Chasing the Northern Lights Through Norway | When to Go, Where to Stay, What to Do

Chasing the Northern Lights Through Norway | When to Go, Where to Stay, What to Do

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Shades of green swirled and danced over our heads in the night sky as we sat soaking in the hot tub, while two feet of snow surrounded us. It felt like a dream, one that I had waited my entire life to witness.northern lights outside this small town norway

If you have been following along for a while now, you probably read that my lifelong bucket list consisted of two major items – seeing the Swiss Alps and experiencing the Northern Lights. I checked the first item off of my bucket list last July when I took a group of students to Switzerland and Italy through EF Tours. The second item on that list was just recently crossed off during our “January Journey” to Norway.

While most of our friends chose tropical destinations like Thailand to go to for their winter break, we chose the polar opposite (literally). We decided on the arctic circle. Our trip would include Norway, Finland, Estonia, and Latvia. We traveled to Norway in April of 2017 when it was mildly warm, but this time we decided to go more north so we could be sure to experience the harsh winter conditions – and it did NOT disappoint.

How to Get to Norway

We flew from Venice to Oslo and had an overnight layover there. We stayed in our favorite Radisson Blu hotel – the absolute most convenient place, considering it’s within walking distance of the airport. (Check out our previous trip to Norway here). Needless to say, it was a winter wonderland in Oslo, one that we welcomed with open arms!

snow in Oslo, Norway winter wonderland in Oslo, Norway snow in oslo, norway

The next morning we caught the only flight going to Alta via Norweigan airlines. We landed (roughly, considering the runway was solid ice) in a small airport that has only 4 gates and one baggage claim. We picked up our rental car through Sixt and set out for our Airbnb an hour away in Kvalsund. The most economical way to get around to the places we wanted to go was by renting a car, and I would only suggest this if you or your travel partner are HIGHLY experienced at driving during winter conditions. We went in January and it had just snowed before we arrived. The roads were completely iced over and while our rental car had great tire traction, it was still very dangerous at times. Luckily for my husband, I can’t drive a manual so he got to drive the entire time.

norway E6 roads snow
What road?!

Where to Stay

We chose a location out in the countryside where city lights and light pollution wouldn’t interfere with our ability to see the Northern Lights. Thanks to an awesome recommendation from a fellow blogger at The Katie Show Blog about her experience in Norway, picking out our Airbnb was a breeze. Our Airbnb host, Tor Even, met us when we arrived and carried us up on the snowmobile to the cabin. He was extremely helpful in answering all of our questions and gave us specific instructions alongside a tour of his adorable home. Did I mention that there was no running water and the bathroom was an outhouse with a “natural” type of disposal? Admittedly I’ve never been legit camping in a tent before…we always camp in our RV or fifth wheel…so this whole having to get your water from a well thing and heat it for your shower was a huge adjustment. Washing dishes, brushing our teeth…yep all a very interesting experience. Why did we choose this place you ask? Most of us in the developed world have pretty easy lives, right? We turn on the tap and there’s water. We’re cold so we turn on the heating. Well, we wanted to take part in an experience that took us way beyond our comfort zone. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
kitchen of airbnb in Kvalsund, Norway kitchen area of our airbnb in Norway airbnb in norway bedroom norweigan flag airbnbairbnb in norway master bedroom Cozy fireplace airbnb norway airbnb sauna kvalsund, Norway

bath house airbnb in Norway
The bathhouse where the shower and sauna were located

manual water heater in kvalsund, norway shower house of airbnb in norwaythe outside of our cabin in the snow winter cabins in Norwaywater well NorwayInside this cute little house is the well where we gathered our water out ofhot tub in Norway icicles outside the cabin in Norway

In the winter time, because of heavy snow, it is not possible to park near the cabin. The closest parking lot is 700 meters away. We didn’t realize how much of a trek this would prove to be each time without having Tor around to tote us up on a snowmobile. The hike uphill was difficult, to say the least, especially in waist deep snow and ice.

snowmobile norway winter snow norway norway snow

snowshoes to help walk in Norway
Snowshoes made it walking in the deep snow much easier

We were able to get groceries at a local gas station in Skaidi, about 10 minutes away. They had all the basic essentials and the yummiest bacon wrapped hotdogs I’ve had in a while (though nothing compares to Doss’!). They also had firewood – which we bought LOTS of to keep the fireplace going indoors. It was a difficult task carrying these up the hill to the cabin…but so worth it to have a cozy fire burning as we laid on the couch each evening watching Netflix and waiting for the light show.

