Also known as the ‘City of the Northern Lights’, Norway’s northern coastal town is regarded as one of the best places in the world to view the natural phenomenon known as aurora borealis. Originally inhabited by the indigenous Sami people, Alta has a rich cultural heritage, home to the Unesco-listed site of Hjemmeluft, which features prehistoric rock carvings dating from around 4,200 to 500 BC. Like several other northern Norway towns, much of Alta had to be rebuilt after WWII and the town is now a fascinating blend of old and new, with notable modern buildings including the Northern Lights Cathedral.
Why cruise Alta
Alta is one of the best cruise destinations in northern Norway to view the aurora. Indeed, the world's first northern lights observatory was built on Halddetoppen, just outside of Alta, at the end of the 19th century. Finnmark’s largest city is also the gateway to other natural wonders, such as the Finnmarksvidda plateau and the Alta Canyon. The northern Norway town is also steeped in cultural heritage, being the home of the Sami people and Unesco-protected prehistoric rock carvings. Cruise lines including P&O, Azamara and Princess Cruises all stop off in Alta as part of their northern lights and Norway cruise itineraries.
What to see and do in Alta
Northern Lights Cathedral
Built in 2013, Alta’s most notable building cannot be missed, located in the central part of the town. The modern Northern Lights Cathedral was built in a circular design, no doubt to imitate the aurora borealis’ famous swirls and curtains of coloured lights in the Arctic night sky. Inside, the building can accommodate around 350 people.
Along with the northern lights, one of the main sights of interest in Alta is the rock carvings at Hjemmeluft. The largest of the World Heritage sites in Alta, Hjemmeluft is home to around 3,000 individual carvings, which are located in various sites around the bay that are connected by a one-mile long pathway. The first prehistoric rock carvings, which were made over a long period of time, were first discovered in Hjemmeluft in 1973. The bay is today home to the Alta Museum, which exhibits these Stone Age carvings dating back 6,000 years.
These beautiful bodies of waters are an added bonus for those cruising in Norway in search of the northern lights. Altafjord is a 23-mile long fjord that stretches from the town of Alta in the south to the islands of Stjernøya and Seiland, and is regarded as one of the world’s best spots for salmon fishing.
Often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Northern Europe, this spectacular natural wonder, carved out by the Alta River, is roughly seven miles long and boasts 400m high rugged cliffs. Cruise lines including Azamara and Princess Cruises offer trips to the Alta Canyon (also known as Sautso) as one of their shore excursions. Princess combines this with a visit to the immense Alta Dam, which was built upstream from the canyon in 1982 and offers spectacular views, as well as the Alta power station and a Sami ‘Lavvu’ – a temporary dwelling similar to a tepee used by the indigenous Sami people.
Originally inhabited by the native Sami people, Alta is one of the best places to immerse yourself in local Sami culture. Carnival Corp-owned cruise line Azamara offers an excursion to an authentic reindeer camp at Sami Siida, where you will get to listen to local storytelling and songs, and sample Sami cuisine, which includes warming reindeer stew.
Northern Lights Camp
Sitting in the ‘auroral zone’ that circles Earth's Geomagnetic North Pole, Alta is one of the best place places on earth to see the spectacular natural phenomenon, the aurora borealis. Princess Cruises’ offers a three-hour excursion to a northern lights camp, where guides will monitor the skies and the northern lights forecast to help you spot the famous blue, green, violet and pink lights, which illuminate the night sky.
Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel
Staying inside a hotel made of ice and snow is a truly magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Situated just outside of Alta, the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel was the first hotel in Norway and the second in the world to be made entirely out of ice and snow, and comprises 250 tonnes of ice and 7,000 cubic metres of snow. Several cruise lines including P&O include an overnight stay in Alta at the hotel as part of their northern lights itineraries.
Need to know when travelling to Alta
Getting around in Alta
The cruise port is located roughly two and a half miles away from the centre of Alta. Shuttles are provided, but there are also taxis available from Bukta pier.
When to go to Alta
The best time to cruise to Alta to see the northern lights is from late autumn to early spring when the sky is dark enough to make out the aurora. Alternatively, you can also cruise to Alta in the summer for the midnight sun.
Alta uses the Norwegian krone.
If you hold a British Citizen passport, you don't need a visa to enter Norway unless you're planning to stay longer than three months.
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