The North Cape, Europe's northernmost point, remains a goal for many travellers to Arctic Norway, and crossing the Arctic Circle is only the first step on the long journey north. Whether you are venturing north in search of the northern lights or the midnight sun, as a wildlife enthusiast or a keen golfer, on a cruise or on land, the region has something different to offer. Tee off at Tromsø Golfpark, the world's northernmost course; join a giant crab safari in Kirkenes; go dog sledding or snowmobiling in Lapland; or take the trip of a lifetime to Svalbard to see the polar bear in its natural habitat. Like the polar explorers who travelled to Arctic Norway before you, you will be awed by this fascinating destination. Are you ready for the adventure?
- Northern lights
- Midnight sun
- Famous Norwegian polar explorers
- Cruising Arctic Norway
- Golfing in Arctic Norway
- Wildlife safaris
- Sami culture
The northern lights
Seeing the northern lights, or the aurora borealis, as they are also known, is a jaw-dropping moment, and Arctic Norway is one of the best places on Earth to observe this unique, striking natural phenomenon.
The lights are at their most frequent in late autumn and winter/early spring, between the autumn and spring equinox, although the best time to travel is from December to March. From December onwards, the weather dries up, and there is normally plenty of snow, a great time to experience the polar nights with atmospheric evenings and very short days. In February and March the days lengthen, meaning travellers see more of the snow-clad landscapes during daytime, while the evenings still offer maximum chances to spot the northern lights.
The driest weather, giving clear skies, is found inland, statistically providing the best chances, but with strong eastern winds, the coast can be clearer than inland areas. The full moon and places with a lot of light (eg cities) should be avoided as they make the experience considerably paler.
The midnight sun
The long summer nights in Norway always delight both locals and visitors, but the midnight sun, which can be observed anywhere above the Arctic Circle in summer, is a unique natural phenomenon and seeing it features high on the list of most travellers to Norway.
What is it all about? At that latitude, the sun does not set during the summer months, so you can, given fair weather, see the sun for a continuous 24 hours. The midnight sun season depends on how far north you are. At the Arctic Circle in the county of Nordland, you can see the midnight sun from 12 June to 1 July; at the North Cape in Finnmark you can see it from 14 May to 29 July; and at the North Pole the sun does not set for six months.
Located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, the Svalbard archipelago is unique, and draws nature enthusiasts from around the globe, who come here to experience true untouched arctic wilderness. This fragile environment is home to the polar bear, but also other mammals such as the Svalbard reindeer and the arctic fox, as well as walruses, seals, and a number of bird species.
Activities like ice-caving, snow-scooter safaris, cross-country skiing and dog sledding are popular in winter, while bird-watching, cruising, hiking (including glacier walks) or sea kayaking are among the summer activities on offer. A visit to one of Svalbard's old mine settlements can be undertaken year round.
Famous Norwegian polar explorers
Travelling to Arctic Norway, you will follow in the footsteps of several famous Norwegian polar explorers. Roald Amundsen was the first man in history to reach the South Pole, beating his British rival Captain Scott to the spot on 14 December 1911. A remarkable feat that brought Amundsen instant fame, and put Norway on the international map. Amundsen was also the first man to navigate the Northwest Passage, and the first to fly across the Arctic Ocean.
Others great Norwegian polar explorers include Fridtjof Nansen, the first man to cross Greenland on skis and the first one to get close to the North Pole on his Fram expedition in 1893-96 (Nansen was also known for his political contribution, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922); Børge Ousland, who crossed the Antarctic alone and in the winter of 1996-1997, covering a distance of 2,845 kilometres in just over two months; and Erling Kagge, who was the first to visit both poles and the top of Mount Everest.
Cruising Arctic Norway
One of the best ways to see Arctic Norway is on a cruise. Crossing the Arctic Circle just north of Mo i Rana at 66° 33′ 44″N and standing at the North Cape, Europe's northernmost point at 71° 10' 21"N 25°58′29″E are highlights for many travelling north in Norway. Hurtigruten (the Norwegian Coastal Voyage) follows the Norwegian coast from Bergen all the way to Kirkenes in Arctic Norway. Stops along the way include the Lofoten and Vesterålen islands, Tromsø, Hammerfest and Bodø, with daily shore excursions to make the most of the trip. One can, for example, go on a king crab safari in Kirkenes, join a Viking feast at Lofotr Viking Museum in the Lofoten Islands, go dog sledding or join a snowmobile trip in Lapland.
Cruises to Svalbard are offered by a number of operators (including Hurtigruten) and make for a truly unique experience, travelling deeper into Svalbard than land travellers usually do, and getting closer to the local wildlife.
