There’s something magical in the winter months in the northern latitudes and that is the appearance of the northern lights, and in this case the Svalbard northern lights.
The sky lights up in green, or sometimes other colours, as charged particles enter the magnetic norths atmosphere from space. This causes a grand optical display and the result is beautiful. If you want to know where to see the northern lights in Norway, then the Svalbard northern lights is a good option.
However from what many other travellers have told me, and according to northern lights forecast sites, Tromso northern lights are probably one of the best places for the Norway northern lights in general.
Svalbard Northern Lights
There is what they call the aurora ring where the northern lights will be visible. Longyearbyen in the Svalbard Archipelago, high up in the Arctic, is on the northern edge of this.
Normally to get a good display of the lights you need certain good conditions. The first is to have clear skies, as any clouds will block your view. The second is that it’s best to be away from any unnatural lights, such as being in town. The third is not having a full moon, as the brightness can make it harder to see them.
It also depends on how strong the particles are hitting the atmosphere. You could have perfect conditions and see nothing due to not much activity. Check the Longyearbyen/Svalbard northern lights forecast here.
The regions in the high arctic to see the northern lights are perfect as they have long polar nights during winter. This gives almost 24 hours of darkness. Ample opportunity to try and get a sighting.
Having said all that I spent a week in Iceland during winter and didn’t get the chance to see them because of the weather.
Within my first few hours arriving into Longyearbyen the sky above starting turning green. An awesome display of the northern lights then took place over a period of a few hours. The Svalbard northern lights were coming and going, as they danced in the night sky.
The amazing thing was that I could see all this within the town itself, and on a day with a full moon. Even in town you can just go 100 metres from the road into a dark area and get a decent view.
So having talked before about right conditions etc, I guess another thing you could add to that is pure luck. Whether you see them or not is simply up to the weather at the time.
Don’t give up looking though, as after a few hours of not seeing them on this same night, just out of nowhere they appeared again. They passed over the distant snow capped Svalbard mountains.
Living in Svalbard with the Northern Lights
What the locals do if there is going to be a really good display is to ride their snowmobiles up over the mountains. There they view them away from the lights of Longyearbyen. See if you can hitch a ride! You never know…
Naturally in summer time you will not be able to view them, as 24 hours winter darkness turns into 24 hours summer light.
How to Get to Svalbard
It’s very easy to get to Longyearbyen in Svalbard (the only way you’re flying in from Norway). From Oslo as there are many cheap flight deals.
Or if you have the money to burn you can take a polar cruise.
Hotels in Svalbard
This is where things get more expensive. Although you can find cheap flights to Longyearbyen (for Arctic standards), once there the accommodation is pricey. The cheapest options go from an average of $100 a night upwards.
Check the current rates of these Longyearbyen hotels with these links:
One of the cheapest options is Gjestehuset 102 and is the best option for those on a budget.
Also the Svalbard Hotell & Lodge
The Northern Lights in Norway
If you are mainly interested in just seeing the Norway northern lights, then you would be better of visiting the city of Tromso in the north of Norway, as this sits perfectly under the aurora ring.
Another good place to see the northern lights is to go to Reykjavik in Iceland and do a northern light day tour from there (in winter obviously).
Winter Svalbard Activities
Although you won’t really be able to view polar bears in winter due to it being to dark, there are other things to do in Svalbard in winter apart from seeing the Svalbard northern lights.
Dog sledding in Norway is very popular and you can also do this on Svalbard when there seeing the northern lights. If you’re lucky you could be dog sledding with the northern lights overhead!
This is a more in detail post about dog sledding in Svalbard.
You can go hiking up a glacier and enter down into an ice cave deep underneath and go exploring the labyrinth cavers underneath. The guides are experts naturally so don’t worry you won’t get lost.
Post about an ice caving experience on Svalbard.
There are other activities you can get up to on Svalbard in winter but these are some of the most popular.
- Be sure to take travel insurance for going to Svalbard if doing any activities there.
Svalbard Northern Lights and Travel
As you can see Svalbard is an excellent winter destination (also a summer one). There are plenty of things to do there and you may end up having one of the most unique travel experiences of your life.
Once away from the small settlement of Longyearbyen you will feel very remote and away from civilisation.
Take the Lonely Planet Norway (Travel Guide) for your trip or the Svalbard: Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, Franz Josef Land (Bradt Travel Guide).
If you want to know what it’s like living there I interviewed four people who live in Longyearbyen about what it’s like living in Svalbard year round.