The perfect winter wonderland, Arctic Norway is one of world’s most spectacular regions and unlike most of Europe, it’s relatively devoid of tourists. Hooray! The best way to explore Norway is by cruising through the fjords, and winter is no different. Recently I got to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity and fell in love with my Norway Northern Lights cruise.
Here are six reasons why you should book a Norway Northern Lights cruise:
1. Experiencing the Northern Lights in Norway
After a failed attempt in Iceland last year, we were determined to witness the eerie beauty of the Aurora Borealis in northern Norway. One of the most spectacular sights in the natural world and on so many people’s bucket lists, it was time to try a Northern Lights cruise – as it’s known for being one of the best ways to witness the Aurora Borealis.
Earlier in the itinerary than I imagined, we were blessed with unobstructed front-row views of the Northern lights whilst at sea. It had just passed 5pm, and whilst most people were getting ready for dinner, the caption announced over the tannoy to visit the top deck if you wanted a surprise. We eagerly joined the other cruisers and watched the sky unexpectedly came alive with spine-tingling ribbons, delicately twisting above our heads. The colourful dance lasted only ten minutes but left us breathless and wanting more.
Our best shot to see the Aurora Borealis again, would be in Alta, well above the Arctic Circle and dubbed “the town of the Northern Lights”. We docked for two nights allowing multiple opportunities to chase down Mother Nature’s elusive light show. The first night started off cloudy. We waited patiently inside a picture perfect cherry-red Norwegian cabin, keeping warm with hot chocolate and homemade ginger cake. Two hours passed and just as we were giving up, the clouds parted and vivid blasts of green started to leap from one side of the sky to the other. The shimmering Aurora lasted for forty-five minutes, allowing us plenty of time for photo opportunities. We were on a high and as we headed back to the ship, the mesmerising sky was all anyone could talk about.
Sadly, heavy snowfall meant our second evening was unsuccessful, but it reminded me to seize every opportunity that arises, rather than relying on tomorrow!
2. The relatively mild weather in Arctic Norway
Not surprisingly ice and snow are an almost permanent feature of winter in the Arctic zone. However the coast of Norway remains mostly ice free. Blessed with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the warm air of the Jet Stream, Norway, Europe’s northernmost region, is surprisingly warm.
Even in winter, it doesn’t get exceptionally cold on the coast – that is, compared to other places at similar latitudes. For example, during our trip in December the temperature didn’t fall below -5°C, but if you were to visit neighbouring Finnish or Swedish Lapland, it would be a LOT colder. Making booking a Norway Northern Lights cruise even more attractive!
3. Balcony rooms provide a breathtaking view of the Polar nights
From late November to mid January, the Arctic Circle experiences the Polar night, when the sun never rises above the horizon. This means that for a few hours a day, there is a twilight blue glow that washes over the landscape, before turning pitch black for the remaining 20-22 hours a day. Some may wonder if it’s worth paying a premium for a balcony room when the winter daylight hours are so limited. For me, as well as the unparalleled views (see below), having a balcony really helped to normalise my sleep by providing some natural light (you won’t know how much you miss it until it’s gone!).
4. Fjords in Norway
Undoubtedly one of the greatest places to experience the Arctic, Altafjord is a narrow and spectacular fjord, surrounded by steep valleys and snow-covered peaks. The endless vistas reminded me of Patagonia. Venturing through the rugged landscape felt like a true expedition and it was clear this would be a difficult destination to top. We were the only ship in sight and I later learned it would be three months until another Norway Northern Lights cruise ship sailed through these waters. We moved slowly through the calm fjord; all was tranquil until a pod of curious humpback whales came gliding by and I kicked myself for leaving my zoom camera lens in my room!
5. Husky sledding in Norway
A dog sled is the traditional way to travel in the vast Arctic wilderness, and a visit to this region has to include a husky dog ride.
I wanted an intimate, off the beaten track experience so I joined Northern Light Dog Adventure. Away from the crowds, the basecamp in Lakselvdalen was only an hour’s scenic drive from Tromso.
As we pulled up, I was immediately overwhelmed. Thirty six excited Alaskan husky dogs, all wanted to greet me at the same time. The dog yard was buzzing and as we took the harnesses out, the barking and jumping only increased. Each and every one of the friendly huskies wanted to shake my hand in the hope that they would be one of the lucky six to join my sled.
