Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights [2022]

Witnessing the northern lights is on almost every traveler’s bucket list. If you catch the aurora at the right time, it’s truly one of the most mesmerizing experiences you could ever imagine. However, there’s a fair amount of research and planning that needs to happen before you can have a successful outing for viewing the lights, so here are several tips for viewing the northern lights. 

What are the northern lights (or auroras)? 

Auroras are the result of charged particles released from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere. The different colors produced by them are the product of gases at different altitudes colliding.

The common greenish color is due to low-altitude (60 miles above the Earth) oxygen collisions, while the purple and pink colors are due to collision with nitrogen. Finally, the very rare red auroras come from collisions with oxygen gasses very high in the atmosphere (around 200 miles high). 

Auroras occur in both the northern and southern hemisphere but because more people experience them in the north, I believe the “northern lights” label caught on. 

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11-year solar cycle  

You don’t have much control over this but the solar cycle is something to be aware of. The sun goes through “solar cycles” about every 11 years when the sun spot activity tends to peak. The more sun spots, the greater the likelihood of a solar storm and the better the chance you have of seeing the northern lights in spectacular fashion. Right now, we are on the down-side of the peak but there’s still plenty of hope to see the lights since solar storms are still happening. The next peak won’t start until we approach 2025!


A big consideration is where in the world are you going to go to view the aurora or northern lights? 

To have the best chance of catching the lights you need to find a location inside the “Aurora Belt” (or aurora oval). You can see a representation of the belt in the northern hemisphere below. 

Image via Hubpages.

There are four main spots that people flock to within this belt:

  • Alaska
  • Canada
  • Iceland
  • and Lapland (northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland).

Of course, you could also venture to harder to reach places like northern Russia/Siberia and Greenland or try your luck with the southern lights, but it seems like most people tend to visit the four places listed above.

I haven’t tried out viewing the northern lights in Canada or Alaska, but I’ve tried them out in Iceland and Norway so I’ll focus on those two destinations. 


Iceland is great because you can easily find cheap and direct flights to Reykjavik and the country is very small with a main highway that circles around the entire island. This makes it easy to get to and explore from a logistical standpoint.

There’s also plenty of stunning landscapes. From the glacier lagoon to the their seemingly endless number of waterfalls, you’ll find spectacular foreground and backgrounds to view and photograph the northern lights under all over the country.

Photo copyright Moyan Brenn.

The drawback is that there’s not a lot of variation in weather on the island since it’s so small.

When I was there, clouds often covered the entire island at once, so there was no way to escape or “hunt” for clear skies (though this isn’t always the case).

The other drawback is that Iceland is almost entirely south of the Arctic Circle, so it may not get quite as much activity as places that are further north and only need a KP index of “0” to see the lights.

Still, Iceland remains one of the top destinations for northern lights hunting. 


Norway, in particular Tromsø, is one of the best places to view the northern lights.

While it requires a little more legwork with connecting flights to get there, it will probably be worth it. Like Iceland, Norway offers tons of stunning coastline and landscape like fjords to view these magnificent lights.

Northern lights

It seems like everywhere you drive in the Tromsø area, there’s another fantastic viewpoint that opens up to a beautiful fjord with snowy mountains overlooking the water (and there’s even a special northern lights highway route). 

But I think it’s the micro-climates that make Tromsø such a special and ideal place to view them. The micro-climates are like little pockets where the weather can vary dramatically due to the topography.

For example, it can be completely cloudy and snowing in Tromsø but just 30 minutes away, it might be completely clear. This can be a huge advantage when chasing the northern lights since you’re able to try out multiple places for clear skies. Also, Tromsø is above the Arctic Circle so all you need is a KP Index of zero to see the lights.

Route 2
A driving route from Tromsø to find micro-climates.

I should add that you could consider trips to northern Finland and Sweden to catch the lights, too. I just haven’t visited those places yet (apart from a short drive into Finland), so I can’t really comment on them. 


While I’ve never seen the northern lights in Alaska, I know Alaska can be a great place to view them. In fact, the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau says you have an 80 percent chance of seeing them if you stay in Fairbanks for 3 nights. It will probably be colder there than in Iceland or Tromsø, Norway, but colder temperatures may also mean clearer skies.

Aurora Watching 03/16/2013
Northern lights over Alaska. Photo by FairbanksMike.

Alaska also has several national parks known for northern lights spotting and cruise ships offer you the ability to see them as well. And finally, Canada has plenty of places to spot the lights as well. Destinations like Whitehorse and Yellowknife are places you might consider in Canada. 

From the sky

One thing a lot of people don’t know is that you can often see the northern lights from a plane when flying through the aurora belt. As long as it’s dark outside, you have a shot at seeing them and since you’ll be flying around 30,000 feet, clouds won’t be an issue.

Northern lights seen from an airplane flying into Iceland.

To see them, you’ll need to block out as much light from the cabin as possible by throwing a jacket or hood over your head and looking at the window. Most passengers will likely be asleep, so who cares if you look a little silly — the northern lights might be outside! Read here about my experience seeing the northern lights from a plane


This is another big consideration: what is the best time of year to view the northern lights?


Believe it or not, the northern lights are visible during the summer. In 2016, a solar storm hit in early August and the lights could be seen in places in the northern half of the United States and Canada.

As you might imagine this is a rare occurrence since you have to be at situated lower latitudes to see them and it takes much stronger showings for the lights to make it down to around 50º latitude, so generally don’t count on seeing them during the summer.

And if you’re anywhere near the Arctic Circle, there will be way too much daylight to catch them during the entire summer. 

Instead, the vast majority of encounters are going to happen between September and March at the high latitudes, at or above the Arctic Circle. (You can also catch them in late August and some parts of April, too.)


I personally, think that March is the best month for viewing the northern lights. That’s because it’s near an equinox, which is a time when the northern lights are historically the most active. It’s also a time when the landscape is usually covered in snow — and there’s nothing like capturing a snowy landscape lit up by the northern lights.

