Chasing the northern lights onboard the Norwegian Coastal Express

From Bergen (60°39’N) to Kirkenes, via the North Cape (71°10’N), the itinerary of the Hurtigruten Coastal Express includes 34 ports of call stretching over 1 460 nautical miles (2 700 km) along the Norwegian coast. The name of our ship, MS Nordlys, means “northern lights” in Norwegian. Could this be a good omen? A look back on our trip in late autumn of 2022.


We travel to Bergen from Paris-Charles De Gaulle airport via Amsterdam.

Our adventure starts here, in Bergen (60°39’ North). We arrive in Norway’s second largest city at the end of autumn, our previous visit having been in the summer. Once again, we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy Bergen without the rain.

As the MS Nordlys sails from Bergen harbor after nightfall, the city forms a bright ribbon snaking along the darkened coastline. The lights on the shore seem to glitter in the distance.

Day 1

The first morning on board slaps us in the face with an breathtaking sunrise. Golden light skims across tiny islets as we leave the village of Torvik. 

The next thing that hits us is the utter calm, serenity, and silence reigning in the Hjørundfjord, a narrow fjord that is almost like a natural cathedral. The steep, ragged mountains on either side seem almost to burst up from the water and stretch towards the sky, while the snowy peaks don a light veil of clouds. 

Slender streams slither down the mountainside, drawing white gossamer on the rocky slopes and trickling down into the fjord. The dizzying landscape gliding languidly past feels deeply relaxing.

Our main stop of the day, nestled in the heart of the fjord, is the pocket-sized village of Urke – population: 38. We wander through this sleepy hamlet, tinged with autumn hues and lined with a handful of wooden houses, against a spectacular backdrop of mountains slightly dusted with snow. In this peaceful fjord, we feel as though we are alone in the world.

Day 2 

On the second morning, we are met with yet another amazing sunrise in shades ranging from pink to orange across a pale blue sky on the Trondheimsfjord.

Near the port of Trondheim, by the legendary Munkholmen (Monks’ islet), the MS Nordlys passes a southbound Hurtigruten ship. The two vessels greet each other by sounding their foghorn three times. Members of both crews wave Norwegian flags at each other on deck.

Time for our second incredible experience of the day: exploring Trondheim (63°25’ North). We fall in love with Norway’s third largest city as it appears before us in a wash of soft sunlight and brilliant autumn colors. 

Our favorite discoveries in Trondheim:

• The colorful wooden houses in the old working-class neighborhood of Bakklandet

• The “Gamle Bybro” bridge, adorned with wooden archways. This footbridge (reserved for pedestrians and cyclists) offers a stunning view of the city’s famous 18th-century wooden warehouses, whose colorful façades are reflected in the surface of Trondheim’s main river, Nidelven.

• The majestic Nidarosdomen (Nidaros Cathedral), which is Norway’s only church in the Gothic style. The cathedral comes slowly into view as you approach the surrounding park and cemetery, Domkirkegården. The leaves on the trees make up a beautiful mosaic in tones of yellow ochre and orange. 

Before heading back to the boat, we make a stop by the main square, Torvet, to tuck into a couple of kanelboller, which are Norwegian cinnamon buns. Hevd bakery is located right near the statue of Trondheim’s founder, Olav Tryggvason.

Depending on how long the MS Nordlys remains docked in each port, at least one stop a day will allow you to disembark and enjoy a walk on shore. Some places will leave you wanting more, and this was clearly the case for us in Trondheim.

As we leave the city, our ship makes its way between reefs and rocky islets.

It regularly passes and crosses paths with all kinds of fishing boats, from longliners to trawlers. Some are surrounded by flocks of ravenous seagulls, all poised to swoop in and catch even the tiniest little fish that should get away. 

Day 3

Our third morning on board starts out with one of the highlights of the trip. At exactly 07:44 AM, just before sunrise, we pass the Arctic Circle (66°33’ North), a symbolic point marked by a metal globe on a small islet. Once we are level with the globe, the ship loudly sounds its horn, making Stéphanie nearly jump out of her skin.

Later that morning, at the aft of the upper deck, the event is celebrated with a ceremony that’s become a bit of a tradition. Njord, the Norse god of the sea, dumps a ladleful of ice water down the neck of willing passengers, before encouraging them to down a shot of Norwegian spirits.

Along the horizon, the mountainous islands of the Helgeland coast appear like massive frigates carved into stone. The spectacular, sumptuous landscape becomes all the more breathtaking when it is bathed in Arctic light. 

