The Elusive Aurora: Our Journey Begins

One item on our bucket list was seeing the northern lights. After several trips to the upper peninsula of Michigan and two trips to Iceland without success, we decided to take a cruise up the coast of Norway.

Initially, we scheduled the trip with Hurtigruten, but then covid hit, and Hurtigruten canceled the cruise. As we researched booking options post-covid, we discovered a new company cruising the same route. Both companies offered a promise to see the northern lights. Because they were new, prices were lower than those provided by Hurtigruten, and the ships were brand new. We booked the trip with Havila Voyages.

Christmas market in Bergen Norway
Building in Bergen Norway with Christmas lights.
Statue in Bergen Norway.

The New Guy in Town: Havila Voyages

Havila Voyages follows Hurtigruten’s path along the Norwegian coast, with stops from minutes to hours in quaint towns. The century-old ferry route was once the lifeline for coastal villages. Now, even though roads connect most places, ferries remain popular.

We were doing the round-trip from Bergen to Kirkenes and back, so we booked a cabin, but if you’re hopping off a few stops away, there’s plenty of public space to relax. No matter the trip length, you can always reserve a room.

Boarding the ship was a breeze. We only waited a short while before stepping aboard.

Dining area on Havila Capella
Exploration lounge on Havila Capella.
Cafe area on the Havila Capella

We initially secured a 4th-floor room with a small window view. But right after boarding, before settling in, the ship crew announced an upgrade offer to a junior suite. We swung by reception, peeked at the suite, and couldn’t resist. The discounted rate was too tempting. Our new room was spacious and stunning – the bathroom a tad snug, though.

Junior suite on Havila Capella
Sittting area in a junior suite on the Havila Capella
Sitting area in a junior suites on the Havila Capella.

On our first evening aboard, we cozied up with a bowl of vegan stew and soaked in a talk about the next day’s destinations. Alas, the Northern Lights remained elusive that night.

Day 2: Discovering Aalesund, Norway

We docked for an extended break in Aalesund, just a stroll away from the port. Despite the chilly, overcast weather, we bundled up and went exploring. The cobblestone streets, adorned with festive shopfronts, invited us in. We popped into charming stores and roamed around before returning to the ship for the evening.

That night, a few teasing streaks of the Northern Lights appeared, but they didn’t entirely take our breath away.

Street lined with shops in Aalesund Norway
Beautiful building in Aalesund Norway.
Beuatiful white building in Aalesund Norway.

Day 3: Trondheim, Norway

Today, our extended stop was Trondheim. It was a fair stretch from the port, but luck was on our side with the weather – chilly, sure, but our layers kept us warm.

A Christmas Market beckoned alongside a picturesque area where colorful houses hugged the riverbank. We wandered the lanes, ducked into quaint boutiques, and returned to the ship.

Christmas market in Trondheim Norway
Colorful buildings along the river in Trondheim Norway.
Building on street in Trondheim Norway.

The night sky came alive with the Northern Lights.

We spent it ducking in and out, capturing photos from the upper deck and watching the magnificent lights. Inside, the 9th-floor observation lounge offered a warm haven. We lingered far too long into the night, in awe and wide awake. Eventually, we returned to our cabin to continue watching the lights from our balcony.

Northern Lights in Norway
Northern lights in Norway
Northern lights off the coast of Norway

This morning, we sailed past the Arctic Circle. On deck 8, we partook in a ritual asking the Norse Sea King for safe travels. There was very little sun today — just a brief hello as it peeked above the horizon.

Day 4: Brisk Adventures in Bodo, Norway

Bodo was our main stop, a neat little place — pronounce it “Buda.” We braved the chill for a brisk stroll along Main Street, warmed our hands on hot chocolate from a local store, and then scampered back to the ship’s welcoming warmth. It was a frosty one today!

Arctic circle marker
Crossing the arctic circle ceremory on the Havila Capella.
Shopping street in Bodo Norway

As the afternoon faded, we were fortunate to see another display of the Northern Lights that enchanted us all night.

Northern lights over Norway
Northern lights brighten the sky in Norway
Northern lights from our balcony on the Havila Capella in Norway

Day 5: Exploring the Wintery Magic of Tromso, Norway

If the sun made an appearance today, we didn’t catch it. The sky briefly lightened before dimming within an hour. Disembarking in Tromso was easy, with the ship docking directly in town. We strolled through the holiday-adorned main street, popping into shops here and there. Sure, it was freezing, but we were well-prepped with our layers. And yep, we even spotted Santa handing out sweets to the kids.

