Where to Experience Some of the Darkest Days on the Planet

In Tromsø, Norway, there is so much more to do than chase the northern lights.

Where to Experience Some of the Darkest Days on the Planet

mariusz kluzniak/Flickr

For two months of every year, the people of Tromsø, Norway, live in near total darkness. Tove Dahl, an educational psychologist who researches Arctic tourism at the University of Tromsø, explains why that’s the best reason to go.

“Tromsø is located 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, so people who have never been to this part of the world imagine that it will be pitch dark all winter. And while it is true that the sun sets at the end of November and doesn’t rise again until the end of January, the sun doesn’t fall into some abyss. It’s always somewhere just below the horizon during the day.

“It’s a beautiful time of year. There are crystals in the atmosphere that refract the sun at times, so it’s possible to have full daylight and no sun. But even on the darkest days, it’s not pitch black. The light changes, all in shades of blue, these really beautiful blues. Artists are attracted to this part of the world in the winter because of those blue colors.

“Winter travel in Tromsø has exploded. When I first moved to the city in 1993, the primary tourism was summer-related, and the hotels were very quiet in the wintertime. Now our biggest surge of visitors comes in the winter—people see it as exotic. They come for the reindeer, for the skiing, and of course for the northern lights. The longer the sky is dark, the longer you get to see the lights when they appear. They might be whimsical and faint or they might be dramatic and swishing and swirling.

“One of my favorite things to do in the winter is walk at night, when it’s completely dark, to Telegrafbukta, a beautiful park close to my house. You have a view of the ocean beyond, the sky, the stars, and if you’re lucky, the northern lights. Last year, I was walking into the park and I saw the silhouettes of three women, who I later learned were medical students from Brazil. The northern lights were out, and every time there was a swish or a flash on the horizon, they would giggle. To share this delight with people who are experiencing it for the first time is one of the sweetest parts of living where I live.”

>>Next: At the Edge of the World, an Indigenous People Thrives

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
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