Northern lights

There’s also enough daylight at that time of year to enjoy other Arctic activities like hiking, dog sledding, whale watching, etc., so you can count on doing much more than just chasing the northern lights. Thus, I would aim for February or March if I could choose anytime to view them.


The time near the fall equinox (September and even through October) should see the lights becoming very active as well. However, you typically won’t have snow and might instead have to deal with rain or bad weather during that time.

The big draw to this time of year is that temperatures may prove to be very mild. I’ve heard of people watching the northern lights in Norway (above the Arctic Circle) with t-shirts on and not having to deal with the cold, which would be a more comfortable experience.

Milder temperatures also mean camping is more practical and camping is a great way to get away from light pollution and venture into interesting landscapes that will make for great photographs. 


Finally, winter is a great time due to the fact that you have so much darkness. On Christmas of 2016, we saw a brilliant display of lights around 6pm, which probably would not have been visible during other months. The winter also offers colder nights when there’s less moisture in the air so you might increase your chances of having clear nights and better visibility for viewing the lights.

Northern lights
The northern lights on a clear winter night over Finland.

And finally, there’s just something special about viewing the lights in winter. We witnessed one of the best displays of northern lights I’d ever seen on Christmas night and it it’s one of my favorite travel memories of all time.  

Duration of stay

I suggest trying to stay for at least four nights when trying to view the northern lights.

Many of the places that you’ll go like Iceland, Norway, etc., have a lot of other activities to do besides chase the lights so you should be able to find plenty of things to do. Some like to give themselves longer than four nights and prefer to stay for a week or longer, but that’s your choice.

Northern lights

I generally wouldn’t recommend doing a “weekend trip” to see the lights, however, unless you knew there would be clear skies and a solar storm arriving shortly.

Moon phase

Try to plan your visit when there is a new moon or partial moon. They key is to try to avoid full moons or near full moons since the moon can sometimes be so bright that it makes it more difficult to view the northern lights and can detract from photographs. 

Northern Lights

Time of night 

The northern lights are said to be most active from 11pm to 2am, although this can vary slightly depending on exactly where you are and what time of year it is. Still, as just mentioned we saw the lights come out as early as 6:30pm, so I believe that anytime there is a sufficiently dark sky you might be able to see the lights. 

Northern lights

Since these are the most active times, be prepared to stay up late or all night to view the lights. If you’re flying to Europe from North America, jet-lag can actually work to your advantage because you can more or less stick to your same sleeping schedule in some instances. 

Light Pollution

Light pollution will diminish your ability to see the northern lights. The good news is that in most Arctic areas, it’s not hard to get away from light pollution since there’s a lot of open landscape away from cities.

Getting away from light pollution will help you see the northern lights but it will also greatly improve your photographs. Even a little bit of light pollution from a small town nearby can interfere with your shots by creating an amber glow as seen below, so always try to find a truly dark place.

Northern lights
Light pollution coming in from the left.

Cloud coverage

For the most part, you want to hope for as clear of a night as possible. But you don’t need fully clear skies where you can see every little star in the universe.

That’s because the northern lights can often be seen through high altitude clouds.

And second, cloudy skies are often dynamic and if you stay in the same spot long enough, you’ll likely see the sky open up enough to see the lights like in the photo below.

Northern lights

Also, clouds can offer a lot of drama to your photographs. Some of my favorite northern light photographs had a fair amount of clouds in the composition. Sometimes the clouds help to create a slightly ominous green glow in the sky which can be really interesting to capture, too. 

Northern lights

Northern light forecasts

It takes the sun 27-28 days to make a full a rotation. Thus, it’s often said that if you experience a lot of activity one day then you might be able to expect a lot of activity around 27-28 days later when the sun makes a complete rotation and those active sun spots are heading towards the earth.

This actually held true in our case but I’m not sure how often this is the case. Keep in mind that solar flares (or coronal mass ejections, take 1 to 3 days to reach Earth) so forecasts within those time frames can be more reliable. 

I used this website for a forecast but you can find others that focus on your location (Alaska, etc.) and there are also different apps you can download (I downloaded “Aurora Forecast“). These forecasts show you the KP Index, which is meant to predict how far south the northern lights can be seen. 

I suggest to try not to obsess too much over the KP index. If it shows a solar storm hitting that’s probably a reason to get excited but as others have confirmed, you can’t always rely on the KP Index to accurately predict when the lights will appear. Apparently, we still have a lot to learn about the northern lights.

So just hope for the best and do everything you can to spend at least 4 nights in the aurora belt chasing clear skies and you’ll probably end up seeing them. 

Should you do a northern lights tour or self-explore?

This is a very common question when it comes to searching for the lights. Some think that northern lights tours are rip-offs and others swear by them.

Northern lights
A bus tour under the northern lights.

I think tours are great for places like Norway where it makes sense to sometimes drive a few hours to get to a different micro-climate for better viewing.

Also, if you’re not comfortable driving in Arctic conditions you probably don’t want to venture off on your own so signing up for a tour could be a good thing for your safety. 

Some tour companies will allow you to come back the next night for free or at a discounted rate if you don’t see any lights the first night, so that’s always something to consider, too.

I think you should consider doing both. After I had such a great experience with the Chasing Lights tour company in Tromsø, Norway, I’m a big fan of going on tours. And after Brad and I had such a successful outing chasing the lights on our own, I enjoyed the freedom offered with doing our own chase. Being able to stop when we wanted, choose our own route, stop to take photographs, etc., was great. 

So if you can afford it, I recommend trying out a tour for a night or two and then gauging if you’re comfortable going on your own chase through the night. 

Northern Lights
Our rental car used for chasing the lights in Norway.