The coastline is dotted with little red houses that appear further and further apart. We begin to wonder how people manage to survive in such remote areas, so far away from the rest of the world.

Once we arrive at our main stop of the day, we roam the streets of Bodø, in search of street art and murals. We also make a stop at Stormen public library, which has been named one of the world’s most beautiful libraries by Wired magazine.

There is a big event in town. Cafés, restaurants, shops, offices, even apartment windows – the whole city is bedecked with hundreds of flags in yellow and black, the colors of the local football (soccer) club. Bodø-Glimt is playing a European cup game at home. To the locals’ great disappointment however, the visiting team walks away with the victory.

The northern lights are like a rare and shy animal. They only come out at night, when conditions are ideal: strong solar winds, clear skies, and minimal light pollution. You need to be patient if you want to catch a glimpse of the misty, emerald lights dancing across the sky. 

Day 4

Just before sunrise, the first glow of daylight is no more than a dim thread in the distance. On the starboard side, the snowy peaks are trimmed with blush hues, like a rose-colored ribbon around a row of presents. A few seagulls twirl through the air, skimming the surface of the softly rippling water. A few moments later, the horizon is gilded with a faint brush of polar light as the sun begins to rise.

While we sail in towards Tromsø, the crew informs us that the aft outside decks will be closed for an evacuation exercise.

A short while later, a coast guard helicopter appears at the stern of the ship and positions itself in stationary flight above the top deck, following the exact speed of the ship. An impressive feat by the pilot. The noise is deafening as a side door slides open to winch a Hurtigruten crew member up from the top deck, into the helicopter, and back down a few moments later. Once the exercise is over with, the helicopter flies into the sunset, back to Tromsø. The passengers who have crowded together on the port side deck are delighted. One of them tells us that they thought it was better than any action scene in a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie.

The MS Nordlys sounds its foghorn loudly three times to signal our entry into the port of Tromsø (69°39’ North). The echo of the long blasts bounces off the mountains surrounding the city and reverberates for a long while.

The city center of the Arctic capital is very lively, especially the main pedestrian street.

The Arctic Cathedral, with its distinctive triangular shape, is located right on the other side of Tromsøbrua (the Tromsø bridge), which spans the Tromsøysundet strait. After nightfall, the terrace by the cathedral offers a spectacular view of the city lights. 

While the passengers flock together on the port side deck, dozens of curious onlookers stand at the terminal to watch as the ship weighs anchor and maneuvers its way out of the harbor.

Our favorite nocturnal animals, the northern lights, make several other appearances later that evening. They illuminate the sky with sea-green wreaths, making languorous ripples above us, against a backdrop of moonlit snowy peaks. 

The northern lights are so incredibly magnetic, it’s almost addictive. Their ephemeral beauty is simply irresistible. Experiencing this natural phenomenon in real life is truly riveting and mesmerizing. A magical moment that feels like it’s suspended in time. 

Day 5

Our surroundings change as we approach the North Cape: the landscape becomes more mineral, barren, and austere. The rocky islands we pass are weathered by the elements. For the first time, we get the feeling that the cold, harsh winter is coming, along with the polar night that will soon cover the region in darkness. 2022 has been a year of successive heatwaves, and the Arctic has not been spared. This time of year, when the area should be covered in a layer of snow, the ground lies bare.

A few miles from the coast, in the middle of the vast and windy sea, a lone fishing boat bobs around on the water like a cockleshell under cloudy skies. 

Suddenly, in this rough landscape of rock and water, we spot a little red house. It stands isolated, not far from the water, as though hanging on to the land for dear life. A solitary sign of human presence, like a challenge to the surrounding wilderness.

The highlight of our last day on board: exploring the North Cape (71°10’ North), which is the northernmost point of the European continent, located approximately 2 080 km from the North Pole.

The iconic globe-shaped North Cape monument is perched atop a 307 m tall cliff overlooking the Barents Sea. It is accessible by bus, by car, or on a red bike, like the Italian man who finally reaches his destination after very long journey while we are there. He is deliriously happy. His joy is palpable. 

As we leave the port of Honningsvåg at dusk, the tiny town looks like a village of quaint little candlelit houses. 

The waters have been exceptionally calm throughout our entire trip. It is quite a surprise to be faced with such a calm sea when the end of autumn is infamous for its regular storms. The first time the ship starts to pitch and roll is when Jérôme is packing his suitcase for the trip home. As though the MS Nordlys has suddenly become a petulant child who refuses to let us leave.

