Tromsø: Chasing after the Aurora Borealis, a complete guide


Tromsø, known as the “Capital of the Arctic”, sits right in northern Norway 350 kilometers from the Arctic Circle; from mid-September to March attracts many tourists in search of the amazing Northern Lights. In this post I tell you the best places to see in Tromsø and everything you need to know about chasing after the Aurora Borealis; my experience and recommendation of the agency with which I did the tour.


Chasing after the Aurora Borealis,  why in Tromsø?   

Although it’s possible to see the Aurora Borealis in several destinations, when organizing the trip, I realized that in Tromsø it was pretty easier to see them because of its perfect location and the efficiency of the experienced guides who know to analyze weather conditions and take you to the best Northern Lights spots, and since my aim was a very concrete one and I only had 3 days, I didn’t want to risk at all.

The 3 days I spent in Tromsø I dedicated them only to  get to know this interesting city, there I fell in love with snow and spent plenty of time walking and enjoying the special feeling of stepping on unspoiled and fluffy snow all the time.

In addition, I discovered the unique experience of living the polar night, only 4 hours of light a day (from 10:00 to 14:00) the rest of the day seems to be getting dark all the time. It’s very curious about the feeling as you get used to it quickly.

After stopping over in Oslo for 1 and a half days and making the most of my time there, I flew to Tromsø 3 hours (flight delayed), and as soon as I set foot on the airport I notice right away the contrast between these 2 cities.


Tromsø General Info

How to get there

From Spain there are flights to Tromsø with a stopover in Oslo.  To compare options you can search in Skyscanner.com.

From Oslo, the following airlines fly to Tromsø:

  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Widerøe
  • Norwegian
  • Wizz Air

I flew with SAS and I have to say that both flights departed over 1 hour late. I do not know how the other airlines work..

How to get from the Airport to Tromsø Center

The international airport is located at the western shore of the island of Tromsøya, in Langnes, 5 km away from the center of Tromsø. Connected by bus, is the cheapest way to get there.

Public Bus

Numbers 40 and 42 runs often from/to Tromsø. A single costs  50 NOK, and if you buy it in advance 33 NOK. The journey time is 20 minutes. You can buy tickets from the driver or by the RuterBillett mobile App.

Bus stops are across the underground parking lot, its access is outside the arrivals entrance.

Private Bus Flybussen Airport Express (Tromso)

It has the stop at the main gate of the airport, the departure frequency is 30 minutes and takes about 15 minutes. You can buy tickets from the driver or on the machine. 

On the way it will make the following stops:

•Scandic Grand Hotel (Storgata Street), Prostneset / Clarion Hotel The Edge and Scandic Ishavshotel 

Ticket price is 100 NOK  and round trip 160 NOK. 

Taxi 

The journey to the city is about 10 minutes, and the price range 170 – 200 NOK. Through TaxiTender you can book in advance to get a cheaper rate. 

Car Rental 

On the first floor of the airport are the offices for car rentals.

Climate

Because of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico stream, temperatures in Tromsø are higher than in other places of the same altitude, in the Winter the temperature average is -4ºC. That said, when it comes to seeing the Northern Lights, thermometer drops drastically, ranging from -25ºC to 5ºC.

Don’t worry, later on I will tell you how to dress so you don’t get freezing while waiting for them to come out.

How to get around Tromsø

The city is friendly and easily walkable, but for longer distances the bus works very well.  In this link you can see their routes and schedules.

Single bus tickets cost 50 NOK, but if you buy in advance at WI -TO stores, they will be 33 NOK. You can also buy them with the RuterBillett App.

Accommodation

You will be able to find accommodation for all budgets in Tromsø, although always rated from highly expensive to extremely expensive. I stayed on an Airbnb near downtown (10 minutes walk) on Karls Pettersen Street; the room was equipped with a micro, electric kettle and refrigerator at a considerably cheaper price than the hotels. Really recommend it.

For a hotel you can check out the Radisson Blu Hotel Tromso, centrally located and offers beautiful city views.

What to see in Tromsø

Tromsø is a charming seaside small-town, especially in the winter when the landscape is like a Christmas postcard. In addition, offers many interesting attractions and activities, and a lively nightlife. 

