How and Where to See the Northern Lights in Norway

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If you are reading this article, chances are, you have added the Northern Lights to your bucket list. Also known as the aurora borealis, this stunning natural wonder occurs primarily in high-latitude regions near the Arctic Circle. It is caused by interactions between charged particles from the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. The sky will light up in shades of green, blue, pink, and purple when this natural phenomenon takes place. The specific colors and patterns of the aurora borealis depend on factors such as the type of gas involved in the collisions, the altitude of the interactions, and the intensity of the solar activity. This variability leads to the dazzling displays of dancing lights across the night sky, which is sure to dazzle you!

When Can I See the Northern Lights in Norway

Northern Norway is one of the best places to see the northern lights in the world, along with Lapland, Finland, Alaska, northern Canada, Iceland, and Russia. The aurora is constantly changing, as with anything hosted by mother nature, it is hard to predict, but one thing is for sure, you can only see the aurora in a dark, clear sky. 

Northern Norway experiences long winter nights known as the polar night from November to January in locations north of the Arctic Circle, such as Tromsø, Svalbard, and parts of Finnmark County. During the polar night, the sun remains below the horizon for an extended period, resulting in continuous darkness or twilight for 24 hours a day. 

In contrast with the polar nights, the country also experiences the midnight sun from May to July when the sun does not set below the horizon. Instead, it remains visible for 24 hours a day, casting a continuous twilight or daylight glow throughout the night. While this phenomenon is beautiful to experience, you won’t be able to see the northern lights from late April to late August because the sky does not get dark enough.   

The northern lights season is from late September to early April. The best time to see them within this timeframe changes all the time. The best month to visit Norway to see the northern lights is up for debate. But certain months are better for certain things, which can influence your decision.

If you visit in September, you’ll get to see fall foliage. Some tourists want to experience the polar nights, which means visiting in late November to mid-January. You will also be able to see whales in Norway’s cold waters from the beginning of November to the end of January. If you want to do other winter activities like snowshoeing, skiing, or even dog sledding, visit Norway in September, October, March, or early April for increased daylight hours. 

Weather is another factor when deciding what month is best to visit Norway to see the northern lights. As with many climates, Norway’s weather can be unpredictable. The harshest conditions and coldest temperatures are usually seen from November to January, with more rain than snow in November and December, but that is not to say you can’t have a mild week or two of enjoyable cold weather. Expect freezing temperatures in the teens during December and January. You’ll have snow and warmer temperatures come February.

I visited Norway to see the northern lights in late March (so I could head to the Netherlands to see the vibrant tulip fields the country is known for). We saw the lights every night in late March, and the temperatures were quite pleasant. There was snow on the ground, and when the sun came out, it really warmed up. March is a great time to do other activities in the Arctic since the sun is now rising.

How to See the Northern Lights in Norway

The best way to see the northern lights in Norway, or anywhere for that matter, is to be in the right place at the right time, which, of course, is easier said than done.

Ideal conditions include clear skies, a dark sky, and a strong KP index (a way to measure the strength of geomagnetic activity) to see the aurora with the naked eye. Avoiding light pollution when aurora hunting is key. You do not have to have complete darkness, but it’s helpful. 

Truthfully, the best way to see the northern lights is with a last-minute trip. This way, you can check the weather and learn about cloud cover conditions before planning your trip. This works best if you live in an area with a direct flight to an aurora zone. If a last minute trip is not in the cards for you, there are still other things you can do to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights while in Norway. 

  • Spend at least a week in Northern Norway to give yourself a real chance to see the northern lights.
  • Rent a car and drive to clear skies OR
  • Book a Northern Lights tour (with an experienced guide)
  • Wear warm clothes so you will be able to chase the lights for longer.
  • Bring a camera good for shooting dark skies or a phone with a night mode (iPhone 15 Pro Max works well).
  • Download a tracker app for updated guesses on when and where the aurora will be strongest.

The Best Apps for Tracking the KP Index and Strength of the Lights

Aurora viewing is dependent on various factors, including solar activity, weather conditions, and darkness, so it’s essential to check aurora forecasts and plan your trip accordingly for the best chances of seeing the northern lights. Although not completely reliable, these aurora trackers will alert you as to when the lights will be the strongest. 

