Scandinavia 2018

In November 2018, we had a trip to Tromsø in arctic Norway to see the northern lights. Before and after Tromsø, we stayed a few days each in Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark. The tour bus took us all the way to Finland and we walked across the frozen river to Sweden while we waited for the northern lights. So, technically we visited four countries :)

We put together a travel guide for those who want to see the northern lights or just visit Norway or Denmark. Please take a look.

Photos

Click on the thumbnails below to see the pictures. Or, if you only want to see the photos and videos, go to Smugmug for our photos and photos shot by the guides, and Kuula for 360° photos.

Our Saviors Church, Copenhagen

Northern Lights

We stayed in Tromsø and joined the "Big Bus Chase" tour by Chasing Lights every night. We think we made a best decision choosing this company (see details below). We went 5 nights. Two nights we saw the norther lights clearly (each time for 5 to 20 minutes) and other nights faint or nothing. It was not as bright and active as we had hoped but it was still an exciting experience.

Northern lights Northern lights Chasing Lights big bus Big bus and the bridge to Sweden Finland Photography fun

The tour guides are well versed in photography as well as in the knowledge of northern lights. They shot great pictures of us and sent them to us by the next morning.

Chasing Lights tour On a frozen lake Northern lights! Northern lights, camp fire, and the tour bus Bridge to Sweden over the frozen river Northern lights!

Tromsø, Norway

Tromsø is a major city (population 76,000) in the Arctic Norway. For its latitude (69°N), it is relatively warm due to Gulf Stream. The temperature was around 0°C when we were there.

Tromsø viewed from the top of the Storsteinen hill Tromsø Arctic Cathedral Tromsø Arctic Cathedral Tromsø Library Tromsø in snow

Oslo, Norway

Oslo is a mid-sized city with well-designed infrastructure (public transit), beautiful waterfront, and very friendly people. It is such a pleasant city to visit.

Oslo City Hall Oslo Opera House Oslo City Hall Oslo City Hall Oslo Opera House Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo 'The Angry Boy' - Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo

Copenhagen, Denmark

The city halls and opera houses of both Oslo and Copenhagen were spectacular. There was nobody at the Little Mermaid and it was a great subject for night photography. We also visited the Carlsberg brewery.

Copenhagen City Hall Copenhagen City Hall The Little Mermaid The Little Mermaid The Little Mermaid Copenhagen Opera House Copenhagen Opera Hous Carlsberg brewery tour - 16970 bottles displayed Frederik's Church (The Marble Church), Copenhagen Change of guards - didn't know they would go through the shopping mall ;)

Travel Guide

Northern Light tour

If you purely focus on seeing the northern lights, you can go to Alaska (Fairbanks), Canada (Yellowknife), or Sweden (Abisko) where the sky is most often clear. But the winter night can be extremeley cold (-20°C/-4°F) and we hear there is not much to see in the city/village.

Norway and Iceland are relatively warm (-0°C) thanks to the warm current from Gulf of Mexico but the downside is the weather is very unstable. We chose Tromsø, Norway because there are tour companies that would take you out of the city to wherever the sky is clear. The city also has several points of interest.

We joined the "Northern Lights Big Bus Chase 7-Night Aurora Pass" tour by Chasing Lights (2500 NOK ~$300). Based on our experience and from what I heard from people who joined other companies' tours, we think we made the right decision to maximize our chance to see the northern lights.

  • They monitor the weather in the region and drive us up to 3 hours inland across the border into Finland seeking clear sky.
  • Two guides on the bus are extremely helpful. They would tell us all about the northern lights and astronomy and help us with the night photography. They would send us the trip summary (see below) with 100 to 200 photos by next morning.
  • They hardly give up until we see the northern lights. They keep watching the sky and, if they saw activities, they would stop the bus even after 1 AM on our way home.
  • The big bus was equipped with a toilet, which was important considering we were away from the city for up to 9 hours. It also had the 220-volt power outlet for many seats. The on-board Wi-Fi was available almost throughout the journey, impressively, but doesn't have enough bandwidth for video streaming.

Things to bring

Basically, you will be on a bus for a long time to go to a cold, dark place, possibly doing night photography. Here are a few things that may be useful.

