top of page

Your guide to Northern Lights Tours in Tromsø 2024

Exploring the stunning phenomenon of the Northern Lights is a top reason travelers flock to Tromsø. Choosing the right tour can make this experience even more magical. Here’s most of what you need to know to select the best Northern Lights tour in Tromsø.

Northern lights in a valley outside Tromsø
Tromsø is a city

Tromsø, with its roughly 75.000 inhabitants is considered a medium-sized city in Norway - with all facilities and infrastructure that comes with that. There is a university, a hospital serving the region, shopping malls, coffee, hotels, about 1000 Airbnb beds, and a big cultural scene. The international airport is newly renovated and made bigger, and at the moment of writing this, the airport is opening up new direct routes to Europe every day. Getting here has never been easier.

... Alta and Kirkenes are also cities.

Alta and Kirkenes are also cities should you want to venture further north or east. Both with airports that connect to Oslo and Tromsø. Some might even say that these smaller cities are better than Tromsø due to the inland and more stable climate, and less light pollution in the cities themselves. The access to public transport, restaurants, happenings, and tour operators is however smaller than in Tromsø.

Tromsø and the Northern Lights

Tromsø doesn't have a very long history as the place to go to see Northern Lights. Just 20 years ago there were only 4 companies offering tours, and this guide would have been redundant. The idea to launch the marketing of the lights as a way to draw more guests to the Arctic capital was more or less laughed at, but looking back it was probably one of the most profitable decisions ever made. With the development of digital cameras and social media, we are looking at record numbers of people traveling north in the 2024/25 season as well. This has of course also made the number of operators a lot higher, and at the moment the estimate is that roughly 120 businesses are focusing on winter tourism and the green in the sky. That is why we have made the guide.

View from the cable car in Tromsø.
Why Tromsø is Ideal for the Northern Lights

Tromsø, often referred to as the "Gateway to the Arctic," offers some of the best opportunities to witness the Aurora Borealis. Located within the auroral oval at 69 degrees north, Tromsø experiences frequent and intense Northern Lights displays, especially during the peak viewing season from mid-September to mid-April. The infrastructure, with winter-maintained roads leading in all directions, makes the possibilities and flexibility here better than in some of the other known spots in Sweden, and Finland. High season is traditionally between December and March, and it is usually necessary to book ahead if you are planning to go during the busiest months.

Types of Northern Lights Tours

There are several options when deciding how to go on tour, and how you choose to go depends more on comfort and inclusions than the lights themselves.

1. Bus Tours: Often referred to as "Big Bus Tours". Ideal for those who prefer a comfortable, but not necessarily relaxing and quiet experience. These tours cover significant distances to chase clear skies and maximize your chances of seeing the lights if they find a spot to park. The tours normally go with up to 50 people, a driver, and 1 guide. A thing to consider when going with a big bus is that you might get stuck in one area, usually at a base camp facility. This has both advantages (toilets, indoor facilities and a plowed area where you can stay outdoors), and obvious disadvantages (no flexibility in chasing and people everywhere).

2. Minibus Tours: Offering a more intimate experience, minibus tours usually accommodate fewer people and can access areas larger buses cannot. Normally there will be 15 guests on these tours in high season. Some operators only go with a driver/guide, and some have an additional guide/photographer. Most bigger companies use a combination of minibusses and bigger buses.

3. Small group tours: A handful of companies in Tromsø are offering tours with 9 seaters, bringing a maximum of 6-8 guests. This could be a nice compromise between the private tours and the minibus tours. The cars are smaller giving even more flexibility, and with 6 guests you will feel seen by the guide that has more time for each guest. This is what we do at The Arctic Moments. The tours can be a few euros more expensive, but usually they are well spent to get you the best quality experience.

3. Photography Tours: Perfect for photography enthusiasts, these tours are led by experienced photographers who provide tips on capturing the Northern Lights. That said, most tours incorporate photography as a big part of the tours. By booking the photo tours you could expect to get more experienced guides that can also help with camera settings. At the Arctic Moments, our tours are a combination of small group- and photography tours.

4. Cruise Tours: A unique way to experience the lights is from the water. These tours offer a tranquil setting away from city lights and usually include food. The disadvantage would be that the tours are weather-dependent, and they have limitations on how far they will go. If the weather is cloudy at the coast, well then you are stuck at the coast.

5. Private Tours: For a personalized experience, private tours can be tailored to your preferences, providing flexibility and exclusivity. This is a very nice way of traveling if you are bringing smaller children that need more attention if you want to propose, or if you want more time with an experienced guide to help you with your camera settings. Since the tour is more flexible this is perfect if you are short on time. Keep in mind that even though the tour is private you will sometimes end up in the same areas as the other tours due to weather conditions or parking possibilities.

How to Choose the Right Tour for you?

The price range can differ by as much as 100 euros between the different types of group tours, and a private tour usually starts at around 1400 Euros. Although the lights can be seen for free and you don't have to do a guided tour to see the lights, it might not be a bad idea to let someone else drive and do the photos. Having a guide, in our opinion at least, will enrich the experience and give you something more than just the experience of the lights.

