Tromsø’s unique location over 300km North of the Arctic Circle in Norway and stable mild weather makes it one of the best places to see Northern Lights in the world. Many people I met in Tromsø told me that seeing the Northern Lights was the ultimate dream and the main reason to visit Northern Norway in winter. But what to expect and what to know before you go aurora hunting in Tromsø? Find out!
Before we continue with the Northern Lights, I just want to say that there are so many more reasons to visit Tromsø in winter. Seeing auroras is a wonderful experience, but Tromsø region has a lot more to offer. You can read all about it in our previous post – Best things to do in Tromsø in winter.
And now back to chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø…
When is the best time of the year to see the Northern Lights in Tromso?
Generally speaking, the best time to see the Northern Lights is from mid September to mid of April. You may get lucky and see auroras even at the end of August or mid April, but if you want to increase your chances, it’s probably best to come between October and March.
Northern Lights tours in Tromsø are bookable from 15th of September till 15th of April, so it’s a good indication that the chances are probably still quite high as early as mid September and as late as mid April (see below for more information).
What is the best spot to see Northern Lights in Tromsø (and can you see auroras in town)?
Best way to see the Northern Lights is to go to a place where there is no light pollution. So ideally you travel far outside the city. That being said, sometimes auroras are really strong and it is possible to see the Northern Lights in town as well. If you are in Tromso on a cloudless evening, one of the best places to go aurora hunting is up the mountain which can be reached by Fjellheisen cable car. If you are lucky, it will be an amazing spectacle as the views from there are simply stunning.
What time of the day can you see the Northern Lights?
Our Northern Light tour guides told us that usually the best chances of seeing auroras near Tromso are late in the evening towards midnight. But you never know – sometimes you can see them as early as 6PM or as late as 6AM, or they can be dancing the whole night too. So as long as it’s dark, keep looking.
How big are the chances to see the Northern Lights in Tromsø?
As I already said, Tromso is one of the best places to see Northern Lights in the world. You need dark skies without (too many) clouds in order to see the auroras, so if it’s really cloudy and snowing, it might be difficult. But Tromso has relatively stable weather and so if you are in the area for at least 3-4 days in winter, you should be able to catch them. Our Northern Lights tour guides said that there are very few nights when they don’t get to see at least some auroras. However, you won’t easily see them in town, so you need to go looking for them. And if you don’t know where to start, it might be wiser to join a guided tour (see further below).
Where can I find aurora forecast for Tromsø?
There are several websites where you can check aurora forecast, but our local guides said that they aren’t that trustworthy and certainly not if you check more than a few hours in advance. They said that they see auroras practically every cloudless night, so it’s more a matter of looking for a place with no light pollution and no clouds rather than following aurora forecast.
Can I see the Northern Lights without a tour?
Yes, of course, you can see the Northern Lights without taking an organised tour. If you have a car, make sure to check the weather forecast (local cloud radar would be the most useful to keep an eye on) and look for a nice dark place outside of town. You can also drive to several places, but if there are no clouds and you found a nice open spot with good visibility in all directions, you can just as well stay there and wait. If aurora is visible that night, you will see it.
It might be a bit tricky to find the best spots and optimal conditions if you don’t know the area very well, but it’s definitely something you can also do on your own.
What are the best Northern Light tours in Tromso?
There are over 40 (!) different Northern Lights tours in Tromsø, so it might be difficult to decide which tour to choose. Before my trip, I was convinced that small group tours are better as they are more flexible, but my experience shows that it doesn’t really matter.
I joined two different aurora tours on two connective nights in Tromsø. The first night I went on a small group tour with a minibus (8 people). It was a very cloudy night and the chances of seeing auroras were very slim. There was just one area where the weather radar showed less clouds and so every single tour company in town drove to that same area that night. At the end the clouds parted a little bit and we got to see a rather weak aurora. It didn’t really matter which tour company you went with – everyone was at the same place and everybody got to see pretty much the same.
The second night the skies were clear and so the chances of seeing the auroras were much bigger. That night I was traveling with a big group Northern Lights bus tour (there were two busses actually). They brought us to a beautiful remote beach that was so big that people just scattered in all directions and nobody disturbed anyone. I saw several small group tours on the same beach that night as well. We were lucky to see the most amazing aurora display that lasted for several hours and once again – it didn’t really matter which tour you were on.
Contrary to what I expected, I preferred the big bus Northern Lights tour. It was extremely well organised and had everything I needed – it provided me with a comfortable transportation to the place where the chances to see auroras were best for that night. There were guides to answer all my questions and people to hang around and chat with if I felt like. At the same time, I was free to do my own thing and had the freedom to go where I wanted, take pictures, and never had the pressure to join the group when I didn’t feel like.