Staying warm


Dressing with layers makes the world of a difference. In general, you want wool thermal underwear and socks to keep you warm under your multiple outer layers. Boots, hand/feet-warmers, gloves (with liners), and beanie are a must. Wind-proof jackets and pants are very useful, too. Exactly how many layers you’ll need will vary depending on the person, but I recommend to always play it conservatively. 

Norhtern lights

If you’re a photographer some kind of water-resistant winter pants will help you if you’re going to be constantly kneeling in the snow (which you might need to do). One reason why tour companies are great is that many will offer you the option of getting a thermal suit and boots, so you don’t have to stress about freezing to death. 

The wind makes all the difference

One night we ventured into Finland away from the coast and at an altitude of about 1,500 feet. The wind was nonexistent but the temperature was about -2Fº. That was the coldest temperature I’d ever been exposed to but with no wind, it was completely bearable.

Another night, temperatures were around 30Fº but the winds were strong and swirling and it was much more difficult to contend with the temperature for an extended amount of time (a few hours). Thus, mind the wind conditions and do everything you can to protect yourself. 

One way to combat this is to use some type of ski mask in conjunction with a beanie and scarf. For people like myself from the Sun Belt who aren’t experienced with arctic temperatures, it really helps to protect any inch of exposed skin, especially that on your face when outside for an extended period of time. 

Watching the lights 

The northern lights come in many different forms. The most common form is a green streak or glow in the sky. When the lights are present but weak, this will look like a faint whitish-grey color with a hint of green that could be mistaken for a cloud.  

The photo below represents what a weaker streak of the northern lights might look like to the naked eye. It’s honestly not the most impressive thing in the world but keep your eye on it because you never know what it might do. Patience is key. 

Northern Lights - Naked eye

As you continue to wait, you might see those faint streaks intensify. This is when it starts to get exciting. All of a sudden those faint streaks become more and more prominent and their greenish color becomes more apparent. You might see these huge streaks slowly stretch across the entire sky, folding and swirling and constantly morphing into different shapes before your eyes.

One thing I loved about watching the lights is that you’ll be fixated on one area of the sky and then turn your gaze to another part of the sky and be surprised by the sight of more curtains of lights expanding beautifully under the stars. It’s a phenomenal sight to behold. 

It’s all about the dancing

But when things get really exciting is when they lights decide to start “dancing.”

Northern lights
Dancing northern lights.

The dancing comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a slow flutter like motion that resembles someone playing a huge lit-up piano in the sky. Other times it’s even more dramatic. Typically, when the dancing occurs the lights become much brighter and the green comes with flashes of white and even pink and purple.

The light ripples and whips fast through the night sky, dazzling every onlooker, and those bursts of light are possibly the most stunning thing you will ever witness. See the video taken by our tour guide below to see what I’m describing. 

This is why you need to stay outside or in view of the sky as much as possible. Even going inside for five minutes could cause you to miss a dancing show. The key indicator that dancing is on the way is that you notice a sudden increase in intensity of color or brightness and you’ll also often see many different curtains in the sky. If that happens, be on the lookout because you might getting a show. 

Northern lights

Final word 

Catching a good showing of the northern lights take a little bit of effort and luck. There are a lot of things outside of your control but by taking the information found in this article into consideration, you’ll be able to set yourself up for an unforgettable night under the aurora. 

My Northern Lights Experience in Trosmø, Norway

This past Christmas, Brad and I ventured above the Arctic Circle to explore Tromsø, Norway, and the beautiful fjords in search of the northern lights. The light shows we experienced far exceeded even our best expectations, so I felt the urge to share what it was like to go northern lights hunting in Norway for four nights.

See also:

Getting to Tromsø, Norway

We flew in to Norway on an SAS A330 in business class which I booked with Star Alliance partner, Aeroplan for only $12. Although the seats in business class were comfortable, I struggled to get any sleep which would make things very interesting for the next 24 hours.

SAS business class seats
SAS business class.

By the time we made our way through the airport in Tromsø, picked up our rental car, found parking, and walked back to the Raddison Blu amid a heavy down pour of sleet, we only had about 2 hours before our first northern lights tour started!

When I arrive in a new place, I struggle to subdue the excitement and am usually not able to just jump on a bed and take a nap. So despite my best attempt, I stayed wide awake for the next two hours until it was time for our tour.

Our tour was set for 7pm, which meant that I’d been up at that point for about 30 hours straightI was really worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the northern lights tour and considered putting it off until the next day, but I knew I’d never be able to let it go if the lights came out that night and I missed them. So I sucked it up and decided to go.

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Night one: An intro to the northern lights

We boarded up the tour van and took off through the snowy highways. It was drizzling with a mix of snow and sleet and all I could catch were quick glimpses of thick forests on the side of the road. Luckily, this van came equipped with quality wifi (that was even better than some hotels) and so it was easy to pass the time.

After about an hour and a half of riding, I noticed a very faint whitish streak in the sky through the dark-tinted windows. It was so faint, that I had to squint to make out the object. In any other setting I would’ve dismissed it for a cloud but the sight reminded me of exactly what I saw when I witnessed the northern lights from a plane.

Our van stopped on the side of the road and we all got out. To my amazement, it was the northern lights!

The only problem is that the lights were very weak and almost entirely shrouded by clouds. To be honest, it wasn’t the most impressive sight but at least we could say we saw them if nothing else appeared. Lucky for us, we were in store for a great show.

Northern lights Norway
The first glimpse of the northern lights!

After about five minutes of watching these lights, the clouds moved back in and covered the sky, so we moved on to try to find clearer skies. Our guides used their partners strategically roaming the Norwegian countryside in different regions to locate the clearest skies and they directed us.

After about 30 minutes, we saw more northern lights activity in the clouds and decided to set up a new spot on the side of the road. This new spot opened up to a large mountainous fjord.

