Updated: Oct 19
For our fourth wedding anniversary, we decided to head on a 10 day trip Scandinavia. Since a lot of you have been asking for our Northern Lights experience, I've decided to start with a post on Norway, which is where we saw the lights.
A lot of people thought we were bonkers for visiting Norway during the crazy winter season but we actually love the snowy winters. There is nothing more dreamy than watching purple skies or snow-capped mountains through the window. Our trip was mostly spent in Tromso and Oslo. We only spent 4 nights in the country. We would love to head back in the summer for a different kind of experience.
Tromso city and chasing Northern Lights all night
Snowshoeing and sunset views Fjords and arctic Landscapes
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Depending on what sort of experience you want to have, you can choose summer or winter. We went to see the Northern lights and honestly, late November-early December is not the best time to visit but it was the only time we could travel, so we took a chance and it paid off. If your only aim is to see the Aurora, I would recommend end of December to end of January for the best chance of a sighting.
FLIGHTS + VISA
We would have loved to take the train but with just little over a week, we chose to fly between the countries. If you do have the time, I recommend riding the train (account for delays during the winter).
A Schengen Visa is required for entry into Norway.
The official language spoken in the country is Norwegian. Of course, like most Scandinavian countries, they all speak real good English.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel and Medical Insurance is mandatory for travel to all Schengen countries. Currency is Norwegian Krone.
WHERE WE STAYED
This was the husbands' first hostel experience (these days he prefers not to stay in hostels because it feels cramped). We had limited budget-friendly options two years back.
We stayed at the Enter Backpack hostel in Tromso. The hostel was centrally located, close to a grocery store and the city center. Kitchen and bath were both spacious.
COSTS + GETTING AROUND
Walk. Tromso city is real small and (with good winter shoes) you can easily walk around the town. Keep in mind that the roads will not be cleared often during winter, so a winter shoe with good grip is absolutely vital.
Tromso is expensive - as you would expect in a Scandinavian country. A vegetarian meal would cost somewhere around EUR 10-15.
VEGAN + VEGETARIAN FOOD
We carried some of our own food on this trip since were staying in hostels. It was too cold to head out at night, so on hindsight, this was a life saver. When we did venture out during the day, we stuck to the chains, Pizzerias and burger joints.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A NIGHT OUT CHASING NORTHERN LIGHTS
Waterproof pants. Winters are insanely COLD. If you are chasing the Northern Lights, bring layers - LOTS of it. Winter Gloves. Thick winter socks. Fleece. Two pairs of thick waterproof winter jackets. Shawl. Beanies. Solid winter trekking shoes.
TROMSO Our first day was spent in Trosmo. The small town is located 69 degrees North of the Arctic part of Norway. Though small wit just over 75000 inhabitants, there is a lot of things you can do here. For one, you will see the mountains from every corner of the city.
We were exhausted from arriving late the previous night, so we slept in. After a quick warm shower we went over to the cozy cafe just across the road from our hostel for a warm cup of coffee and insanely flaky croissants.
TIP: The summers here are all about bright skies and long nights but in winter, you will barely have 5 hours of sunlight. So if you are planning on doing activities, get an early start.
After brunch, we decided to keep walking around to check out the different museums, churches, art galleries and glass blowing studios.
If you have time, you can do the following:
Fjellheisen cable car for the best views of the city.
The Ice Hotel of Tromso (if your budget allows it) will let you have a unique experience of staying here for a night.
The Polar Museum. It's an exhibition explaining the age old tradition of this region - polar hunting and trapping of polar bears, whales, seals. We skipped this because tradition or not, I cannot stand the sight of animals being tortured.
It's time to chase the lights. Woot. I did a lot of research before picking a company to go with (after all, this can make or break your experience). I finally went with Chasing Lights. They have two options - a small private tour or a big bus option. We went with the big bus option (there were around 25 of us). I would highly recommend doing a tour with them. They were professional with super friendly guides who had a lot of knowledge about the area, offering us a lot of inside info and photography tips. They also knew all the right places to go to and wanted to make sure we saw the lights that night.
Pro tip: don't just go with ONE night planned for the lights. Stay for a minimum of three nights in Tromso. If you don't catch them the first time, you can always re-book (sometimes at 50% off) and do the chase again.
Alright, so what happens after you make your booking? You will get an email confirmation and be asked to wait near the Tourist Information office at 5 45 for your 6 pm pick up. There is no dinner on this tour, so either pack your own (we did this) or skip dinner. There will be hot chocolate and cookies though.
The guides tell you from the get go about the Aurora forecast for the night.. good, bad or otherwise. It depends on thousands of little things, including ever changing micro-climates.. for instance, it might be cloudy in Tromso but a drive later, you might have a clear sky. So don't fret over the astro weather predictions. Just go.
Right, so you will drive a couple hours until you head to the middle of nowhere just outside Tromso. This was our first stop. As you can see, the lights weren't as strong here. It was still a beautiful sight.. we thought "oh so, that's it?" but no, there was so much more. We spent an hour here having our hot chocolate and clicking pictures while waiting to see if the lights got any better.
