Norway is a beautiful country bursting with fantastic sights. Sitting in the western regions of Scandinavia, this nation straddles the Arctic Circle and is renowned for its extreme cold weather. In addition, Norway is also known for its stunning fjord landscapes. One of the most exhilarating and popular attractions, however, is the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights. Read on to learn about this natural phenomenon and the best time of the year to see it in the polar night sky.
What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are a natural light display that can be seen in the earth’s sky. The correct term is Aurora – Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). This natural phenomenon is created due to increased solar activity. Essentially, the magnetosphere is disturbed by solar winds – this causes the beautiful light displays that we can see in the night sky – the different colors are simply awe-inspiring.
Generally, the Northern Lights can only be experienced in far-north locations. Destinations within the northern hemisphere, or within the Arctic Circle are prime candidates to see this unique dancing spectacle. Countries such as Iceland, Norway, Finland, Russia (Siberia), and Northern Canada are all known to be Aurora hotspots.
It is important to note that the Northern Lights usually peak and trough in an 11-year cycle. 2017 was considered the peak – the point at which the frequency of light displays is the highest. This will gradually decline until the next increase after 2025. This means that now is a fantastic time to see this majestic phenomenon.
What is the best time of the year to see the Northern Lights in Norway?
As mentioned, Norway is a prime location to see the amazing Northern Lights. Although the lights are visible throughout the year, they are not always visible to the human eye. During some months, they are only detectable by specialized radar equipment. If you are planning an Aurora adventure, you must understand the best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway:
Best months to see the Northern Lights in Norway
First, you must understand which months provide the best opportunity. Remember that there is an element of luck – even if you choose the right month, there is no guarantee that you will see the Aurora and nobody can predict them. Arming yourself with knowledge, however, can help. As a general rule, the months of September through to March are prime Northern Lights dates. Moreover, April to August is definitely no go’s – the sky is simply too light. The following provides additional info about specific months:
Definitely – November & December – For snow
November presents a change in weather and seasons within the Arctic. There is a stark contrast and this is when Norway usually experiences its first major snowfall. The landscape can become covered in a beautiful blanket of snow within days. Aside from snow, November and December also see shorter days, increased cloud cover, and thus more darkness.
The increased amount of darkness means that the Northern Lights are more visible during these months. The cloud cover can reduce visibility somewhat, but November and December are both two fantastic months to see the Aurora Borealis.
Definitely – September & October – warmer weather but still dark
If you do not wish to withstand the extreme Arctic weather, but still want to see the Northern Lights, September and October are great choices. September and October are considered autumn months in Norway. The weather is in balance – it is not as warm as the summer period, but it is more bearable than the harsh winter months. You will still have to wrap up, but the cold will not bite as much.
September and October still present plenty of nighttime hours. Furthermore, the lakes, rivers, and streams are usually still free of ice and flowing. This means that you can often see the stunning Northern Lights reflected within bodies of water – this is a photographer’s dream and a truly magical spectacle.
Definitely – January to March – Extreme cold and snow
January, February, and March present a challenge. On the one hand, they present the longest nights and the greatest amount of darkness. These months present near perfect conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. On the other hand, these awesome conditions come at a price – the harsh Arctic winter. January, in particular, presents an extreme cold and is not for the faint-hearted.
February and March see an increase in temperatures (although it is still extremely cold by most people’s standards!). In addition, you will experience a hearty covering of snow. Finally, as most of the snow has already fallen, the skies usually have less cloud cover. This means that the Northern Lights should be more visible.
Definitely Not – April to August
April through to August represents the Norwegian summer. This period is full of long days packed with daylight and sunshine. Due to this fact, the Northern Lights are generally not visible at all. That being said, these months still present some fantastic opportunities for sight-seeing and exploring Norway’s fiords. Consider trying your luck in the winter to see the Northern Lights, then returning in the summer months to see Norway in a different light.
Best time of day to see the Northern Lights in Norway
The most important rule to remember is that to see the Northern lights, the sky must be dark. Not partially dark just after sunset – fully dark. Even in months where the sun does not appear above the horizon in Norway, there are still periods of time that are darker.
The best time of day to see the Aurora Borealis is considered 21:00 – 01:00 am. It is possible to see the lights as early as 16:00, but the aforementioned time period is when the sky is darkest. You must prepare yourself for night-time journeys – don’t expect to see the Northern Lights in the middle of the day. If you book a tour, you may be awoken in the middle of the night with little notice if the operators deem that the conditions are right.
Tops tips for your Northern Lights adventure in Norway
Now that you understand the best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway, there are some other important things to consider. The following are some useful tips to help during your Scandinavian adventure. Whilst there is no guarantee that you will experience the Aurora, these tips will help improve your chances. They will also make your trip more enjoyable and comfortable:
Stay in the northern regions of the country
The Northern Lights have been sighted as far south as Scotland in the United Kingdom. This is a rarity, however. As a rule of thumb, the further north you travel, the greater your chances of seeing the Aurora.
Norway is an extremely long and narrow country. From top to bottom there is a distance of over 2500km. Many travelers make the mistake of searching for the Northern Lights in southern cities such as Bergen and Oslo. Whilst it is possible, it is not probable. Northern locations such as Tromso and Alta provide much better opportunities. It is possible to fly to Tromso from Oslo. There is also a range of tour operators who provide Northern Light expeditions in the northern regions of Norway.
Stay away from cities
Pure darkness is your ally when looking for the Northern Lights. This is why it is important to get out of the Norwegian cities. There are plenty of photos of the Aurora Borealis above cities, but this is a rarity. Stay away from the light pollution of the major cities and head out into the wilderness.
Give yourself sufficient time
Many travelers find themselves stuck for the time when hunting for the Northern Lights. They attempt to cram too much into too short a time. If you want to see the Northern Lights and do other excursions, ensure you have ample time! Remember that traveling to the northern parts of Norway can take hours. A simple one or two-day excursion may not suffice.
Ensure you have the correct clothing
Norway is prone to extreme colds. During the winter time, it is positively bitter. To ensure you have an enjoyable trip, you must wrap up! Consider wearing thermal leggings and top. Also, ensure you have a thick parka coat and suitable headgear. The Arctic winds and cold can be unforgiving – don’t travel under-dressed!
For the best photos, take a tripod
Long exposure shots provide the best end-results of Northern Lights photography. To take this type of shot without motion blur, you must take a tripod. Even if you take a compact or travel tripod. This will provide you with the stability you require. You may also read on this ultimate travel photography kit for that picture perfect moment.
To see the Northern Lights in the darkness of the Norwegian sky should be on everyone’s bucket list! This is one of those once in a lifetime experiences. It is hard to describe the sheer majesty and beauty of the Aurora light display – this is why you should travel to Norway and see the Northern Lights for yourself.