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Northern Lights Guide

Learn about this fascinating natural light show and how to see it.

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are a natural phenomenon that can be seen in the night sky in wintertime in the grand north. Visitors flock from all over the world to northern latitude countries, such as Norway, to see them. But the stars need to align, so to speak, for you to be able to witness such a beautiful phenomenon. Our guide below tells you more about the natural wonder, and about how to prepare for seeing them in Norway.

Keep reading to learn more about this natural wonder and how to prepare for seeing them on Norway northern lights tours.

Ash cloud from the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull


AN INTRODUCTION TO NORTHERN LIGHTS
The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are in facts caused by solar storms or giant flares from the sun sending blasts of charged particles hurtling towards Earth. When these particles collide with atoms in our atmosphere, it results in glowing emissions that take on various shapes, movements, colours and brightness depending on the type of atoms involved, the intensity of the solar activity and the pull of Earth’s magnetic forces.

And not only this, but the sky needs to be dark, clear, and with as little city lights as possible. As you can see, so much needs to align in order for visitors to witness the lights. But that makes it even more magical! Like shape-shifting apparitions dancing across the stars, this is an experience you’ll never forget.

What do northern lights look like?
The most common colour of northern lights is green, though you may see hues of red and violet. The lights may appear like a rippling curtain, streaming rays or an arc, among other forms.

When do the northern lights happen?
While this phenomenon may happen at any time of the year, they're most likely to occur during wintertime in Scandinavia. Ideally, we recommend planning your trip to northern Norway between October and March, during which daylight hours are pretty limited in areas north of the Arctic Circle

Peak time for seeing the northern lights is between 11pm and 2am, and the seasonal darkness will make it easier to witness them.

Where is the best place to view auroras in Norway?
As all the molecular magic (oops, we mean science) is happening near Earth's magnetic poles, the Arctic region is ideal for viewing the aurora borealis. In fact, there is a zone in the Northern Hemisphere called the “Northern Lights Belt”, situated from 65 to 72 degrees north, which is known to have more auroral frequency and intensity. The closer you are to it, the better your odds are!

In northern Norway, the city of Tromsø falls right in the middle of the “Northern Lights Belt”. The Lofoten Islands, a stunning, mountainous Norwegian archipelago, is also excellent for sightings.

And keep in mind that although you can sometimes get a great aurora show in town, it pays to get away from the light pollution of a city to really see the northern lights in all their glory.
 

HELPFUL ADVICE FOR SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s best to keep in mind that seeing the northern lights does require the right timing, location and meteorological conditions as well as a good dose of patience and luck. Northern lights are a natural phenomenon so sightings can never be guaranteed!

If you’re planning to add a northern lights outing to your trip in northern Norway (or are coming to Norway for this sole purpose!), we’ve put together a few helpful notes for you:

Timing is everything: While this phenomenon happens all year long, they are visible mostly between October and March (winter) each year in the Nordic region.

Check the forecast: Location means nothing if you don't have the right combo of solar activity and cloudless skies. We recommend checking this aurora forecast for Norway page.

Get out of town: It goes without saying that you need dark nights, but it's also ideal to get away from the glare of city lights. A stay in the countryside or a guided tour into the wilderness will greatly improve your view to the sky.

Stay up late: Peak time for seeing the northern lights is between 11pm and 2am. Some hotels in the countryside may offer a special "wake up" service if the lights come out.

Be patient: The lights do not appear on any kind of schedule. You may have to wait a few hours, but most northern lights tours involve some kind of activity or refreshments to keep guests entertained and warm. Unfortunately, sightings can never be guaranteed.

Bundle up: Thermal layers and insulated outerwear are essential. If you’re on a guided excursion, you will usually be provided with loaned coveralls and/or other warm garments.


HOW TO DRESS FOR A NORTHERN LIGHTS OUTING
As northern lights excursions happen at night in the great north, it’s best to be dressed for the occasion! Being warm and dry will help you want to stay out longer, looking for these incredible dancing lights.

Layers: As mentioned above, layers are extremely important, especially thermal layers underneath a good insulated outerwear.

Wool: Wool is an especially great base-layer and we highly recommend bringing with you (or purchasing) woollen base-layer trousers and shirts. They’ll be your best friend when it comes to the daily (and night!) winter excursions in northern Norway.

Wear gloves: While some people swear by a combination of gloves and mittens (a combo you may appreciate on cold days!), we especially recommend wearing gloves with separated fingers, so you don't have to take your mittens off to take photos during your night excursion.


NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOGRAPHY CRASH COURSE
Thinking of capturing your own shots of the northern lights this winter? Here are some quick tips from Nordic Visitor staff.

Equipment checklist:

  • Camera: Use an SLR camera with manual focus for best results.
  • Tripod: You will definitely need one, because even with the steadiest hands, a long exposure shot without a tripod is going to be a blurry, jittery mess.
  • Shutter release: For even steadier shots, get a remote shutter release so you don’t have to touch the camera at all.
  • Spare batteries: Freezing temperatures tend to deplete battery levels faster. It doesn’t hurt to bring extra energy for yourself in the form of snacks.
  • Headlamp / flashlight: You’ll be shooting in the dark and in very cold temperatures, so it’s good to see what you’re doing.

Camera & lens settings:

  • Image stabilisation: If your lens has this, turn it off. 
  • ISO: Increase the ISO to at least 400 or 800, preferably higher. This depends on the specific lens you're using, but is a fair range to work within.
  • Aperture (f-stop): Turn your aperture as low as possible. This will result in more light coming through the lens. On most cameras, this number can go down to about 3.5.
  • Shutter speed: Do a long exposure of 15 to 30 seconds. The longer the exposure, the more light will be captured.

But don’t forget to also appreciate and enjoy the in-person experience. This is something you’ll never forget!
 

NORTHERN LIGHTS TOURS IN NORWAY
Ready to come chase some auroras? We recommend these popular winter tour packages.

See the full range of aurora adventure packages in Norway.

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