It was at this point that the lights came out much more vividly and I saw my first truly impressive sight of the lights. While the camera picks up their green color better than what you’d see in real life, when the lights are strong, they look unmistakably green to the naked eye.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights outside of Tromsø, Norway.

After setting up my tripod and spending some time adjusting the settings on my camera, I started to snap away at the sky, capturing thousands of stars along with the lights reflecting on the water.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights outside of Tromsø, Norway.

After each minute, we noticed more and more stars dusting the sky as the clouds opened up. Green streaks stretched from overhead all the way down to the horizon beyond the mountains. This was a true northern lights experience and what I had been hoping for ever since my nightmare of a trip to Iceland in 2014.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights outside of Tromsø, Norway.

After a couple of minutes for the lights to begin to intensify. They grew thicker and brighter and appeared all over the sky in different places.  One thing about the northern lights is you never know what they’re going to do.

Suddenly, these streaks started moving fast, whipping and whirling through the night sky. The green intensified into white and even purple and pink colors came out. It was electric.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights dancing.

There were ooohs and ahhhs from everyone in our group. I was beyond thrilled and just trying to capture some of the moment on my camera. I’d already been mystified by the lights earlier but this was just unreal. I had no idea the lights truly danced.

Northern lights Norway
Stunning northern lights.

This went on for about 5 minutes and even when the dancing died down, the northern lights continued to appear and reappear in the sky for hours. Our group built a fire and some lay down on reindeer skin hides to watch the light show. Servings of hot chocolate and hot soup warmed us up as we finished up the night.

We didn’t make it back to our hotel until late close to 2am that night but it was completely worth it, because I could not have asked for a more memorable encounter with the northern lights.

Night two: A battle with the elements

I questioned whether we should go out a second night in a row. The first night had been such an overwhelmingly amazing experience that I could’ve happily ended my northern lights experience there. My feeling was that if the lights didn’t show the second night we would be ending our northern lights experience on a low note, not to mention that it would just suck to spend hours roaming aimlessly in a van all night.

But, we decided we didn’t travel all that way to Norway to settle for one good night of the lights so we decided to go out a second night.

This night was a battle. We settled on a point along the rocky coast to watch the lights but the the winds whipped up from the Norwegian Sea creating a brutally cold experience at times. Unlike the night before, I had to completely bundle up and keep my gloves, beanies, and face mask on at all times and I still found myself shivering. The winds penetrated my jeans and thermals and after a couple of hours I could feel my toes getting icy.

Despite the cold, however, we caught some of the most amazing views of the northern lights. It started out with a pretty mild showing like the night before.

Northern lights and shooting star Norway
The northern lights with a shooting star.

And then as the evening progressed, a more intense display showed up.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights in Norway.

Eventually massive streaks of green covered the sky and moved fluidly behind the low-lying clouds.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights in Norway.

At one point, things had gotten quiet for a while and a few people in our group went back inside the van to defrost. I’d just set up my tripod outside the van and the folks warming up inside the van asked me to tell them if anything happened.

Well, within about two minutes, I noticed thick green streaks appearing more intense in the sky and I knew something special was happening. I ran into the van and told them to come out and that’s when we witnessed an even bolder display of the northern lights. This time we saw bright pink streaks rippling all over the sky and even through the clouds.

Northern lights Norway
Pink northern lights display.

A tour bus, with immaculate timing,  pulled up right as this show was starting and as the lights show picked up, tourists poured out of the bus, immediately gawking up to the sky as they caught this magnificent show.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights directly overhead.

It’s worth noting that northern light experiences can sometimes become something of an endurance event. By the end of this night, I could barely feel my toes and my face and I was utterly exhausted from so little sleep but the hours spent under the lights had been 100% worth it.

Night 3: The test drive

On night 3, clouds blanketed the sky and sleet poured down all over Tromsø. Even though we’d enjoyed our tours the two nights before, we decided it was time to do some exploring on our own in our rental car.

I’d still been running on fumes from the lack of sleep from the past three days, so we decided to only do a “test drive” about an hour into the fjords just to see how difficult it would be to drive on those icy Arctic roads. Having virtually no experience in driving in cold conditions, I wasn’t sure if we’d be sliding up and down the roads and to be honest was a bit nervous about it.

Luckily, we didn’t have any issues that night so we decided that the next night we’d venture a few hours all the way into Finland while chasing the northern lights.

Night 4: Christmas night with the northern lights

Night 4 would be one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life. It was also Christmas.

We started very early around 5pm, as it was already very dark. This night was special because it was the first clear night of our trip. Even though the city of Tromsø was still covered in snowing clouds, the fjords found inland were completely devoid of any clouds.

About 25 minutes into our drive, we were riding along the coast of a fjord and I took a peak out the side of the car window. That’s when I noticed a massive streak running across the sky, over the tops of some mountains overlooking the fjord.

We stopped and got out to catch some photographs. This green streak soon doubled and then tripled as the color intensified. Soon the entire sky was filled with these green ribbons of light, folding and stretching above us.

Northern lights over north Norway
Northern lights over north Norway.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were witnessing an unexpected solar storm hitting the Earth’s atmosphere.

A solar storm over Norway.

It was an absolutely brilliant display of light.

Northern lights
The Northern lights over Norway.

The lights continued to morph into several odd shapes and at one time even formed a giant “X” in the sky.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights forming a giant X.

Other odd shapes continued to come to life as we watched.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights.

Eventually we made our way a bit further into the fjords until we started to witness another spectacular showing forming in the sky.

Northern lights Norway
Th northern lights over a fjord.

This showing started to transform into something resembling a northern light cyclone at one point.

Northern lights Norway
A northern lights cyclone?

After a few minutes, more and more lights appeared and we witnessed the strongest display of northern lights that we saw during our entire trip.

Northern lights Norway
A solar storm on display in Norway.
Northern lights Norway
The northern lights.

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At one point, the lights almost covered the entire sky.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights in northern Norway.