I enjoyed the entire town but for its originality and the sensations conveyed to me, these are my personal city’s highlights:  The Arctic Cathedral, the Cable Car, the Library and Lake Prestvannet. 

Here are the essential places you shouldn’t miss:

THE ARCTIC CATHEDRAL

Tromsø- Arctic-Cathedral

In fact, is a church located in Tromsdalen, crossing the bridge. It was built in 1965 and designed by the architect Jan Inge Hovig in pyramidal form, inspired by the Arctic nature. Insides stand out for its colorful and spectacular stained-glass windows.

  • Entrance Fee: 50 NOK
  • Openning Hours: 13:00 – 18:00 
  • How to get there: On foot or  Bus 20, 24, 26, 28 from Havnegata

THE CABLE CAR FJELLHEISEN

From the Arctic Cathedral you can walk along a beautiful path (there are indications) to the cable car, it takes about 10 minutes. This cable car, 421 meters above sea level, links Tromsdalen with Storsteinen (Monte Fløya) in just 4 minutes. From the viewing platform at the upper station, you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of Tromsø and the surrounding islands, mountains, and fjords.

By the way, in case you want to warm up, there is also a Cafe/restaurant.

Visit https://fjellheisen.no/en to buy tickets and find out more details.

  • Entrance: fee 170 NOK
  • Openning Hours: 10:00 – 23:00
  • How to get there: On foot or Bus 26 from Havnegata


TROMSO LIBRARY

Tromsø chasing after aurora borealis Library

Strolling along the main street Storgata you will find the original library building, designed by the architect Gunnar Bégeberg Hauge, built in 2005 under the former roof of the old Fokus cinema. It comprises 4 floors and a top gallery from where you get a stunning overall picture of the city while sitting in one of its sofas or read in a warm atmosphere, drinking a coffee. 

TROMSO CATHEDRAL

World’s northernmost Protestant cathedral of neo-Gothic style of the year 1861. It has the peculiarity, as does the Catholic Cathedral, being the only cathedrals in Norway built of wood. 

  • Openning Hours: Tues – Fri 11:30 – 16:00


PRESTVANNET LAKE

It is a very cute icy lake surrounded by mountains, placed 1.8 km from the center, about 20 minutes walk. Although maybe you find it covered in snow, equally displays a gorgeous scenery. 

  • How to get there: On foot or bus number 40.


What to do in Tromsø
(besides Chasing the Aurora Borealis)?

Other than the above mentioned attractions, here are a list with more ideas:

Tromsø-chasing-after-aurora-borealis-city-views


1 – STROLL by Storgata and Stortorget

Storgata is one of the main streets of Tromsø, placed with many tourist attractions, shops and bars.

Stortoget is following Storgata Street, where places the City Hall, the Culture Hall, the Catholic Cathedral and a statue of King Haakon VII of Norway. 

2 –  TROMSO PIER

If you continue walking along Stortoget Street, you arrive at the port. From this spot you can enjoy amazing views of Mount Fløya with the Cathedral of the Arctic in the background and the Tromsø Bridge. And it is also an area where there are several restaurants. 

3 –  TROMSO BRIDGE

An iconic city’s symbol, inaugurated in 1960, crosses the Sandnessundet Strait between the islands of Tromsøya and Kvaløya.

It is very nice to cross it on foot because as you get some stunning views photos. 

4 – VISIT MUSEUMS

** PERSPEKTIVET MUSEUM

Cultural-historical photos and temporal exhibitions. On their website https://perspektivet.no/en you can find up-to-date information.

  • Opening Hours: from 10:00 to 16:00
  • Entrance fee: free

** THE POLAR MUSEUM

This small but concentrated museum shows the history of Norway explaining the arts of hunting and fishing during the winter of its inhabitants; hunting seals, bears, and polar expeditions. Seeing these animals dissected made me felt sad, even though it makes you understand why they did it.