When to Go

When we booked our trip, we never thought about the fact that it would be dark most of the day there. It wasn’t until we watched a show on Netflix called Under An Arctic Sky (HIGHLY recommend by the way), that we started to realize there would be no sun during our time in Norway. This phenomenon is referred to as polar night, or polar twilight. While we never saw the sun, there was twilight from about 9:30 to around 2:30 each day. It was completely dark after that, which took a lot of adjusting! However, it proved perfect for seeing the Northern Lights as it was very dark and mostly clear skies during that time. Winter in the north is the best time to view the lights because of the long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights. Areas that are not subject to “light pollution” are the best places to watch these.

The Chase for the Northern Lights

Known as Aurora Borealis in the north, these dancing lights are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. Our first night at the cabin, I set up my camera and we went outside to wait. Thanks to our Aurora app that we downloaded on our phones, we knew there was about a 1% chance of seeing the lights that night. Bundled up, we lay in the snow waiting. I refused to go inside for fear of missing them. After too long, we finally came to our senses and waited it out in the hot tub. Three hours later, they finally showed themselves.

It was breathtaking. Easily the most magical thing I’d ever witnessed. It took me a hot minute to adjust my camera as a newbie and to photograph the northern lights. But once I did, WOW. The wait, the hike, the cold, the snow, it was all worth it. This phenomenon is not something you can capture on your phone or just turn your camera on and take a picture with auto settings. I studied for weeks leading up to the trip to learn how to photograph the Northern Lights. Preparation helps to avoid missing the lights while trying to adjust the settings on a camera. I leaned on my photog friend Brittany Butterworth for advice on capturing these moments, as well as lots of googling! Overall, I am incredibly happy with how the photos turned out and all the preparations were so worth it to have images that I can look back on for years to come…though I know I have a lot to improve on and definitely don’t claim to be a pro (yet!) Enjoy the many different types of light that we saw:

silhouette northern lights Norway Love and northern lights Northern lights located in Alta, Norway northern lights of Norway northern lights located in Norway Northern Lights and Airbnb in Norway the northern lights in norway aurora borealis alta, norway the lights dancing around northern lights norwaynorthern lights in Norway travel blogger in front of northern lights

Outdoor Activities in Norway During the Winter

Norway is great for those that love the outdoors. The second day in Norway we went dog sledding in Alta with Trasti & Trine, which was the most incredible experience. A 30 km, 6.5-hour journey gave us a chance to see stunning polar environments. One can easily get lost in your own mind and find inner peace out in the wilderness. dog sledding norway trasti & trine

There were many other things you could do in the area – hiking, ice fishing for trout, biking with a fat bike, or even alpine skiing. The one thing that I was disappointed about was the minuscule amount of wildlife around – we looked for moose and reindeer during our drives and outdoor explorations, but never saw anything more than birds.

Popular among tourists, the northernmost point in Europe, the North Cape (Nordkapp), is located in Norway and is only 2000 km away from the North Pole. Here, the Norwegian Sea meets the Barents Sea. We drove the 2.5 hours along the winding European route E69 highway – past steep cliffs and through underwater tunnels. Unfortunately, we had no idea that to visit the North Cape during the winter, the last stretch of road is only open for convoy driving at three times throughout the day, due to the harsh snow and wind conditions on that part of the road. We did not make it to the actual North Cape site, but made a pit stop in the town of Nordkapp and Skarsvag, as far north as we could possibly go.

Barents Sea and ship in Norway
A ship out in the Barents Sea, located only 2000 km from the North Pole

Barents Sea Norway underground tunnel to North Cape

Barents Sea tunnel along E69 underwater
Tunnel under the Barents Sea – as you can see on the GPS
Skarsvag harbor northern Norway
Harbor in Skarsvag – one of the most northern towns in Europe

Other Tips for Visiting Norway

Alta was the closest city to our Airbnb in Kvalsund, so we ended up driving there a lot. There’s a mall in the center along with lots of yummy restaurants. Norway is an expensive place to begin with, so while we didn’t eat out often, when we did it was worth it. Reindeer comes in all types of form – we had everything from reindeer steak to reindeer stew.