  • Tripod - Essential for taking the northern light photos. Even a small one like Gorillapod would do.
  • Extra batteries or charger for your camera and phone - Batteries go down quickly in cold weather.
  • Headlamp - You can use the flash on the phone, but the one with the red LED and head band is most useful for night photography.
  • Handwarmers - You tend to take gloves off when taking photos, so handwarmers are a great help!
  • Glowsticks - Carrying a glowstick will help your family or friends find you easily on the field. (40+ people from the bus all look the same in darkness.)
  • Reflective tape - The guides told me they'd attach reflective tape on their tripods, etc. so they wouldn't leave them behind. When you are leaving the site, you sweep your flashlight and the gear will shine back at you.
  • Entertainment - We watched downloaded Youtube videos and ripped old DVDs on our iPad.

Norway/Denmark Resources

Apps

Google Maps has the feature of downloading the map in advance for offline use. However, an app called Maps.me worked better in many situations. It also showed me the location while you are flying back.

TripIt is the website and app we both use heavily. You just need to forward the confirmation email from airlines, hotels, rental car companies, etc. and TripIt compiles the trip itinerary that you can share among specified family members or colleagues.

Google Travel Guide

Videos

Videos by travel agencies:

Videos by vloggers:

Appendix

Trip Summaries from Chasing Lights

After the trip every night, Chasing Lights would email each participant the summary of the trip by next morning. The email would include the links to the photo download (100 to 200 photos) and the route on Google Maps. Here are messages from those emails (format changed):


November 21, 2018 - Day #1
Good morning!
We hope you enjoyed a good nights' sleep after our chase last night.
We had a wonderful evening leaving Tromsø and the rain behind and drove to the other side of the Lyngen Alps where our sky cleared up all of a sudden. We made our first stop at Skibotn where the sky conditions were near perfect and had a great view over the Lyngen Alps. While we waited for Lady Aurora to show herself we enjoyed took some pictures with the landscape, moon and our shadows.
After a while we decided to move to another spot to change the scenery and get away from the wind. Still there was no Northern Lights so we enjoyed our hot chocolate and the warmth of the bonfire while learning about the stars in the night sky and the animals of the region. Finally at 11pm the green lady showed up to the party! We saw her bright and clear with our naked eye and quickly we took some pictures. Once she faded a bit we moved back to Skibotn to have a different angle and we saw a little bit more of her beauty before she decided to fade completely.
Hermann and I have edited all the pictures and uploaded them to Dropbox. You can access the pictures via the following link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m8yiaroy4gom9cy/AACwgFKgcklJWGLyO0XsenIYa?dl=0.
For those who are map geeks like myself, we have recreated our Route on Google Maps so that you can see exactly where we went last night.
Once again we would like to thank you for joining the tour. We had a great time getting to know you and showing you the beauty of Arctic Norway and the Northern Lights herself. Please feel free to reply to this email if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement.
Warmest regards, Mick, Hermann, Pawel & the team at Chasing Lights


November 22, 2018 - Day #2
Good morning!
I'm sure you are all catching up on some well deserved rest after yesterday's challenging chase. We had to drive a long way to find the best conditions, sadly even though we had really clear skies most of the night, the Lady Aurora kept very shy.
We took quite a few pictures last night and would like to share them with all of you. You can find them in the DropBox link below. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/oe5tacngy52xdga/AACpyCuPyiZziSaeWGuXe0IKa?dl=0
Yesterday we drove South-East from Tromsø planning on driving far into Finland because the weather forecast told us we would find the best conditions there. While we were driving we could already spot some gaps in the clouds and stars around but there was no activity so we kept on driving until we came closer to our "promised clear sky land". We made our first stop in the beautifully frozen tundra of Finland near the unpronounceable area called Iittovuoppio. Clouds were changing fast and while we kept our eye out for any Northern Light activity we kept warm with some Hot Chocolate and entertained by Hermann's vast knowledge of our night sky! After a while we received information from our colleagues that the skies behind us closer to the border were improving and even a little better than what we were experiencing. So without any delay we jumped back on the bus and drove closer towards the border again. When we made another stop in Oikovuoppio where we indeed had a lot better conditions, we walked on the lake there and enjoyed a nice campfire. It seemed like the guest of honour was not showing up yesterday and we decided to start on our drive back. But while we were driving we kept a vigilant eye on the sky and had to make an emergency stop because she did decide to make an appearance! We were able to capture just a few pictures before she went away again. Driving back we kept a close eye on the sky and our cameras but could see no more activity. If you want to see where we went, you can check out this Route on Google Maps.
I want to thank you all for joining and hope you did enjoy your night out with us. Hermann and I had a great time with all of you, sharing these beautiful locations out in the middle of the arctic nature under the moon and stars. We hope you enjoyed your night as well and we would like to ask you for your thoughts on the tour. Please let us know if there is anything that you would do differently or would like to change to the tour to increase your experience on a night out with us. You can let us know simply by replying to this email.
Thanks again for joining, enjoy the rest of your stay in Tromsø and safe travels.
IG: @bertinthenorth
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/oe5tacngy52xdga/AACpyCuPyiZziSaeWGuXe0IKa?dl=0
Warmest regards, Bert & the team at Chasing Lights


