On most peoples bucket-list, is to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), one that I ticked off mine, back in 2018. Today I am going to tell you how you can see the Northern Lights in Norway, on a really tight budget!
Seeing the Northern Lights has always been a dream for me. Watching so many Youtube videos and clicking on many Instagram photos made me want to see it more. With my bank account balance at the time and looking at the hefty prices, I thought it would be impossible to ever get the chance to go.
However, that is not true at all! There are ways you can see the Northern Lights on a tight budget, and I am going to tell you how!
Choosing the Right Time of Year & Location
After many google searches, I decided on Norway. This was because of the time of year I was planning the holiday - November. In Noway, the best time to see the Northern Lights is September to April which is when you avoid the “Midnight Sun”.
So after finding out the time of year to go, I wanted to know where was best in Norway to see the Northern Lights, and more importantly, would I be able to afford it.
I had heard of Oslo and Bergen before, but never Tromsø, which is known as “the capital of the Arctic”, and just so happens to be one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights - so next I started looking at flights and accommodation!
Flights & Accommodation
Flights from London to Tromsø were surprisingly affordable! I booked for 5 days 4 nights, which was enough time to see the Northern Lights and experience the city and surrounding nature too.
I booked with Norweigan Airlines and flew from London Gatwick Airport direct to Tromsø. The flight cost me £95 for a return ticket for hand luggage only, and took 3 ½ hours before we landed at Tromsø Airport. Be prepared to walk off the plane outside, I didn’t realise, so I was not prepared for the Arctic wind to hit me when they opened the doors!
To get from the airport to Tromsø city centre, I got on the airport express/shuttle bus called The Flybussen, or you can hop on one of the city buses (24, 40 & 42) all of them only take 15 minutes to Tromsø Domkirke Cathedral in the centre - note that the buses are cash payment only and all routes cost only £4 (50 NOK) for a one-way ticket.
From Tromsø Domkirke, I relied on Google Maps to find my way to my accommodation. I actually stayed in Tromsdalen which is a short bus ride from the city centre or a chilly-but-pleasant 35-minute walk. I didn’t mind walking as I only had a small carry on suitcase to lug around, but my wheels didn’t do too well on the ice!
Tromsdalen is a neighbourhood 2-minutes away via the 20 or 28 bus, just across the bridge that connects Tromsø island to the mainland.
I stayed in an Airbnb to save money on costs (4 nights = £148). It was an adorable attic apartment above a very welcoming Norweigan family, hosted by Anne and Gøran. Inside I shared a bathroom and small kitchen with 2 other rooms which had all the amenities to cook simple meals, which is how I saved lots of money!
My room was small but cosy, with a great view of Tromsdalstinden Mountain - the best place to see the northern lights and the city at night!
Total Cost of Flights & Accommodation = £251/3092NOK
Tromsø, close to the Swedish and Finnish border, is the largest city in Northern Norway and is smack bang in the middle of the “aurora oval” making it the perfect destination to see the Northern Lights!
The currency is NOK (Norweigan Krone) and there are ATMs in the Tromsø Tourist Information centre (2nd floor at Prostneset Port Terminal) where you can withdraw cash and get more information on excursions in and around the city.
Norway is known for being bitterly cold, and Tromsø is no exception! The warmest I experienced was -3°C (26.6°F), and the coldest was -15°C (5°F). That means pack enough thermals to keep you nice and toasty and shoes with some kind of snow/ice tread on the bottom, otherwise you will be ice-skating everywhere.
Food in Tromsø
Tromsø is known for extremely high food and drink prices, which is why I avoided eating and drinking out and relied on a supermarket called “Extra Tromsdalen” which had everything I needed. I lived off noodles, eggs, bread and cheese - with a few veggies and fruits thrown in here and there. The Airbnb had tea, coffee and milk which I had with toast in the mornings, sandwiches and fruit for lunch, and noodles and vegetables for dinner.
Now and then I would treat myself to the delicious Norweigan chocolate called Melkesjokolade which cost a crazy £6.50 (81NOK) per 200g bar.
I did visit a contemporary coffee shop on the waterfront called Kaffebønna for a flat white, which cost me £4.30(54NOK), but was well worth it!
Lunch in a restaurant can cost you anywhere between £12 (150NOK) and £16 (200NOK), and dinner £20 (250NOK) to £50 (600NOK).
Most restaurants serve reindeer stew or whale - both popular dishes in Tromsø, so always ask before ordering if the menu is in Norweigan and you wish to avoid eating those!
Total Cost = ~£100/1232NOK
Exploring Tromsø City
The great thing about the city is exploring it both in the daylight and in the dark afternoons and evenings.
Most days and every evening was well spent walking around the city, looking in the shops and watching the boats in the harbour.
I never got the bus into the city from where I was staying, as I enjoyed walking across the bridge, and it always felt super safe.
Total Cost = £0/0NOK
Arctic Cathedral, Tromsdalen
This triangular-shaped cathedral stands out across the bridge from Tromsø to Tromsdalen. Designed by architect Jan Inge Hovig, it boasts a beautiful glass mosaic at the back. When there is a service, you can hear the sound of the organ which warms you up inside.
Total Cost = £0/0NOK
Seeing Reindeers at Tromsø University
Being in Norway I really wanted to see reindeers that were not only just in a Christmas storybook. The owners at the Airbnb said that they are super shy and you have to book a sledding trip to see them, which didn’t fit within my budget.
However, they said that they have a few at The Arctic University of Noway just a short bus ride from Tromsø city centre (one-way costs £4/50 NOK).