If you are driving through Norway in the winter time, you will undoubtedly incur bad road conditions. We figured this out quickly when we were on our way to the airport via European route E6…the only road to the airport from Kvalsund… and the road was closed. You can imagine our frustration at that considering there was no warning, no signs, just a gate blocking the road with tractor trailers pulled over on the side to wait. When I googled road closures in Norway, I found a handy dandy website at that said the entire highway was basically closed. GREAT. The only other route to the airport was four hours longer…and our plane left in three. Therefore, we missed our flight to Finland and were snowed into Alta since another plane didn’t leave until the next day. Needless to say, plans change and while we were incredibly frustrated, tired, and unhappy with having to purchase new flights and a hotel for the night, those are the realities of travel. I highly suggest checking the website here, as mentioned above, if you are planning on driving through Norway in the winter time.

No matter where we went, however, and we drove to a lot of places during our five-day stay, we never saw the Northern Lights brighter or bigger than we did at the top of the hill by our little cabin. It truly was the perfect place to see the aurora borealis. I’ve read numerous blogs about people pursuing the Northern Lights and never getting to see them. I feel lucky to have seen them every single day we were there. Each day brought a more magical, more meaningful light show. We would stand outside our cabin and just gaze up at the sky – star struck in awe and wonder. How on Earth could this be a real thing? Someone pinch me.

I hope that you get the chance to experience the Northern Lights at least once in your life. Stay tuned for more information to come about photographing the lights, a packing list, our dog sledding trip, and much more!


Outside This Small Town Signature

31 Replies to “Chasing the Northern Lights Through Norway | When to Go, Where to Stay, What to Do”

  1. Thanks for all the handy tips! I’ve always been dreaming about seeing the lights! Definitely will get back to this post when I get to Norway! 🙂

  2. I love Norway and was lucky to spend some time visiting a few years ago when my husband was working in Laerdal for a few months. Alas no northern lights though it was winter months – I think we will return as we love the country and I would love to see the lights!

  3. I’m sure this place is on everyone’s bucket list…but omg I’m loving that cute and cosy AirBnb! I’m hoping to make it there someday. I hope the luck favors me whenever I decide to see the northern lights..

  4. You weren’t joking about the waist deep snow were you, blimey! It was clearly worth the effort, your photos are incredible and laying in a hot tub under the Northern Lights is an epic story! Like you, I try and keep my winter breaks wintery- we’ve tried Norway in the summer, now it looks like we need to return in the winter too.

    1. Wow, we’d love to go to Norway in the summer to see the difference and the midnight sun! Did you like it?? Hope you get the chance to visit in the winter too 🙂

  5. Ahhh! Now all I want to do is go to Norway and see the Northern Lights! I had no idea that the northern lights were actually ‘collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere’. That’s so interesting! Thanks for the awesome facts 🙂

    1. Go go go!! And yes, I had no idea either until we watched lots of Netflix shows of course about it. They’re fascinating. Thanks for reading ☺️

  6. The Northern lights are at the top of my bucket list! I loved your video! I hope I’ll make it one day to see this natural phenomenon…

  7. This looks like such an incredible experience!! I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights for so long. I need to get planning – this post will come in very useful! That lodge you stayed in looks so cosy too!

  8. Wow! So beautifully captured through image and words, thank you for sharing your experience! This has been on the bucket list for a looooong time, I’ll definitely refer to this when I finally get to go! Looks like an incredible memory, and that cabin I could just hibernate in!

  9. Wow this is such an unforgettable experience. That cabin looks so cozy and authentic. We had a hot tub growing up and my dad would always get in when it was snowing. It was cool to be surrounded by snow but so warm. I can drive a stick, so I’d be the driver for sure. Driving in snow with a rental car would be a tad daunting. One of these days, I will get to Norway.

    1. I wish I could drive a stick!! And the hot tub was definitely a hilight of the Airbnb. It’s so peaceful to get in with snow around us. Thanks for reading xoxo

  10. Wow Summer, this looks absolutely incredible. I’ve seen the Northern Lights in Canada, but never like this. Thank you for sharing this experience on the blog – truly beautiful.

  11. I’ve lived in Finland for two years and have never been able to see them as bright as you did!! What a lucky experience, especially with the low percentage it was giving. Glad you had a great time! This makes me want to squeeze in another
    lights “hunting” trip before winter is over 😀

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