Aurora Forecast Apps

  • The Northern Light Aurora Forecast
  • My Aurora Forecast & Alerts.

Don’t be intimidated by these apps. They have many features, but the KP index is the best thing to focus on. You’ll want to set your location and also the alert that tells you when to get outside.

The kp index is used to measure the geothermal activity. It uses a scale of 0-9, 5 kp is considered really good, although I saw the lights with a 2 and 3 kp. Red is the color that denotes a higher kp index on the Northern Light Forecast App. You can still see the lights at a 2 kp, but it will be a hazy, cloudy color to the naked eye.

It’s really the shape of the activity that identifies it as the aurora and not a cloud. The greens and pinks of the lights will show up with a camera set to a long exposure or on night mode if you are using an iPhone. Unless there is a high KP it will be hard to see the colors with the naked eye.

The intensity changes frequently. The light show can disappear as fast as it appeared or stay for hours. I know people who have seen a very strong aurora for four hours straight while driving around outside of Tromsø searching for clear skies.

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How to Capture the Northern Lights With a Camera

Often, the aurora activity is faint to start and then increases. You may not be able to spot it initially with the naked eye. A trick to spot the aurora is to take a photo of the sky. With a long exposure, there will be enough light to capture the aurora activity. The northern lights will show up in the photo, usually green (pink or purple if you are lucky), even if you can not see any color with your eyes.  

At the least, you need to have a camera or phone capable of taking long exposures. With a heavy camera, you will want to use a sturdy tripod to capture clear and sharp images. Stabilizing your camera on a tripod is essential to avoid blurriness caused by camera shake, especially during long exposures. Cell phones are light enough, so most photos will come out decently even without a tripod.  

Most recent iPhones will automatically switch to night mode when the conditions trigger it. Other than holding the camera phone as still as possible, you do not have to do anything special with your iPhone to take a photo of the northern lights. I found the new iPhone 15 Pro Max blew my iPhone 12 Pro out of the water with night photography. 

Check out the comparison:

The photo on the left was taken with an iPhone 12 Pro, and the right with an iPhone 15 Pro Max. I did not edit either photo so you could see the actual quality comparison.

Camera Settings and Tips

With a camera, you will need to have the proper settings in order to take a photo of the dark night sky. For the best shot, use manual mode and set your camera’s ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture.

Pro Tip: Using a camera with a large aperture (1.8-2.8) is ideal, but you can still get a good photo with an f/4, so there is no need to buy a special low-light lens if you aren’t a serious photographer.

I found these settings worked the best with my camera: 1600 ISO, 3 sec Shutter Speed, and f/2.8.

I played with the shutter speed and felt 3 seconds was ideal for the style of photo I was hoping for, but of course, all of these settings can be changed depending on what style you want. A lot of guides say 5-30 seconds is ideal for shutter speed to capture the northern lights, but while longer exposures can capture more detail, they may result in star trails, which I did not want. 

Most cameras will need at least 1600 ISO. If you do not have a f/2.8 you’ll need to increase the shutter speed or ISO to compensate for the smaller aperture. Increasing ISO will most likely increase the noise in your photo, making it less crisp and more grainy, so try to keep this number as low as possible to take the best photos.

When it comes to auto focusing, some cameras will have a hard time auto focusing on dark skies. If there are no city lights or something nearby to focus on, try having someone hold a light (cell phone or headlamp works well) in front of your camera to give it something to focus on, if they don’t want to be in the photo they can quickly move out of the way without being captured. You may get a light streak but this can be edited out later.

Pro Tip: You may need to shine some light on the subject to get it to show up. In the three photos below, my dad shined his iPhone flashlight on me while my mom took the photo with her iPhone 15 Pro Max. You can see the different levels of light that changed how the subject (me) was illuminated. If it is really dark outside and you do not have a camera with a long exposure, shining a light on the subject is the only way to capture someone in the photo.