Our guides insisted on driving further.. so off went. After about a half hour drive, we stopped at an even more secluded place. Pitch black. Nothing but the sound of flashing cameras. As we were setting up our tripods, the lights started to intensify.. the greens became brighter and the long stretches of lights started to fill up the sky diagonally.
Lo and behold. The Aurora aka the dance of the universe. As amazing as the lights look in pictures, nothing prepares you for seeing them in person.. especially the excitement when you catch a glimpse of the first tiny little movement in the sky. INCREDIBLE.
You see the pictures. You read the Science behind it. You research for months about where you wanna go to catch it... but when you finally see it (and brave the -20C weather) it leaves you spellbound. The weather prediction was wrong and we totally lucked out with mother nature. Lady aurora put on a great show for us, nearly covering the whole sky and showing us what the Northern Lights are all about.
Did you know that Aurora is the latin word for “dawn” and refers to the Roman goddess Aurora? Borealis is greek for “north winds”. What is fascinating is that Aurora actually occur throughout the day but can only be seen with naked eye at night.
It's not necessarily bad that the lights won't look like the pictures you've seen. That's the fascinating part.. every night the sky is different and it glows differently. They are all spectacular in their own way. Sometimes you may feel there is not much going on in the sky but just wait until your camera captures the magic. You never know what color or shape you're going to see.
After a stunning night and braving the intensely crazy weather, we were dropped off at our hostel at around 1 a.m.
SNOW-SHOEING IN TROMSO
Snow-shoeing. We did this as a tour with Tromso Outdoor.
If you have been following our journey, you already know we love being outdoors in the winter. From hikes to snowshoeing, we enjoy doing them all. We knew we would be exhausted from chasing the aurora, so decided to do something that wouldn't be extremely taxing on our bodies. If snowy landscapes and ombre sunsets are your thing, you should definitely add this activity to your list. This activity lasted for little over two hours and includes snow-shoes, poles and a guide. There were only 4 other people with us, so pretty much felt like a private tour.
This is what winter is supposed to look like.. as we made our way across the acres of fluffy snow, we caught glimpses of the ski track next to the mountain.
That is the beauty of snow-shoeing, you can just move at your own pace and take in all the sights. We got to the top in about hour and half.. stopped to take in the great views of the city.
If skiing is not your thing but you still want to get away from the crowds and the city, you should definitely consider doing this. It's a lot like hiking but you will be walking in more snowy landscapes but with equally stunning views. It's also real simple to learn and any one ages 2 to 50 can do it.
We did do one more activity in Tromso - we went for a drive to see the famous Norwegian Fjords and arctic landscapes.
Since we did not want to drive on these roads, we opted for another day tour from Tromso. This time with Wandering Owl. We were picked up at 10 to start our journey towards the Fjords a little outside of Tromso.
The entire place was so peaceful and deserted. It was an epic journey to see the outstanding beauty of the Norwegian countryside. This was a 4 to 5 hour trip mainly exploring the Fjords, Norwegian villages and mountain valleys.
As luck would have it, we had a severe snow storm later in the day. In the meantime, we got to munch on delicious homemade treats and sandwiches as we waited for the weather to clear. However, it never got better so our trip was cut short since we had to drive back to the city in the storm not before a trip to a completely frozen lake.. freezing but oh, so worth it!
After four days in Tromso, we made our way to Oslo for the last leg of our journey (we flew, since it was just one hour). We wanted to spend the day just aimlessly walking around the lovely capital city and soaking in all the festivities. After a quick check into the Anker hostel, we freshened up and took the train to the city center. We chose this hostel mainly because of it's proximity to the train and bus stops.
Instead of doing the usual things though, we ventured a little outside and walked alongside the river Akerselva.
The river walk is around 5 miles, and takes you past wonderful forested areas and old buildings and the stunning Molla waterfall. We had the place to ourselves.. all the way to the tip until we reached the scenic Beier Bridge.
We waited until we could catch the sunset before making our way back down to see the Christmas lights. We were ready to depart back to Dubai next morning.
If you are only doing Norway and not the other Scandinavian countries during the trip, then you should definitely consider adding activities like Dog and/or Reindeer Sledding or the Fjord cruise. We basically wanted to see the Aurora, so our trip was all about that.
One of the most common questions I get asked is "how much does it cost to do Norway"... I don't put the cost for any of my blog posts mainly because YOU get to decide the kind of adventure you want to have.
Costs for Norway depend on so many different things like where you are flying from, how long you plan to stay, where you are staying and how many times you are planning to see the Aurora. The itinerary here is just a guide to get you started on planning your own journey. No matter how many days you stay, your experience here will be unique.
Drop your comments below and show some love. Feel free to shoot me an email with your feedback.
To explore more European destinations, be sure to check out other blogs for additional insights.