But if you are less interested in photography and more in the experience, then a small group tour is probably more special. After all, there are few experiences that can compare to roasting marshmallows and chatting by the bonfire with the Northern Lights dancing above you…
Northern Lights tours comparison – small group vs. big bus
As I said, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø are pretty much the same, no matter which tour you choose. Which doesn’t mean that small group and big bus tours are identical. Not at all!
Below you can find my observations as to the main differences between the small group and big bus Northern Light tours in Tromsø.
What to expect on a SMALL GROUP Northern Lights tours in Tromsø
- Thermal suit is included.
- They put up a bonfire and serve a warm meal (soup, some local specialty, or sausages that you can bake – depends on the tour). They also offer some warm drinks and some cookies. Our tour guide had a bag of marshmallows we could roast by the fire. Sitting by the bonfire in winter is a nice experience and something extra to keep yourself busy while waiting for the Northern Lights.
- Small group tours usually also have tripods available and the tour guide will help you with the camera settings to help you get a good picture of the Northern Lights. Most guides also take pictures with their own camera. The pictures are offered to you for free after the tour.
- In general, small group tours last a bit longer (7-8 hrs), they drop you off at your hotel after the tour.
- If the weather is really bad and the chances of seeing the auroras are very slim, they usually contact you in order to reschedule the tour.
- Small group tours are of course more expensive than the big bus tours, but you also get more for your money. The price differences are quite big between the tours, so keep this in mind. Here are just two examples of the highly-rated small group aurora tours in Tromso that offer the best price/quality ratio that I was able to find: Small group aurora tour option 1 or option 2.
TIP: book your Northern Light tour in advance. When I was in Tromsø all the small group tours were fully booked for the nights when the weather was good (also because they rescheduled people from the previous nights and those who booked in advance of course got priority). If the tours above are fully booked, try searching here or here.
What to expect on the Northern Lights BUS TOURS in Tromsø
- Big bus Northern Lights tours are extremely well organised. Bus tours have somewhat stricter schedule, so they are less flexible in terms of staying longer. On the other hand, it might be an advantage as well – they will not go back to town earlier just because one or two people decide that they had enough.
- They have dedicated guides who don’t drive and therefore have the time to tell you more about the Northern Lights and answer any questions you may have.
- The guides are usually also experienced photographers who help everybody with the settings of their cameras, answer questions, etc. They also have their cameras available to take pictures of you. One big difference is that you don’t get these pictures for free. After the tour you receive a link to their website where you can view and purchase the images if you want to. It’s not cheap, but it’s not something that is obligatory either. However, if you want a really nice souvenir from a memorable night, the guides will make sure to get a really nice picture for you. I found that they try really hard and all the pictures I saw after the bus tour were of excellent quality (see mine below).
- Big group tours don’t offer thermal suits. However, they always keep the bus warm and people who want to can just stay on the bus and only come outside when there is something to see. I spent hours outside and it wasn’t that cold at all. You just need to be dressed right for the cold.
- They also offer all kinds of warm drinks and cookies on the bus, so you can always warm up with a cup of hot chocolate or tea.
- The main big advantage of the big bus tour is that they have toilets on the bus, which may be very useful for a 5-7hr tour, especially if traveling with children.
- From what I understood, big bus tours don’t offer free cancelation in case the weather isn’t great. They still go and do their best to see the auroras. If you don’t see the Northern Lights the first night, usually you can book a tour for the next night at half the price.
TIP: One thing I found rather interesting is that the tour company I went with – Northern Shots – offers an unlimited 7-day aurora pass option. It means that you can join their tours on any of the 7 consecutive days in a row. At the moment such pass costs about twice the price of the best-priced small group tours for just one day. So if you are in Tromsø for several days and seeing the Northern Lights is very high on your bucket list, I would really consider this option.
Northern Lights tours IN COMBINATION WITH OTHER ACTIVITIES
Since the days are short in the Arctic in winter, many companies offer a wide range of activities that can be done in the evening. You can choose to go dog sledding, reindeer sledding, and many other tours at night and if you are lucky you will get to see the Northern Lights as well. However, you are not flexible in terms of the location. It can be an amazing experience, but not really comparable to booking a dedicated aurora tour where they drive to places where the chances of seeing the auroras are highest for that specific night.
I went on a reindeer sledding tour in Lyngen Alps near Tromso one night. We didn’t get to see the auroras that night, but it was still a wonderful experience. I imagine that it would have been extraordinary if auroras were visible too, but you can also see it that way – if there are no auroras, at least you get to do something else for your money. And our guide said that they get to see auroras on average 3 out of 4 nights.
So, this is my experience when searching for the Northern Lights in Tromso. As always, feel free to leave a comment below if you have a question that I forgot to cover in this post.
*** If you are are interested in aurora photography, don’t miss our beginners guide to the Northern Lights photography.***
***Check this packing guide for tips on what to wear for watching Northern Lights in Norway.***
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