With a simple Google search you are going to find out that Tromso is the number one place in the world to see the mesmerizing phenomenon of Aurora Borealis.
Tromso it’s often described as the Paris of the North due to its beauty and the number of tourists visiting every single year. In order to get to Tromso you most likely will have to connect through the capital city, Oslo. However, once weekly there are direct flights that departs from Europe direct to Tromso from cities such as Madrid, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Paris etc.
One important thing when you arrive in Tromso is lowering your expectations. Yes, the Northen lights are visible from September until April but seeing them depends on many factors, the most important being the weather and the geomagnetic activity. Northen lights are always dancing above the city of Tromso and the surrounding area but this won’t guarantee that you are going to see them.
Don’t buy expensive tours
My biggest mistake when I started to plan my trip to Tromso was buying the most expensive tours that I have found on the market thinking that they are going to play God and bring the Aurora on the sky whatever it takes. The first tour that I have booked cost me almost 200$ including camping by the fire, dinner (carrot soup in a thermos), thermal clothes (which you wont need if you are dressed properly), and free photo session (two photos with a invisible aurora). They have promissed to “chase” the Aurora throughout the region but all we got was camping by a lake and waiting for the miracle to happen.
By the time I stepped inside of the tour car, I have realized that we are not going to see any lights since the driver/guide tried to mentally prepare us for that. After 6 hrs camping by the fire and few shots with an aurora resembling more of a cloud, we return to Tromso. Dissapointed and crying inside seeing my lifetime dream ruined, especially when hearing from the other tourists that Aurora gave a real show the night before my tour.
The operators won’t cancel the tours or refund your money even when they know there are zero chances in seeing the aurora or when the weather is bad.
Taking the cable cartimings 10am-12am, cost 35$
Mount Storsteinen, the best place to watch the Aurora
Spending an entire week in Tromso I started to discover the local way of doing things, including watching the Northen lights from Mount Storsteinen, which is accessible with the Fjellheisen gondola. Of course you won’t find this information in any of the travel pages meant to rip you off, since their main purpose it’s selling overpriced tours that don’t deliver what they advertise.
The cable car cost 35$ for a return ticket and even if you wont be lucky to see the Aurora at least you will get an unbelievable view over the city regardless of the time of the day. The first time I have used the cable car I wasn’t able to see the northen lights because of the clouds, however the second time (the 5th night of my trip), the Aurora offered everyone a magical midnight show.
The 4 minutes ride to the top seemed an eternity and all the tourists were jumping and giggling of joy seeing the beautiful green glow surrounding the cable car. Aurora threw her magical veil embracing the stars with her mystical dance moves and the entire sky started to align in a beautiful harmony, following her lead.
Fjellheisen cable car it’s located on the opposite side of the downtown and it can be reached either by 45 minutes walk crossing the bridge to the other side of Tromso, either by taxi 25$ or by bus no 26, which will cost 3$.
Climbing the Sherpa steps
If the weather permits you can reach up the mountain for free by using the Sherpa steps (Sherpatrappa), however in the winter you must be really careful as the steps are covered in snow and even ice and could be dangerous or potentially lethal.
Apps and website you must have
In order to find out what chances you get to see the Aurora on the Fjellheisen on a specific night you must always check Norway-lights.com for real time updates.
Another app that I have used extensively during my time in Tromso was My aurora forecast which will show the viewing probability by time and region. Also the users are able to notify each other when the Aurora is spotted and share the specific location with others. And of course, always check the sky with your own eyes. As long the sky is clear, Aurora will be visible without a doubt.
Other aurora tours
I haven’t learned my lesson after the first failed tour and I booked another one, much cheaper this time (100$) determined to catch a glimpse of the lights for the last time before I depart from Tromso. Even though the weather looked terribly bad and the chances to see the Aurora was almost zero, the tour operators managed to find a clear sky 3 hrs drive from Tromso. It wasn’tso spectacular like the Aurora spotted the night before, but at least there was something.
Aurora can be seen anywhere as long as there is a clear sky and dark surroundings. In the downtown is a bit harder to see it since the streets are illuminated and it will obstruct the view but is not impossible.
Other tours that you can take in order to experience the Aurora outside the city are: Catamaran/boat tours, Husky sledge tours, Reindeers visit, Levi campsite, Snowmobile tours, all of them during the late hours of the evening.
How to photograph the Aurora
The good news is that Aurora is much more visible in the photos than with the naked eye and your camera will be able to capture it even when is less in intensity or almost invisible to the eye. All you need is a tripod in order to stabilize your device and a night mode on your phone.
Is it much easier to capture the lights with a professional camera as long as you have the right setting: manual mode, 1200-3200 ISO, lowest aperture possible and a shutter speed lower than 8. A trick learned from the tour’s photographers is illuminating yourself with any flashlight the second before picture is taken. In this way you will have a beautiful exposure of the lights and of yourself.
I strongly recommend you not to waste time in taking photos/videos as this phenomenon might last only for few seconds/minutes. Better enjoy the show and if the Aurora decides to stick with you then use your gear to immortalize the moment.
Here are few of the shots I managed to capture with my camera during one hour frame when Aurora was visible in Tromso. Photos are not edited and most of then are blurry as I am not a professional photographer and I am still struggling with my camera especially in manual mode.