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the sight of the lights never got old. Sure you’d get neck cramps from looking up at the sky for hours and you’d begin to freeze, but those were small prices to pay considering the reward of catching the northern lights.

Northern lights Norway
The northern lights in northern Norway.

After the intense display, we made our way into Finland. We climbed through a winding road across the border where we had no cell phone service and didn’t see but maybe one or two cars — this was Christmas night after all.

Northern lights Finland
The northern lights over Finland.

We stopped for a while and I got out of the car. As soon as I stepped out into the -2ºF air, it was eerily quiet. Absolutely no noise coming from anything. All I saw was a brilliantly clear sky with lights slowly waving through it.

Northern lights Finland
The northern lights over Finland.
Northern lights Finland
The northern lights over Finland.

After trekking into Finland, we returned back on our way to Tromsø. Before arriving back into the city, we made a few stops to admire the dancing lights that continued to appear throughout the night.

Northern Lights
Dancing northern lights.

We were blessed with one more strong showing of the lights — this one came with bright showings of purple that rippled through the sky.

Northern lights
Purple northern lights over Norway.

We made our way back to the hotel some time around 1am. My experience with the northern lights had been well beyond even my most optimistic hopes. After having such a disaster of a trip in Iceland in 2014 while trying to catch the lights, this was all the redemption I could’ve asked for. I really hope to see the lights again (soon) one day but until then, these memories will suffice for me.

Air New Zealand Offers “Aurora Tour”

Air New Zealand recently offered passengers the “chance of a lifetime” to see the Southern Hemisphere’s version of the aurora known as the “southern lights.” Led by Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin, this was the first aurora-viewing charter flight out of New Zealand and the first of its kind that I’d ever heard of.

The flight took passengers from the town of Dunedin located on New Zealand’s South Island close to 9pm and flew them on a 767 all the way down near the edge of Antarctica. The total experience was an eight-hour journey. Economy tickets went for $1,400 and business class went for $2,800.

Personally, I don’t think I’d pay that much for this type of experience and it’s not because I don’t think the northern lights are fascinating. I’ve actually had the experience of viewing them both from the ground and seeing them from an airplane, and I can say from experience the latter does not compare to the former.

When I viewed the lights on an Iceland Air flight from Boston to Reykjavik, it was an exciting experience but could hardly compare to my time spent in Norway chasing the lights.

Northern lights over north Norway.
Northern lights over north Norway.

The main reason is that it’s not easy for your eyes to adjust to the light in order to get a great view of them. I actually had to throw a jacket over my head and suction myself to the plane window to even get a slight glance at the northern lights (lights from the wings still interfered with my view).

And even then, I only saw the faintest shade of green and it mostly looked like a large cloud, although as you can see from the image below my Canon 6D did a great job of capturing the color my eye couldn’t.

The northern lights from a plane.

Some passengers on this expeditionary flight weren’t thrilled by what they saw with the naked eye. According to, one passenger stated:

“Was pretty disappointing. Unless you had a three thousand dollar camera couldn’t take a pic of anything. Could barely see it with your eyes, didn’t get told any of this before the flight either. Was guttered when after 5 hours on a plane it just looked like a cloud. Honestly felt it was a massive let down,” the commenter, identified as MrSafetyCatch, said.

And that doesn’t surprise me considering how faint the aurora is to the naked eye, especially from a plane. It’s possible that Air New Zealand may have done something to enhance the experience like blackout the lights in the cabin and that could’ve helped some, but I’m not aware that they did. 

The other issue is that if you don’t have a DSLR or even if you do but don’t know how to properly use one, it would be difficult to get quality photographs of the lights. I consider myself to be pretty experienced with low light settings, and it was tough for me to get any photos of the aurora from a plane that were worth anything, so I could imagine how poor many photos turned out from people taking photos with lower-end point and shoot or camera phones.

The fact that some paid at least $1,400 for an 8 hour economy ride to capture subpar images of the aurora had to sting for some.

While I wouldn’t do it, I could see how this could be worthwhile for some. If you just really wanted to see the aurora for the sake of seeing them or to check that off your bucket list, then I could see how this would be enticing. Or if you’re skilled enough in photography, this could be worth it as well, since you could come away with some stunning shots like the time lapse below.

Considering how difficult it could be for many people to get to Norway or Alaska from New Zealand, this could also be one of the more practical options for many to see the lights.

While you can see the aurora from the southern tip of New Zealand you’re still only near 45º south which would put you in a similar location as being in the northern US, which definitely is not ideal since you typically need strong solar storms in order to see the lights at that latitude. Plus, in many instances you only get a view of the lights along the horizon.

This type of tour is still a cool concept, however, and one that I was not familiar with. I think the cost of the ticket is still too high for me considering that I could probably fly roundtrip to Tromsø, Norway in economy for that price. But I think it could be worth it for some people, as long as they’re made aware of what to expect.

H/T: Smithsonian.

How I Flew Business Class to See the Northern Lights in Norway for $12

Catching the northern lights had been a dream for me since I was little and remember seeing photos of these crazy green streaks painting the night sky. So naturally, using miles and points to catch the northern lights quickly became one of my travel priorities. I researched a lot of different places to view the northern lights and after researching the best ways to use miles and points to get to Scandinavia, I decided to head to Tromsø, Norway, to try my luck at catching the northern lights. And I did so while flying business class for only $12! Here’s how I did it.

Membership Rewards

I had earned a lot of American Express Membership Rewards over the past year by taking advantage of huge sign-up bonuses like those from the American Express Platinum Cards and supplementing those earnings with spend and even bonuses from other Amex cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card. So I knew I had plenty of points to get us to Norway and I decided to use Aeroplan miles since they have one of the better redemption rates to Europe and allow you to avoid surcharges by booking with the right partner.