  • Entrance fee:  70 NOK.  Combined ticket Tromsø Museum/Polarmuseet/MS Polstjerna: 100/50/200 NOK.
  • Openning Hours: 11:00 – 17:00

** THE ARCTIC UNIVERSITY MUSEUM

This museum shows a bunch of very interesting exhibitions: traditional Sami culture, the Stone Age, the Viking eras, Arctic wildlife and didactic and amusing explanation of the Northern Lights, which I’m sharing with you later on.

  • Entrance fee: 70 NOK.  Combined ticket Tromsø Museum/Polarmuseet/MS Polstjerna: 100/50/200 NOK.
  • Openning Hours:10:00 -16:30 

5 – CHILL OUT IN ØLHALLEN PUB. Macks Brewery

Is the oldest pub in Tromsø. It is worth going to relax and enjoy its assorted craft beers, in total have 67 taps of craft beers and other typical beers of the area. 

  • Openning Hours: 11:00 – 01:30 

The Mack brewery is opposite and offer a guided tour to the distillery and tell you all about its history and brewing. 

  • Entrance fee: 180 NOK. Includes 2 beers tasting. 
  • Openning Hours: 11:00 – 17:00 

6 – MAGIC ICE BAR GALLERY

Tromsø-magic-ice-bar

It is a bar built entirely out of Norwegian ice, with several impressive sculptures dedicated to explorers of the Arctic circle. Be prepared to enjoy the ultimate arctic cultural experience!

Entrance fee: 225 NOK, includes a house cocktail served in ice glass.

  • Openning Hours: 11:00 – 23:00 

Where to eat in Tromsø

Since we are at these altitudes, we want to try typical Norwegian food and, if possible, at a reasonable price. I recommend these restaurants where I ate because I found them being good value for money.

Kaia Bar & Restaurant

Restaurant on the pier overlooking the bay, typical dishes of Norwegian gastronomy and at a good price. Delicious the grated Norwegian salmon.
Address: Stortorget 2, Kai 11 9008 Tromsø

Kystens Mathus

Typical Norwegian food, salmon, reindeer, whale. I recommend the tasting menu to try a little bit of everything.
Address: Stortorget 1, 9008 Tromsø.

Egon

Varied tasteful food (pasta, pizza, fish, burger) and affordable prices for being Norway.
Address: Storgata 50, 9008 Tromsø.

And last but not least, don’t forget the supermarket option to get supplies for breakfast or dinner, so you can save some money. They have several around the city; Spar, Joker and Kiwi among others.


AURORAS BOREALIS: All about them. My experience and recommendation

Tromsø-chasing-after-aurora-borealis

What Aurora Borealis is?

At the University of Tromsø, in the exhibition on the Northern Lights, they define very well what a Northern Lights is, and this is the explanation I pass on to you:

The Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights is a natural light display in the Earth’s sky, predominantly seen in the high-latitude regions (around the Arctic and Antarctic).

Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind.

The solar wind compresses this magnetic field on the daylight side of the earth and draws it out into a long cylinder-like “tail” on the night side. This tail forms a gigantic dynamo as a result of the earth’s magnetism, and the rotation of the electrons and protons from the wind.

When the high energy particles reach the atmosphere, they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms temporary exciting them into a high state of energy. This energy is immediately released again in the form of a photon or short burst of light. Billions of such energy releases occurring constantly cause the Northern Lights.

How are the different colors formed?

The color of the released photon of light depends on which gas molecule was struck by the solar wind particle.

Green/white which is the commonest color is caused by the excitement of oxygen atoms low in the atmosphere. Higher up in the atmosphere, oxygen atoms glow red. Sometimes you can see a red fringe along the bottom edge of the light curtains. This is caused by the bombardment of nitrogen low in the atmosphere. Higher up, nitrogen molecules emit blues and violets.


Some facts to should keep in mind

When deciding to go for this wonder of nature you should know as follows: 

– The best time to see them is from mid-September to March

– The activity of the auroras follow cycles of 11 years, and this year 2020 is the last of the cycle, despite the Northern Lights shine all the time, their intensity varies depending on the solar activity. 

– There’s always a chance of seeing the Northern Lights, but it’s never guaranteed.  Invariably depends on the proper weather,  sky’s clarity, the solar activity… what agencies usually do is offer a discount if you book for 2 days, as they don’t return the money.