Firstly, I was provided with a thermal suit, hat, gloves and face buff, and given instructions on how to control the sled before setting off. It was clear at this point how eager the dogs were to run. I could feel them pulling on their harnesses and showing me just how powerful a team they could be.
What is husky sledding like?
The excursion let me experience both the joy of steering the sled and riding inside as a passenger, and I have to admit I enjoyed them both equally. Life as a musher, controlling the dog sled reminded me of skiing or surfing. The ride was thrilling, it felt like I was flying over the snow, my only role was to keep one foot on the brake if needed.
Watching the dogs at work was captivating. They weren’t as big as I imagined, but were a lot stronger than they looked, and were effortlessly pulling the sled over the tricky terrain. My job was easy, and I was grateful for that.
However, riding inside the sled was completely different. It was a cosy and relaxing way to absorb the stunning surroundings. The mountainous countryside was peaceful and tranquil, yet the rollercoaster ride made it exhilarating at the same time. Blue hour was upon us, and the crescent moon hung low in the sky, a picture perfect moment.
I spent an hour and a half gliding through the snow, before heading back to the basecamp to feed the huskies. I had evening plans to visit the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso so needed to leave early but next time I would plan to stay later and do the husky ride in the dark, in the hopes of admiring the Northern lights from my sled.
Northern Light Dog Adventure in Tromso runs daily tours from 1st December to 1st April, 10am-5pm. Prices are 2,450 NOK per person, minimum 2 people.
If you aren’t convinced Husky sledding is for you
I’d still recommend visiting a husky farm like Northern Light Dog Adventure in Tromso or Trasti og Trine in Alta. The playfulness and boundless energy of the huskies is contagious and you’ll be amazed at just how enthusiastic and friendly these beautiful creatures are.
6. Diversity of cruise ports on the Norway fjord cruise
Our Norway Northern Lights cruise took us to four different areas of Norway.
Åndalsnes in Romsdal
The mountaineering capital of Norway. Idyllically located in the valley of Romsdal, by the mouth of the river Rauma, the small; colourful town nestled in between fjords and dramatic mountains. The cruise ship docks in the town centre, perfect for shore excursions as well as independent exploration.
Known as the gateway to the Arctic, where nature and culture go hand in hand. Home to 70,000 lively inhabitants living on the edge of the Arctic in a spectacular setting between islands, picturesque fjords and dramatic mountain peaks.
Alta, Town of the Northern Lights
Alta lies well above the Arctic Circle at 70 degrees north latitude. With a population of 20,000, it is the largest city in the vast wilderness of Finnmark County. Winter activities include experiencing the unique and beautiful Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, snowmobiling, snow shoes hikes, dogsledding, cross country skiing, ice fishing, hunting for Northern lights, and reindeer sledding. Compared to Tromso, Alta is relatively small, so a handful of tour operators can cover all your needs. I can personally recommend Pæskatun, Trasti og Trine and GLØD Explorer.
Located in the south-western corner of Norway, is known as the “shortcut to the Norwegian fjords”. The Arctic cruise ship docks in the city centre, just a short stroll away from Stavanger Cathedral and the charming city centre with its cobbled pedestrian streets. Beyond this the region’s landscape varies between fjords, beaches and steep mountains. The Lysefjord and the iconic Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock) are just an hour’s boat trip away from the city. As well as the stunning views, the Lysefjord shore excursion also includes Norwegian waffles!
Norway Northern Lights cruise booking information
Norway and the Northern Lights, 12 nights, £929pp
P&O Cruises are offering a 12 night Norway fjord cruise on Aurora (R019) from £929 per person for an inside cabin. Departing Oct 30, 2020 the price includes full board meals and entertainment on board.
Departing from and returning to Southampton, ports of call are Andalsnes, Tromso (overnight in port), Alta (two overnights in port) and Stavanger. To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 03453 555 111 or visit your local travel agent. Click here for a list of excursions available in each port. Also check cruise118 for deals on Northern lights cruises.
Chasing the northern lights and husky sledding are just a few of the bucket list experiences that can be enjoyed on a cruise, for more inspiration check out the ultimate cruise holiday bucket list from ROL cruises.
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Interested in more winter adventures in the Nordics? Check out my ultimate guide to the Gothenburg Christmas Markets in Sweden.