darkness is perfect!
If you’re worried that northern Norway doesn’t have much to offer in the winter, don’t worry, there is actually so much to do. In addition to hunting for the northern lights, you can go on a dog sledding adventure, embark on a whale watching tour (or swim with them; check out our experience here!), go skiing and snowshoeing, or stay in an ice hotel to name just a few.
On average, the northern lights tend to be strongest between 9pm and 2am, however this is a very general rule and they can actually be seen at any time depending on the conditions.
Best Solar Conditions
The sun, which is the source of the energy that produces the northern lights, goes through a roughly eleven year cycle. During the first half, solar activity increases to a maximum level and the poles switch, after which the solar activity slowly decreases before starting the cycle again.
The northern lights can be seen even in periods of low solar activity. Predicting solar weather is still quite challenging, so I don’t suggest planning your trip around such forecasts. However, if you do happen to be in Norway during times of peak solar activity, you can expect a remarkable experience!
Best Sky Conditions
You ideally want to go searching for the northern lights when you have a clear sky sans any clouds. You can still see them with some cloud cover however a completely cloudy sky will negate any chances of catching the auroras.
Because darkness is so important, avoid planning trips or tours around and during a full moon.
Northern Lights Tours You Can Take
Northern lights tours are extremely popular in northern Norway and there are a bunch to choose from. A tour company offers a handful of benefits. They are experts and have the experience and tools to know when and where the forecast is most favorable. Because transportation is provided, you don’t have to worry about navigation or road conditions. We also suggest taking a northern lights tour because you will likely be taken to unique places that may not normally be on a tourists radar.
Here are some really unique tours that we think are worth checking out:
1. Green Dog Svalbard – Instead of on a bus, go northern lights hunting by dog sled! This family owned tour company has a 3 ½ hour northern lights tour where you first learn the basics of dog sledding and handling. Then off you go to enjoy a beautiful search led by a team of dogs.
You are provided with warm gear and warm drinks and treats at the end of the tour!
2. Northern Horizon – Located in Tromsø, Northern Horizon offers a 7-9 hour northern lights tour via minibus. This company also provides a warm thermal suit and boots, but be sure to dress in layers. Guides analyze weather and solar conditions to map out the most likely viewing spots. Once an ideal location is found, the tour group builds a bonfire. Food and drinks are provided.
The company takes pictures available free for guests to provide you with professional shots. They also have tripods that you can use to get your own stunning photo.
3. Lofoten Lights – This is a tour company based out of the town of Svolvær and offers northern lights tours among many other things. Their dedicated northern lights tour is three hours long and takes you out to remote areas with the greatest darkness.
Lofoten lights also offers a three hour snowshoeing night walk where there is always a chance to spot the northern lights.
How Many Days Should You Stay If You Want To See The Northern Lights?
Since the northern lights are a natural phenomenon it’s hard to predict when, where, and how often you will see them within a specific time frame.
For the best chance of seeing the aurora borealis in Norway, it’s suggested that you stay 3 to 5 days. This will generally allow you enough time to wait out bad weather and to go exploring far outside city limits for the best viewing opportunities.
What Gear You’ll Need To Bring With You
It is important to dress warmly because there are times where you will need to patiently wait out in the cold for an hour or more before you see the northern lights. Here is what we suggest you wear and pack:
- Long Johns or thermal underlayers
- Warm pants and sweatshirt
- A heavy winter coat with a hood
- Hat, gloves, and scarf or neck gaiter
- Sturdy hiking/snow boots and thick socks
- Camera and necessary equipment such as a tripod (this will help you keep the camera steady if you want to take longer exposures)
- Phone on full charge! If you’re going out independently, this is necessary for directions and forecast information
Other Activities You Can Do While On A Trip For The Aurora Borealis
It’s important to not make your trip only about the northern lights, because you may end up disappointed. There is so much to do in the winter in northern Norway that we suggest filling your days with other activities such as dog sledding, whale watching, hiking, snow shoeing, skiing, snowmobiling, or reindeer rides! The towns themselves have so much to offer as well so please set aside time to visit local shops and restaurants.
Seeing the northern lights was something I have always wanted to experience and feel so lucky we did so! It was such a treat to visit Norway in the winter and this was the cherry on top. Remember that the best conditions in which to view the northern lights are darkness, high northern latitude, clear skies, and strong solar activity. Go forth and explore!