For this trip, we needed 110,000 Aeroplan miles to fly business class for two people to Norway. Membership Rewards transfer to Aeroplan instantly so as soon as we decided to make this booking we initiated the transfer and within a couple of minutes, we had our tickets booked!

The total fees for this trip came out to $24, so only $12 per person! To put that into perspective, according to Google flights, that would have been a $15,210 flight for two people. So we got 14 cents per point in value! That’s a superb redemption!

The route to Tromsø

Our entire route looked like this:

IAH -> EWR -> OSL -> TOS

We started our trip at IAH and spent close to two hours relaxing in Houston’s new Centurion Lounge. Of course, the Platinum Card that gave us our awesome sign-up bonuses always provides us with free access to the Centurion Lounge, which is definitely one of the better lounges in the US and my favorite at IAH. 

IAH Centurion Lounge.

When people say the Centurion Lounge at IAH is hidden they certainly aren’t joking as it’s just one step down from being considered a speak-easy lounge in my opinion. You’ll have to snoop around the duty free shop in Terminal D, near gate D6, but you should be able to find the elevators to the lounge eventually. 

I do love the lounge, though, and always have to go for my favorite cocktail offered there: The Chinese New Year.

IAH Centurion Lounge bar.


From IAH to EWR we flew on United’s business class on the 767-400. This aircraft came equipped with fully lie-flat seats, which surprised me since it’s only about a 3.5 hour flight to New York. They also issued new blankets from United’s Polaris product but everything else (menus, food, etc.) appeared to be standard. Surprisingly, they served up an enchilada dish that was actually extremely tasty, too! 

United Business Class


Once we arrived at EWR it was time kill around 2.5 hours on a layover. There’s an SAS lounge at EWR right next to the gates but this lounge was packed and I’m not even sure how we were allowed in. The body heat radiating from everyone inside the lounge made it even worse. So we literally spent about 5 seconds in the lounge and then just went out to the gates.

We got a little lucky with our booking because we really wanted to fly in SAS’s newly refurbished business class on the A330. This route had somewhat limited availability for our desired aircraft and we were booking over the Christmas holidays which made it even tougher to find open seats. But luckily the dates worked out for us and the booking was successful.

SAS business class.

The hard product business class on the A330 was pretty impressive. The seats are super sleek in appearance and I love premium seating with a lot of counter space, so these seats were perfect for that.

SAS business class middle seats.

When the seats are fully reclined, it can be a bit claustrophobic and the blankets and pillows aren’t very thick at all, so I didn’t find the 7.5 hour ride to be quite as comfortable as other business class experiences.

SAS business class lie-flat seat.

Still, the food, drinks, and service were pretty solid, so overall I definitely had a positive experience on SAS and would fly business with them again.


Coming in for landing at OSL.



The flight on a 737-800 from Oslo to Tromsø was around a 1.5 hours and we also had “business class seats” also known as “SAS Plus.” From what I could tell, this was essentially the same as Southwest’s Business Select, the only difference is that you have the first few rows reserved for SAS Plus with pre-selected seats. However, everything else from the leg room to the service appeared to be the same, at least on this flight.

The northern lights

We were pretty lucky to catch a solar storm on a clear night (on Christmas) while in Norway so we had an unforgettable experience with the northern lights!

Northern lights over north Norway.

I’m still working on my article on our experience but you can see the review of our northern lights tour and if you’re interested in catching the northern lights, too, I recommend you check out my article on tips for viewing the northern lights. Plenty of photos in those articles to inspire you to get out and chase the lights! 

Heading back in British Airways First Class

On our way back we decided to try out the first class product on a British Airways 747. Overall, I really enjoyed the first class experience and while it’s not quite Etihad or Singapore, it’s still nothing to scoff at. You can read about our experience on the first class flight here.

Brad on British Airways first class.

We booked each ticket with 85,000 American Airlines miles. Most of the time it’s recommended to stay away from British Airways to avoid the nasty fuel surcharges which easily come out to over $1,000 for a roundtrip ticket. However, we were able to mitigate the damage done here by booking a one way from OSL to IAH that routed through LHR.

It’s a pretty big difference from just flying straight from LHR to IAH, too. For example, the fees to fly directly from London to Houston were $483

However, when I routed the flight from Oslo to Houston with a stopover in London, those fees dropped to $260, which is much more reasonable. This worked out conveniently for us since we were already in Oslo for a few days, but it’s also a strategy you can often use to minimize surcharges. 

So for two oneway tickets in British Airways first class we paid about $520 in total fees. That’s more than I like to pay but we wanted to experience BA’s first class product and since fees were only around $12 to get to Europe this was a small(ish) price to pay. Also, that’s a $13,824 flight ($22,000 flight directly from London!). So our redemption was about 8 cents per point — not a bad redemption, either.

Final word 

Catching the northern lights in Norway has probably been my #1 travel experience of all time. And being able to get there and back flying business class and first class for a total of about $550 was a steal. In total we got about $30,000 in value for only $550 but the savings and value gained were only the cherry on top for this trip.

Chasing Lights: The Best Northern Lights Tour in Tromsø, Norway

This Christmas I fulfilled a bucket-list item of witnessing the northern lights (from the ground). I’d seen the northern lights from a plane before, but that experience could not hold a candle to the encounter I had in Norway of witnessing this amazing light show. We decided to join a tour with Chasing Lights out of Tromsø, Norway, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Here’s a review of my experience with Chasing Lights and some photographs from our experience.

See also:

Different tour packages

Chasing Lights offers an array of different tour packages. Some of these packages (which can cover as many as four days) offer lodging and northern light chases along with other activities like dog sledding. However, if you’re just looking to book tours for individual nights, you might consider the following packages:

  • Aurora Safari Bus Tours: 950 NOK
  • Signature Northern Lights Chase: 1,800 NOK for the first night (roughly $200 USD)

We decided to go with the Signature Northern Lights Chase since it seemed to offer us a few things we really wanted.