The university runs a sustainable reindeer husbandry course, studying sustainability in the Arctic. Scientists at the university have found out that reindeer eye colour changes twice a year due to unique light conditions beyond the Arctic Circle - how cool is that!
When you get to the university they are at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology.
The university is where you can also visit the botanical gardens.
The Arctic–Alpine Botanic Garden is the world's Northernmost botanical garden, displaying plants from all over the Northern Hemisphere. I loved walking around the gardens and the best part, it is FREE!
Total Cost = £8/100NOK
On the first full day, I decided to get up as soon as the sun came up, put on my walking gear and head up towards Tromsdalstinden Mountain (“Tinden” to the locals) which stands at a whopping 1238m.
I got to 3 mountain checkpoints: Storsteinen, Fløya, and Bønntuva after climbing up difficult hiking paths in the forest which were super slippy from the ice and snow on the mountains.
After a pretty exhausting trek up the mountain, I reached the Bønntuva peak (650m) where I had a 360° view of the Lyngen Alps, Kvaløya Alps, Senja and of course, Tromsø itself.
The highlight of the well-earned trek had to be seeing an Arctic Hare in the flesh. This beautiful Arctic mammal was so big, graceful, yet shy - the owners of the Airbnb said I was super lucky to see one as climate change has caused a big reduction in numbers due to habitat loss!
Before it got dark, I headed down the easier path which consists of large stone steps overlooking waterfalls - which was a much faster route! Do note, that the hiking routes should be avoided after dark as other animals live on the mountain such as Wolves, Lynx, and Bears that like to roam around at night. Always get the cable car back down if you find yourself running out of daylight hours!
The great thing about climbing these mountains was that it was FREE and you can refill your water on any of the running streams - the water tastes amazing in Tromsø!
Total Cost = 0/0NOK
Whale Watching in Kvaløya
As I didn’t have enough money to see the spectacular Orcas and Humpback Whales on a whale-watching cruise, I was told that they can sometimes be seen in Kvaløya if you are lucky - maybe that is why they call it “Whale Island”!
They usually pass Tromsø from November until early February, so I thought I would take the chances and get on the 42 bus from Tromsø to Eidkjosen bus station, on Kvaløya island. The bus station is at the bottom of a hill, so I started to walk up towards Kaldfjord where the whales are known to swim into the Kaldfjorden and Kjosen Fjord.
Despite hours sat with my binoculars, it was not my lucky day, so I spent the rest of the daylight hours eating my homemade cheese sandwich and watching the fishermen come back from a day on the water.
I walked back down the hill after dark and headed back to Tromsø city centre to do some more window shopping.
Total Cost = £8/100NOK
Seeing the NORTHERN LIGHTS!
I downloaded two free apps called Aurora Forecast and Noway Lights to keep an eye on the forecast. When I got a notification on day 3 to say that there was a 96% chance of seeing it, I don’t think I have put shoes on so fast in my life!
I hurried to the cable car pickup point only a 2-minute walk from my accommodation called the Fjellheisen. This cost me £19 (228NOK) for an adult return ticket. The cable car itself is an experience, slowly climbing the Tromsdalstinden Mountain, you can see the whole of Tromsø as it lights up at night.
There is a cafe called Fjellstua Café at the top where you can get a hot beverage which will set you back £3.60 (45 NOK) for a hot chocolate, £3.40 (42 NOK) for a refillable coffee, and £2.80 (35 NOK) for a cup of tea - which being British was my choice of course!
After grabbing a cup of tea, I got my camera ready, found a space away from the cafe lights and settled down. I waited for 45 minutes and still nothing, so I started packing up my camera, sipped my last drop of tea and headed back towards the cable car building. All of a sudden people on the mountain started shouting, and I could not believe my eyes...THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!
They are truly surreal and something that cannot be explained, only felt. I think I spent 2 hours bearing the Arctic chill, just staring up into the green-lit sky. Every now and then a burst of purple or orange would break up the green bliss.
After 2 hours my thermal packs had gone cold, so I was starting to lose feeling in both my hands and feet - it was time to call it a night.
On the cable car ride down I could still see the lights dancing across the sky. This continued when I got back to my room and watched from my window - in the warm this time! I was in awe, I couldn’t believe I had finally seen the famous aurora borealis.
Total cost = £21.80/263NOK
I was also super lucky on the flight home as I saw them again - some passengers had not seen them at all during their time in Tromsø as they never left the island and there are so many lights, it makes it almost impossible to see - so go climb a mountain or get away from the city to see them.
Other Things to Do In Tromsø (& the Prices!)
As I was on a tight budget with limited days I, unfortunately, couldn’t do some other awesome things in Tromsø - but that means I have many reasons to go back!
Whale & seabird safari from Tromsø to Skervøy: £150/1848NOK
Husky sledding: £180/2217NOK
Reindeer sledding: £140/1724NOK
Guided snowshoeing walking: starting from £75/924NOK
The whole trip was inspiring and the Northern Lights are still something that are extremely hard to explain - because you simply have to see them in the flesh to understand this natural phenomenon. But every time I think of that night I spent under the dancing colours, I still get goosebumps.
So you have probably been waiting for this...how much did the whole trip cost me?
This incredible bucket-list experience only cost me £388/4780NOK, not bad for a 5-day trip and seeing the Northern Lights, not once, but twice!
If you are yet to see the Northern Lights, I cannot recommend Tromsø enough!
Written by Darby Bonner