Bear in mind, that there is one big thing affecting your hope to see the Northern Lights in Norway, and it’s one that we can’t define in advance; the weather. On my trip to Lofoten, I was caught in a blizzard when I tried to see the Aurora Borealis (you know, the fancy name for the Northern Lights), and ended up seeing nothing at all (not even the road in front of me). I advise you to keep this in mind when planning your Northern Lights trip to Norway because no one can control the weather (and it can make or break your trip). Seeing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed, whether you are in Norway, Sweden or Finland (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Before you go, make sure to pack well, and dress even better. Seeing the Northern Lights is a waiting game, and you need to be prepared for hours of waiting if it comes to it.To take the packing list a step further, here is my guide to the best Scandinavian sweater for your trip (or just to get some extra ‘hygge’ in the winter).
First things first; the Aurora Borealis are there whether it’s light or dark. However, we cannot see them in daylight, so it is necessary to travel during the darker months in order to see them properly. Luckily, Norway has a lot of darker months, and so anytime from September to April will give you the chance to see the Northern Lights in Norway. In September, the sun sets at around 8pm in Tromsø and the Lofoten area.
Naturally, the darker, the better, so I would advise to narrow it down to October-March for some really good Northern Lights action. In late October, the sun sets in Tromsø as early as 4pm, which gives you a lot of time to catch a glimpse of the lights dancing across the sky. Come Daylight Saving (usually around the end of October), it sets an hour earlier. So even though you do have a chance to see the Northern lights in September and April, I would advise you to keep your travel window in the October-March period.
Planning to visit Norway but are unsure of where to start? Head this way for my 8-step guide to planning a trip to Norway!
As mentioned, the weather affects how easy it is to see the Northern Lights, and so, we need to consider it. Of course, you will have followed my packing list and have dressed incredibly warm for the cold, but you may still be miserable when the wind is howling and the snow is preventing you from seeing anything. In order to plan this like a pro, use the graphs from Yr (a Norwegian weather service), where they share the statistics for the last 12 months. Here is the overview for Tromsø, for example.
From the graph, we can see (or, I can translate), that the rainiest winter months in Tromsø in 2018 and 2019 were November, January, February and March. This leaves October and December as the drier months. Now, when I say “rainy”, I mean all kinds of things falling from the sky, as in Norway we often call it “nedbør” whether it’s snow or rain. And, since the average temperature in November was 3,5 degrees Celcius, we can be sure that it was raining a lot.
In January to March, the average temperature was below 0, so we can assume that it was mostly snowing. Still, we can say that October and December may be the best months to see the Northern Lights in Norway if you are thinking of a trip to Tromsø.
Now, let’s also check the Lofoten islands. This is also a very popular destination in Norway, especially in the winter. I personally visited for a week in March and took some incredible photos to prove it (check them all out here). In spite of the snowstorm that hit us one day, I say visiting Lofoten in March is fine (and we got an amazing display of the Northern Lights).
Now, Lofoten is a lot more “weather-y” than Tromsø, and so there is bound to be more rain or snow in the area. Find the graph here, and take note of the “Nedbør Totalt” column. This is the total amount of water (in liquid or snow form) falling from the sky that month. We quickly see that October, November and December had less than January, February and March. Still, if you notice the average temperature during these months, you’ll also see that before New Year’s, it would have been warm enough for it to rain (and not snow). Which we don’t want, because it is miserable.
So, January, February and March are also the best months to see the Northern Lights in Lofoten.
After I have answered the question above, I often get asked: “what else do we need to know about seeing the Northern Lights in Norway?”
Well, the first thing that is important to stress is that you are not guaranteed to see them. Ever. This is sad but true. However, if you travel far enough North (at least to Lofoten, I say), and ensure you have enough dark hours in the day when you are visiting, you greatly increase your chances of experiencing the Aurora Borealis in Norway.
Second, I also remind people that it is not possible to forecast the Aurora several weeks (or even days) in advance. The only forecast that can be trusted can show a few hours ahead (usually 3 or 4), so it is not possible to plan your trip around this (and don’t trust anyone who says you should). I use this forecast when I travel up north. It’s in Norwegian, but still has a nice map that shows you clearly where you can see the Northern Lights that evening. It is updated several times a day, and also includes a button called “Vis Skydekke” in the lower right corner. Here, you can turn the clouds on and off on the map, to give you an idea of where the clouds will be as well.
That’s the next thing I want to point out. Clouds. Regardless of whether you are far enough north, and the weather is on your side, you can’t see the Northern Lights through a bunch of clouds. So you really need a lot of factors to be alligned in order to see them.
Not that I am trying to discourage you, I am just trying to keep it realistic. Knowing how many things need to be in motion to see the Northern Lights also makes it so much more special when you do!