Norway: The Northern Lights Way
(The finale of the most wonderful show I ever saw)
It had always been a dream of mine. To one day see the Northern Lights. You see pictures of how spectacular it is – the colors, the magic in the sky. So when my friend E asked me if I wanted to go and chase it, I jumped at the chance.
There are a few places you could go to catch it, pretty much Iceland, Finland and northern Norway are safe bets. There’s of course Alaska, and pretty much the North Pole, but I recommend staying to countries you could actually get to.
We decided to go to Tromso to catch it, and had to fly out from Oslo to do so – via Norwegian Air (budget airline). SAS which is a full service carrier flies there as well.
Once in Tromso, there are a few different places you can stay at. Though be warned, Tromso is NOT cheap, hell NORWAY is NOT cheap. I got back to Amsterdam and spent up a storm after Norway! It was not that cheap.
I decided to stay at the Rica Ishavshotel which is the main hotel in Tromso for no other reason from the fact that that was where all my other friends wanted to stay. Its quite pricey, but the location is good as this is where all the tour busses tend to take off from. That being said though, Tromso is a pretty small town, so as long as you’re staying somewhere in the town, it shouldn’t be too difficult to walk to the meeting point.
I did two separate tours to see the Northern Lights, the first night was a Chasing the Northern Lights + spending the night in a Sami Tent (in the middle of nowhere, it was fantastic!) + dog sledding the next day. We went with Lyngsfjord Adventures which has the best review of the bunch in Trip Advisor, but is indeed the priciest.
So here’s one other thing to know about the Northern Lights. You have to chase it. It doesn’t chase you. Its worse than going to a bar thinking you had a 50-50 chance of scoring that night. It doesn’t care if you’re there or not, and it’ll just go on to decide if it wants to put on a show, or stay at home in its jammies. I don’t blame it staying at home in its jammies too. It is far more diva-ish than J. Lo… and Mariah Carey… and the late Whitney Houston… COMBINED.
(Slowly coming out to put on a show)
That being said, one of THE most important things in doing this, is flexibility. You need to plan up around the right timing, and dates to maximize your probability of catching it, while of course minimizing the cost. But remember, you flew all this way to Tromso, Norway by now. Do NOT let the fact that you bought a non-refundable, non-exchangeable flight back be the reason why you missed it. I strongly recommend that you do this on a ~5 day trip. You can plan to stay there for 2-3 nights and plan out going somewhere else after. Like Oslo, or Reykjavik, but be open to the fact that you might have to do more. Like I said, you did not come all this way just to potentially miss the show.
That was what happened to us. The first night, we saw nothing. Zero, zip, nada. Its not like going to the zoo and being guaranteed to see it, and I guess that’s the fun part (sort off). As soon as we got back to the hotel, I checked to make sure I could switch my flight around and was ready to extend my hotel stay if we didn’t catch it that night. We didn’t even have a tour planned for that night initially.
(The long show begins)
Immediately we looked up other potential tour options for that night. Lyngsfjord was good, but they tend to drive off to obscure locations to make sure they find a place with minimal light interference. They also tend to go to their own land since I think its easiest there. It easily took us just 2 hours sitting in a bus to make it. I didn’t want to waste that potential chance the second night.
What I do recommend then is joining the Arctic guide service. Imagine the whole lot of them as the group of researchers on that movie Twister that excitedly went chasing after tornadoes every single day with their charts and their beep beeping. It was like that. With lights. Minus the insane chance that a is tornado out to get you. They are a group of about 5 big busses that will pick you up at Rica Ishavshotel and drive around to a potential spot (usually within one hour of Tromso). They study the meteorological reports from Nasa to estimate the best timing for it. Then they keep in touch with each other and try to make sure the busses are all going to separate locations. Trust me, nothing would piss you off as much as making that trip all the way out, just to have 3 tour busses park and everyone offload with you, loud chattering ensues.
The second night, we got lucky. BEYOND lucky. At first the sky was cloudy and we could see absolutely nothing. Then the sky cleared up, and we saw the first beam of the Northern Lights… and then the next, and the next, until we realized we were watching the best show Mother Nature had. 4 hours jam packed with lights. We didn’t feel the cold anymore, the -5 degrees temperature but a blimp. It was spectacular, more than spectacular, it was magical, it was the sky lighting up and dancing. It was easily, the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life, and I am truly grateful for it.
(The most spectacular show on the planet – lights from a car for scale)