We’ve just come back from our Arctic Highlights Cruise in Norway, sailing from Tromso to Kirkenes and back. We chose this cruise because you spend the whole time in the Arctic Circle, so it’s your best opportunity to see the Northern Lights!

OVERVIEW

Our cruise was onboard MS Nordkapp, which is one of the ships operated by Hurtigruten. Hurtigruten operates a regular service from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes on the Russian Border. As a expedition ship, it is relaxed and informal, with no need to dress up for dinner.

Excursions are offered at regular ports of call and can be prebooked or arranged onboard (subject to availability). It is possible to cruise the entire journey or do a round trip from Tromso to Kirkenes.

Our six day holiday included four days onboard ship and two days at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Tromso. Breakfast and dinner was included on the ship, and breakfast only in the hotel. On our particular cruise, we didn’t arrive in Tromso until 23.45 on day four of the holiday, so actually there was only one day when dinner wasn’t included!

EXCURSIONS

We booked two excursions during the cruise and one while staying at the hotel in Tromso. Unfortunately our excursion to the North Cape was cancelled due to high winds, but we were offered an alternative excursion to the fishing villages around Honningsvag. It was really interesting to see the fish hanging up to dry outside the houses!

Our second excursion to the Russian Border was the highlight of the trip as we visited a theatre made out of ice and a World War 2 bomb shelter where we learned about the history of Kirkenes before heading out to the Russian Border itself.

On our third night it was announced that the Northern Lights could be seen as we were sitting down to dinner – the 300 seat restaurant emptied in about 1 minute and everyone was outside watching! We also had another slightly better showing of the Northern Lights later in the evening. You can never guarantee whether you’ll see them or not so we were really lucky!

We had booked an Aurora safari and cable car trip for our last night in Tromso. Unfortunately it was cloudy and snowing so we couldn’t see the Northern Lights, but we did get to sample other local food, including reindeer stew, during a lovely evening on the mountain.

You can see more photos of our trip on our Facebook page.

 TOP TIPS FOR YOUR ARCTIC CRUISE

  • Be prepared for snow. It sounds obvious, but Norway in winter is cold and slippery. Make sure you pack layers and sturdy footwear, and watch where you’re walking at all times. Walking poles may help even if you’re not going far.
  • Be prepared to be flexible. In winter conditions, the weather can change drastically and safety comes first. The ship may not be able to dock if the weather is too bad, and excursions can be cancelled, so be prepared for changes to your itinerary
  • Don’t underestimate your budget. Norway is an expensive country, particularly onboard ship, where we paid £11 for a glass of wine and £12 for a cocktail, so be prepared to budget accordingly (2017 prices)
  • Don’t be disappointed. The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon and we can’t predict when or if you’ll see them. Think of them as the icing on the cake, and if they appear, enjoy!

SEEING AND SHOOTING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Everyone wants to see the Northern Lights, and everyone wants to take a photo! Here are a few tips to get the best out of your opportunity:

  • Find out if conditions are right for the Northern Lights. They’ll only appear under certain conditions, so ask your hotel or cruise ship whether the forecast is good. You can also download an Aurora Forecast app if you want to check yourself
  • Arrange a wake up call. Our cruise ship announced when the Northern Lights were visible even if it was 2am, so leave your intercom turned on to make sure you hear the announcements
  • Dress warmly and go outside. Ideally you need to be somewhere with as little light pollution as possible.
  • What you see with your eye isn’t what the camera sees and you probably won’t see the bright greens and purples with the naked eye. For us, the Northern Lights appeared as silvery cloud-like wisps moving through the sky. Don’t be disappointed – this is normal!
  • You need a camera where you can control your ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed – also known as manual settings. Forget your phones, they’re just not good enough. A rough guide, and the settings I used for these pictures, are ISO 1000, Aperture F4 (the lowest on my lens) and a shutter speed of 25 – 30 seconds. Give it a try and adjust if you need to (you might need a longer or shorter exposure)
  • Hold it steady. As you can imagine, this is not so easy on a moving ship! Ideally you want to be on firm land with a tripod, but if, like me, you’re onboard ship, either bring your tripod onto the deck, or balance your camera on the railings. It’s not ideal, but you should get something.

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