Northern Lights in Norway and beyond – 7 Tips to Help You Finally See Aurora

Is finding Aurora on your bucket list? Do you dream about watching Northern Lights in Norway dancing in the sky? I have you covered! Check the tips that I used to increase my chances to see Aurora several times in different locations, which will help you to see the Northern Lights in Norway and other locations!

How to see Aurora Northern Lights

For a long time, I had a dream to see Aurora.  It’s an unforgettable experience. Now, I managed to see it multiple times with little effort. I’ve watched Northern Lights in Norway, Iceland and Scotland. For my first sightings, I didn’t even live in the location where Northern Lights are very common. I didn’t know that it was possible to see Northern Lights in Scotland before I experienced it myself.

I received many questions on how I managed to see it so many times, so I decided to share some of my tips with you, that can help you increase your chances of spotting Aurora.

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Northern Lights in Norway and where to see them

Most of the Northern Lights appear in the “auroral zone”, which is of 3° to 6° width and between 10° and 20° from geomagnetic poles. It means – the closer to the pole you are, the higher the chance of seeing the aurora. However, with particularly strong activity, they are occasionally seen even more south (for example Poland and France last year, and in Oslo in winter).

Good places for watching the Northern Lights are north parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland or Iceland. For more tips on how to see Northern Lights in Iceland check here. Svalbard is a great location for the Northern Lights as in the winter months there is 24-hour darkness.

Where is the best place to see Northern Lights in Norway?

Of course, the best place to see Northern Lights in Norway is in the north. But this doesn’t mean that you cannot see them in the south too. Northern Lights in Oslo, Bergen or Stavanger are rare, but with particularly strong activity, they do happen. More about the tips for searching for Northern lights below.

Here are the best locations for northern lights watching in Norway:

  • Tromsø – it’s the capital of the Arctic, and also of northern lights in Norway. That’s where most people go to see the aurora in Norway. The small and charming town of  Tromsø is surrounded by mountains and it’s not hard to easily get out of the city light to watch aurora borealis dancing in the sky. You can even see it from the top of the cable car that runs from the city to the mountains. I’ve seen a glimpse of Aurora from there. Apart from that, there are a lot of companies organizing Tromso Northern Lights tours.

  • Alta – a small town located even more north than Tromsø is also a great place for watching northern lights in Norway. Apart from aurora tours, you can find reindeer sledging, dog sledging and husky farms, as well as an ice hotel.
  • Lofoten islands – the famous Norwegian archipelago makes for a great backdrop for the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, the sky there is often cloudy in winter, so it might be harder to spot aurora. But if you are lucky and the weather is nice, you are in for a treat!
  • Svalbard – the out-of-this-world island close to the north pole is a very special place to watch northern lights from. An aurora watching trip to Svalbard, home to more polar bears than people, will be one to remember.
  • The North Cape (Nordkapp) – the furthest point in the mainland of Norway where you can get by car allows you to watch the northern lights above your head. 

What are the “Northern Lights” or “Aurora”?

Aurora (called Aurora Borealis and Northern Lights in northern latitudes or Southern lights and Aurora Australis as their southern counterpart) is a natural light phenomenon.

It originates millions of miles away on the surface of the Sun during the electromagnetic explosion, which creates a stream of solar particles, known as Solar Wind. When the wind goes into Earth’s direction  – this is when we can see Aurora, usually three or four nights later.

Solar particles interact with the Earth magnetic field and some of them escape into the atmosphere, around the magnetic poles (hence aurora is visible mostly at high latitudes). The collision of those solar particles with air molecules in the atmosphere generates energy, which is then transferred into light. When the emission happens on a big scale – this is when we can see strong lights in the night sky. You can read more here.

They usually have different forms – they might appear as a glow of light or create “curtains” or “arcs”. They might be quiet, or evolve and move through the sky – this is when we call them “dancing lights”.

You can see Aurora in different colours – depending on the types of atoms involved in the collision, which varies with height. Below 60 miles (100 km) there are blue lights, purple occurs at 60 miles and above, bright green between 60‑150 miles (100‑240 km), and red appearing above 150 miles (240 km).

What are the best Northern Lights tours in Norway?

The best place to see the northern lights is out of the city. For that you either need to have a car – you can rent it through Rentalcars, or join a tour. Sometimes, especially in the new area, the tour is a good option, as the guides know the place very well and they can drive you to specific locations where seeing northern lights will be more possible. I know that many Northern lights tours in Tromso take their clients even to the border with Finland, if the weather in Tromso is cloudy, so they can still see the northern lights. 

