One of the most popular destinations we get asked a lot from family and friends is how we did our Northern Lights trip in Norway a couple of years ago. So we’ve put together a small guide on Tromso for anyone planning to do a similar trip. With winter approaching there is no better time to see the Northern Lights and to plan this now.
We first visited Tromso in January 2014, followed by a repeat visit the year after. With direct flights from London to Tromso, it is one the most northerly and most accessible cities you can reach. The city is fairly small, with a majority of the hotels, shops and restaurants located at it’s centre; however, we would recommend you stay out of town and look for something a little more rustic and remote.
After researching where to stay we found the small fishing village of Ersfjordbotn (13 miles from Tromso). This is an incredible place with an unforgettable epic view; tall snow capped mountains surround a majestic fjord, extending into the horizon as far as the eye can see.
We stayed at Ersfjordbotn Kystferie, ran by Henry and his sister Viktoria. There are four, cute self catering cottages on offer; each nicely furnished, cosy with some having traditional wood burners to keep you warm (others have radiators). All of the cottages have fjord views and verandas so you can sit and watch the Northern Lights on your own doorstep. Henry is a great host, he goes the extra mile to ensure you have a comfortable stay and Viktoria deals with the reservations and available via email/phone to answer any questions. For more information and bookings, visit their website at www.ersfjordbotn.no/en/
Few tourists come here making Ersfjordbotn one of the most tranquil places we have ever stayed, surrounded by natural beauty, with great dark skies and all round quietness this is the perfect spot to unwind and watch the Northern Lights.
In Tromso, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy and can easily compensate for any lack of northern light appearances. We booked a dog sled safari with Arctic Adventures. In a traditional wooden sled, six very cute Alaskan Huskies pull you across the snowy arctic landscape at exhilarating speed, it was so much fun! Rob mushed, guiding the dogs and controlling the speed as we followed our guide, being the passenger it gave me the chance to take lots of photos. Insulated jumpsuit jackets are provided as it gets incredibly cold on your tour.
On our second visit to Tromso, we tried snowmobiling and did a tour with Lyngsfjord Adventure, in the beautiful Lyngen Alps (56 miles south of Tromso). Coach pickup and return was provided from Tromso which is included in the tour as well as a warm lunch after your activity. After a quick change into the insulated jumpsuits, gloves and helmets we gathered for the safety briefing and how to operate the snowmobiles. Following our guide, off we set on the 18.5 mile snowy trail, taking turns in between to drive. The best part was being able to take the snowmobile at full speed across a frozen lake! For a full list of Winter activities and tour companies in Tromso, click here.
Getting around is easy, there is a city centre bus network connecting the airport and district buses taking you out of town (bus no. 425) connects Tromso and Ersfjordbotn. You can buy a ‘day rider’ ticket if you fancy exploring the city for the day. For more information on bus timetables and tickets click here.
Car rental is available but pricey, you must be confident and prepared to drive in snowy and icy conditions (snow chains on tyres maybe required).
Henry at Ersfjordbotn Kystferie can drive you to certain places if you ask, especially if need to make a supermarket trip. He also provides airport transfer for an additional charge.
- Book accommodation and flights as early as you can, winter is one of the busiest times for Arctic destinations. Airbnb? Click here to get £30/$40 off your booking.
- The best period to experience the Northern Lights is from early September to early April. ‘Polar Night’ dominates the winter period in this region, limiting the amount of daylight (In January we only had four hours of daylight, which was great for hunting the lights).
- Scandinavia is not a cheap destination, staying at self catering places and avoid eating out will save you money.
- For more information on visiting Tromso, check out the official visitors guide at www.visittromso.no
- The Northern Lights is not a guaranteed show, the conditions have to be right and there is no specific time when they will appear. I remember we kept checking every few minutes. When they do appear it is usually without notice and last anything from five minutes to five hours.
- There are websites and twitter feeds you can follow to keep track of the geomagnetic activity which predicts when the next event may happen (any mention of ‘CME’ and ‘G1-5’ storms, you are very lucky! these can produce the most spectacular light displays):
- Good weather conditions is also crucial (ideally a clear night sky without any overcast), here is a good local weather forecast site: www.yr.no
- Henry at Ersfjordbotn Kystferie can also let you know when they appear, on our first night he knocked on our door to tell us the sky was active.
- You may see Northern Lights ‘Chase Tours’ being advertised, these are very pricey tours (£150+ per person) and aimed at those desperate to see the lights. They take you to sites of reported activity using up to date data shared amongst the guides and may provide some photography instruction.
- Some tours will even cross borders and enter neighbouring Finland, so your passport may be necessary. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend these tours, it’s not guaranteed and can last all night. Stay somewhere scenic and remote like Ersfjordbotn where you can enjoy the lights in the close comfort of your cabin.
- Activities in Tromso can typically cost from a £100+ ($125 USD/1000NOK) per person, pricey as it initially seems we think the experience is worth every penny on most of the tours, creating one of the best memories of our trip. The companies we used were professional and lasted a good chunk of the day. Reviews of tour companies can be found at Tripadvisor.com
- Take out good travel insurance, particularly if you engage in any of the activities mentioned.
WHAT TO PACK
- Pack your warmest clothes, layer up and we recommend thermals especially if you can plan on being outdoors a lot.
- Decent walking boots with good soles and extra thick woollen socks for warmth are essential.
- Take gloves, hat and hand warmers, these reusable gel warmers are great to warm your hands instantly.
- Alcohol is very pricey, best to avoid the bars if you are on a budget and buying in stores is restricted to state run off licenses called Vinmonopolet. Weak/non-alcoholic beers can be bought at most supermarkets. Buy any wines and spirits at the duty free before you arrive.
- For the best photos of the Northern Lights, use a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a good wide angle lens. Only these cameras have the ability to capture the lights clearly and visibly due to long exposure and low light capabilities. Smartphone and standard point and shoot cameras will not work.
- A tripod and a camera remote is essential for shake free photos and extra batteries also recommend as the colder temperatures drain your camera’s batteries faster.
- Have the camera setup and ready, there will be little notice and time when the Lights display – the last thing you want to do is trying to get the settings right in a mad rush.
Other places to see the Northern Lights on a budget (within the Arctic Circle):