Return & conclusion

The morning of our trip home, the wind has picked up. On the port side, everything is grey and veiled in a dense mist. Heavy clouds graze the islands to the starboard side. The Barents Sea whips up waves topped with white foam on the horizon. The MS Nordlys heels, pitches, and rolls. It’s difficult to walk around without reeling. The sea is revealing its true temper – time for us to go home. A stack of fresh lapper (a kind of rich, Norwegian pancakes) for breakfast brings us some comfort. 

We disembark in Kirkenes (69°43’ North), the closest city to the Russian border, which lies about 8 km to the southeast. That is about the same distance as between Strasbourg (our city) and the German border.

The windows on the airplane back to Oslo are speckled with raindrops. The downpour gets heavier just before takeoff, making streaks down the windowpane. We are quite sad about having to go back. During our flight from Oslo to Paris and train trip back to Strasbourg, we only just start realizing the intensity of the experience we’ve had. It’s like we were true Heyerdahls (a great Norwegian explorer) for a few days. We can’t wait to get back out to sea!

We recommend

• An app to make sure you don’t miss out on the northern lights: My Aurora Forecast

This free app, available in several languages, is generally quite reliable. First and foremost, it will allow you to check the probability of seeing the northern lights in a specific location (depending on solar activity), as well as the level of cloud cover. The app also features a color coded, real-time map of aurora coverage, ranging from green (low probability) to red (high probability). 

The ideal time to catch the northern lights is in winter, from October to March. Your best chances of seeing them will be north of the Arctic Circle, when the sky is completely dark, with no clouds or light pollution and if the solar winds are strong enough. The key to seeing the northern lights is patience, luck, and favorable weather.

• Packing appropriate clothing

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” is a common saying in Norway. Make sure to dress for the season and the weather. Hanging out on the observation decks on board can feel quite a lot colder than being on land, especially when the wind is strong.

During our November trip, for example, we started out with a light sweater, jeans, and a windbreaker. As we drew nearer to the Arctic Circle however, we wrapped up warm in our winter clothes: wool hats, warm gloves, big winter coats, ski pants, and snow boots. The last morning before flying back, the winds were so strong that it was difficult to walk around during breakfast.

• Taking photos of your bags before you travel

Take pictures of your bags or suitcases before checking in to your first flight. They will help you prove the condition of your bags if they should get damaged or identify them in case they don’t arrive at your destination. 

• Packing a change of clothes in your cabin bag

Pack a change of clothes and a few hygiene products in your cabin bag in case your bag doesn’t show up at baggage claim. This is a particular risk if your first flight is delayed, or you have a short layover between connecting flights. If you don’t receive your suitcase on arrival, make sure to file a claim at the lost baggage counter or check the airline’s website to see what to do next. Late bags tend to get delivered to the ship within 2 days.

• Choosing an exterior cabin

If you choose an exterior cabin, we recommend going for a quieter starboard cabin. The ship will dock on the port side at every stop, meaning the gangways for passengers, cars, and cargo will also open on the port side.

• Checking arrival and departure times

At certain stops along the way, the ship will only remain at the dock for a few minutes. Make sure you check the detailed itinerary, so you know which stops are long enough for you to go ashore and explore.

Sunrise and sunset

Check when the sun rises and sets at each location to find out if the stop will be made in the daytime or after dark.

• Noise sensitivity

Do pack earplugs if you are sensitive to noise or a light sleeper – the ship makes several stops every night.

• Allergies and food intolerances

The kitchen staff have no trouble adapting to your dietary needs. Don’t hesitate to let your waiter or maître d’ know if you have any allergies. The buffet always includes vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.

About Hurtigruten & MS Nordlys


When the coastal express route was first established in the 19th century, the Hurtigruten ships would transport mail, passengers, and cargo to remote communities along the Norwegian coast, thus making them more accessible. Little by little, the company added more and more elements from cruise travel: restaurants with table service, excursions, and showcasing landmarks and local culture mise during the journey. The Hurtigruten Coastal Express attracts many international tourists today, but in the eyes of many Norwegians, it is a unique opportunity to experience the incredible landscapes and hidden gems throughout their own country. For Norwegians living along the coast, Hurtigruten is part of their everyday life and still provides them with mail and cargo deliveries daily.

With its float of sixteen ships, which is regularly renovated and added to, Hurtigruten is widely considered to be an expert of the Norwegian coast and expedition cruises. The company will celebrate its 130th anniversary in 2023. 