Golfing in Arctic Norway
Want to play golf all night long? Well in Arctic Norway you can. Midnight sun golfing is the most popular golf activity for tourists visiting Norway. Here you will find magnificent golf courses only a stone's throw from the ocean and the untamed countryside. And with the ever changing daylight conditions, tee time is bound to be a distinctive experience.
Located outside Tromsø, Tromsø Golfpark is the northernmost 18-hole golf course in the world, while Lakselv, Banak Golf Links is the northernmost nine-hole golf course. Greenfee Lofoten Golf Links, Hov, Gimsøysand (half-way between Svolvær and Leknes) has nine holes too and offers stunning scenery, surrounded as it is by the rugged peaks of the Lofoten and the wide ocean. Narvik Golfklubb (18 holes) at Skjomendalen is another good bet for a round of golf in the region.
Nature lovers will be spoilt in Arctic Norway, whose rich wildlife makes for unforgettable encounters. There is a great variety of species here, many unique to the Arctic, and much to see, whether you have a passing interest in wildlife or are a dedicated bird-watcher prepared to spend hours in a hide observing a particular's species behavior. Highlights include sea eagle safaris in the Lofoten Islands; whale-watching in Vesterålen; bird-watching (including puffins) in Varanger or Røst; and polar bear and walrus spotting in Svalbard.
The first Sami arrived in Northern Scandinavia 11,000 years ago. At one with nature, Sami lived in tents (lavvo) and turf huts whilst they followed the reindeer. Reindeer herding is still central to Sami culture, and crucial to the subsistence of today's Sami, providing meat, fur and transportation. Reindeer sledding is popular in Finnmark in winter. The first encounter with Sami culture for most travellers, however, often takes place by the roadside. Sami selling souvenirs, including colorful local costumes, shoes and hats, reindeer skins, knives and handicrafts, are a common sight in Arctic Norway. Karasjok is the Sami capital of Norway, and home to the Sami Parliament of Norway, a Sami theme park, and some 60,000 reindeer in the autumn and winter months.
Festivals in Arctic Norway
- Tromsø International Film Festival, Tromsø (Jan)
- Northern Lights Festival, international music festival, Tromsø (Jan-Feb)
- Polar Jazz, the world's northernmost music festival, Longyearbyen, Svalbard (Feb)
- Reindeer races, Tromsø and Finnmark (Feb to Easter)
- World Cod Fishing Competition, Lofoten Islands (Mar)
- Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromsø (Jun)
- Arts Festival of Northern Norway, Harstad (Jun)
- Riddu Riddu Festival, Sami music festival, Kålfjord (Jul)
Did you know?
It is the sun that lies behind the formation of the aurora borealis. During large solar explosions and flares, huge quantities of particles are thrown out of the sun and into deep space. When these particles meet the Earth's magnetic shield, they are led towards a circle around the magnetic North Pole, where they interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere. The energy which is then released is the northern lights. All this happens approximatelty 100 kilometres above our heads.
The northern lights have given rise to many legends. Symbols linked to the northern lights are found on the Sami shamanistic drum. The phenomenon has several different names in Sami. It is, for instance, known as Guovssahas, which means "the light which can be heard". And during the Viking Age, the northern lights were said to be the armor of the Valkyrie warrior virgins, shedding a strange flickering light.
The name Svalbard means "cold coasts" and was first mentioned in Icelandic texts dating from the 12th century.
Longyearbyen has 2,040 inhabitants (population as of 2008). This is the seat of local government and Norway's main administrative centre on Svalbard. The small colorful community has developed from being a typical village town into a modern community with different kinds of businesses and industries, and with a wide range of cultural activities and opportunities.
Nearly 65 per cent of the surface of Svalbard consists of protected areas, including three nature reserves, six national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and one geotopical protected area.
Polar bears are excellent swimmers. They spend most of their life on sea ice and feed almost exclusively on seals. They can survive up to eight months without eating, and can easily walk (or swim) over 5,000 kilometres a year. An adult weighs typically 400-600 kg (males being larger than females) but cubs are only about 600 grams at birth.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seed bank outside Longyearbyen that preserves a wide variety of plant seeds in an underground cavern. The vault's mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional gene banks. On 10 March 2010 the seed count at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault passed half a million samples.
Polar nights ("mørketid" in Norwegian) is a phenomenon that occurs in winter north of the Arctic Circle. For a while the sun remains below the horizon, even when at its highest. This period increases in duration as one gets closer to the pole, where it lasts for six months. The return of sunlight after the long winter months is cause for celebrations in Arctic Norway - as with the "Solfestuke" (literally "Sun Party Week") in Longyearbyen for example.