Northern Lights

While there are a few key differences between tours from various providers, many aspects remain the same. They all use identical weather and aurora forecasts, and guides often share information both before and during the tours. Therefore, the success rate among companies might not vary significantly. However, some companies stand out by having more experienced guides, local guides, and by going the extra mile to ensure you have a fantastic and satisfying experience after a long night out.

When selecting a Northern Lights tour, consider the following:

Duration: Tours can range from a few hours to an overnight adventure. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to this experience - especially if you have planned for other activities the day after.

Going to Finland: Many people mistakenly believe that Northern Lights tours from Tromsø will always take you to Finland. In reality, tours usually start at locations close to Tromsø. The journey from Tromsø to Finland takes about 3 hours each way, meaning that on a 7-hour tour, you would spend 6 hours just driving. Consequently, Finland is only considered as a last resort if the weather forecast and driving conditions around Tromsø and its nearby areas are unfavorable.

Group Size: Smaller groups often provide a more intimate and personalized experience, while bigger groups are usually cheaper. This is just the volume vs. quality kicking in.

Inclusions: Some tours include additional perks like hot beverages, snacks, warm clothing, chairs, photography assistance, etc. On the shorter tours, it is nice to get a cup of tea, and on the longer ones, it is necessary to eat something.

Reviews and Recommendations: Check online reviews and seek recommendations to find reputable tour operators. A good idea might be to have a look at the lowest ratings to see how companies have handled cancellations and poor service. Some guests might even give bad reviews for lack of Northern Lights, which you should not pay as much attention to. Giving bad reviews because of weather-related cancellations is also not something you should put too much emphasis on. We only cancel when the weather is crazy, and that is a good thing. Check online reviews on platforms such as TripAdvisor, Google, or other travel websites. Consistently positive feedback is a good indicator of a reliable tour provider, and if possible, ask for recommendations from friends or family who have experienced Northern Lights tours in Tromsø.

Guide Experience: Look for companies with highly experienced guides. Experienced guides not only understand the best spots for viewing the Northern Lights but can also enhance the overall experience with their knowledge and storytelling.

Local Knowledge: Guides with extensive local knowledge are more likely to find clear skies and the best viewing locations, even in challenging weather conditions. There are only a few companies in Tromsø that offer tours with guides who have lived in the area their whole life, The Arctic Moments being one of them. This is understandable as the Northern Lights tours and tourism in Tromsø are highly seasonal and people are hired on short-term contracts mostly during the winter. By booking a tour from some of the local companies you are at least sure that the revenue stays in the region. Local knowledge is priceless.

Northern Lights on a very nice evening 3 hours drive outside Tromsø.

Success Rate and Guarantees: Some companies offer a higher success rate for sightings or even a "Northern Lights Guarantee," where you can join another tour either for free or at a small discount if you don't see the lights on your first attempt. Smaller companies usually don't offer any "guarantees", but if possible they sometimes can move the tour to another day when the chances are considered to be higher. The success rate is highly theoretical as the lights are there for all to see, but on some nights it is possible to hear that two operators have been in valleys next to each other and one of the groups is stuck in cloudy weather not seeing the lights. This is just the nature of the Arctic. Last season we made a statistic on Northern Lights sightings for the whole season - it might serve as a guide to choosing the "right" month to come, but there are of course no guarantees.

Cancellation and Refund Policies: Understand the company's policies regarding cancellations and refunds, especially considering the unpredictable nature of the Northern Lights. There are enough companies in Tromsø offering a 24-hour cancellation policy, you don't have to go with the ones where you have to cancel a month ahead of time to get any money back.

Value for Money: While cheaper tours might be tempting, consider what is included in the price and the overall value. Higher-priced tours might offer better amenities, more experienced guides, smaller groups, and usually a higher chance of a successful sighting.

Hidden Costs: Be aware of any additional costs that might not be included in the advertised price, such as rental fees for warm clothing, extra for pickup/drop-off, a cost for downloading photos, or extra charges for longer trips.

Get the most out of the experience

Dress Warmly: The Arctic climate can be "extremely cold", so layering is essential. Get more information in our "How to dress" post. If you get cold, tell the guide. He or she will know what to do.

Be patient: Sometimes you see the lights getting in the car downtown, and on other nights you see them at the very end of a long evening. Even on the clearest days and with the best Northern Lights forecast, there are no guarantees that they will appear when you are prepared, and sometimes they are only in the sky for a few minutes.

Stay Flexible: The Northern Lights (and the weather) are a natural phenomenon and are very unpredictable. Be prepared for last-minute changes. On the day of travel be accessible by phone and/or email, the tour might have to be rescheduled on short notice. On-tour decisions can be made quickly - travel lightly, and be prepared to move to other locations.

Listen to Your Guide: Experienced guides have the expertise to find the best viewing spots and enhance your overall experience. If guides are doing something it is usually for a reason - some are transparent, and some are not. Ask the guide or driver (nicely) why they are making the decisions they are. Sometimes the answer will be gut feeling, and sometimes we are wrong.

Final Thoughts

A trip to Tromsø for the Northern Lights is a bucket-list adventure. With the right tour, you can ensure a memorable and awe-inspiring experience. Plan ahead, choose wisely, and get ready to be dazzled by nature's spectacular light show.


bottom of page