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The best places to see the awe-inspiring Northern Lights in Norway

For many people, seeing the Polar Night illuminated by dancing colours is a long-held dream. In Norway, we are fortunate to have a whole region as home to nature’s most spectacular light show, the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights.

What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights has been recounted in Nordic myths and legends for centuries. But more scientifically today, we know that it is caused by solar storms that blast charged particles at incredible speed towards Earth. When these strike the Earth's magnetic field, some shoot through, and result in what we behold, here in the Northern Hemisphere, as the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights.

The Northern Lights attracts people to Norway from all corners of the globe

When the ballet of colour patterns in green, purple, blue and red finally shows up in the sky, both local residents and tourists from all over the world turn up in droves. All with the same aim of experiencing this unforgettable magic in the sky.

There’s a good reason many people choose Norway as their destination for experiencing the Aurora Borealis. In fact, Northern Norway is said to be the best destination for ‘aurora chasers’. The Northern Lights are visible along the coast of Northern Norway from the Lofoten Islands up towards Nordkapp. Here, they are part of everyday life for the local population, and there are good chances of catching the lights while visiting.

 
 

When is the Aurora Borealis visible?

The best chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis is in late autumn, winter and early spring. For the full effect, it’s best to avoid the full moon because all light affects the brightness of the colours in the sky. This is also why you should seek out locations away from town centres, with minimal artificial lighting. The aurora tends to shine brightest between 8 in the evening and 2 in the morning, but it may also be visible at other times.

It is worth bearing in mind that there is never any guarantee of the aurora showing up in the sky, but that only adds to its fascination. With natural forces in play, you may need to arm yourself with some patience. If you are planning a trip to Northern Norway to take in the Aurora Borealis, to be on the safe side, you should have a few days in hand. You might also like to download an ‘aurora alerts’ app on your phone  to receive hourly, daily and long-term forecasts for when you can see the phenomenon.

Our hotels in Northern Norway

Thon Hotels has hotels serving the entire Northern Norway region: Bodø, Lofoten, Narvik, Harstad, Andenes, Tromsø, Kautokeino, Alta, Hammerfest, Kirkenes and Svalbard. All of these destinations are ideal for an immersive Arctic experience.

They offer all kinds of group activities and organised tours guided by aurora experts. Your quest for the legendary lights might be undertaken by dog sled, boat, bus, snowmobile or on foot in the mountains. With a bit of luck, you might even be able to admire them from the comfort of your hotel room!

Below, we provide more information about our hotels where you can see the Aurora Borealis dancing in the sky. You can also read all about the attractions and activities each destination has to offer. Where do you want to see the Northern Lights?

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  • Bodø

Bodø

Bodø is situated on a peninsula, in the middle of Nordland county’s coastline. Here, the Northern Lights show up in all their splendour from September to April.

In Bodø, Thon Hotels has a hotel named after the aurora – Thon Hotel Nordlys. Nordlys is the Norwegian name for the Northern Lights. The hotel is close to the marina and the pier in Bodø. This location gives you a fine sea view, and you may be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from the comfort of your hotel room. In this hotel, the guest rooms are decorated with beautiful pictures of the Northern Lights. This means that, if the famed lights fail to show, you will at least have the consolation of a naturalistic version on your hotel room walls!

For full immersion in the Aurora Borealis experience, many of our guests like to take Northern Lights tours starting just outside the town centre. One of these tours is a 4-hour quest by boat to seek out the lights. From the boat, you can gaze at the night sky and the beautiful dancing Northern Lights, without any interference from the town lights. Learn more about the tour here.

Apart from the beautiful aurora, you have another spectacular light show to behold in the sunsets that occur during the Polar Night of Northern Norway. Away from the mountains that block out the light, all winter, you can catch a glimpse of the sun below the horizon. The sunset palette ranges from dark blue to deep pink to create an exceptional sight that most sky gazers are keen to catch on camera.

 

Photo: Gøran Kristiansen / Visitbodo.no

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  • Lofoten

Lofoten Islands

Located beneath the Auroral Oval, the area with the highest probability of seeing the Northern Lights, the Lofoten Islands are a great setting for spectacular aurora events. Svolvær, in the Lofoten Islands, is home to our award-winning hotel, Thon Hotel Lofoten. With every passing winter, this hotel has seen an increase in aurora tourists from many countries, including Germany, Japan, China, Switzerland, Italy, France and Australia.

In the Lofoten Islands, you can see the Northern Lights from the beginning of September until mid-April. The Lights are not visible here every day, either due to reduced solar activity or low cloud cover. While the Lofoten Islands get a lot of wind and weather, their many mountains help to break up the cloud cover.  This process results in holes in the clouds that let in the Northern Lights, even when the Islands are overcast.

If the Lights are in the sky, you’ll be able to watch them from the hotel, or from Svolvær town centre. However, the best view is still away from the town lights. At times, the mountains create a dramatic frame for the aurora, and at other times they may block them from view. A drive out to the outermost northwestern islands, at Hov on Gimsøya or to Laukvika, offers a view of the Northern Lights without any light pollution or mountains to spoil your view. Both locations are a 40-minute drive from Thon Hotel Lofoten.