Tromso Northern Lights tours

Take this Tromso Northern Lights tour with photos included for a chance to see the northern lights and have a great memory from the experience. Book here. Free cancellation and covid precautions.

 

When is the best time to see Northern Lights in Norway (and other places)?

Because it’s a natural phenomenon,  highly dependent on solar activity, it is extremely hard to accurately predict the exact time to see Northern Lights. However, based on the existing data and monitoring of the solar activity some assumptions and “forecasts” can be made (more about it later on).

Winter months (November to March in the northern hemisphere), when the nights are longer and it’s getting dark earlier, are the most popular time of the year for Aurora hunting. However, it’s also possible to see it at different times of the year – we managed to see Northern Lights three nights in a row in Iceland at the beginning of September.

Are September – October months a good time to see Northern Lights in Norway? 

They are! In fact, it’s my favourite time to watch the night sky and northern lights in Norway. Very often sun has high activity then, it’s still relatively warm, there is a higher chance for clear skies and generally, Norway in autumn is worth visiting. But there is fewer dark hours than during the winter and no snow on the ground for this perfect photo.

Is November to February a good time to see Northern Lights in Norway?

Yes! That’s when it’s dark (very dark, the north gets only a few hours of daylight to none). However, the weather gets worse and it can get cloudy. You typically have a lot of snow for dreamy northern light photos. And, of course, there are so many reasons to visit Norway in winter.

Is March a good time to see Northern Lights in Norway?

Yes! The days are longer, but it’s still dark enough to see Northern Lights and the solar activity increases. It gets a little bit warmer, too. 

What is the best time of the day to see Aurora?

It is not uncommon, that the predicted highest Aurora activity is in the middle of the day. Unfortunately, this is not very useful, because for the Northern Lights to be visible – the sky needs to be dark. The optimal times during the night would be from around 9 pm – 2-3 am, but as long as it’s dark, you might still be able to see them.

What to wear for your Northern Lights tour in Norway?

The most important thing to remember when dressing for the search of the northern lights is to be warm. The weather in Norway can change quite rapidly and can also get very cold, rainy and windy. That’s why it’s important to dress properly, so you can enjoy the experience and not just dream of coming back inside already. if you travel to Norway in winter, you can check out my Norway winter clothing post, which explains it in more detail.

Some of the basic things to take for your Northern Lights tour include:

Where to stay when watching Northern Lights in Norway?

Sometimes, you don’t feel like leaving your cozy accommodation and go out in the cold, but you would still like to see the northern lights. Luckily, there is plenty of accommodation options that allow you to watch the show from the comfort of your bed or hot tub in the garden. Here are some of my picks.

Lofoten

During my Lofoten trip,  I stayed in a really nice hotel in Reine – Catogården – Boutique Home & Activity Centre. The interior was really cosy, each room had an amazing view, there was a yoga room with a gym, the terrace, free tea and coffee, cute kitchen and homely feeling. I can highly recommend a stay there. Check the best prices and the availability here.

Another popular type of hytte in Norway, especially in Lofoten, are fisherman’s cabins, – the red houses you can see all around the islands. They are called Rorbuer in Lofoten. If you want to stay there, choose for example this authentic Rorbu in the fishing village Stamsund – in the middle of Lofoten. Check the best prices and the availability here.

 

Tromso

 

7 steps that will increase your chances to see Northern Lights:

1. Monitor Aurora forecast:

There are several pages and apps, that try to estimate the possibility of Aurora happenings at specific times. Bear in mind, however, that it’s only the assumptions, and currently the most correct forecast can be done only around 2 hours in advance. You can get your bearings around though and plan a bit, even if it doesn’t work out this time.

During our first night in Iceland in Reykjavik, we managed to have a clear sky. After having dinner on the campsite’s tables outside I checked my phone app for the aurora activity and it showed KP4 (explanation for KPs below). It would normally be too small for Scotland, but not for Iceland. On our way to town, I was looking intensely into the north direction and I saw it! Green lights hanging over the horizon. We immediately turned the car, changing our plans from night out in the city centre to aurora hunting, drove out of the city and we had the opportunity to see the most amazing Northern Lights spectacle, that I’ve ever seen!

Here are the websites and apps that I use:

When you go to the Aurora Service website, you will see the KP index map.

What is the KP index?

