Inside Alta’s Northern Lights Cathedral

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The striking architecture of Alta's incredible Northern Lights Cathedral splits opinion, but everyone loves the interior.

It might look like a factory (some say crematorium!) from the outside, but step inside this northern lights inspired church in northern Norway and it really leaves an impression.

The Iconic Alta Cathedral

If you've ever been to Alta in Northern Norway, chances are you stopped off in the modern city centre. At the end of the Main Street, you'll find the northern lights cathedral.

The cathedral is the primary parish church for Alta and was opened in 2013 following the creation of Alta as a town 13 years ago. It's very easy to find, and there's plenty of parking available.

The exterior

I love the idea of the architecture, I just don't really like the end result. But that's personal preference and from asking around, it's clear that plenty of people love it!

The striking exterior of the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta, Northern Norway

Consecrated in 2013, the building is made of concrete with an external cladding of shimmering titanium sheets.

That, together with the circular shape, helps to create something reminiscent of nature's greatest light show.

An aurora inspired cathedral in Alta, Norway

On my first visit to Alta I couldn't go inside as it didn't coincide with the cathedral's opening hours. However, this time, I was in luck. Entrance costs 50kr.

The interior

I'd been told the interior was sparse and while that's true, it's far from dull.

The spectacular cathedral interior

The floor, chairs and mouldings are all made of oak. The vertical moulding strips with LED lights behind them create an impressive visual effect, a warm atmosphere, and help with the acoustics.

This was immediately apparant upon entering as some kid was playing the piano – pretty well I might add.

The northern lights inspired interior of Alta Cathedral

The impressive organ has 29 stops and 1,800 pipes. There are two church bells, both cast in Tønsberg here in Norway.

The Cathedral light tower

The light tower pictured above mimics the design of the exterior, and was made locally in Alta.

The lights are only lit during church services, but the structure is always in place to take a look at.

Inside Alta's Northern Lights Cathedral

The altar wall is treated with a blue glaze meant to highlight the 4.3-metre-tall bronze sculpture of Christ. And it does – my eyes were immediately drawn to it as soon as I entered the room.

The marble baptismal font also uses blue, with a clear glass basin featuring an inlaid Star of Bethlehem and golden fish.

The Cathedral Tower Room

As impressive as the church is inside, it doesn't keep an atheist's attention for longer than a couple of minutes, so with that, I headed downstairs to a recent addition…

The northern lights exhibition

An additional 50kr gets you entrance to an interactive exhibition about the northern lights called Borealis Alta.

Maybe it's just because it was 31C on the day I visited (yes, really) but reading about the northern lights at the height of summer didn't really do it for me.

Aurora exhibition in Alta

For someone new to Norway and/or who hasn't seen the aurora borealis before, this exhibition would be a worthwhile visit. That said, there's a couple of fun exhibits, one involving singing to the lights and watching the result.

While I wouldn't recommend a trip to the exhibition on its own, it's worthwhile if you're visiting the cathedral and are curious about the lights. I imagine it has more impact in the winter!

In addition to the Sunday services, the church also hosts regular piano concerts and even a monthly ‘language cafe' aimed at students and other new arrivals to Alta, so it has quickly become an important building for the community.

An aurora sing-off

The only downside to visiting is the short opening hours, typically 11am-3pm weekdays. Alta isn't really somewhere you linger for long, more somewhere you might stop off on a road trip, and maybe spend one night. Having said that, it is first and foremost a place of worship, so you can't really expect extended opening hours for tourists.

Have you been to Alta's Northern Lights Cathedral? What did you think of the design, inside and out? If you've been inspired to visit, why not share your plans on Pinterest, with this handy pin. Just hit the Pinterest button to get started.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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8 thoughts on “Inside Alta’s Northern Lights Cathedral”

  1. II stumbled across a photo and thought, “What? The Mormons built a temple that far north?” But then I realized it was a new church. The spiral design, though, reminds me of the Community of Christ Temple (Reformed LDS) in Independence, MO, not to mention an Art Deco movie theater, the Academy (nowadays a church), from 1940s Los Angeles. This one is streets ahead of some newer churches.

  2. Regarding the comment, “It cost money to go inside a house of worship?”

    …not to worship, it doesn’t. If you tell the people at the front, “I just want to go inside and pray,” they will smile and send you in.

    But if you want to go in and marvel at the space, take some pictures or in other ways be a tourist (yes, even if you’re a believer!) then yep, it costs a little. To me, it seems fair to pay to get access to something that’s an attraction – just because it’s a church doesn’t mean it is free to hire people and keep it open for visitors. The congregation pays to keep it open for THEIR needs; travelers need to chip in too if they want it to be open extra for their benefit. They could just ask for donations, but… well, there are a lot of people that don’t believe they should have to pay to go into a house of worship… 🙂

  3. Alta has other attractions. I was there in summer and found the nature superb, but now I want to go in winter, not only for the lights… I have always dreamed of a ride on a reindeer sleigh, a husky safari and most of all a visit to the Alta Sami Siida ( https://samisiida.no/engelsk/enghome/ ), for a genuine taste of Sami culture and food. Not the manufactured stuff in tourist shops. The real experience. And not least, to visit my friends there… 🙂 If it wasn’t for Covid, I’d be there next week, to celebrate the Sami National Day on 6 February. (written Sat, 23 Jan 2021).

  4. Just been this morning. Excellent museum tho’ can only see exhibits inside during winter. In the summer you can walk outside to see original rock art in lovely grounds at the head of the Fjord.


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