For one, we liked the idea of having a maximum amount of guests capped at 13. This made it a much more personal experience and also made it easier to have questions answered and get photos taken. On the Signature Tour, Chasing Lights also provides you with thermal suits, a tripod, a campfire experience, and homemade (and delicious) soup and hot chocolate and cookies. (These things are all included in the cost.)

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The tour

The tour begins with getting picked up from your hotel around 6 pm. You’re greeted by name by a cheerful guide and brought into the mini-bus/van. Inside the van, it’s a bit of a tight fit if it’s full of 13 guests. You’ll still be able to get comfortable but you’ll likely have to keep your bag on your lap or if it’s a smaller bag maybe under your seat.

Inside mini-bus Norway
Inside the “mini-bus.”

If you don’t want to keep your baggage on you, then there should be room in the back of the van or up front so you can free up some space on your seat. Also, as you enter the van, you probably want to take off your thick coats and outerwear because they’ll keep you nice and warm inside the van. If at any time you’re hot or cold, just let them know and they’ll just the temperature to help you get comfortable.  

After riding around and scooping up all of the passengers, we buckled up our seat belts and then were ready to take off on our tour right at 6 pm. The guides begin by explaining the basics of a northern lights chase. Things like what you should expect, what they’re looking for, and how long the chase might last, are all covered in detail. 

The Chasing Lights guides are extremely enthusiastic, passionate, and also very personable, so all around it’s a great vibe in the van. They keep you informed on everything that’s going on around you and are great about including everyone. For example, at one point a couple of guests left the group to warm up in the van and our guide, Meda, dropped everything she was doing to get their attention because she saw that a brilliant light display was coming (and she was right).  

The route on the chase

You never know what route the tour might end up taking. Sometimes you’ll head west toward the coast and other times you might head inland, sometimes even going as far as Finland or maybe even Sweden. You can see maps of the two vastly different routes we took on our two tours below:

Route of chasing lights tour Norway
Route on the first night.
Route of chasing lights tour
Route on the second night.

The guides make clear that you’re not actually “chasing” the northern lights themselves since they will appear regardless of where you are in the region.

Instead, you’re chasing two things.

The first thing is you’re trying to get away from the light pollution that can interfere with your ability to see the lights. While you can see the northern lights from Tromsø on a clear night, there’s still a fair amount of light pollution that will hinder your ability to see them and will make it difficult to photograph them.

The second thing you are chasing is a clear sky. You don’t actually need a 100% clear sky to see the lights. For one, you can often see the lights through clouds that are very high in the sky. And second, the clouds move so often and so quickly that all you need is for them to open up for a while to see and capture the lights. So don’t fret if the forecast is showing cloudy skies in the area because you never know when the sky might open up. 

Once you’re in an area where you can see the night sky, then it’s just up to the northern lights to show up.

Long nights

Because you’re dealing with nature, it’s possible that your tour could last all they way into the the early morning… I’m talking 4 to 5am! Our tours only lasted until about 1 to 2am, but just be prepared for a potentially long night. The good news is that the vans come equipped with wifi and it actually works pretty well! Still, you might want to bring some snacks and maybe even a small pillow to keep you comfortable in the event that you’re out on the road for a while and you get tired or hungry. 


The areas surrounding Tromsø are made up of many different “micro-climates” due to the topography created by the mountains, fjords, and islands. If you’re not familiar, micro-climates are geographical pockets where vastly different weather conditions can exist right next to each other. For example, it might be completely cloudy and snowing in Tromsø but completely clear in another region only about 30 minutes to an hour away. (This is why you shouldn’t obsess over the weather forecast for Tromsø.)

Inside mini-bus
Driving through the Arctic chasing the northern lights at 1:38am.

The varying weather conditions are one reason why it’s a great decision to go with a tour company like Chasing Lights. The guides are familiar with the areas that are drier and that can be clearer, so they know where to search for clear skies  Also, they often have multiple vehicles out all surveying different routes to scout out the clear skies. They communicate with each other in real-time, so it’s a lot easier to find open skies than if you were just searching for them by yourself with no knowledge of the local climate and weather patterns.

Another reason to go with a tour is that you may not be comfortable driving through the Arctic in the dark when roads can be covered in ice and visibility can be limited due to heavy snow and sleet. By going on a tour with Chasing Lights, you effectively have a team of locals working on your behalf to help you find clear skies, all while making sure you’re safe. To me, that makes the price tag worth it for many. 

The “chasing” routes

So your tour route will definitely depend on the weather conditions. On our first tour we drove out until we got past the snow and sleet coming down and arrived at an area where there were some breaks in the clouds. And that’s when we caught our first official glimpse of the northern lights!

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway
Our first view of the northern lights!

It was just a single, faint green streak,  but we stopped for some photos just in case the sky didn’t open up more and that was going to be as good as it would get — thankfully, it got much better than that!

The guides really do a great job of stopping the van (in a safe and viewable spot) as soon as possible when the lights are spotted. And you can help them out with spotting the lights by peeking through the windows. You’ll probably only be able to see a faint whitish-grey streak through the dark tinted windows, but when the lights strong you’ll be able to see them clearly with the naked eye.

After a few minutes, we ventured to another area where the clouds seemed to be breaking. Once there, we caught a better view of the lights but the clouds were still somewhat heavy.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway
The lights coming out a bit more.

This is when it really pays to be patient. There are plenty of times when the cloud coverage can change dramatically in a matter of minutes. At one point, we had about 95% cloud coverage and within 10 minutes the sky opened up big time, with thousands of stars coming into view with the northern lights following. It took a few minutes of waiting, but we soon caught these amazing displays of the lights.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway

Although clear skies are ideal, having clouds in your photos adds drama to the composition.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway

Once we got a sense of the cloud patterns and saw that openings were becoming more common, our guide decided to set up our little camp right there. The guide and driver put together a small fire and spread out reindeer fur hides for us to sit or rest on while warming up right next to the fire. They also came around with some hot chocolate and cookies to hold us over until dinner. And after dinner, we got to roast some marshmallows. 

