Home Destination Guides What is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway? (2020 UPDATE!)

What is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway? (2020 UPDATE!)

by Lisa Stentvedt
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I may have mentioned before that I get a lot of questions via email and DM’s from people travelling to Norway. I absolutely love it, and it’s one of the reasons I created my Norway Facebook group (so that I can answer people’s questions quicker and more easily). Now that winter is coming, there is one question that has really stood out; namely what is the best time to see the Northern lights in Norway. This is such a great question and one that I know most people who are planning a winter trip to Norway would love to get an answer to! There’s definitely been a spike in searches for “Northern lights Norway” on this blog. So, I’ll try to answer it below!

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).

Side note: this guide covers the best time to visit Norway for the Northern Lights. However, you could consider it a guide to the best time to see Northern Lights in general, as I believe the advise (timing-wise) would be similar for all countries where the Northern Lights can be seen (such as Finland or Sweden).

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. Read and bookmark my packing list for winter in Norway before you go to ensure you have everything you need!

To take the packing list a step further, here is my guide to the best Scandinavian and Norwegian sweaters for your trip (or just to get some extra ‘hygge’ in the winter).

the best time to see the northern lights in norway, gopro northern lights
I was lucky enough to get this show on my last trip up north!

The Best Time to see the Northern Lights in Norway

So, what is the best month to see Northern Lights (in Norway)? 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!

Now, let’s get more detailed!

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.

Read next: the best time to go to Norway (my complete guide)

northern lights norway
Can you believe I shot this Northern Lights Norway shot with my GoPro? Read the how-to guide here!

Further tips for seeing the Northern Lights in Norway

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!

Frequently Asked Questions about seeing the Aurora Borealis in Norway

What is the best time to see Northern Lights in Norway?

In case you scrolled down to the FAQ instead of reading the guide, let me sum it up for you: the best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway is October-March. Then it depends on your destination. I recommend January-March for the Lofoten islands, but November-December for Tromsø.

What would you tell someone who has never seen the Northern Lights before?

First of all; it’s the most incredible experience and I hope you get to see them in Norway! Second, you’ll be surprised to hear that sometimes they are there, but you can’t see them. That’s where having a camera comes in, and you’ll find that on some evenings, your camera can capture the Aurora Borealis, but your eyes can’t see them. I recommend this (affordable) camera.

Do you need fancy camera gear to take photos of the Northern Lights?

NO! As mentioned above, I recommend the Canon EOS M3, a hybrid camera that I use.

BUT, I was also super excited to see that my GoPro (which I don’t consider fancy at all) also captured AMAZING photos of the Northern Lights (the photo at the top of this article, for example). I used this GoPro and even wrote a guide on how to take photos of the Northern Lights using only a GoPro (including the exact settings, to make it super easy for you).

Should we join a Northern Lights tour?

I always say that this isn’t necessary, because you can find some great spots to see the Northern Lights on your own, simply by reading blogs and asking locals you meet. However, by joining a tour you get the knowledge and qualifications of a guide, so if you are unsure (and feel safer in a group), this can be a great way to do it. Especially if it’s your first time seeing the Northern Lights. I’ll link to some of my recommended Northern Lights tours in Norway below!

How far south can you see the Northern Lights in Norway?

As mentioned above, I always recommend you travel as far north as you can. However, I have experienced the Northern Lights by the fjords! This has only happened 3 times as I can remember, so that’s 3 times in 15 years or so. To answer the question, when the Northern Lights are strong you can see them quite far south, but it is very rare. This post is all about increasing your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Norway (through finding the best time to go and knowing what to look for), so I wouldn’t recommend hoping to see them in Bergen, for example.

What is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Norway?

Anywhere north of the Arctic Circle! Of course, certain areas are better than others, because tourism has made the Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights more accessible. Tromsø is a popular destination/hub for anyone wanting to head out to see the Northern Lights in Norway, whilst I had great luck seeing them in Lofoten.

What are some great Northern Lights Norway tours?

I have recommended a few below!

Where in Lofoten did you see the Northern Lights?

Several places! We got very lucky in Hamnøy (all though the street lights made me wish we had driven away from civilisation).

Northern Lights Tours in Norway I recommend

As mentioned in the FAQ, for your first time in Northern Norway, it could be an idea to join a Northern Lights tour, especially if you are unsure of all the logistics that go into it. By joining a tour, you get the expertise of someone who can find the best spots, know how to read the (short) forecast, and who can help you with your camera settings. Below are some recommended Northern Lights tours in Lofoten, Tromsø and other locations, depending on where you travel.

There you have my two cents on what the best time to see the Northern Lights in Norway is. Of course, there is no exact science to it, but hopefully, this guide will make it a little easier for you to plan your trip. Of course, if you are visiting Norway anytime soon, I recommend you read my Norway Travel Guide before you get to planning (and join my Facebook group).

Some further resources to help you along the way:

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