MS Nordlys

The MS Nordlys is a very manageably scaled ship. It can’t really be compared to a cruise ship or a huge ocean liner, nor a ferry or a cargo ship. The Coastal Express combines the best elements from all those ships. The mood on board is warm, cozy, and relaxed – the perfect combination to create the koselig Norwegian atmosphere.

The passengers and crew speak an array of different languages (not just Norwegian). The major languages spoken on board are Norwegian, English, and German. If there are enough passengers speaking a fourth language (like French) on a given voyage, a tour guide who speaks that language will accompany them. 

The expedition team offers a total of around fifty excursions along the itinerary. 

  • The MS Nordlys was built in 1994 and refurbished in 2019
  • Length: 122 m, beam : 19 m
  • Cruising speed: 15 knots (about 28 km/h)
  • 200 cabins and 19 suites
  • 7 decks

For all your meals on board, there is a café, a panoramic bar, and two restaurants:

• Café Multe, a cozy bakery, the perfect place to enjoy a snack, pastry, or ice cream and a hot beverage in the afternoon. In addition to classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate, there are also more unusual ice creams, such as salted cod, Norwegian brown goat’s cheese, or beer. 

• Explorer lounge & panorama bar. This panoramic observation deck and bar on the upper deck is great for those who want to sit back and relax in a comfortable chair while they admire the view by the large windows. There are also cushy couches for those who prefer a nice conversation over a drink. 

• Kysten, the à la carte restaurant with a bistro type cuisine. 

• Torget, the main restaurant. 

Torget, with its modern and refined interior, is equipped with large windows on all three sides of the ship’s stern.

The food on board is very tasty. The main restaurant offers a combination of international cuisine and typically Norwegian dishes

Breakfast and lunch are served as generous buffets. At dinnertime however, the chef will alternate between a buffet or a limited à la carte menu with table service. The food is generally made with local and seasonal ingredients, sourced from the areas around the ship’s ports of call.

The menus are heavily focused on fresh fish and seafood, a wide array of local charcuterie and cold cuts, as well as traditional local desserts. This is a wonderful opportunity to taste different ways of preparing salmon, smoked or fresh arctic char, mutton’s head (smalahove), cured mutton (fenalår), cloudberry cream (multekrem), or sea-buckthorn ice cream.

To relax or decompress, the MS Nordlys has a sauna, two outside jacuzzies, and a gym.

This article is a reflection of our personal opinion and has not been subject to any financial compensation.

28 replies on “Chasing the northern lights onboard the Norwegian Coastal Express”

They are such rare things, aren’t they! We’ve traveled in Norway quite regularly, but not far north enough to see them (until this year). Thanks for your kind comment! 😃


Hi. Wonderful post. Breathtakingly beautiful pictures…..northern lights is the icing on the cake. It’s not easy to get sight of them….my friends and I were lucky to see them during our trip to Iceland…green, pink and purple lights.

Take care 🙂 💕 Shreyosi

PS: Maybe in Strasbourg in June subject to getting schengen visa. Have saved all your posts on Strasbourg as reference. Thanx.

Liked by 2 people

Oh wow, how lucky you were, Shreyosi! Other colors than green are extremely rare. What wonderful memories!
Fingers crossed for your visa, let’s hope you get lots of use out of our posts!
All the best, Jerome and Stephanie


Thank you so much, Lyssy! It was our dream as well. It’s something that is well worth crossing off the bucketlist. Seeing them is a truly magical experience. If you have long exposure or night mode on your phone, the lights will show up a lot stronger on screen than to the naked eye! It’s very interesting.


Thank you so much! We tried going in without getting our hopes up too much, since you need clear skies to see them and November tends to be cloudy. We were very lucky 🍀 so glad you enjoyed the photos!


Hey, there!
Lovely post, thank you!
I’ve been to Norway recently and I completely fell in love with the country! Extraordinary beauty and the people are so lovely and friendly!
I was also “chasing the Northern Lights”, and I was hoping to happen in Lofoten, but it didn’t. I actually manage to see it a few days later, in Sweden.



Hi there Lei! Thanks for commenting 🙂 We totally agree with you about Norway, although we’re a bit biased since one of us actually *is* Norwegian, haha. Lofoten seems very difficult to catch at the right time! Everyone knows it’s a place of extraordinary beauty, but everyone we know has seen the place in fog or pouring rain … and our ship was there in the middle of the night! Our best sights of the aurora were when we had left Tromsø.
Glad you were able to see them in Sweden!

Liked by 1 person

It really was! The ships are quite a bit smaller than the large cruise ships we seem to see around the Caribbean and Mediterranean these days, but very comfortable! This trip is definitely a bucket list item 😍


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