The chilled air froze my very core. Being an Orange County native and extremely weather spoiled, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. All I knew was that I was turning 26 and I wanted to see something jaw-dropping. I wanted to be inspired and witness something unpredictable, inexplicable, and beautifully messy. I felt like that's my perspective on how life should be - colorful and spontaneous. So instead of basking under the Greek sun as was originally planned, I decided to celebrate my birthday in Tromsø in the freezing weather to chase the Northern Lights.
The only conditions you can see the Aurora Borealis is under complete darkness without a single cloud in sight which means freaking cold. I had done my research and while planning this trip, I couldn't decide between Iceland or Norway. Since my boyfriend, Patrick, lives in The Netherlands, I thought it would be easier geographically plus it seemed like my chances would be better to see the dancing lights. But no matter where you are and even in the most ideal conditions, you can't really predict when they'll show up.
With that said, we were lucky. We purchased our tickets through Wandering Owl via Trip Advisor, which I'm glad we did. I will be honest and tell you that I thought I'd go outside and see the lights right in front of me like in that one scene in Frozen where Anna is telling Elsa that the sky is awake (yeah, I went there). And I would be lying to you if I said the Frozen soundtrack wasn't playing in my head as my tears froze into icicles on my face in the brisk Norwegian air looking out into the fjord. Either way, book a tour guide.
I saw Tromsø as a really adorable fisherman's town that would not take too long to explore. The buildings are close together and you have this gorgeous view of a mountain that makes you feel like you're looking at The Knight's Watch wall from Game of Thrones. It is a charming town with kind people and it seems like you're on a set of some winter romance comedy.
- Flight Itinerary: LAX-LHR-AMS stayed the night then from AMS-OSL-TOS.
We took KLM from Amsterdam to Oslo and Norwegian Air from Oslo to Tromsø and they were pretty great. As a flight attendant with my benefits coming from the U.S., I would have just gone to London and taken Norwegian Air to Oslo then Tromsø.
- Hotel: Thon Hotel Tromsø
The room was comfortable and the location was great and the complimentary breakfast buffet was a game changer. It wasn't a grandeur hotel but it got the job done. I chose a hotel over Airbnb because of accessibility and the location.
- Currency: Norway uses their own form of currency - Norwegian Krone and 1 NOK = $0.13 USD.
Although Norway is beautiful, it is the sixth richest country in the world and pretty pricey. Chasing the Northern Lights in general is not cheap and adding on the food and accommodations, you should expect to spend a chunk of change. That is why the complimentary breakfast buffet saved us.
- Things to do: We did not have much time to see all of the museums or the attractions but just walking around Tromsø
Polar Museum: The only museum we went to. I personally thought it was morbid because they talked about killing polar bears and seals to survive but I learned a lot about the city.
Arctic Cathedral: The architecture is modern looking and geometric. We did not go inside but it was pretty to see on the way to the outskirts.
Others: Perspective Museum, Polaria, Husky sled tour (I wish I did this)
Bars: We did not get to go bar hopping because it was too cold but they are all pretty local and walking distance.
Tromsø Railstation - Cute bar with currency from all around the world taped on the interior. They had local beers, pretty expensive pricing but it was fun.
Suvi - An asian fusion restaurant that serves sushi along with Tom Ka Gai soup.
Kaia - A local restaurant with a beautiful view of the harbor and delicious cuisine. We tried some of the local beer along with King crab, lamb and fish soup. I thought it was tasty and romantic.
Although we did not get to spend enough time in Oslo, it is definitely a city I would like to visit again in the summer time. Oslo is where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held, has the famous Scream painting, and has the largest sculpture park in Frogner Park. The Northern Lights won't be able to be seen here but there is a lot of history and culture. Public transportation is easy and it is not difficult getting around by knowing just English.
- Friday night we stayed at the Scandic Hotel near the airport. Pat dubs this "the best breakfast buffet in Scandinavia".
- Monday night we stayed at an AirBnB in Briskeby. It was easily accessible to public transportation and a couple stops away from the city center. The apartment looked like a millennial blogger babe's apartment and there was a cute cafe close by.
- Things to do: We only had one day in Oslo to really explore so we did not get to see much, especially in the cold.
Akershus Fortress: You feel like you're traveling back in time and there is a spectacular view of the city skyline.
Things we wanted to do but didn't and I recommend if you go: Mathallen Food Hall, Viking Museum, Frogner Park
Festingen Restaurant: Inside of the Akershus fortress lies a hidden high class restaurant. We had just finished dinner and decided to peek inside to try to get coffee. They allowed us to get dessert and two Irish coffees for my birthday. It was pretty romantic and spontaneous.
Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri: One of the oldest restaurants in Oslo and close to the Oslo Cathedral. The building and interior are protected by law and remains unchanged. This restaurant has traditional Norwegian cuisine and worth going to.
Bonita Cafe: A Colombian coffee shop with a delicious tuna wrap and a mean cup of coffee. The interior has potted plants everywhere and the workers are very nice.
The Northern Lights were spectacular and I suggest being diligent with your preparation. If you are going to try to take photos of the lights, be sure you have the right camera and the right settings. I used ISO - 1600 Aperture - 2.8 Shutter Speed - 8"-10" on a Canon Powershot G7x mark ii. With a decent DSLR, you could definitely get better quality photos.
Be sure to find a travel guide that will provide the proper snowsuit attire and snowboots because without them, you will freeze. I highly recommend booking through Wandering Owl (click for link). They provide you with hot soup (I chose reindeer) with a hot beverage around a campfire and they are knowledgable with the origin of the lights. Bert was an amazing guide that provided great photos of us with the Aurora Borealis.
Coming into it, you have to know that finding the lights are very slim but very do-able with proper planning and high optimism (more of the optimism). We went early February but prime time to go is November to March. Also, know that it is expensive and be prepared to pay for multiple tours to see them. I think I was lucky because it was my birthday but our guide was very honest about the difficulty of seeing the lights.
I hope that helped you if you were ever planning on visiting Norway. I highly recommend going just once and be sure to bundle up. When you think you have bundled up enough, bundle up some more. Be sure to comment below with feedback or questions!
Thanks Travel Baddies <3
Stay tuned for the video coming soon!