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Norway's Northern Lights

Written by  Monique Burns

Europe-Lights
Streaks of purple, pink and green, the Northern Lights dance across Arctic skies, from September through April, when solar winds collide. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the lights can be seen close to home in Alaska and Canada. But, these days, savvy travelers are heading to Norway. At the center of the Northern Lights belt, and with low-lying mountains and miles of coastline, Norway offers some of the world’s clearest and most unobstructed views. The Gulf Stream also keeps winter temperatures relatively warm—a big plus when hunting the nighttime lights.

By day, Northern Norway offers a range of cultural and outdoor activities. Visit the Samis, who have herded reindeer across northern Scandinavia for thousands of years, and explore open-air museums where fishermen and merchants have traded for centuries. Hike through the countryside, or try kayaking, surfing, deep-sea fishing and stand-up paddleboarding in the North Sea’s temperate, ice-free waters.
Northern Lights tours abound in Norway, including voyages aboard the historic Hurtigruten line, famed for its cruises along the country’s fjord-indented coast. But mapping out a land-based itinerary is also easy.
Arriving in Oslo, Norway’s capital, spend a few days cruising the Oslofjord, visiting the waterside Tjuvholmen arts district and sampling farm-fresh New Nordic Cuisine. From Oslo, it’s a 90-minute SAS flight northwest to Bodø, a popular jumping-off spot for the idyllic Lofoten Islands, offering sports and cultural activities by day, and the Northern Lights by night.
With its simple airport, Bodø looks like a frontier outpost. But it’s actually North Norway’s second-largest city after Tromsø and Nordland County’s capital. Rising beside the stylish glass-and-steel tower of the 234-room Scandic Havet hotel (www.scandichotels.no) is Stormen (www.stormen.no) concert hall, opened in November 2014. Quickly becoming an international arts center, Bodø has been strategically important for decades. In World War II, it was razed by Nazi bombers. In 1960, pilot Gary Powers’ American U-2 spy plane, headed from Pakistan to Bodø, was shot down over Russia. Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to bomb Bodø’s airfield—but, fortunately, didn’t. Today, Bodø is a NATO headquarters and home to the Royal Norwegian
Air Force.

History and Culture
See a U-2 plane and other flying machines in town at the national Norwegian Aviation Museum (www.luftfartsmuseum.no). Twenty miles away, at Saltstraumen, the world’s most powerful maelstrom, over 400 million cubic meters of water rush every six hours through a strait between the Saltenfjord and Skjerstadfjord. Watch from shore—or plunge into the whirlpool in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, or RIB, with local outfitter Stella Polaris (www.stella-polaris.no). Saltstraumen also attracts divers, and anglers fishing for cod, wolffish and halibut.
About 25 miles outside Bodø, explore Kjerringøy Trading Post (www.kjerringoy.info), a waterside open-air museum where fish was traded in the 19th century. Tour historic wooden buildings, including a well-stocked general store, a boathouse with long Viking-style skiffs and a merchant’s home with genteel period furniture. At Nyfjøsen Café, lunch on local favorites like bacalao, the salt-cod stew that Norwegian mariners exported around
the world.
To experience the culture of the indigenous Sami people, formerly known as Laplanders, drive 2 ½ hours east of Bodø to Saltfjellet mountain and the rustic Oskal Family Farm (www.saltfjellrein.no). Help father and daughter, clad in reindeer skins and colorful Sami dress, feed lichen to their herd of friendly reindeer. Then gather around a campfire to sip coffee and hear hauntingly lyrical Sami folk songs known as joiks. Reserve ahead, and enjoy a traditional Sami dinner in a tepee-like lavvu.
A short drive away, past the imaginary line marking the Arctic Circle (www.polarsirkelsenteret.no), is historic Saltfjellet Hotel Polarsirkelen (www.saltfjellethotell.no/rom.html), with bare-bones guest rooms, and an elegantly appointed dining room serving back-country specialties like reindeer, salmon and moose with local beers and imported wines.
The next morning, at Lønsdal Station, hop the train—billed as the “Polarexpress”—for the 90-minute ride back to Bodø past glistening fjords and snow-capped mountains. Spend another night at Bodø’s quayside Scandic Havet hotel. Or choose the recently restored Thon Hotel Nordlys (www.thonhotels.com) whose stylish rooms feature stunning Northern Lights murals. Then head to Leknes, the Lofoten Islands’ most populous town, a 25-minute flight aboard regional
carrier Widerøe.
Named one of the world’s three most beautiful archipelagoes by National Geographic, the Lofoten Islands are a splendid spot to hunt the Northern Lights and also pursue outdoor adventures. In Hamnøy, at Eliassen Rorbuer (www.rorbuer.no), traditional red-and-white fisherman’s cabins called rorbuer have been restored to rustic luxury with wood-paneled bedrooms, cozy living rooms, and modern kitchens and baths.
Off Ramberg Beach’s white sands, join friendly, family-run Lofoten Adventure Company (www.lofotenadventure.co) for stand-up paddleboarding in the gentle waters. Another day, sign up with Aqua Lofoten Coast Adventure (www.aqualofoten.no/en/fishing) to catch halibut, wolffish and cod on a four-hour North Sea fishing expedition. Or hike through low-slung mountains to scenic spots like Bunes Beach.
In the village of Å, the Lofoten Islands’ centuries-long fishing heritage is displayed at the open-air Norwegian Fishing Village Museum (www.lofoten-info.no/nfmuseum) whose buildings include a boathouse, bakery and cod-liver oil factory. At the offbeat Sund Fisheries Museum (www.lofoten-info.no/sund-mus.htm) in Sund, tour the fishing museum, browse an eclectic collection of boat motors, music boxes and other oddities, and watch the local smithy transform iron into stylish minimalist sculptures.
Come evening, sample some of the world’s freshest seafood, along with wild game, and farm-raised lamb, chicken and beef, in elegantly rustic restaurants like Hamnøy Mat & Vinbu (www.lofoten-info.no/vinbua.htm) in Hamnøy and Gammelbua (www.reinerorbuer.no) in Reine. In early spring, try mild, flavorful skrei, spawning cod running from Norway’s northernmost reaches, near the Russian border, south to the Lofoten Islands.
Back at Eliassen Rorbuer, dress warmly, grab your camera and head into the Arctic night. High above the fjord’s ink-dark waters, and the low-slung red-and-white cabins, the night is ablaze with stars. Suddenly, streaks of green, pink and purple flash across the sky. It’s the Northern Lights—a rhythmic dance that’s gone on for millennia, but never fails to amaze.

For More Information
For flights, contact Norwegian (www.norwegian.com), Scandinavian Airlines (www.flysas.com) and Widerøe (www.wideroe.no/en). For information on Norway, visit www.northernnorway.com and www.visitnorway.com

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