Is there anyone who wouldn’t enjoy looking at the Aurora Borealis?
Or anyone who wouldn’t enjoy at least one of these: good food, spectacular scenery, traditional and modern arts & culture, friendly people and, oh yes, a sea eagle or 2?
Who wouldn’t want go to Norway to experience all those things? Oh, wait, I see– you would like to go, but…Norway’s expensive, right?
Well, yes– BUT we found some ways to save lots on our trip, and we think we had a better Norwegian experience for it!
We visited in winter, hoping to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis,) as many hope to– and we did. Not just once, or twice, or even 3 times. We saw the magical lights dance on 6 nights of our 7 night stay!
Several factors came together to make this possible- and none of them involved taking an expensive Northern Lights chasing tour. (I’m not knocking them- we just couldn’t afford to go on one, with the cheapest single night’s chase aboard a big tour bus costing around €125 per person.)
Tips: Seeing the Northern Lights
1. Plan your trip for when the moon is dark, or only a sliver of waxing or waning. That way, even if the lights are only force 2 on the scale of 1 to 10, you still have a chance to see them- they won’t be competing with moonlight. During our trip the strength forecast was 2 & 3 and yet we still saw fantastic Lights as they didn’t have to compete with moonlight.
2. Get out of the city/suburbs. As with the moon, light pollution can drown out the quieter auroras.
We stayed at this wonderfully charming restored cabin, dating from the 1880’s. It is wonderfully situated by a large fjord- brilliant aurora-wise because there is lots of open space to view the sky. To have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights you want as much of a 360 degree view of the sky as possible. We saw them from all areas of the sky, not just the North.
Additoinally ,it was a blessing to have a prime viewing spot just 40m from the house, so we could take aurora spotting in shifts. The Lights can appear at any point/s after dark. They tend to show up between 6pm to 2am in the Tromso area of Norway; a long night in the cold!
3. Get a Norwegian SIM card for your phone (will tell you more in another post, but Telenor have an affordable one) and check the European aurora forecast on sites like http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/Europe. On the right hand side of the site you’ll see 2 wee maps- they get updated every couple of hours- they’ll help give you a rough guide as to what expect. (PS: UT is pretty much GMT- and Norway is 1 hr ahead.) The sun’s cycle is meant to be active this year (2013), so it’s a good time to go. (Lights season generally Oct- March. We went in Feburary.)
4. Keep your eye on the weather forecast, & if you’ve rented a car (about €350 a wk for a compact car in winter) you may be able to drive away from cloudy skies. We had no car, but did have some cloudy skies. Yet we still got to see the Lights in between the clouds. Also remember that just because ’tis cloudy doesn’t mean it will remain so– and ALWAYS keep checking for yourself rather than relying just on forecasts of weather or aurora!
5. I don’t have to tell you to dress *very* warmly & in layers, do I? 🙂 You will see the lights better from outside– although we saw many from the house windows! If you are taking photos, a good camera is necessary, especially if the lights aren’t storm force bright. We just had a little Samsung digital, and though we set the ISO to 800, the longest exposure time available was 16 sec. Apparently 20-40 is ideal. Still- we are thrilled to have the ones we do, and are so glad we bought a tripod.
You must have a tripod for those long exposures; there’s no way to hold a camera absolutely still for so long and in the cold. We got a great value one for about €25 on this site. As I said, we did get pics, but many were disappointing , & none were like the fancy ones you need the good gear for. Buying a really good camera is now on my bucket list!
Don’t forget to charge up the camera fully, & bring extra batteries if possible. The cold drains them quickly. Putting the camera in your coat when not in use will help save them, too.
The last night we were at the cabin we went to bed early as there were no Lights to been seen, it was cloudy, & we had to get up at 3.30 a.m. to start our journey back to Ireland.
Luckily, though, I woke a bit after midnight & looked out the window. A HUGE array of dancing, shooting, red and green Lights FILLED the sky! I quickly woke Terry, and we watched as the aurora played. It was the best we had seen! When it quelled a bit, we hurriedly dressed, got the camera & went outside. But the show was over. Though I stayed up the rest of the night hoping for pictures, listening to the waves & the occasional seabird’s call, the Lights had waved us their goodbye. And we loved it.
Here are some more of our Northern Lights photos. I’ll have more Norway photos & tips, plus the info on the wonderful, affordable place we stayed, in upcoming posts. If YOU’VE got Northern Lights tips or stories, please do share in the comment section at the end of the post. 🙂
Thank you! Susan
|The Northern Lights blasting out of a cloud, Norway. There were red shoots, too, but I didn’t get pic in time. Was scary!|
|The Aurora (Northern Lights) over the fjord, Norway|
|A beautiful swirl of aurora over the fjord, Norway|