Seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø

Tromsø in northern Norway is considered one of the best places to see the northern lights. You still need to get away from the city, of course, but Tromsø is a good starting hub with a lot of tour options. We booked our tour with Chasing Lights, because they had a “big bus” option with an onboard restroom (that’s very important!). We were a little worried about the tour, though, because it was due to snow in Tromsø the day of. However, Chasing Lights advises not to plan your tour around the forecast, and that you should simply book a tour earlier in your stay in case you need to try again. While it did snow on us, Chasing Lights did everything they could to find clear skies. In fact, we ended up in Finland before conditions became just right, and we got a great northern lights show in the end:

The northern lights in the Finnish sky

One thing that people don’t tell you about the northern lights is that photos of them don’t reflect what you actually see with your own eyes. Yes, those colors are real. The problem is that the human eye can’t pick up those colors in the dark. So the northern lights look more like a grayish smudge in the sky. It’s kind of like an AR experience where you need your camera/phone to see the true colors come out. It’s still a very cool experience to see them move and shapeshift in the sky, though, even without a camera. And if the northern lights are intense enough, you can start to make out some shades of green. Just be aware that getting the most out of the northern lights requires looking at them through a good camera.

We stayed in Tromsø for four nights, because we wanted to maximize the possibility of seeing the lights. Since our tour on Day 2 was already a success, we didn’t need to re-book and could take our time exploring the rest of the city. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Tromsø, though, and the things you can do are kinda… meh. Among the highlights was the Magic Ice Bar:

A bar with ice walls and tables

Granted, the Ice Bar is super gimmicky and probably not worth the price of admission, but it was still fun to sit at a table made of ice and drink shots out of literal ice glasses. There’s also the Fjellheisen cable car that takes you to the top of a nearby mountain:

Looking down at Tromsø from atop a mountain

This can supposedly be a great place to see the northern lights, though we did not stay up there long enough to verify if that’s true. We also joined a tour with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer to visit a nearby reindeer farm and learn about Sami culture:

Feeding reindeer in the snow

One last piece of advice: If the skies are clear, and the northern lights active, you can try heading to Telegrafbukta Beach in southern Tromsø. We were able to see the lights again from there for our last night in Tromsø. It was a great way to cap off our northern lights vacation.

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