One of the world’s most dazzling natural phenomenons, few travel experiences can top witnessing the Northern Lights. Also known as Aurora Borealis, this is mother nature’s most impressive light show, and something which tops almost every traveler’s bucketlist.
Located in the far-northern latitudes, Norway is a popular destination for witnessing the spectacle. “Created by solar winds interacting with charged particles in the earth’s magnetic field, the lights appear as otherworldly streaks dancing across the arctic skies.”
It’s important to note that there is no exact science to catching the Aurora, but, occurring predominantly between late September and late March, often close to midnight, the following locations are some of your best chances.
Installing the Norway Lights app (android / iphone) is a great idea for use while visiting; a forecast app dedicated to northern light cities, with guidelines in regards to when to go, where to go and how to get there.
This app gives you a 3-day extended forecast, hourly forecast for today, and recommendations on whether to anticipate northern light activities in a specific city in Norway or not. You’ll need to be connected, but portable wifi in Norway is cheap and easy with a TEP wireless device.
Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Norway
As far as making your way north goes, you can’t get much further north than Svalbard. In fact, this is the world’s northernmost town; a spit of land and ice tucked away far to the north of Norway next to Greenland in the Arctic Ocean.
The Northern Lights make appearances here from November through February, though between mid-November to the end of January travelers can experience an additional natural phenomenon: the Polar Night.
The Polar Night refers to the three months Svalbard goes without daylight. This perpetual eerie blue twilight means you have the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, though do keep in mind that you have better chances of spotting wildlife like reindeer, walrus and polar bears after this lifts (ie when you can see).
A great way to explore this region of Norway is with a Polartours Arctic expedition cruise.
The Lofoten Islands
“The Lofoten islands are draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, far above the Arctic Circle.” The northern lights are powerful and dynamic here, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch one of their famous raging storms!
But don’t be put off by the possibility of bad weather. It’s well worth the risk. This is a rare wilderness outpost with a landscape made up of majestic mountains, deep fjords, and long, surf-swept beaches. “Not much beats snow covered mountain peaks rising straight out of the sea with auroras filling the night sky overhead. Something more than just a boring snow field or barren forest in the foreground.”
The coastal areas of Lofoten are often the best locations for shooting the northern lights. The beaches of Flakstadøy and Vestvågøy are some of the most popular and photogenic locations.
Trondheim is a city of students, technology, culture, cycling and food. Though of all the things to do in Trondheim, watching the skies explode with colour tops the list.
While it’s definitely possible to enjoy a display without leaving the city, your chances increase drastically the further away you go. Even when the Aurora is bright, it’s best to make your way out of the city limits for the least amount of light pollution. Light pollution from buildings and roads may degrade the viewing experience, so try to find viewing areas away from sources of light.
Tromso is “the capital of the Arctic”, and it’s location 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle makes it one of the best places on earth to observe the northern lights. This is the largest city in Northern Norway, and operates as a hub for Safaris and nightly visits to northern light camps.
But there are plenty of things to do in Tromso in winter, and other popular activities here include dog sledding, snowmobile rides and reindeer sledding, all of which are good ways of enjoying time beneath the northern lights.
Surrounded by mountains on all sides, Alta is more protected from the weather than most of Norway’s coastal towns. This matched with it’s very northern latitude makes it an excellent base for chasing the northern lights.
Alta is the largest town in Finnmark. The world’s first Northern Light observatory was built here at the end of the nineteenth century, and since then Alta has earned the well-deserved nickname “The Town of the Northern Lights”.
Pro Tip: Install the Norway Lights app for Android and iPhone to find out when and where to see the northern lights.
iPhone: Download Norway Lights for iOS
Android: Download Norway Lights for Android
Windows: Download Norway Lights for Windows
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Photo credits: First Pinterest Image by Rafa Win. Svalbard by Christer van der Meeren. Aurora watching at Fredvang beach by georgemoga. Tromso by Andi Gentsch.
The Northern Lights have been on our bucket list WAY to long, hope to get them off soon!
I hope you have the chance to see them soon too! Norway for 2017 perhaps :D!
I’ve been to Norway but only to Oslo, it would be amazing to return and to see the Northern Lights so thanks for the pointers. I hoped to see them in Iceland but sadly they proved elusive
So many spectacular destinations to explore, so hope you have the chance to return soon! X
I had an amazing experience viewing the Northern Lights for five nights out of 5 attempts in Tromso in March 2015. Recommend options that will allow you to go chasing the lights (i.e. locate clear skies for the purpose). We went as far as Finland (approximately 2 hours travel) to locate the lights.
Sounds like an amazing trip Rob! So glad you got to witness the lights and spend so much time exploring the area. Finland is an amazing country too – I spent some time in Lapland there and fell in love!
Does it mean that you cannot see the Northen Lights from Tromso directly during March?
Hi Elisabeth, late March is still winter in Tromso, and it’s one of the few cities you can often see the lights from directly. That said, the Northern lights are unpredictable, and your best bet is always to seek out spots in the countryside away from city light pollution so you have a clearer sky.
Hope you have a great trip!
This is one of my bucket list desires. You have just inspired me to bump it up the list. Amazing photos.
Awesome Sara! Hope you have the chance to see the Northern Lights soon!
Seeing the Northern Lights has long been a bucket list item for me. We went to Tromso just for this reason alone and guess what? NADA! :( However, on a trip to Iceland, we saw them 5 out of 8 beautiful nights! Seriously amazing! I was like a giddy little school girl!
One of those things, it’s never a guarantee! So glad you saw them so frequently in Iceland though! Definitely makes up for the Norway trip!!
Love the photos, guys! The Northern Lights are definitely worth making the effort to see and Norway looks like a top spot to chase them. Looks like it’s time to plan another trip to Norway soon!
Thanks Christina! Hope you have the chance to make that trip a reality soon!
Thanks for this list. I’m dying to see the northern lights! Will have to keep checking out these places
You’re welcome Claire! Hope you have the chance to witness them soon! :)
Megan you are so correct that has been on my list for as long as I can remember. Also on my list is Norway and Iceland so I should probably plan all this as one trip. With that in mind I would definitely use your list as a reference of the places where I can see those amazing lights. For some reason though I think it would be The Lofoten Islands.
You could definitely combine a trip to Norway and Iceland into the one – let me know which country has the better version of the Northern Lights! :D
I would really love to experience Northern Lights one day and travel around Norway. The places described by you sound so diverse. I was trying to visit Trondheim through one grant exchange program, though I didn’t make it through. Nevertheless, there are still many opportunities to be explored! Or maybe Norway will become more budget friendly haha) Thank you for sharing your advice and tips, Megan.
Norway is definitely not the most budget friendly destinations in the world haha, but it’s definitely a worthwhile trip if you’re able to save for it.
Sorry to hear your exchange program fell through. Hopefully you have the chance to make another trip happen at some stage soon!
I’ve seen the northern lights in the north of Minnesota just once and it was spectacular. I can only imagine the experience in Norway. Great tip for the best places to see them. This is definitively one experience that is high on my list. Great post and resources. Cheers!
Wow, north of Minnesota! That’s where my husband is from, so I’ll have to let him know … and grill him as to whether he’s ever seen them too!!
Hope you have the chance to visit Norway soon :)
I want to see the northern lights but I’m not a fan of cold weather.With Tromso well inside the arctic circle, cold will take on a whole new meaning.
Haha it’s unfortunate that they go hand in hand, I agree. But gives me an excuse to buy cute winter clothes and rug up a lot too.
The Northern Lights have been on our bucket list since a long time! The more I see/read about them, the more I get tempted to do it. Let me see when it happens.
Hope you have the chance to visit soon Nisha :) You’ll absolutely love it!
I’m so lucky to have randomly seen the Northern Lights from my home in Ontario, Canada! It really was a fluke as we never get them this far south. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, and I’m a little obsessed with seeing them again (especially since this was like, over 10 years ago now!)
Wow Lauren, I bet that was such an amazing experience! And you appreciate them so much more when they surprise you like that! Hope you have the chance to travel north to see them again soon – one of those wonders which truly never gets old :)
I’m surprised to hear that you can actually see the Northern Lights from Trondheim! I didn’t catch the aurora in Tromso, but I did self-scout for it when I was in Lofoten Islands. The view of the aurora dancing above the jagged, dramatic mountain peaks is unforgettable!
Lofoten Islands is one of the most amazing places to see them for sure Andrew – and yep, they’ve definitely been known to come out above Trondheim!
So glad you’ve had the opportunity to witness this amazing phenomenon!
Not forget the amazing Lofoten Ilands, we are direct under the oval. Season 15.08-17.04 sunset Aurora, Ice reflection, snow, mount’s, fjords, no lights pollution,
Absolutely – the Lofoten Islands are incredible – there’s a whole paragraph dedicated just to the islands in the post :) What a beautiful place you live!
I have been dreaming of visiting Norway since my friends went there five years ago…Maybe now I’ll finally book my tickets! I’m hesitating between two options (when ticket prices are reasonable): September and May….What would you suggest?
If you’re traveling to see the Northern Lights, go in September. The lights occur predominantly between late September and late March, so if you travel in May you’ll miss them. It’s still a fabulous country to visit in Spring and summer, and you’ll have more daylight to enjoy hiking and exploring the beautiful landscapes. But September if your first concern is catching the Aurora (and try to push it as late as possible in the month).
Hi, first of all thank you so much for sharing this post. NORTHERN lights are one in my bucket list, so I am planning this trip late September maybe from 23rd Sep to 30 Sep, is it the right time? And which city or cities shall I target for my best chance of seeing these lights?
Hi Debjani, the Northern lights start in late September, they’re not as prominent as they are in the height of winter, but you might still be able to see them.
Any of the above mentioned cities are great places to head – basically, go as north as you possibly can. The further north you go, the more likely you are to see them :) For a good chance to seeing them in September you’ll probably want to at the very least go as north as Bodø.
I hope you have an amazing trip!
Wow! This is such a beautiful article, Once any read this article, they can’t control to visit these places. thank you for this one….
Glad you enjoyed the post Nashik. Thanks for reading :)
Hi Megan Thank you for your great information. Hubby and I are planning a trip at the moment and yes we are planning to spend about a week above the Artic Circle with the hope of seeing the lights. The question I have is it best to be land based ie Tromso, Alta etc or are the Cruises that Hurtigruten offer also worth it. Hubby is a keen amatuer photographyer and the Northern Lights are a bucket list item for him. Thank you
Hi Kerrie, thanks for reaching out. A week above the Arctic Circle sounds amazing! I haven’t taken an arctic cruise before, so I don’t have experience there with the logistics of how viewing would work, but I would probably be inclined to choose a land base, just from the fact that you have more freedom and flexibility of movement when you’re based on land than when you’re on a ship.
Pros of the cruise are likely that staff members will be experienced in the region, so will know where to take you to look for the lights, and you’ll have a personal guide – cons would be that you probably wouldn’t have a tonne of freedom to break off from the group and do your own search, for instance if you had a local tip to go to X place. Or if you did want to do your own exploration, but you’re spending an evening out of port, you’d be confined to the boat.
Worth calling the cruise line to inquire as to the likelihood of catching the northern lights, and inspecting the itinerary to see how much freedom you have to disembark the ship on your own free time if you want to chase them in port yourselves. I would personally opt for a land base, but that’s not to say that you won’t see them on a cruise.
I know that’s not a definitive answer for you, but I hope it helped! Have an amazing time in the Arctic :)
I know the northern light from the Frozen. That’s must be beautiful. Wish one day I can come there
That was a beautiful animation indeed! They did such a fantastic job of capturing the beauty of the Northern Lights, I loved Frozen :) I hope you have the chance to visit Norway yourself too :)