Many people have asked (Tromsonians and foreigners) why we chose Tromsø for our Northern Lights (NL) experience, and the answer is simple. The information available about Tromsø is abundant on the internet. VisitNorway.com and VisitTromso.no are helpful sites. Bookings are easily made online. All the top rated companies, such as Arctic Explorers and Chasing Lights, and a smaller outfit like Enjoy The Arctic are professionally run and respond quickly. I made all my bookings a week prior to the start of my trip. The top companies are quite booked up for the dates I planned, but after a few minor changes, they managed to fit me in and I managed to do all that I wanted to do in my 5-days there. I also chose Tromsø because it is the largest city in the Arctic. If the weather did not cooperate, at least, I would have other options to spend my time. A city is considered in the Arctic when it experiences a minimum of one Polar Night, where the sun never leaves the horizon and only twilight is seen for about 4-5 hours during this day.
I went to Tromsø for the Northern Lights, but what I will remember fondly the most is the dogsledding and overnight stay in sami lavvu (click here on my post about dog sledding). It does not hurt that we did our evening dogsledding under the Northern Lights and we were treated to a front row show after. A few locals told me that the Northern Lights that night was one of the best in recent times. Thanking my lucky stars for that experience.
Of course, I am NOT saying that the rest of the activities were not memorable. I went on a bus fjord expedition and one night of chasing Northern Lights (I went twice in total) with Chasing Lights. The bonfire during lunch and dinner and the small group size made the experience enjoyable. Both Guatemalan guides: Luna and Hermann were great – friendly, professional, and good photographers. I still cannot fathom how they ended up in Tromsø, but it seems many foreigners work in Norwegian tourism industry. The Tromsø-made MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) meals were good enough (there are three meal options, but trying two of them is enough 🙂 We were lucky that the whales went inside Kaldfjord (Cold Fjord) and we could see them from the roads. Grotfjord (Porridge Fjord) is also very beautiful. The scenery is breathtaking.
My two nights chasing Northern Lights were not so lucky. We managed to see NL on both nights, but they were only very vivid on cameras, especially on the first night. Nothing beats a proper camera to capture Northern Lights, but for the people out there whose iPhones have replaced their cameras, you can download the more advanced photo-taking apps. I downloaded an app called “Northern Lights”. It helped. Unfortunately I only discovered this on my last evening. On the second chase, I went with Enjoy The Arctic. They are a smaller outfit. They do not provide boots, suits, and mittens, but Andrei is quite professional and personable. He rescheduled our chase because the weather looked iffy on our original day. If you have proper down jacket, it should be good. Tromsø does not get that cold (-3 degrees Celsius was the lowest during my stay in the end of November/beginning of December).
It really is important to choose a good operator. Good, ethical operators will do their homework checking the weather forecast (which can change in less than an hour) and have a big network in the region to get “live” updates, drive you to Finland if that what it takes for clients to see Northern Lights, and cancel the tour and reschedule you if the chance of seeing NL is low. I heard a second hand story about an agency rated in the top 10 of Tripadvisors who told clients they were seeing NL when it was actually light pollution. I had great experience with Chasing Lights and Enjoy The Arctic. The most common color of NL is green, as that is the resulting color of when the solar dust mixes with the abundant Oxygen in our atmosphere. A quick check on your camera can verify this, I believe. This was how Hermann showed us the white streak we saw with our eyes was NL. It turned green on the camera.
In hindsight, in total the tours ended quite pricy, but they were well worth the experience. I had worry-free evening and could relax knowing the guides were taking amazing photos. They help you set up your camera if you need help. They also provide tripod and wifi onboard the bus. Ask a lot of questions on how each company works before you pay and book!
One last special activity that I did was whale watching. I went with Arctic Explorers (link above). We drove to Kaldfjord (the same fjord where we saw the whales during the fjord expedition) and started the whale watching trips there. We saw at least 50-60 humpback whales and orcas. I like their boat because it is small (up to 10 guests only) and yet we can move from the bow to the stern depending on where the whales show up. And when you get cold. You can hide inside for a little bit. The other option is the open air RIB boat with fixed seats. I am also glad they served us fresh food cooked by a local chef. They served bacalao (dried cod), which is typical in Norway, despite its Mediterranean origin and a typical dessert of flat bread, lefse with brown cheese and spices. Hanning, our skipper, is highly skilled and understands to maneuver the boat to allow the whales to come to us. We saw orcas jumping about 2-3 metres away (we could see the white belly) and a humpback whale checking out our boat from the back and under the boat. Incredible. Luis (another foreigner, a Portugues), our guide is a marine biologist. You can ask him anything whale-related and of course also about the other marine lives. On our trip, a local journalist Ole and the owner of Arctic Explorer, Øystein joined our trip. We had a professional photographer on board who shared a few of his photos with us. Please check out his articles in Norwegian here. Øystein is very passionate about nature, the outdoors, and sustainability. His attitude is positively very contagious! The most important tips given by other travelers: avoid whale watching trips that start in the city of Tromsø. It took 45 minutes to one hour to the open sea and there are not many whales there. The whales, in reality, go to the fjords to follow the herrings.
If one is lazy, one can engage Chasing Lights (link above) to arrange all of the activities for you. They usually refer the dog sledding activity to Arctic Adventures Tours, the same company Øystein recommended me to do my dogsledding. I met a few people who had Chasing Lights arrange their whole Tromsø trip.
It is also best to plan at least four evenings in Tromsø. Three nights to allow better chances to chase and see the lights (in case of inclement weather). And one night to do a proper dinner at Mathallen. Most dinner places open at 4pm to accommodate the diners being picked up at 5-6pm for Northern Lights tours, but it will still be a rushed affair. Mathallen is a modern, semi-formal restaurant. I decided to indulge the Christmas set menu. I had amazing herring, stockfish, cured lamb chop, reindeer and berries and celeriac, and dessert of gingerbread with blue cheese. They were in some ways typical Norwegian food with unique, modern twists.
I hope this post helps in arranging your trip. Please post a comment or message me for more information.