Alternatively, you can use manual focus to take a photo of the aurora. Set your lens to manual focus and adjust it to infinity (∞) or slightly before to ensure that the stars and aurora are in focus. Infinity is usually seen on the outside barrel of the lens. Some lenses won’t have this option, and you’ll have to adjust the manual focus settings from your camera’s menu screen. You may need to focus on the scene using an alternate button when in manual focus mode. My camera (Leica SL2-s) uses the select button to focus on the scene, and then I have to press the shutter button to take the photo. 

Pro Tip: Even with a tripod, you may experience camera shake just from pressing the shutter button. To help eliminate this, set your timer to take a photo in 3 seconds so that after you press the shutter button, the tripod has time to stop moving before it takes a long exposure. This will help give your a crisper photo.

All lenses and cameras work similarly but also differently. Some lenses and cameras are better than others for dark night shooting, so make sure you learn about your camera and have a manual on hand in case you forget how to change the settings. Nothing is worse than not being able to use your camera the way you want to because you can’t figure out how to change a setting!

The Best Places to Stay to See the Northern Lights

There are plenty of good areas to stay in to see the lights in Norway including, the famous Lofoten Islands and further north into Tromso, known as the cultural hub of Northern Norway.

Norway offers many unique stays, camping experiences and traditional style hotels with all the amenities. You can even take a multi-day Hurtigruten cruise, known for its arctic routes and scenic panoramic views to catch the lights at night. If you are looking for something low key and secluded with a natural feel, the remote islands along Norway’s northern coast are a great option. You can even camp outside in tents or arctic igloos if you are willing to brave the cold!

Staying outside of town in an area with less city lights or somewhere that offers northern lights tours (if you do not have a car) is a great option. I stayed on Senja Island at the Aurora Borealis Observatory Hotel and despite a few hiccups, I had a great experience. I wrote about my stay in detail here. 

A few things to keep in mind when choosing where to say

The Northern lights are usually only visible in the evening even if you are visiting during the polar night. Because of the tilt of the earth and the position of the aurora circle, it is not typical to see them in the morning or afternoon, even if it is dark outside.

The lights started around 9 p.m each night I was in Norway but are visible as early at 6 p.m. Because the lights are an evening occurrence, you’ll want to choose a location with some activities to keep you busy during the day.

If you are staying outside of a major town you won’t have public transportation, restaurants or or shops readily available. You may want to rent a car if you are not staying somewhere that offers guided tours.

A lot of businesses and public transportation shut down on holidays and work limited hours on Sundays. I recommend avoiding travel during the holidays, including Easter week, as it is a significant holiday in Norway, and a lot of businesses, restaurants, tours, shops, etc., are closed from Thursday to Monday of Easter week.

If you are staying in a remote island or glamping in a secluded resort you may want to bring food and snacks with you. Make sure to check with your accommodation as to what food and drinks are available during your stay. We heard from a few tourists that their hotel restaurant was only open for limited hours, and without transportation into town, they had no food available to them.

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The best hotels to stay at in Norway for Northern Lights

  • Norwegian Wild on Senja Island-Secluded hotel in a natural setting. Offers breakfast, parking, and on-site restaurant.
  • Aurora Borealis Observatory Hotel on Senja island– Lovely accommodation in a natural setting with large glass windows on most units. Offers breakfast, free parking, on-site bar, and restaurant. They also offer tours but I do not recommend them- go with Senja Experiences instead. (read more about my experience at ABO here)
  • Thon Hotel Lofoten on the Lofoten Islands-Easily walkable around town with fantastic views of the mountains.
  • Arctic Dome at Glød Explorer – Best for a unique glamping stay in a canvas and glass dome where the light show can be seen overhead while you sleep (if you are lucky).
  • Radission Blue or Clarion Hotel The Edge – Fully loaded hotel, both located in Tromso town. Great location for activities and tour pick-ups, restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
  • Sommarøy Arctic Hotel – About 50 minutes outside of Tromsø, in a secluded coastal village overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Includes free parking.

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Because of their illusiveness and remoteness, seeing the aurora borealis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure to plan your trip around the holidays for ease and enjoyment, and give yourself plenty of time to see the lights, as you never know when they will start to dance!

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