Category: Aurora Borealis


Today we finally get to set foot on Greenland but we can’t see a thing through the fog – apart from the Danish warship cruising slowly past, checking us out.

Good morning?

The captain assures us that you can see for miles at sea level, but I’m not convinced. Eventually we head down to the tender and make our way ashore.

The mist lingers for a little while and then suddenly burns off as the sun gets higher in the sky. It’s a beautiful day after all.

Top tip: Despite being a Danish protectorate, Greenland is not part of the European Union. This means that you will not be able to use any roaming minutes or data included in your cellphone contract – even if it includes EU roaming. Expect to pay £2.50 per minute to make calls, £1.50 per minute to receive calls, £0.40 per SMS message and £5 per megabyte to use data services.

Bonus tip: Don’t activate your cellular data on land. And don’t expect to find many free WiFi networks either. You’re better off waiting until you get back on the ship to make calls and share photos.

Qaqortoq is a tiny place, especially with two cruise ships in port. Cruisers outnumber locals by about 4 to 1.

Island Princess is moored behind the Zuiderdam

There are a few shops and the supermarket is doing a roaring trade. Some of the cruisers I speak to are upset that the only coffeeshop in town has not yet opened.

Top tip: The café is in the central square near the famous fountain – and it opens at 12pm (so there’s no need to complain). They also sell beer.

There is a local fish market with two traders, one selling very large fish and the other seal meat.

Lovely fresh seal meat

The locals have also set up a series of small stands, selling polished stone jewellery in a vivid pink colour as well as beaded trinkets and polar bear claws. Behind them, local artists have made a series of carvings into the cliffs, one of the few attractions in the town.

Top tip: The local traders tend to accept payment in Danish Krone, Euros and US Dollars. There is a bank in town with a cashpoint if you need it – look for the large black building.

Despite the massive influx of cruisers, the town is surprisingly peaceful and looks beautiful in the sun. I suspect it is quite bleak here in the winter though.

Top tip: The locals offer plenty of iceberg and whale watching tours departing from the dock. Expect to pay around $100 USD per person.

There is a massive queue for the return water shuttle, but thankfully it moves quite smoothly. Once back on board we are treated to the sight of a helicopter dumping water on the local garbage dump where a controlled burn has got out of control.

I’ve seen more fire and ice in Greenland than in Iceland

Our next stop, Nanortalik, is just 75 miles from Qaqortoq, so we will arrive there around 10pm and anchor in the harbour overnight.

Just before heading to bed, I take my chances on the balcony – and finally get to see the Northern Lights. I’ve managed to tick two items off my bucket list – what a day!

Take it easy in Trondheim. Ish.

After a fairly rough night, we dock in Tronheim where it is very wet and windy. And as we look at the town from our balcony, wet snow begins to fall. Sideways.

Unused to the mobility scooter, particularly in inclement weather conditions, we decide not to take a trip into Trondheim. We’re not sure what to see, so why bother getting cold and wet just to wander around a city we hadn’t intended to visit in the first place?

A view of dark grey clouds over Tromso city centre
Eventually it stopped raining – about the time we were due to leave port

Instead we set up in the Lotus pool area on the top deck of the Island Princess. It’s not particularly warm, but the main deck is swimming in rainwater. With fewer people onboard, WiFi connectivity has picked up so I am able to crank through some tech copywriting projects.

Eventually it did stop raining – about the time we were due to leave. The wind blowing up the fjord is biting and brutal – and we need a tug to pull us back from the quay. Rain clouds continue to brush the surrounding hills, dumping freezing droplets on the ship.

Sailing back towards the Norwegian Sea we pass Munkholmen which may have been interesting, particularly for dark tourists.

A picture of Munkholmen, a small island just off Tromso
Unassuming and historic, Munkholmen sits just off the Trondheim shoreline

Relatively small, Munkholmen has been many things over the years, including execution site, prison, fort and monastery. Which is pretty cool. If we ever come back this way, we’ll probably pay it a proper visit.

The storm we have been avoiding is still making itself felt as we exit the fjord. The swell has decreased a little, but the ship continues to pitch and roll throughout the night.

Just before bed, the sky clears a little and we catch our first glimpse of the Northern Lights!

Our first tiny glimpse of the Aurora Borealis
As you can see, the sea was quite rough overnight!

Next stop, Tromso…

Into the Arctic Circle

Around 5:15 this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle. The drop in air temperature evidence that we are just 1000 miles(ish) from the North Pole.

A picture of sunrise in the Arctic Circle taken from our balcony on Island Princess
An impressive Arctic sunrise

Today is another sea day so I use it as an opportunity to catch up on some more work. Internet speeds are getting slower, suggesting that satellite coverage in the Arctic Circle is also more patchy. Watching TV on Amazon Prime Video is also getting more laggy, forcing many stops and restarts. At this rate we may have to start watching something provided on the stateroom TV…

This evening is formal night, a great excuse to get dressed up which we both enjoy. We feel that those who choose not to are actually missing out.

Probably the only time we ever see champagne bowls anymore

There’s a champagne waterfall in the plaza and a free glass of sparkling wine to start the evening, which is always welcome.

Top tip: Don’t want to buy a drinks package? Check out our complete guide How To Get Free Drinks On A Princess Cruise

After dinner I go out on deck to check if the Northern Lights are visible tonight – and they are!

There were some stunning colours visible tonight

I rush back to the cabin and Linda and I spend a few minutes in the Arctic cold admiring the natural light show before bed.

Holding the camera still during a long exposure isn’t as easy as it looks

Tomorrow we arrive in Tromso for a 14 hour(!) port stop.

