The Northern Lights dance above a mountain in Tromso, Norway
Photo by Mark Robinson  –  Link

Tromsø

Norway

If you've got your heart set on seeing the Northern Lights, get yourself to the city of Tromsø in northern Norway, which is known as the gateway to the Arctic Circle. Here, sightings of the Aurora Borealis are commonplace during the winter time, and plentiful museums and sites will keep you busy during the day.

One of the top things to see here is the triangular Arctic Cathedral (aka Tromsøysund Church), which was built in 1965 on the island of Tromsdalen, just across the bridge from the city centre. With its distinctive shape and sublime acoustics, the Arctic Cathedral is one of the top attractions in Tromso and the perfect example of sleek, modern Norwegian design. Visit the Arctic Cathedral website for a schedule of upcoming concerts (we recommend trying out a midnight concert!)

If you want to learn about the history of the region, including the strong culture of seal hunting and expeditions, take a trip to the Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) right near Bruvegen bridge. It's located in an eye-catching red building on the quayside that used to be home to the Customs House.

Northern Lights

With its prime location between mountain peaks and fjords in the middle of the aurora oval, Tromsø has one of the highest possibilities of witnessing the Northern Lights in the world.

Sometimes, though, light pollution in central Tromsø can affect the visibility of the Northern Lights. To avoid disappointment, you should book a trip to one of the quieter surrounding towns like Lyngen or Sommarøy, which is also a popular destination for whale-watching.

Summer in Tromsø

The Northern Lights disappear in the summertime as night gives way to 24-hour sunshine. The Midnight Sun lasts for about two months, from mid-May to mid-July. During the summer, it's not uncommon for locals to go on fishing trips and kayaking expeditions in the middle of the night, under the golden Midnight Sun.

Summer in Tromsø is also the time when cultural activities take hold of the city. In June, thousands of runners gather in Tromso for the Midnight Sun Marathon. Unlike the majority of marathons that happen in normal daylight hours, this one begins at 8:30pm, with supporters cheering and celebrating until the wee hours of the night.

And in July, Bukta Open Air Festival draws all the coolest new bands to the beaches in Tromso. You should note, however, that if you want to go on a sunny beach holiday, Tromsø is not that. Despite the sun, you can still expect chilly temperatures throughout most of the summer.

Getting to Tromsø

The international Tromsø Airport Langnes is just a ten-minute drive from the city centre, or you can travel to Tromsø by bus from Stockholm, Narvik, and several towns in Finland.

Note that Tromsø is way up north in Norway and not within easy driving reach of southern cities like Bergen and Oslo (it's 22 hours from Oslo), so it wouldn't make sense to try to fit these all into a short road trip.