Santa in Tromso Norway
Street line with shops in Tromso Norway
Church in a square in Tromso Norway

The Northern Lights dazzled us again tonight; sleep’s taking a backseat to this phenomenon!

Northern lights from the deck of the Havila Capella in Norway
Northern lights in the sky over Norway
Whispy northern lights over Norway.

Day 6: A Frosty Encounter in Honningsvag, Norway

The day stayed dark as we ported in Honningsvag. With a biting chill and most shops shuttered, we remained cozy aboard the ship.

Come afternoon, the Northern Lights made a grand entrance, igniting the sky.

Vivid northern lights over Norway
Ribbons of northern lights in the sky over Norway
Northern lights over the coast of Norway

Day 7: Navigating the Wintry Edges of Kirkenes, Norway

Today, the sun stayed hidden again, with only a hint of dawn that quickly faded, leaving the streetlights glowing all day. Our extended stop was in Kirkenes, where the cold bit sharply. Bundled up in multiple layers, we ventured to a nearby department store; the town center sat a mile further away.

We’re just a stone’s throw from Russia here, about 6 miles to the border, and its influence is noticeable, from shop signs to architecture.

We grabbed some fruits and snacks from a grocery store to stash in our room. Meals are covered thrice daily on our voyage, but for nibbles between, we fend for ourselves.

The sea turned choppy tonight, and the cloudy sky hid the Northern Lights from view. There was no celestial show tonight.

Store in Kirkenes Norway

Day 8: Aboard in the Swells Near Hammerfest, Norway

The seas were rough this morning, so moving around the ship was quite the challenge, a real balancing act!

Our arrival at the next port was delayed due to yesterday’s extended fuel stop and today’s stormy seas.

Hammerfest was a bit too far to comfortably visit without rushing back, so we chose to stay aboard.

Clouds covered the sky tonight, hiding the Northern Lights from us.
We attended an interesting lecture about the local fishing industry’s history.

Fish in crates at the port in Hammerfest Norway
View of the mountains on the coast of Norway from the Havila Capella.
Small church in Hammerfest Norway

Day 9: The Timeless Fishing Traditions of Svolvær-Lofoten, Norway

The morning greeted us with rough seas, which became calm as we sailed through the Risoysundet straights. This slim waterway, dating back to the 1920’s, had breathtaking views.

By nightfall, we ported at a historic fishing hamlet in Svolvaer-Loften. There, we gained insights into the fishing trade’s enduring soul of Norway. A wintry hike took us past historic tiny dwellings of fishermen past, and a guide explained the long-standing practice of fish drying.

Early in the evening, the skies gifted us with a flicker of Northern Lights.

Beautiful red sunlight glow off the water with mountains in the background in Norway
Historic fishing village in Lofoton Norway
Whisp of northern lights off coastal norway

Day 10: The Quest for Vegetarian Eats in Bronnoysund, Norway

Crossing back over the Arctic Circle today, southward bound, and fingers crossed for extra daylight.

Bronnoysund’s our lengthy layover later today, and we’re on a mission for a vegetarian burger. The ship’s cuisine is great, but choices for non-meat, fish, or cheese eaters are a tad repetitive.

Update – Success! Nabbed a veggie burger right at the port’s cozy little diner.

Shopping street in Bronnoysund Norway
Christmas tree with lights in Bronnoysund Norway
Beautiful sunrise on a Norwegian Coastal Cruise

Day 11: A Chilled Dawn in Trondheim, Norway

We revisited Trondheim for today’s longest stop. It’s a spot we enjoyed on the trip up north, but we stuck to the ship this round. With an early berth at 6:30 AM and a fresh layer of harsh cold and snow, since we last stepped foot here, it was a no-go. Norway can be a bit lax in snow and ice removal, turning a simple stroll into an Arctic obstacle course. Plus, the trek to town didn’t promise any open stores at that hour, so we opted to stay warm onboard.

Bergen at night from the Havila Capella
Bergen city scape from the water at night

Returning to Bergen, Norway

Today was our homeward trek to Bergen for disembarkation — a day spent packing, absorbing the coastal beauty for the last time, and bidding farewell to friends we made onboard. Post-cruise, we hopped on a bus to the airport and checked into the Comfort Hotel nearby.

Bergen Old Town on the waterfront
Houses on a hill in Bergen Norway
Bergen sign at the airport

With a craving for something other than ship food, we were thrilled to find Rimini Pizzeria about a mile from our lodging. After settling in at the hotel, we braved the cold and trekked to our pizza rendezvous — nothing beats a freshly baked veggie pizza to cap off the journey! A crisp evening walk was the perfect endnote.

We were up early for our 6:00 AM flight back to the US. Northern Lights – Mission Accomplished!