Trolling in Tromso

Because of Linda’s mobility issues, we haven’t really planned a lot for our stop in Tromso. In fact we have just two items on our itinerary – a stop at the local Hard Rock Café and a quick drop-in on one of my relatives.

When visiting Tromsø, Princess ships dock at Breivika, to the north of the city. It is approximately 2.5 miles to the city centre and you have three options for getting there.

Note that there is an underpass at the port which saves the half-mile loop shown on the directions above

First, there are regular shuttle buses run by a local company. Tickets are $19.95 (USD) each and allow you to make unlimited trips to and from the city.

Second, there are local buses departing from a stop just outside the port gates – a 250 metre walk. These buses are much cheaper but may not be suitable for less-mobile travellers.

Third, you can walk into the city – which is what we chose to do. Linda rode her scooter into town and eventually I was able to pick up a hop-on hop-off electric scooter. The journey is quite hilly and, for the most part, lacking in sights. It is also extremely draining on the mobility scooter battery. Thankfully I bought a spare, because the first is almost empty by the time we arrive at the Hard Rock Café.

Visiting the Hard Rock Café in Tromso
Another one off the list – the only HRC in Norway

Linda is pleased to discover Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc on tap – it’s one of her favourite beers. I opt for a Norwegian lager which is insipid and uninspiring. A round of drinks costs over £20 GBP, so one is definitely enough. The café itself is quite small and the memorabilia collection extremely limited – but still better than the one in Amsterdam.

Afterwards we meet my relative in a nearby park.

A picture of me standing in front of Roald Amundsen's statue in Tromso
Apparently we are (very) distantly related

Facing a long walk back if the scooter battery fails, we begin the long journey back to Breivika. This means we have to skip the Troll Museum and Tromso Cathedral which is a shame. However, we do attempt (and fail) two geocaches on the trip to the ship. Thankfully we make it back on board – the scooter’s battery indicator is flashing empty.

Tromso looks like the kind of place we could have spent another day or two exploring. But we sail at 11pm, so maybe we will have to come back one day – once Linda has her hip done so we can try out the snowy mountains. Notably, Wizz Air has cheap direct flights departing from London Luton. And onwards to Gdansk if you want to make a good trip of it!

The sky is quite cloudy overnight and the Northern Lights are mostly obscured. Shame.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis over Tromso (mostly obscured by cloud)
The Aurora over Tromsø

Gravelly Gravdal

Our penultimate stop on our Northern Lights chase is Gravdal, a small town in the Lofoten Islands. It’s another beautiful area, with snow capped mountains rising out of the sea on all sides of the ship.

A picture of Gravdal and the Lofoten Islands taken at sunrise
A pink sunrise tinges the top of the Lofoten mountains

However, the landscape is the biggest draw here, meaning that hiking and climbing are the main activities on offer. Not so good when travelling with a scooter.

Regardless, we head ashore on the mostly-empty tender for the short ride to the dock. As always, a collection of coaches is waiting to take paying travellers to see the sights, such as the Viking Museum in Lofotr.

Despite bright sunshine, it is quite icy and chilly, so we stand on the dock for a while debating what to do. The port is roughly two miles from the nearest towns – Gravdal and Lesknes. We could walk to either – but then what? Neither has much to offer except shopping, which is not what we classify as sight-seeing.

So we compromise. I climb a small hill and record our only geocache (GC6TKA1) of the day while Linda waits patiently below. Afterwards, we go into the tourist shop located at the end of the pier and buy a Lofoten-themed Christmas tree decoration.

Ben & Linda posing with some drying fish in Gravdal
Posing with the locals

Afterwards we head back to the ship for a lazy afternoon.

Later that evening, the sky stays clear and we are finally treated to some spectacular displays by the Aurora. We also see the red colours for the first time, faintly, as we head into dinner. The Captain has promised to announce any sightings over the onboard intercom – and does so just as we are seated in the dining room. Immediately the room empties as most people surge for the upper decks. Some return later, claiming to have seen nothing.

There are a few more announcements during the evening and the quality of spectacle varies each time. Sadly the celestial wisps are not quite as brightly coloured as they were on Sunday, but they are definitely much, much larger – and easier to spot with the naked eye.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis over Gravdal
Light pollution is a serious problem on a cruise ship
A picture of the Aurora Borealis taken from the top deck of the Island Princess
A shot from the top deck of the Island Princess

Overnight we will re-cross the Arctic Circle – and the weather is set to deteriorate too. So this will probably be the last time we see the Aurora Borealis on this trip. But it has definitely been worth staying up late for.

A photo of the Norther Lights shot from the back of the Island Princess sailing away from Gravdal
Proof that the Norther Lights aren’t just green

Our final stop on this cruise is Ålesund, a port we visited a few months ago. Sadly the weather is looking pretty grim, so we may have to alter our sightseeing plans a little.

Aurora Borealis – Sometimes you get lucky

We have seen the Aurora Borealis a couple of times over the past few years, usually somewhere up near the Arctic Circle. Last night we were lucky enough to catch sight of the Northern Lights from our own back yard in Eastern England.

And it was spectacular.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis looking north west
Looking north west
A picture of the Aurora Borealis looking north east
Looking north east

Obviously, it is incredibly rare to see the Aurora Borealis this far south. Even more so to see this level of colour and detail. As always, Norway and Iceland offer a far greater chance of seeing the phenomenon in real life, but sometimes even the UK gets lucky.

If you happen to be in the UK, you can monitor Aurora activity with the AuroraWatch UK app. It’s free and will even alert you to heightened activity (when you are most likely to see it).

Fingers crossed we get to see the Aurora again in July as we head to Greenland and Iceland.

*Note: Neither of these photos of the Northern Lights has been altered in any way. They were captured on an iPhone 14 with the low-light Night Vision mode enabled.

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