It’s a number that determines your chance of seeing aurora in the place where you are. It’s a numeric system of geomagnetic activity. KP zero means very weak or not existing activity, KP 9  is very strong, which may even cause aurora to be visible from the southern parts of Europe like Poland or France. It’s not exact, so if you are in the place where the map says KP 6, you can still try to go out and hunt aurora when the app says KP 5, as you might be lucky. It’s just the guide, so don’t treat it as definite information – Aurora is very hard to predict.

An even better indicator for Aurora than the KP index are magnetometers. However, it might be a bit complicated and difficult to monitor the data coming from them. If you are interested in more details, you can find the up-to-date magnetometers here.

2. Check cloud coverage

In order to be able to see Aurora, the sky needs to be clear. If there are some clouds, you might still spot a little glow,  but if the whole sky is covered – you’re not going to see much. A good website or app to use for cloud coverage is Windy.

3. Check social media (Instagram and Facebook groups)

There are many people all over the world constantly trying to hunt for Aurora (called Aurora hunters). You can find many groups on Facebook, where people share tips for seeing the Northern Lights, best places in the local area and, most importantly, last-minute pictures from their recent viewings. 

If you type “Aurora” in your Facebook search and your location, you will find many others. On Instagram look for #aurora and #northernlights hashtags and your location.

Also, follow worlderingaround on Facebook and Instagram – I post there the current high aurora activities alerts.

4. Find a good spot – dark, north and elevated

Once you confirm, that you have a chance to see the northern lights tonight, you need to find a good place for watching it. You want it to be very dark. Get as far from the city lights as possible.

Find a spot with minimum light pollution and a view with a not obscured open horizon to the north (unless you are very far north, then you can see Northern Lights also above your head). Climbing a hill may be a good idea, as it gives you an open view of the horizon. Check the light pollution map to see where is the best place near you.

Northern Lights in Scotland

5. Adjust your eyes to the darkness

It happens, especially when the Northern Lights are weak and you are not used to finding them, that you might have difficulties seeing anything. That’s why it’s important, that your eyes get used to the darkness – don’t look at any bright spots or car lights, adjust your phone brightness to the minimum and try to look into the darkness.

6. Know what to look for

Aurora is not always bright green and purple. The first time when I saw it, at the beginning it was rather grey until it gained more colours. Sometimes you want to see Aurora so badly, that you can take any source of bright light for the Northern Lights. Especially close to the cities, you can see the light reflecting in the sky, which can look very similar to Aurora. Here are few questions, that you can ask yourself to check if what you saw was really an Aurora.

After knowing that I am in a dark place, far away from light pollution, with a clear sky, overlooking the north, I usually do a check with my camera (next point), look for a green colour (it’s the most common here) and look at the shape of the possible Aurora lights  (many times it’s just a glow over the horizon, but I recognized it several times thanks to its moving arches).

After you see it a couple of times, it will be easier for you to distinguish it. When we were in Iceland and we saw it 3 nights in a row, I was able to spot a very faint one through the window, even with the house lights around, when nobody else couldn’t see anything.

7. Use your camera wisely

Especially with weak Northern Lights, it might be challenging to see them in a proper colour with a bare eye and might be much better with a camera. This is because we can’t adjust the amount of light that’s coming into our eyes, however, you can do it with the camera (which has a function for setting the exposure times and aperture settings). The longer the exposure, the more light is coming into the camera, and when used correctly it will catch Aurora with beautiful strong vivid colours.

The camera, that I use for all my photos is Fuji X-E1. It provides great quality of pictures and a big range of settings, with interchangeable lenses, while still being light and small – just perfect for travel.

When you use a long exposure, it’s important to keep the camera still and avoid all the micro-movements. In that case, the tripod is essential. I use the Manfrotto Compact Light – the lightest tripod in their range.

Northern lights in scotland
Northern lights in Scotland

I hope that information and tips will help you to finally see polar lights. Happy Aurora hunting!


Have you managed to see Northern or Southern Lights before? Let me know in the comments and if you find this article helpful, please share it along!


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4 thoughts on “Northern Lights in Norway and beyond – 7 Tips to Help You Finally See Aurora

  1. I can’t believe you were able to witness the Aurora Borealis as early as September in Iceland! That is really rare to see it happen around that time of the year. Lucky you!

    1. I know! We were really lucky,and we saw it three times. It just shows that Aurora is very unpredictable and it’s worth checking it even during unusual times of the year 😉

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