Extreme dark: In search of the northern lights – from a tiny Norwegian town that sees nothing but darkness and ice for two months

Being the antithesis of a morning person, getting up before dawn should count as a heroic achievement. Indeed, staring out of my hotel window at the street-lit cityscape, I'm suffused with all the smug tranquillity of the early riser. Only then do I realise it's actually 10.15am: I've overslept by two hours and missed my appointment with Knut, my guide. Such is the slow, surreal process of acclimatising to Tromso in Norway, located 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where for two months from late November, the sun never rises.

During this morketiden, or "murky time", the main reason for visiting Tromso is to try to see the northern lights – try being the operative word since, as Knut explains, "Aurora is a difficult lady: she'll only come out when she feels like it." So on the first evening I find myself heading 25 minutes out of town to spend the best part of four hours gawping at the sky in chilly anticipation – and though folklore decrees that Aurora will come and snatch you if you a wave a white sheet, my efforts to improvise with some A4 paper prove in vain.

The next night I and my travelling companion venture further into the wilderness, to a mountain camp in the nearby Lyngen Alps. After some dog-sledding through the pine-strewn valley (all very Narnia-esque, barring the odd dodgy turn and faceful of snow), we retire to a traditional tepee to warm ourselves by a roaring fire and sup on reindeer soup, coffee and vodka. Finally, around midnight, Aurora arrives. She's on coy form tonight: to the naked eye, all that appear are a few ghostly wisps, although a photo reveals the inimitable luminous green particles streaking across the sky. Still, it's an alluring enough gesture to make one hope for a return journey and the full show some day.

In any case, Aurora or no Aurora, back in town there's enough spectacle to be getting on with. A lunchtime cable-car ride reveals the full beauty of the few brief hours of grey-blue twilight that pass for day. Then, as blackness descends once more, I return to ground level for a stroll around the main streets which, with their heart-shaped lights and chocolate-box clapboard houses, exude the kind of understated festive warmth that this jaded, Oxford Street-afflicted soul had all but forgotten.

More specific attractions worth checking out include the beautiful iceberg-shaped Arctic Cathedral; the Polaria Arctic Experience centre, which boasts Imax films of the polar landscape and some ever-so-cute performing seals; and its brutal flipside, the Polar Museum, where you'll find stuffed animals being variously clubbed, trapped and shot in displays extolling the region's hunting heritage.

And if you thought all that subzero darkness might encourage Tromso's inhabitants to hibernate, think again: this is the city with the most bars per capita in Norway, and even on a Wednesday night they're packed to the gills. Choice hang-outs we discovered on our crawl included the Jernbanestasjon – "The Railway Station" – decked out with train seating and compartments in an ironic reference to Tromso's lack of one; and the Bla Rock Café, a buzzing indie-kid watering hole filled with signed memorabilia from the likes of Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones.

The locals I speak to claim that far from depressing them, the long polar nights only provide all the more incentive to keep active and busy. The winter blues, it seems, are simply not in their psychological phrase book and although initially sceptical of such assertions, after three days here I am inclined to believe them. From the student revellers blithely disregarding the cold in short skirts and T-shirts to the saxophone player ironically tootling Gershwin's "Summertime", there's a cheery stoicism everywhere I turn.

As if to confirm this, on my final afternoon I am invited to join the bunch of crazies known as the Tromso ice-swimming association for their weekly dip. At 5pm on the dot, I and 10 or so others strip to our trunks and sprint into the Arctic Ocean, roaring as we go. After the initial convulsive shock, everything goes numb and for a couple of minutes I paddle around in a state of disembodied serenity. It's a curiously uplifting end to a curiously uplifting trip: never let it be said that a holiday spent in subzero darkness can't bring some sunshine to the soul.

See visitnorway.co.uk for further information on visiting Tromso. Norwegian Air Shuttle (norwegian.com) offers direct flights from London Gatwick to Tromso. Prices start from £52 one way, excluding tax

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower