Anyone who’s experienced the Northern Lights first hand will tell you that it’s an unforgettable sight. The beautiful colours and patterns dancing across the sky is a moment you are not likely to forget anytime soon. During winter time people all over the world visit Norway in hopes of catching a glimpse of this spectacular light show. But where is the best place to see them and when? And what exactly are the Northern Lights? In this article we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this phenomenon and give you some tips on when and how to track down the lights yourself.
The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis if you will, is a natural phenomenon that occurs when charged particles from the sun come into contact with the earth’s atmosphere. It all starts with the sun throwing off massive amounts of plasma – known as a solar storm – that stream towards Earth at speeds up to 8 million km/h. When the solar storm reaches Earth, it strikes the magnetosphere – a magnetic field formed around the Earth, dragging the gases and particles from the solar storm towards our poles.
The further north you are and the more solar activity there is, the greater chances you have of witnessing this stunning natural phenomenon. If you are wondering where to see the lights in Norway, the northern part is the place to go.
Tromsø is located in the heart of the aurora zone in the Norwegian Arctic and is regarded as one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. If you are in Tromsø for a period of five or more days during the winter season you have a pretty decent chance of seeing nature's own fireworks appear in the sky. In Tromsø you can chill on a dinner cruise or go on a more active trip by dog sledding, snowmobile, reindeer sledding – and many other options.
Kirkenes is another popular destination. With 200 aurora borealis nights per year and ideal conditions, visitors have plenty of opportunities to catch the lights. If you are looking for a real winter experience, you can take a tour out into the wilderness and chase the lights by bus, husky, snowmobile and more.
Lofoten is known for fjords, beaches, fishing and of course – the Northern Lights. The dramatic scenery with the mountains and fjords makes Lofoten the perfect setting to spot an amazing view of the lights. No matter what city you want to visit there are plenty of tours to join if you are looking for a real winter experience in Northern Norway.
It’s hard to say exactly what the best month to see the lights are, as it depends on several factors. A dark clear sky and high solar activity is a must to be able to see them. In Northern Norway the winter season is the high season for the occurrence of this phenomenon. (Approximately from 21st of September to 21st of March).
September-October: The summer has passed, but there won’t be long periods of darkness like later in the year. There is, however, a lot of solar activity during this time, which means that it’s possible to see the lights. December is a popular month as a lot of people like to combine the chase with their Christmas vacation.
November-February: During these months the sun is a rare occurrence, with very dim daylight a couple of hours a day. So you’ll get darkness for sure, but at the same time the chance of snow and cloud cover is a lot higher which could interfere with the chances of seeing the lights.
March: This month is the beginning of spring and will, like the autumn months, have more daylight. March is still a good time to spot the lights in Norway due to a high level of solar activity.
If you are wondering what the cost of a Northern Lights tour this is, there are different options to choose from. You can choose a package deal or go on an all inclusive vacation offering day trips. If you want a more flexible alternative you can choose your own activities as you please and for example go reindeer sledding one day and an Aurora Cruise the next day – it’s all up to you.
Even though you can’t always see them, the Northern Lights can actually occur at all hours of the day, all year round. You can only see them on clear dark nights, and they are not visible in the summer. The reason you don't see the phenomenon in summer, during day time or on cloudy nights is simply that the light is so far away, and so weak, that it is very susceptible to light pollution. Light pollution can be caused by anything from cars and cities to the largest light polluter of all; the sun.
Even though the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon it’s possible to predict the chances of them occurring. If you are visiting Northern Norway and want to know when and where the lights may occur next, there are a few different websites offering aurora forecasts you can check out. These can help you predict the chances of the lights occuring in your area. There are also several apps you can download to your phone that can help you seek out the next light show.
To get the most out of your experience you can choose to stay in an authentic Gamme Cabin in Kirkenes. A “gamme” is a primitive mud hut traditionally used by the Sami people. The large panoramic window in the Gamme Cabin will give you great views of the dancing lights should they appear during your stay, offering an amazing way to watch the show as you drift off to dreamland.
If you are in Tromsø you can choose to stay overnight at Camp Tamok, Norwegian Travel Company’s wilderness centre. Camp Tamok is the starting and ending point for a range of winter activities. Due to its location it’s one of the best places for seeing the Northern Lights in the Tromsø area. If you want, you can combine a tour with an overnight stay at the camp. Camp Tamok is only a 75 minute drive from the centre of Tromsø, but it has a drier climate which generates a lot of cloud free nights making it easier to catch the light show.