– Although the photos look so amazing, at first glance the human eye does not capture the auroras,  it is usual to see them like faint green clouds to the naked eye.


Chasing after the Aurora Borealis

Tromsø-chasing-after-aurora-borealis-tour

Seeking the Northern Lights implies to move the necessary distance no matter how far it takes,  so name it “chasing” is for real. I made the tour with Creative Vacations agency, and here I’m sharing my experience in case it helps you when deciding for your tour.

The day scheduled for the tour was awful, it didn’t rain but it was cloudy and a non-stop snowing went on during the day. So, I wasn’t sure what expect on this adventurous experience.

The meeting point was at the Radisson Blu hotel at 5.30 p.m. We were 14 people, and they made 2 groups, 1 group for English speakers and another one for Spanish. We departed in two 4 by 4 cars and from the very beginning the guide told us we headed to Finland because in Tromsø there wasn’t solar activity.

The Tour

First thing our guide and photographer, Vidar, drove about 1 hour 30 minutes toward Finland until we stopped at a gas station where he gave us the warm thermal suit and boots for us to change into them.

He also keeps telling us along the way the special settings we had to make on our cameras to capture the aurora. Then, Vidar kept driving another hour until he suddenly stopped the car and announce there was an aurora. We descended and look eagerly at the sky to see an elongated mist drawing shapes in the sky. Static almost barely moved. We installed the tripods and the cameras and now, yes, intense green figures danced in the sky! Simply spectacular!!

The experience

Then, we advanced to another spot several kilometers away where we also saw them, now the wind was unsurpassed, but we held stoically and the spectacle of the auroras did not cease. Also in bright green colors in a bright sky covered with stars, even shooting stars we could see! You couldn’t ask for more. 

In this place we stopped for a picnic around a bonfire. They offered us soup, cookies, and coffee. It snowed heavily, but with the warm thermal suits we didn’t get cold. At 1:30 a.m., as we were  returning to  Tromsø, we stopped by to see another one.

This time we could appreciate it with the naked eye, the sky covered in lilac colors in magical movements. Unforgettable! Here we spent about 1 hour while it kept doing shapes, folding and unfolding across the sky. On this occasion it was the cameras that couldn’t do justice to the performance we were witnessing. 

At 3 a.m. we returned to the car to drive back to the city, arriving at Tromsø at 5 a.m.  They dropped us off at the hotel and the end of the “aurora chasing” adventure.

What does this tour includes:

  • Transportation
  • Professional photographer 
  • Bonfire, Hot drinks, vegetarian soup, cookies 
  • Warm thermal suit, hat, gloves, boots, hand and foot warmers 
  • Headlamp, reflective vest, ice grips, gloves 
  • Pictures from the tour

Price per person: 1500 NOK


How to dress for chasing
the Aurora Borealis

As mentioned before,  temperatures drop drastically at night and is freezing cold out there, and even more because standing still looking up at the sky to see the auroras doesn’t help at all, so you’d better get dressed accordingly.  The trick is overlay layers, from 3 to 4 or more.

TOPS

  • 1ª layer: thin thermal shirt 
  • 2ª layer: thick thermal shirt
  • 3ª layer: merino wool fleece
  • 4ª layer: technical jacket windproof, rain and snow

BOTTOMS

  • 1ª layer: thin thermal tights
  • 2ª layer: thick thermal tights
  • 3ª layer: technical trousers, windproof, rain and snow
  • 4ª layer: thin socks and merino wool socks

Don’t forget: warm hat, warm boots and mittens

And finally, to wrap up, note these extra tips:
– No layer should be tight. It will stop your bloodstream and make you cold.
– Next to your skin: Wool is the warmest. 
– Merino wool underwear is the best. It does not itch. It is the most comfortable thing you can wear.

Tromsø Chasing after the Aurora Borealis, my thoughts

I absolutely enjoyed my trip to Tromsø to the fullest. The experience of seeing the Northern Lights was really sublime. A dream come true! …  I also wish you all the best on this chasing adventure…

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