Visiting the Arctic Circle isn’t the most conventional way to celebrate your wedding anniversary, but it is definitely a memorable one! We spent an amazing week exploring Tromsø, in Northern Norway. Tromsø (pop. 72,000) is considered to be the northernmost city in the world and is located 350 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. We were there in the first week of March, which gave us plenty of snow as well as enough daylight hours to fully enjoy the city.
The main reason we travelled to Tromsø was to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), and to maximise our chances we chose a package offered by a company called Chasing Lights, which included night-time Aurora chases, daytime excursions and accommodation at Clarion Hotel The Edge. Chasing Lights was fantastic to deal with and we cannot speak highly enough of its service.
First up was a snowmobile safari. We were given thermal suits, boots, gloves and helmets and, after a safety briefing, we were off! Luckily it was a beautiful sunny, albeit cold day, and zipping across the snow between towering peaks gave us views that are hard to forget. We were very lucky to be the first group out after a fresh snowfall, so when we reached the turnaround point, a frozen lake, it was covered by a couple of feet of fresh, untouched powder. It didn’t take much encouragement from the guides before we were all racing around the lake and seeing just what our snowmobiles could do.
This first night was also the first of our four Northern Lights chases. For each trip, Chasing Lights provided thermal suits and boots and we were picked up from our hotel around 6pm, to return sometime between 1 to 4am, depending on how far we had to drive to find clear skies.
Chasing Lights also provides camera tripods for each camera, as often the Aurora is much more visible through a camera than the naked eye. Each night they also provided plenty of hot drinks and biscuits and set up camp somewhere for dinner. Dinner consisted of rehydrated tramping food but when you’ve been out in minus-12 degrees for five hours it is incredibly well received! All of the four guides we had were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and their passion for their job was evident. They were also skilled photographers and as well as assisting us with our own cameras, took plenty of photos of their own which they then shared with us via Dropbox a few days later.
On our first night we were lucky to have clear skies and didn’t need to drive far before we spotted the first signs of Aurora activity. Excitement levels amongst our group of 12 were high but our guide just laughed – this was only the beginning! Throughout the night our guide was in constant contact with the other guides who were out that night, with everyone going to slightly different locations to find the best skies. We eventually made camp on the shore of a fjord with just a few houses scattered around, and our guide quickly had a roaring campfire going.
It didn’t take long until we were treated to what even our guide described as one of the best and longest-lasting displays he had seen. Green bands of light floated and swept across the sky for hours, strong enough to be visible to the naked eye. Lying flat on my back on a rocky snow-covered beach looking up at these magical green lights dancing across the sky in front of millions of stars, with only a crackling fire to be heard, is something I will never forget. It was truly breathtaking.
We went out on three more chases and while the first night was by far the most spectacular show, we saw the Lights again on two of the three other trips. Each trip was different and while the weather was against us, with quite a bit of cloud and wind on the second and third trips, we still caught glimpses of the Lights.
On our last chase, despite brilliant clear skies, there was absolutely no Aurora activity. Even so, we spent a pleasant evening around the campfire on the shores of a fjord framed by two perfect peaks. We roasted marshmallows and watched the constellations move across the sky.
We were also lucky enough to experience the Aurora from Tromsø itself, from right outside our hotel. Despite having to contend with light pollution from the city we were still able to make out the swirling green lights with the naked eye and snap some great pictures, complete with the city’s famous Arctic Cathedral below.
On our last full day in Tromsø we went dogsledding. Arriving at the farm where the tours start from we were greeted by 105 dogs, ready and waiting to run. One person sat in front and the other stood behind the sled to steer, with each sled pulled by six dogs. Again, we were fortunate to have good weather and the experience of shooting through the snow, shouting to the dogs and spotting reindeer and moose, was great fun. Holding on tight was definitely necessary!
Our time in Tromsø was over all too quickly. We had an amazing time and would recommend this experience to everyone.
Have you ever seen the northern lights before? Tell us what it was like in the comments below.