Where do independent travellers go for fun and safe Northern Lights hunts on their own? Harstad, a picturesque and friendly little city is a good candidate, and here are some tips on where to go and how to do it.
Harstad is immediately under the Northern Lights oval and enjoys maximum chances of spotting the northern lights. However, what do you do to maximise your chances of seeing the lights? That all depends on the time at disposal, how experienced you are at being out in winter and how adventurous you are. Here we have gathered some suggestions, ranging from easy things that can be organised on the spot to well-planned all-night adventures. Harstad sees very few Northern Lights tourists, so the number of organised tours is limited. Instead, the independent travellers can stage his or her own experience.
Downtown is a good solution if you have little time
“Nonono, you can’t see the lights in the city centre” people are often eager to tell you. “Get out of town”. This is not untrue, but the effect of light pollution is often exaggerated. Often, one has limited time and not the right equipment to be out for too long. Then a walk around the city centre can be a good idea. You can do a nice walk around the waterside, from the Hurtigruten dockside, further along the catamaran dock and then along the Kulturhus (Culture House) to Harstadhavna. From there, go up past the Catholic church to the main church of Harstad. You can easily prolong the tour by making some detours into residential streets nearby. It’s all safe and easy, and you can stop at bars and cafes along the way if you’re cold.
The path along the sea is easy and safe
If you have more time and a little more sense of adventure, but lack the expedition gear, you do the path along the sea. From town, you walk towards Trondenes on a path along the sea. Party built on ramps, partly on ground, the path leads you out of the city centre and into residential areas. You meet dog walkers, joggers, and strollers. After half an hour you have reached the 13th c. church of Trondenes. The church itself is floodlit, and not a good place to wait, but there are plenty of small roads in the area with little traffic, so you can walk around a little bit. You can walk back the same way, but if
The Folkeparken forest is a walk in the park
Another easy escape from the city centre is the Folkeparken forest area. This is a piece of natural forest just above the central areas. Before the snow settles in late autumn, there are plenty of paths crisscrossing the area. You can hardly get lost, and if you do, there will always be people there to point you the right way. In winter, many of the paths have been turned into cross country tracks. Of course, it’s a big nono to walk in ski tracks, so stick to the areas where others have walked. If it has snowed half a metre the last 24 hours, we suggest you skip it altogether. The area is accessible on foot from downtown, but you can also be dropped off by a taxi.
Where to look for the Northern Lights around Harstad
Some points of interest for the independent Northern Lights hunter.
A walk around downtown is good if you have little time
The path along the sea – Stien langs sjøen
The path along the sea to the old church is an excellent evening walk
Folkeparken – the city forest
Paths criss-cross the forest, and you’re away from the city lights, but not way out there.
Keipen – the view mountain
Fabulous views, and an easy hike all year for the moderately sporty
Beautiful viewpoint with free views to the north.
A fjord surrounded by mountains, with different microclimates, good for chasing the northern lights by car.
Historic island away from the city lights
Keipen offers the grand view
If the weather is clear, you have a whole evening at your disposal, have good shoes and proper winter clothing and feeling a bit adventurous, Keipen or Aunfjellet is a good excursion. From the end of the road at Aunfjellet, you walk a couple of kilometres uphill on a usually well-trodden path. At the top, you have a great view towards the north and northwest, all the way to Andøya and Senja islands. If pre-booked, you can actually also go on an organised tour here with snowshoes and a guide.
Elgsnes is the easy tour out of town
Harstad has plenty of historic atmosphere. The red, 18th century manor house at Elgsnes is a lovely place to hang around and wait for the northern lights. From here, there is a view north to the monumental mountains on the island of Grytøya and further afield, the island of Andøya. This can easily be arranged with your own (rental) car, but there are also organised tours available.
Go northern lights hunting in Kvæfjord
Sometimes the weather is just acting up. Snow showers dump their white cargo everywhere, and no clear skies can be detected. Then it’s time to rent a car and go looking for it. On the western side of Harstad, the deep fjord of Kvæfjord almost cuts the island of Hinnøya in two. Nestled between high mountains, one can be pretty sure to find a pocket of clear skies somewhere. The innermost part, Gullesfjord, is surrounded by towering peaks forming a perfect backdrop for the Northern Lights. Use one of the weather apps. If cloudy in Gullesfjord, make a foray into neighbouring Lødingen or towards the Raftsundet area in Vesterålen, to the immediate west.
Explore the islands – and see the Northern Lights
Another option if you have a car, is to go north to the island of Bjarkøy. This island consists of two small mountains, with a low passage of farmland in between. This is old Viking territory with a rich history, and could be explored in daylight. The views are also to die for. Then stay behind after nightfall for the Northern Lights.
Who helps you organise your Harstad Northern Lights hunt?
Visit Harstad is the local visitor’s centre, helping out with small, handy maps and bus timetables. They tell you where to hire skis and e-bikes (yes, you can e-bike in winter!) and generally direct you in the right way. They also have a couple of Northern Lights tours on sale, delivered by local tour companies.
The friendly tourist board at Visit Harstad assists you when planning your trip
5 things to bring
Make sure cars see you at night, both when you’re driving yourself and when you’re on foot. You can get them as reflective vests, at small, shiny plastic things to attach to your jackets or as wristbands.
If moving about in dark areas, a headlamp is helpful to adjust your camera. If you’re out in the sticks, it is compulsory.
If your mobile phone is out of power, and you need to call for help, things could be difficult…
Bring thermal underwear, a good jacket, a scarf, a hat and good gloves. Have a good sweater in the backback. This sweater is off when you’re on the move, and on when you’re sitting down.
The taxi number 770 41 000 and the bus schedule could come in handy. Ask the tourist information about the right bus schedule.