Northern light view over the ocean
©Vegard Stien

When and where it is best to see the Northern Lights

The best place to see the Northern Lights is in the Tromsø region, and the best time is between late August and mid-April. Tours are normally bookable from early September. A backdrop of darkness is needed to be able to see the Northern Lights, just as with fireworks and lightning. As long as there is sufficient darkness some time during the hours 18:00 to around 02:00, you have a chance to see the aurora.

Visit Tromsø during autumn and winter for your Northern Lights experience. There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights. However, with good planning and familiarising yourself with factors that help determine when and where the Northern Lights will be dancing in the sky, there is a high chance that your hunt for the Northern Lights will be successful. Seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) often requires patience. No matter when and where you embark on your dream trip, it’s important to allow plenty of time. The more days you have available, the greater the chance that both the solar activity and the weather will cooperate. While you wait for the evening and the Northern Lights, take the opportunity to explore the area you are in. It’s guaranteed to be an exciting and different place, often north of the Arctic Circle. No matter which northern areas you visit, you will be richly rewarded for both your desire to explore and your patience.

Head for the Northern Lights Oval

If you are looking for places where the Northern Lights often appear, head for the Northern Lights Oval – the ring that circles the Magnetic North Pole.
The solar particles are deflected towards the magnetic North Pole and South Pole, creating two ovals around the Earth's geomagnetic poles. In the areas covered by these ovals, you can virtually always see the two auroras – the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights.

The oval in the Northern Hemisphere, the Northern Lights Oval, is centred at around 65°N with a width of around 10 degrees. Tromsø is located at 69°N, which means we are in the center of the oval with chances of seeing the northern lights even when the northern lights activity is low. The oval expands when Northern Lights activity is at its strongest. The Northern Lights Oval extends through Northern Norway, the northern parts of Sweden and Finland, through Siberia, Alaska and northern Canada and then on to southern Greenland and Iceland. Your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights is in this area.
However, many of these areas are sparsely populated or uninhabited and are virtually inaccessible to most people.

During periods of high solar activity, the Northern Lights Oval expands and the Northern Lights are visible in central and southern parts of Scandinavia and in western Canada and the northern Midwest. This happens roughly twice a month. When there are severe solar flares, the Northern Lights can also be seen over central and southern Europe, as well as in some parts of USA. This may happen once a year so the majority of people who live in these areas have never seen Northern Lights.

The Southern Lights (aurora australis) is the identical opposite of the Northern Lights and can be seen in an equivalent zone in the Southern Hemisphere. However, we are talking here about extremely inaccessible areas in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Occasionally, however, the Southern Lights may be seen in New Zealand and Tasmania.