For organised aurora adventures, you might like to join a guided tour with a photographer, behold the Lights on horseback, or go on an exclusive Northern Lights quest led by experienced aurora chaser Odd-Petter Tanke Jensen.

 

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  • Narvik

Narvik

Narvik is known for its urban development and the scenic landscapes surrounding the town. Thrill to the mountain peaks towering at 1900 metres, as a dramatic contrast to the calm waters of the Norwegian Sea inlet of Narvik Fjord/Ofotfjorden. The city is a great base for experiencing the spectacular Northern Lights in an urban setting.

In Narvik, you can stay at Thon Hotel Narvik, which is the nearest neighbour to the mountain, Narvikfjellet. The hotel has a partnership with Narvikfjellet Ski Resort, which organises Northern Lights viewing tours. The ‘Lights at the Lodge’ tour is offered from 21 December to 31 March. This is a great way to experience the spectacular light phenomenon from the top of Narvikfjellet.

To get to the top of the mountain, you take the resort’s modern new gondola. This transports you 656 metres above sea level – a thrilling experience in itself. After only a four-minute ride, you arrive at the top of the mountain, where you will be met by a guide who will take you to the day’s best aurora-gazing spot. Soak up the quiet, and enjoy the view of the mountain peaks, deep fjords and lively town below. Book your tickets for the Northern Lights experience on Narvikfjellet here.

 
 
 

Photo: Michael Ulriksen

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  • Harstad

Harstad

Harstad has excellent conditions for experiencing the Northern Lights, whether you stop at one of the town’s many viewpoints, or are lucky enough to see them dancing outside your hotel window at Thon Hotel Harstad.

Thon Hotel Harstad, in association with Aktiv Events, offers larger-scale group tours for unforgettable aurora experiences. Activities include a photo safari taking in the impressive mountains, fjords and rivers of Hinnøya, the largest island off mainland Norway. This gives you a spot of practice in how best to capture the magical lights on camera. You can also visit the organisers’ aurora camp on Aunfjellet, a mountain used to stage great aurora viewings.

Aunfjellet is a 15-minute drive from Harstad, and is ideal for anyone wishing to explore the Northern Lights solo. The mountain has a small peak called Keipen, which is a popular walking destination for all ages and abilities in both summer and winter. The best starting point for the walk up to Keipen is at the large car park on Aunfjellet. The walk to the peak is relatively easy, and is rewarded by a stunning view at the top. In the winter, there will usually be tracks to follow in the snow because Keipen attracts visitors all year round.

 

Photo: Stian Klo

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  • Andenes

Andenes

Located at the northern tip of the island of Andøya, Andenes is the largest village in Nordland county. Here, the celestial lights flutter in the darkness from September right up until April.

In Andenes, you’ll find Thon Hotel Andrikken. All the rooms at this hotel have been fully refurbished, and feature stunning aurora images by a local Andøya photographer. Just outside the Hotel's doors, our guests can experience some of the finest scenic attractions in Norway.

The Andenes lighthouse is within walking distance of the hotel. This spot is dark enough for taking great pictures of the Northern Lights, while the lighthouse and sea are evocative subjects to include in your shots of the colourful show.

With a short drive, you’ll be able to take in three great vantage points for the Northern Lights. Just 5 minutes behind the wheel from the hotel, and you’ll be at the top of Ravnan mountain. From here, you have a great view of the Northern Lights, away from the town lights, and can enjoy a fine view of the village of Bleik.

You can also drive to the viewpoint between Andenes and Bleik, which is also only 5 minutes drive from the hotel. This is a great spot for your best shots of the sea and mountain surrounded by the aurora.

The beach at Bleik is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Here the Northern Lights are reflected in the water lapping the shore – a magical sight to capture on camera.

The island of Andøya is also the location of Northern Europe’s only aurora research station: Andøya Space Center. A visit to the Space Center is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about aurora science. Plus, you can buy a special aurora soap, locally produced at Dverberg, as a souvenir or holiday gift!

 

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  • Tromsø

Tromsø

At the centre of the Aurora Oval, Tromsø is the area with the biggest chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Here, nature’s own firework display can be watched from September to April. In Tromsø, we have two hotels right in the town centre: Thon Hotel Polar and Thon Hotel Tromsø.

With a wide choice of Northern Lights excursions in Tromsø, you are sure to find one to suit you. Through Visit Tromsø you have two options: the aurora quest (nordlysjakt) or aurora adventure (nordlysopplevelser).

On an aurora quest, you will be led by an experienced and knowledgeable guide to track down an aurora sighting by car, coach, minibus or boat. The aurora adventure will add scenic thrills to your Arctic visit. At visittromso.no, you will find a list of winter activities. Here you can filter through to find the perfect experience for you.

For a panoramic view of Tromsø, you won’t want to miss a cable-car trip to the mountain ledge Storsteinen. Here, at 421 metres above sea level, you’ll be ideally placed to see the Northern Lights in winter. At the top, you can also dine out on local produce in the Fjellstua restaurant, or sample the snacks from a café menu.

