Europe Travel

The Dramatic Northern Lights of Norway

After our incredible fortune in Sweden, Courtny and I caught a train into Western Norway. We planned a road trip up to the arctic town of Tromsø, followed by a cruise along the coast to the Lofoten Islands. There was still a good chance of seeing the northern lights, though there is typically more cloud coverage along the Norwegian coast than in Abisko National Park. But the beauty of that region is not limited to the aurora; in fact, the northern lights are just a bonus. Everywhere you look, you see a flawless combination of mountains, water, and bridges. Few places on earth can compare to Western Norway when it comes to sheer beauty.

View over Tromsø from the top of the cable car.

After driving through a number of snow squalls on the four-hour journey to Tromsø, we loaded our rental car onto the ship and checked into the room. We worried that the following day would be too stormy to see much of the scenery. Courtny and I could not have been more wrong.

The view from the Hurtigruten Finnmarken along our journey.

​We awoke to a stunningly clear, crisp day. On the deck of the boat, the fresh, chilled air woke us up with a harsh bite. Norway is beautiful in the winter, but no one will ever accuse it of being warm. As we cruised along the coast and past the fjords, the otherworldly nature of what we were witnessing helped us forget about the cold. We spent hours admiring the views, only taking the occasional break to relieve the numbness in our cheeks.

Nearly to our dramatic destination: the Lofoten Islands

As we approached the Lofoten Islands, the sun began its quick descent into the evening sky. The cruise pulled into its port; we hopped in the car and began the drive to the tiny fishing town of Reine. Much of the drive was during blue hour on an unusually clear night for the area. I felt like I could see for miles; my gaze piercing right through the crisp, clean air.

Blue hour on the drive to Reine.

With about 30 minutes in the drive, we noticed a few faint aurora ribbons forming above the mountains. By the time we arrived in Reine, the northern lights were out in force, waving above us. Reine already has some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. When you add in the northern lights, it’s an embarrassment of riches for any photographer.

What an entrance!

We stared in awe at the towering structures around us. Just minutes before, the only visible sections of these mountains were the bases. The peaks had disappeared into the darkness of night. That all changed under the blanket of a bright green northern lights show. Now we could clearly see not only the tops of the mountains, but also just how awesome, how dramatic, this Norwegian fishing town was.

When the auroras finally left us for the night, we realized how exhausted we were. We walked to what would be our home for the next two nights; a cozy cabin right on the water, complete with a full kitchen, queen bed, shower, and stop-in-your-tracks views of the surrounding mountains. We turned in for the night, already excited to explore the islands in the light of day when we awoke.

Panorama of the tiny fishing village of Reine.
It doesn’t get any more dramatic than this!

Neither of us remembers even getting to the bed, but we woke up feeling refreshed after getting eight hours of sleep for the first time on the trip. We jumped in our car and began a full day of driving, photographing, and completing our Frozen-themed vacation video. Don’t worry; that video is embedded at the end of this post. In the majesty of daylight, you would be hard-pressed to find somewhere as beautiful as the Lofoten Islands. We had seen some amazing landscapes on the ship, but nothing quite as incredible as this. Between the wild coastline with its violent waves, the skyscraping peaks, and the soft light of the overcast sky, our road trip was simply breathtaking.

Courtny on the rocks by the wild coastline.

The sun went down that evening around 5:30. It was our final night in the Arctic Circle, so we decided to hunt the northern lights one last time, even though the forecast looked less than promising. We filled up on some mouthwatering arctic cod, plus a berry-and-apple-based dessert—it’s healthy if it’s fruit—then went back to our room to bundle up one last time. We slid on our balaclavas, buttoned up our snow pants, and stepped outside.

Our hunt for the aurora began exactly how we expected it would; the atmosphere was simply too overcast to see much of the night sky. Occasionally, some of the thicker clouds would disperse, and we would catch a glimpse of the northern lights through the thinner, wispier clouds. After about 90 minutes of this, our tour guide, Joanna, saw clear skies and a strong ribbon forming in the distance. We hopped in the van and drove toward the light. When we got out, the ribbon was even stronger, now glowing a bright green.

We weren’t getting the best auroras to start, but they still made for a beautiful shot.

We set up our cameras and waited to see if we would get one final show. And boy, did we. I was adjusting my tripod when, without warning, the snow beneath me lit up a bright green. I whipped my head up toward the sky and saw the northern lights taking over. Never in my life have I stared in such bewilderment at nature. How could something this incredible exist? The lights danced above us – rhythmic, yet unpredictable.

A lot of patience, framing, and cooperative auroras went into this shot.

The experience of seeing an aurora show in full force is hard to describe. The best way for me to put it into words is this: you’ll feel like a small child. There were four of us watching the northern lights from the same spot that night, and all of us were literally cheering and yelling at the sky. I was taken back to my childhood, when my sister and I would lay outside for hours and stare at the stars above us. I remembered looking through my telescope toward the moon, astonished at how small I felt. And, now, after 15 years, the Norwegian night sky had given me that same sense of scale once again.

Most amazing night of our trip!
It just felt right to do this lip sync…

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