November 23, 2018 - Day #3
Good morning everyone!
I hope you are well rested after our chase last night!
The weather in Tromsø and around the coastal areas nearby was looking quite challenging, with snow and sleet falling all day. The weather forecast suggested that conditions would improve further inland, so to Finland we went! We eventually found a nice spot on a frozen river, with a “Golden Gate” style bridge that crossed over into Sweden. True arctic conditions and wind that was blowing the fresh powdered snow around brought quickly moving clouds, though eventually the sky above us and to our north cleared up quite nicely and we were able to spot constellations like Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper, and even some shooting stars. “Lady Aurora” was quite shy tonight, but did give us a glimpse of her beauty as we were enjoying some hot chocolate. To see exactly where we went, check out our route on Google Maps.
As promised, here is the Dropbox folder containing all the photos Marius and I took last night :) You can download them all in full resolution by clicking the “Download” button in the upper right-hand corner of your screen: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0q5eg1tpgasbad7/AACYzmks2OBSkfM3AQA4Oeyza?dl=0
Once again, I would like to thank you all for joining the chase, and for your smiles, sense of adventure, and positive attitudes. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Tromsø and safe travels home. :)
Warmest regards, Sarah, Marius, driver Pawel & The Team at Chasing Lights


November 24, 2018 - Day #4
Hello everyone!
How are you today? Hopefully well rested and full of excitement to further explore Tromsø and it's beautiful surroundings!
First things first, here is the link to the Dropbox page, where you will find all of the pictures that Hermann and I took during our night together. Please, use the "download" button at the right upper corner to get them in the highest quality. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0fu1423v8048xjf/AACqvM9fVGOprvPmzR5j4qxXa?dl=0
Our night started in snowy and overcast Tromsø and as soon as we had everyone onboard, we hit the road towards Finland, for according to the forecast the weather conditions were supposed to be the best in that area. After a bit more than two hours of driving, we crossed into Finland. The weather conditions vastly improved and started looking around for reindeer and a nice place to camp.
Shortly upon passing Kilpisjärvi village, Hermann had this idea to check out one quarry by the frozen lake and that turned out to be a really cool spot. We asked Mykola to stop the bus there, got out and just waited for the Northern Lights to appear. They really tested our patience, but eventually showed up just after we lit up the campfire! We sure took a lot of pictures and enjoyed the display while it lasted.
Even though they dimmed out after a while, we didn't give up and waited until midnight, before starting to head home leaving the Finnish wilderness behind. What an exciting night!
We would really appreciate it, if you were to spend a minute or two and write a brief review on TripAdvisor about our tour and us as your tour guides. That would help us to continue doing the job that we are really passionate about! :)
Finally, thank you all for joining, being so excited and passionate about the lights and also Mykola for driving us all the way to Finland (and of course, back). Have a nice holiday and see you again someday! :)
Warmest regards, Marius, Hermann, driver Mykola & the team at Chasing Lights


November 25, 2018 - Day #5
Good morning!
Hope you managed to get a well deserved rest after our chase last night. It was a long and challenging night, but we managed to enjoy the Arctic wilderness and visit three countries in one night!
As promised, here is the link to the pictures I took during our chase. Download them in high quality by clicking on the "Download" button after clicking on the link below. I hope you enjoy them as much I enjoyed taking them. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/mctgkok6en611yq/AAC4Pjd4mawI8R8VHXoomL7aa?dl=0
We left Tromsø under a lot of snow and headed inland as the weather forecast promised the best conditions further east. The sky started improving as soon as we crossed the border with Finland, but it wasn't until further east that we found the conditions we were looking for. The sky conditions were changing a lot throughout the night, so we had to move around quite a lot. The Auroras were a bit shy and only came out shortly, but we managed to be in the right place at the right time to get a glimpse. Even during our drive home we managed to see some stars and got to see the Green Lady a bit more. To see where we were just follow our Route on Google Maps.
Thanks a lot for having joined us. I hope you had a great time in the beautiful Finnish tundra. If there is anything we could have done to improve your experience please let us know by replying directly to this email.
Enjoy the rest of your stay in the Arctic and we hope to see you again.
Warmest regards, Hermann, Jonas, Mykola & the team at Chasing Lights