 

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  • Alta

Alta

Alta is known as “the City of the Northern Lights”, and for good reason. The town had a historic significance for early aurora science, and above all, the conditions here are ideal for experiencing the Northern Lights from the town. Thon Hotel Alta in Alta is the perfect base for exploring the town, the Northern Lights and the Arctic wilds.

For fact-finders and enthusiasts, the Northern Lights Cathedral is located close to Thon Hotel Alta. The Cathedral basement has a stunning interactive visitor centre devoted to information about the Aurora Borealis. Here you can learn more about scientist and Northern Lights investigator, Kristian Birkeland, and discover facts and myths about the phenomenon.

After dark, there are various organised tours in Alta to see the Northern Lights. One of the tour operators is Glød, who have more than a decade as aurora chasers. If the weather seems not too promising for a sighting, they draw on all their knowledge and take off to where the Northern Lights are most likely to be visible. That said, there is never an absolute guarantee of seeing the Northern Lights!

A good viewpoint for the Northern Lights is Komsatoppen, which is ideal for those who do not necessarily want to go on an organised trip. From the hotel, you can walk up to Komsatoppen in 45 minutes and enjoy a wonderful view of the town and the Northern Lights.

 

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  • Kautokeino

Kautokeino

Travel to Kautokeino, the land of the Sámi, and experience the Northern Lights in Wintertime. Kautokeino has a dry winter climate with many days of clear weather, which adds to the chances of seeing the beautiful lights dancing in the sky.

Thon Hotel Kautokeino has put together several package tours to provide memorable aurora moments for the guests.

One of the package deals is an aurora quest by reindeer and sled, snowscooter or ATV. It all depends on the conditions. In late autumn, there’s no knowing if the ground will be snow-clad or dry. The local Sámi adage "jahki ii leat jagi viellja" (one year is not the next year’s brother) is only too true, in the sense that the weather last year is no prediction of this year’s weather.

Under clear skies, you may well experience a spectacular light show in a palette of light green through pink, violet and white in a myriad of forms. The aurora quest will take you wherever the guide thinks is the best chance of experiencing this amazing phenomenon. En route, the party will be served snacks and hot beverages.  

 

Photo: Terje Rakke/Nordic Life - Visitnorway.com

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  • Hammerfest

Hammerfest

Surrounded by an untamed coastal landscape, sandy beaches and majestic mountains, Hammerfest is a wonderful destination for experiencing the Northern Lights. Enjoy a stay at Thon Hotel Hammerfest, located in the heart of town, with a view of the harbour.

In Hammerfest, you can experience the Northern Lights in the centre of town, but the aurora is brightest away from the town lights.

For the best views of Hammerfest itself, take Sikksakkveien up to Salen viewpoint, just 10 minutes up the road from the town centre. On reaching the top, you’ll have an outstanding vista of the town, the waters of Sørøysundet, the islands Håja and Hjelmen, all the way across to the island of Sørøya. Don't forget to bring your camera on the trip, so you can get shots of the amazing sights here.

 

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  • Kirkenes

Kirkenes

Due to the town's cold and dry winter climate, Kirkenes is one of the best places in Norway to experience the Northern Lights. Thon Hotel Kirkenes, in association with its local partners, offers a wide range of activities for experiencing the Northern lights.

To behold the aurora in Kirkenes, you can go on a husky tour, transported by the dogs to the top of the mountain. Another action-packed aurora adventure is to chase the Northern Lights by snowscooter. If you prefer to stay out of the cold, try the heated comfort of an Aurora Express coach trip. The company operates services to locations with the biggest chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

At Thon Hotel Kirkenes, the spectacle can be seen from all Superior-category rooms. If you dine in the restaurant, you can experience the Northern Lights dancing outside the large windows. You may also wish to sign up for the hotel’s aurora alerts! Add your name to the list, and the night porter will give you a call to notify you of any imminent aurora.

 

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  • Svalbard

Svalbard

Did you know that Svalbard is one of the few places in the world where you can see the Northern Lights during the day? From as early as October, it is dark enough in the evenings to see the Northern Lights, and from then on, it only gets darker, as the Polar Night descends on the island.

The Polar Night lasts from mid-November to the end of January. During this period, the Northern Lights dominate the sky, both night and day. In the same period, a calm descends on the main settlement, Longyearbyen. Instead of their many outdoor activities, the locals focus on indoor recreation. You can look forward to great food and drink, as well as a wide range of events and cultural offerings. All of this is designed to make the dark season an extra-cosy time for visiting Longyearbyen.

Thon Hotels partners with Basecamp Spitsbergen on Svalbard to host 5 eco-sites at Spitsbergen. Basecamp Explorer Spitsbergen is just one of them. The hotel offers packages and tours to provide guests with the best possible experience and chance of seeing the Northern Lights. With just 16 rooms with trapper-style decor, as a guest you’ll be on first-name terms with the hosts manning the font desk, and your local tour guide.