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.
You can also see the lights from Scotland, not so cold 🙂 nice repprt by the way.
Thanks. I hope to get to Scotland one day. Maybe I’ll go see the northern lights again
I can SOOOO relate! I was in Tromso for the Northern Lights in March. We didn’t have to drive around since the sky was quite clear but it was super cold. Thank goodness for the warm jumpsuits the tour company had! Next time, I might try to view them from Northern Minnesota, near where I live! Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂
Thanks. And the jump suits were a life saver!
What a great blog with super tips and so engaging. I would really love to see the lights – one day!
Thanks. Hope you see them
I would LOVE to see the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway! Although I might have to have like seven layers if its NEGATIVE TEN DEGREES lol. (The coldest I’ve ever been in is 29 degrees and I was wearing five layers LOL.)
Yeah. Takes a lot of layers!!
Great tips! I saw the northern lights in Iceland and definitely wish I had tinkered around with my camera beforehand! Now I am going to have to visit them again so I get better pictures.
Glad you saw them. It is very hard to get photos if you are not a very, very serious and technical photographer. Perhaps better to just enjoy the site.
I was phenomenally lucky – I saw the Northern Lights in Iceland in October, when it was a lot warmer than you experienced. I still couldn’t feel my feet by the end of it! Your trip looks hardcore, but it must have been a wonderful experience – and at least you were successful!
Yes. G;ad you saw them and we were grateful to be successful
I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights! Hopefully I will make it to Tromso one day 🙂
Thanks for you comment and hope you make it there
Hope you get there too
I totally relate. I had to chse the Northern Lights in Sweden and it wassuper cold for sure. Great photo tips. I took a class and borrowed a DSLR, otherwise I would never have got good photos! Great post
Your right, it is COLD there in the winter but I think it is worth it! I like that the Northern Lights are unpredictable because that just means, when you do see them, it’s all the more special. Thanks so much for sharing your experience & giving great suggestions!!
Thanks. And yes definitely worth it
Brrrr sounds cold but amazing! Will have to make it here one day. Nice read!
Thanks! It was.
It looks so beautiful, but man, it looks cold!!!
Yes. It was and it was worth it
Thanks for all the tips. Seeing the Northern Lights is definitely on my bucket list and your story makes me want to pack my bags go there right now 🙂
Thanks! Start planning soon!
Glad they were helpful. Thanks for your comment.
Oh, that’s the first time I’m reading about the bulb setting. Maybe most blogs I’ve read didn’t really focus on taking good photos, but I’d be very disappointed to finally be there and later realize my photos aren’t sharp enough. Great tip!
Northern lights is a really special thing. I am glad you succeeded. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I would love to see the Northern Lights. And thanks for the tip with the remote shutter, I wouldn’t have thought about this!
What a great post! As I was reading, I was worried for you guys that you would not see them! Glad you did. Great advice too. I didn’t realize that it would be so difficult to actually see them and now I can keep that in mind for when I plan a trip. Thanks for the post!
Beautiful pics! I had a similar experience in Iceland when my siblings and I tried to find them on our own. We drove around and waited for a long time, but it was worth it! I’d love to see them again in Norway!
Thanks for your comments. I’d like to see them in Iceland too
I would love to do this! I’ve only spotted a glimpse of the Northern Lights here in Scotland but would love to head further north for a chance to see them properly. I think i’d definitely be investing in a remote so as not to freeze my hands off !
I love the northern lights and am lucky enough to live in a place where we get to see them every so often. Unfortunately I can never quite get a photo to do them justice!
Thanks for commenting. Where do you live?
I see you have had the time of your life visiting Tromso to see the Northern Lights. I like the tips that you have shared with us to take the pics of the Northern Lights. After reading your article even I feel like experiencing the Northern Lights in real life. I will definitely visit Tromso to see the Northern Lights with my family. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us.
Thanks for your comment and glad that you found the post helpful. Let me know if you have any questions when you gt ready to plan your trip to Tromso.