Tromso Winter–How Did We End up Here?
It was after 1 am. We’d been standing in the cold for hours and we feared that the Tromso Northern Lights Tour would be a failure.
We wondered if it was a crazy idea to brave the Tromso Winter for a chance to see the Aurora. Some of the people in our group had already been out three nights looking unsuccessfully.
Our guide asked if our group would like to quit for the night. We seriously considered it.
We went back into the van to try to warm up a little while we discussed it. Our decision? We were really cold. But we’d come all the way from New York City to Tromso Norway, above the Arctic circle. In winter. Just to see the Northern Lights. It was a hard decision.
Suddenly, the guide came into the van and said, “They’re here.” We looked at him for a moment before we realized what he said. We sprung into action. Cameras. Tripods. Batteries. Gloves.
How Cold is the Tromso Winter?
Very Cold. In the evening, the average temperature is minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Minus 10F (-23C) is not uncommon. It feels even colder if you are out in the country during Tromso Winter, standing outside for hours waiting on a Tromso Northern Lights Tour. And even colder if one of you grew up near the equator and the other hates the cold.
The Tromso Northern Lights Tour
We booked our Northern Lights Tour through Visit Tromso (2500NOK for 2pp). The tour company picked us at 6:30 pm for a tour that was supposed to last 6-8 hours. The package included a hot meal, coffee/tea, a warm suit and hand- and foot-warmers. Generally, the tour goes to the base camp at lake Skogsfjordvannet, an hour drive from Tromsø. At that location, they have a grill house for cooking.
Chasing the Northern Lights
When they say chasing the Northern Lights, they literally mean chasing. If the weather is bad, snowing or cloudy as it was on the day we went, then everything changes. In our case, they decided to drive to a different location near the border of Finland to find the best spot with the highest possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. No grill house for food, but they cooked a delicious seafood stew out of the back of the van. We left at 6:30pm. They gave us a warm suit as promised.
Then we drove and drove and drove. We finally stopped at an opening in the middle of the forest. There we ate and waited.
The Northern Lights arrived as a white cloud that spread across the sky from horizon to horizon. Then it receded. It was a challenge to take pictures as our hands froze every time we took off our gloves. We stayed out until after 2 am and began the drive home. We arrived back at our hotel after 3 am, tired, happy and amazed.
Tip for Seeing and Photographing the Tromso Northern Lights Tour
- There are no guarantees for seeing the Tromso Northern Lights. Your best bet is to go out multiple nights if this is a must to happen for you. We saw them twice, the first time from a long distance during an crab fishing and dog sledding tour.
- There are plenty of places that you can go to see the Northern Light. There are glass igloos and other places that don’t require the evening adventure that we had. Some of these places are much more expensive (and warmer). There are also places that are less expensive that don’t require going above the Arctic Circle during winter. There is a type of trip for everyone who wants to see the Northern Lights. Just make sure to have a few days so that you can work around bad weather and nights that the lights just don’t show.
- Wear many layers. The warm suit and hand warmers are helpful, but you need be prepared to be out in the cold for many hours.
- You generally have to go out of the city to see the lights and expect that the trip will be at least 6-8 hours long. The Tromso Northern Lights generally don’t come out until midnight or 1 am.
- You want to have gloves and glove liners that enable you to work your camera without taking off all of the layers. Hands get cold very fast in the Tromso winter.
- If you want to get pictures, you will need a DSL, a tripod and a remote shutter release. The remote shutter also help you keep your gloves on instead of having to take one off to take a picture.
- You’ll need to need to know how to do bulb setting on your camera for sharp pictures. The bulb setting keeps the shutter open for long periods of time.
- You’ll also need at least one set of spare batteries for your camera. Lithium ion batteries lose their charge quickly on cold weather. Keep one or 2 extra batteries inside your coat where they will be warm.
- You can use a less advanced camera for photos, but they will likely be a bit blurry.
Be patient and wait for the Lights. They come on their own time, not yours. The waiting and chasing is part of the adventure.