Tromsø: city of lights, northern lights!

Tromso Travel Blog

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Tromsosysundet, seen from the harbour

Though Tromsø might perhaps not be the northernmost city in the world (although it is by far the largest city in Northern Norway), it holds claim to many other northernmost things. Northernmost brewery, northernmost university, northernmost zoo, northernmost botanical garden, northernmost protestant church... even the northernmost Burger King can be found here.

At almost 70 degrees north, it lies over 350 kilometres north of the Arctic circle, so it is certainly the northernmost I have ever been. Closer to the North Pole than I am to home, actually. I am here hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern lights. This is my third trip to Norway, however, I have never really ventured beyond Oslo (and one quick trip to Bergen).

warming by the fire

Last time my Norwegian friends were in Holland we discussed their country and how I still want to do some proper travelling in Norway. However, I'd want to do it twice then, once in summer, and once in winter. Because I'd want to see the Midnight Sun, as well as the Northern Lights, and since the former only occurs in summer, and the latter only in winter, I'd have to go twice.
My mate Jan Henrik explained to me how January is generally the best time to see the Northern Lights. He said "well, you are coming to Oslo in January, and these days you can get really cheap domestic flights, so why don't you fly up to Tromsø for a day and have a look?"
So I did. I found a cheap flight with Norwegian airlines and booked myself for two nights to be on the safe side (northern lights are not visible every day).

this is how it started
Funny thing is, when I told everyone in Oslo that I was going to go up north they all went "why on earth do you want to go there for?" Funny bunch, those Norwegians.

So after two days and nights of much fun and little sleep I arrived in Tromsø. The polar night has just ended, but that does not mean there is a lot of daylight. Basically you have twilight between 9 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, that's about it.
So when I arrived in my hotel it was already pitch dark - at 4 o'clock.

The weather was much better than in Oslo though. No snow or rain, but clear skies throughout. The polar wind was a bit of a bummer though. Even though it was 'only' minus 8, the wind made it feel much colder.

When checking in to the hotel the receptionist asked me if I was here for the Northern Lights (as I guess everybody is these days).

a little bit of green...
They had just had a cancellation for a tour and I could take up the spot if I wanted. Well, that went easy. I was worried not to be able to find a tour for tonight, as the tourist office is closed on Sundays, but I guess I need not have worried.

I was picked up from the hotel at 7. In total there were 10 people in our group, from the UK, Italy, Korea and France. I was quite surprised by the amount of different nationalities present and even more surprised when the guide told me I was the first Dutch person she'd had on her trips. Don't think I have ever been to a place before where people were surprised to see Dutch visitors.
Currently there is quite a Tromsø hype going on in the UK, after a BBC1 programme showed Tromsø and the Northern Lights, and there is even a direct flight now from London Standstead, so there are many, many Brits about in town.

Northern lights in all its glory

We drove out to a reindeer farm stunningly situated on the shores of the fjord, owned by Sami people, where some of the groups went on a reindeer sled ride, while the rest of us sat in a traditional Sami tent (not unlike a tepee) to warm ourselves by the fire and dring some (not so traditional) coffee.

We were served a traditional Sami dinner, usually served at weddings, which was a hearty stew with reindeer meat and potaties. Meanwhile our guide and her assistent kept peeking outside to see if there were any Northern Lights yet.
As the Northern Lights are created by sun particles entering our atmosphere, they are even less predictable than the weather. The forecast was good, but not great, so we were thrilled when after a few hours we could see a faint arc on the horizon.

northern lights

Unfortunately there was a lot of light pollution from the farm house and other houses in the neighbourhood (they had killed the big floodlights, but it was still difficult to see any colours in the sky). As nice a setting this was, it was far from ideal seeing lights up the sky.
But what made it worse was that at 10 o'clock all of a sudden we were told that we were going back. Now wait a minute, isn't this supposed to be a four hour tour? We haven't even seen much of the lights! So far this tour has just been a very expensive stew, really...

We persuaded the driver to wait another half hour, and I am glad we did, because finally the lights started to become clearer and more colourful. It was not the colourful dancing lights display I have heard in stories, and to be really honest, it looks much better on the photos than it did with the naked eye, but evenso I am glad to have finally seen this phenomenon.

northern lights

The impatient driver did not give us much time to enjoy it (the floodlights had also been switched back on) so in the end we just went back to the cars to be driven back to the hotel. To make matters worse our driver had a strong alcohol smell surrounding him, so he had obviously been enjoying himself while waiting.

All in all, this tour was an absolute rip-off. The guide who told us about the Sami people and northern lights had been really friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, but the rigid schedule and the way we were forced to leave just when it got interesting is just unforgivable. So if you are ever in Tromsø, do NOT book with Tromsø Friluftsenter.

I met one of the British couples the next day, who had been in the second van on the way home, and they told me their driver had stopped three more times to look at the lights and they had the aurora much clearer and with much more spectacular colours.

northern lights
Guess I picked the wrong van :(

 

 

mountaingirl says:
Awesome blog and pictures! Great that you have managed to catch the lights :)
Posted on: Oct 23, 2014
arnarolafsson says:
Northern Lights: Get Amazed with the Natural Northern Lights One of the beautiful creation of Mother Nature,where different colors dance across the dark winter sky.
Posted on: Feb 11, 2013
visavis says:
Thanks for the details. Really helped in knowing since I may be heading to Tromso in January 2011 for that sole purpose of seeing the Northern Lights.
Posted on: Dec 14, 2010
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Tromsosysundet, seen from the harb…
Tromsosysundet, seen from the har…
warming by the fire
warming by the fire
this is how it started
this is how it started
a little bit of green...
a little bit of green...
Northern lights in all its glory
Northern lights in all its glory
northern lights
northern lights
northern lights
northern lights
northern lights
northern lights
Tromso Sights & Attractions review
An absolute rip off
Norway is expensive, so to moan about prices is useless. However, even for Norwegian standards the Northern Lights tour of Tromsø Friluftsenter is a … read entire review
Tromso Hotels & Accommodations review
pleasant and cosy small hotel
The Viking Hotell is a small hotel in central Tromsø, located near the Mack brewery. The newly refurbished rooms are small, but clean and comforta… read entire review
Tromso
photo by: Biedjee