The Northern Lights has quickly become one of the most attractive natural phenomena in the world. Tourists and photographers travel the globe in search for the magical ‘Lady in Green’ in hopes of witnessing her dance so beautifully on the otherwise dark night sky above us.
Norway, in particular, Northern Norway, has become one of the most popular locations to visit for aurora hunters. With its rugged mountains, picturesque fjords and overall stunning nature it’s not hard to understand why so many choose to plan their aurora holiday to Norway. However, many aren’t aware that the Aurora Borealis isn’t easily visible in all of Norway and they expect to see it wherever they travel within the country. The truth is that it’s quite rare to see in the southern and eastern parts of Norway.
I have traveled the world and helped photographers find the best places to capture the best photos, like when I shared with my favorite photography locations in Northern Spain. But, I was born and raised in a small town about an hour south of Oslo. For years I’ve been working as a photographer, but it wasn’t until two winters ago I saw the northern lights in my home time for the first time. I can blame this on my ignorance and lack of knowledge but that simply shows that even the locals aren’t aware that you can see the phenomenon in this region. Since that time I’ve had the pleasure to witness the northern lights several times, both in my hometown and region, on the Lofoten Islands and on Iceland.
It’s not quite the same
I’ll be honest with you. Watching the northern lights in the southern parts of Norway will most likely not be as impressive as seeing it in Northern Norway. The lights appear much weaker this far south and it’s extremely rare to get a powerful display of red, green and blue straight above your head.
The northern lights you will see in this part of Norway is much more subtle and, unless you’re lucky to witness a rare outburst, you might not even notice it straight away.
This doesn’t mean that the phenomenon is any less beautiful, though. Just a tiny glimpse of it will leave you craving more!
How to see the Northern Lights in Southern Norway
Before we get into the details of how you can find the Northern Lights in Southern Norway, we need to clarify some facts.
The Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon that occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun enter earth’s atmosphere. While this happens throughout the day, it’s only visible when it’s dark. Since the days are long during the summer (Northern Norway has 24 hours of sunlight during that period), the Northern Lights aren’t visible all year around.
You’ll have the best chance to see the Northern Lights between late September and early April. Since the days are darker during this period (Northern Norway has up to 24 hours of darkness), the likelihood of seeing some activity on the sky is much higher.
Pay Attention to the Aurora Forecast
The main difference between chasing the northern lights in Northern Norway and Southern Norway is that to see it in the south, you need a much higher KP Index (the measurement of its activity).
There are many smartphone applications with detailed graphs and stats monitoring the sun’s activity as well as the Aurora activity. However, the easiest way to know if there’s any activity is by paying close attention to Aurora Service.
If the KP Index is lower than 5, there’s a very low chance for seeing the Northern Lights in the South of Norway. It is possible to get a glimpse of it at KP4 and sometimes an unexpected burst can appear but this is very rare.
Personally, I don’t go out looking unless it’s KP5 or higher.
Pat Attention to the Weather Forecast
As you might have guessed, there are many factors involved when chasing the northern lights. Not only does it have to be during a specific period of the year, the solar activity needs to be high and the clouds need to be clear.
Without a clear sky, you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights. Keep in mind that the weather can change quickly in Norway and it might not be long until the clouds disappear.
Get Away From City Lights
Light pollution is your worst enemy when chasing the ‘Lady in Green’. Inside the city center you will have an extremely low chance of seeing the Northern Lights, even on days with high activity.
To increase your chances, leave the city behind and head somewhere far away and dark. Make sure that there’s not much artificial light in the area you’re going to. The less artificial light, the higher the possibility is that you’ll see something.
My last tips for seeing the Northern Lights in Southern Norway is to find a field or an open area where you have a clear sight towards the north. In this part of Norway, it’s not often you’ll see the lights dance above your head. Instead, the lights lay in the northern horizon. Sometimes it lies there calmly but other times you can clearly see it dance. If the KP Index is 6 or up, you might even be lucky to see it above you.
The southern parts of Norway is not known for the Northern Lights but when it first arrives, it’s well worth the wait. I’ll end by saying that if your main reason to visit Norway is to see the Northern Lights, you’ll have better luck in the northern region. But there is plenty of incredible landscapes, seascapes and cities in the southern region that shouldn’t be missed. Also, seeing them in the south will be a unique experience that you will never forget.
Christian Hoiberg is a Norwegian landscape photographer and the creator of Capture Landscapes, a website devoted to helping artists improve your landscape photography. His images can be found on his website or Instagram.