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway
Making a fire under the northern lights. Photo via Chasing Lights.

One great thing about this area is that you’re allowed to set up fires on the side of the road pretty much anywhere. Also, there are tons of areas with spectacular views looking out to a fjord with snow-capped mountains, meaning that your chances are very high of having stunning compositions to work with when shooting your photos.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway

After camp was set up and we admired the ever-changing light show, we were served our soup, which was a meaty soup similar to a beef stew. It was delicious and hit the spot. If you have special dietary needs, just let them know and they should be able to accommodate you.

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Dancing lights

Just after dinner, the northern lights started to intensify. The green became brighter and the long stretches of lights filled up more of the sky. And then, the dancing started. The lights started moving fast with bright flashes of white and even pink and purple. It was the most stunning natural display of anything I’ve ever witnessed and it was happening right above our heads.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway

Luckily, our guide, Noora, was able to catch the action on the video below.

On our second tour the next night, we saw a similar display of brilliance but with even more pink glowing in the clouds.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway

Intense green bands also lit up the night sky. Even with the clouds moving in and out the second night, it was a spectacular display.

Northern lights tour Tromso Norway
Northern lights tour Tromso Norway
Northern lights tour Tromso Norway

Photos and video

I’ll write more tips later on photographing the northern lights but one great thing about this tour is that the guides are experts at photographing the northern lights so even if you don’t have the best camera for photographing the lights, you can rest assured that memories will be captured by your tour guide (and sent to you the next day).

And if you do have a good camera, the guides know the best settings for capturing the lights so they can provide you with some solid advice. And finally, they are great at taking snapshots of you under the northern lights so you can go home with plenty photos of yourself with the northern lights shining behind you.

Man with Northern lights
Photo by Chasing Lights.
Northern lights tour Tromso Norway
Photo by Chasing Lights.

What to wear on a northern lights tour?

Tromsø and the surrounding area doesn’t seem to get as cold as some other true Arctic locations, so that’s another reason I recommend for people to venture to Norway to see the northern lights — it likely won’t be as cold as places like Alaska!

With that said, when the wind picks up and it’s in the 20s (Fº), the wind chill can bring down the temperature significantly. And when you’re outside for hours at a time, it can be difficult to stay warm.

So what do I recommend?

I recommend wearing a good pair of wool socks along with a layer of thermals under your clothes and then layer a couple of items of clothing under your coat. Gloves and a beanie are obviously an essential as well. One thing that we really benefited from were these thin ski-masks we bought off Amazon. They’re very thin but did a great job of keeping our face and neck warm without the hassle of dealing with a scarf. Also, bring along “hot hands” to insert into your pockets and possibly even your shoes since it’s common for your toes to get really cold. 

The good thing is that if you go with the Signature Tour, you’ll have the thermal suits and boots to help protect you from the elements (along with heat packs). I actually never changed into one of those thermal suits but we had several people on our tour who did use them and they remarked that the suits worked wonders to keep them warm. If the wind proves to be even a little bit strong, I suggest you opt for the thermal suits to keep yourself warm.

Final word

My two northern lights tours with Chasing Lights were two of the most amazing and inspiring tours I’ve ever signed up for when traveling. Having a whole team working together to find the best places to watch for the northern lights helps your odds immensely when chasing the northern lights, especially when the weather is showing unclear skies (which is most of the time near Tromsø). Also, not having to deal with driving through the elements yourself and having access to thermal gear, warm meals and drinks, and a nice little fire makes the entire experience for more enjoyable. Chasing Lights is definitely worth the expense if you’re looking for a northern lights tour company in Norway!

Northern Lights… from a plane!?

My recent trip to Iceland to see the northern lights did not go as planned in many more ways than one. One of those failures was not being able to see the northern lights because of crazy overcast clouds. However, on my way flying into Iceland, I was able to capture the northern lights from our plane and thus at least partially fulfilled my wish of seeing the northern lights! Here’s how I did it.

Iceland Air Map

I first noticed the flight path as we were on the ground getting ready to take off. I knew that we would be in the “zone” for seeing the northern lights and that we would be above the clouds so that if the northern lights were actually showing I would be in good shape to see them. When I checked the kp Index I saw that they were predicting a “3” which is a relatively strong indicator that the lights would be out. With that information, I decided that I would stay up all night on the flight.

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About three hours into the flight, everyone on the plane just about was asleep. That’s when I started to focus intensely outside my plane window. After squinting pretty hard for hours, I noticed that there was something outside the window in the distance. It resembled a cloud but seemed to have a different texture and also extended far beyond where I remembered the clouds being. It was difficult to see because of the light pollution coming from the cabin and the light on the wing. I then grabbed a blanket and a jacket and essentially suction-cupped myself to the window, blocking out all stray light. That’s when I was sure I was looking at the northern lights!

I got pretty excited and knew I had to grab my camera. I positioned it on top of my camera bag in an attempt to make myself a make-shift tripod. I then turned up the ISO and put the shutter speed on about 10 seconds. After a couple of trial and error shots, I got the below shot.

Northern Lights from plane

Amazingly, the picture turned out much better than I had imagined. You can see the sky full of stars and can barely see the clouds near the bottom. The color of the lights were not that green in real-life but the camera sensor certainly did its job in picking up the light. I took about 20 or 30 shots of this until the light began to fade as dusk approached. It really was a somewhat magical experience and what was interesting was that everyone on the plane seemed to be asleep and missing out on this awesome sight. I wondered to myself how many other passengers would have gladly stayed up to see the sights and how many other people may have seen the same thing on this flight or another flight. Overall, I still hope to see the northern lights one day from the ground but for now I will treasure this experience — truly unforgettable.