Experiencing the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, is topping the bucketlist of many travelers. It was on top of mine for a couple of years, until I decided to just go for it. Destinations where you can spot the Northern Lights are not the cheapest, but it is worth every penny, trust me. These tips for chasing the Northern Lights in Tromso will help you making the most of this epic travel adventure.
Of course I know that the main reason you want to travel to Tromso is to see the Northern Lights. And while there are many other things to do, this will always be the highlight of all Tromso activities, so let me give you some more info about it. There are many things to do in Tromso in winter, click on the link to find a wide array of tours around Tromso and find all the activities listed in this Tromso travel blog.
5 Things to know about the Northern Lights
- Aurora Borealis can only be seen during Winter times, and in the most northern parts of Europe & Canada.
- The further North you go, the better your chances on actually seeing the Aurora Borealis.
- If you go chasing the Northern Lights, try to avoid light pollution, travel away from the city.
- The more nightly hours you have, the better, November – February are the best months for chasing the Northern Lights.
- Book wisely, the more days you have for chasing the Lights, the higher your chances of actually seeing the Lights.
I did my research and taking the above into consideration, I made up my mind where I wanted to chase the Northern Lights: I booked a trip to Tromso, Norway.
Traveltomtom also traveled to Rovaniemi in Finland, another magical winter destination! Check out the Rovaniemi Winter Travel Guide or a blog about a Northern Lights Expedition in Lapland.
11 Things to do in Tromso in winter
Apart from seeing Aurora Borealis in Tromso there are many other cool things to do, tours, activities and even great sightseeing in the city itself. Visiting Tromsø as your Northern Lights destination has more advantages and this is everything you need to know about it.
1. The best place to see Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
Tromso is one of the best places in the world to chase the Northern Lights. It is located right in the middle of the Northern Lights Oval, and way above the polar circle. The Northern Lights Oval is the area with the highest probability of seeing Aurora Borealis. This means, even on nights when there’s low activity, you can still end up seeing those magical green lights in the sky.
There are plenty of travel agents that offer Northern Lights tours. They know where to go that particular night for the best chances to see Aurora Borealis. If you choose to go on your own, make sure you check the Northern Lights forecast. Your best bid will be to travel away from the city, as you need darkness. Click here for the most up-to-date information on the Aurora forecast in Tromso. I had clear skies and a moonless night, which meant the Milky Way was fully visible, and lucky for me there was a massive Aurora activity.
Obviously it is not only about the Northern Lights! The following 10 activities will add up to the fact that it simply is a great destination in winter
2. Husky safari
This is one of the coolest activities and a typical Lapland experience. A must do when you travel to Tromso is dog sledding. Imagine the most beautiful landscapes, six enthusiastic playful husky dogs and a wooden sled, sounds good right? You can easily book it yourself when you visit Tromso in winter. But what about a do it yourself trip? How cool does that sound!
There are several tour agencies that offer these self guided dog sledding rides. After you get instructions on how to ride the sled and how to guide and help the dogs, you get your own sled and team of 6 dogs. Make friends with them, as the next two hours are only going to be successful with great teamwork. The scenery this ride takes you through is amazing, make sure you enjoy it while riding the sled. A self guided huskey safari is one of the best things to do in Tromso in winter.
Click here to find a full day dog sledging tour for less than €100!
3. Reindeer experience
Who doesn’t think of Santa when thinking of Lapland? I do for sure! And when you think of Santa, you think of his reindeer, right? Well, I didn’t meet Santa, but for sure you can meet ‘his’ reindeer on your trip to Tromsø.
Join the Sami people for this unique and unforgettable Tromso winter activity. You will visit the Sami and their reindeer at the base camp. Don’t be mistaken, this Sami family has thousands of reindeer up in the mountains and have ‘only’ 200 reindeer at their basecamp during the winter months. They invite you to get up close and personal with these amazing animals. It’s half a day full of cultural Sami experiences and reindeer encounters, such an incredible Tromso excursion.
You also get the chance to feed the reindeer. Afterwards you’re being served a traditional Sami meal while you listen to stories about their history and culture. At the end of this tour from Tromso, your guide will perform a Joik, a traditional Sami song. Enjoy!
Book your reindeer experience here.
4. Whale watching in Tromso
If there’s a whale watch opportunity, I’d take it. I have done whale watching tours before in Kaikoura (New Zealand), Victoria and Campbell River (Vancouver Island, Canada) and Monterey Bay (USA) and for my trip to Tromsø I had one booked as well.
You may think this is not really one of the things to in Tromso in winter, but I visited Tromsø early February and it was still possible!
Unfortunately this year the whales decided to migrate early, which meant the tour was cancelled in the end. May you visit Tromso in the beginning of winter definitely add this activity to your itinerary!
If you go between November and late January this is an exhilarating thing to do in Tromso, as Humpback whales, Killer whales and dolphins visit the coast to feed on herring. If you’re lucky you might even see a Minky whale or Fin whale.
Operators offer a Fjord cruise instead of the whale watching tours if whales arrive late or leave the area early. You might still get to see whales, but chances are much less.
If you are interested in Whale Watching and Northern Light cruises there are some cool itineraries I saw at local travel agencies. Online I also found winter kayaking tours in Tromso for the ones that are really adventurous.
5. Snow mobile adventure
Fancy doing something more extreme? Go rent a snow mobile and take it for a spin. We were hosted by a very welcoming Norwegian family. Every member of the family is part of the business. The younger generation are the snow mobile instructors and take you out to the mountains, the older generation stay at the house to prepare the most amazing lunch. They start with instructions on how to drive the snow mobile and after that gear you up with thermal suits, boots, helmets and gloves. Surely one of the most adventurous activities in Tromso.
Several stops are being made during the ride to enjoy the scenery and have a well-deserved hot chocolate.
Snowmobile excursions in Tromso can already be booked for less than $100. Click on the link for more info!
Most important thing to know: make sure you drive and steer with your whole body, we have seen people ignoring this advice and ending up in the bushes!
6. Hiking to Rødtinden
This amazing city is surrounded by beautiful nature and amazing scenery, it is the the perfect place to stuff your backpack with snacks and drinks and go out for a descent hike.
I was advised to hike Rødtinden by the Tromso Tourism information office. Take bus 42 towards Storelv and ask the driver to stop at the school. The hike starts right behind the school. Even though the hike was said to be ‘easy’, I experienced this slightly differently. Hiking here in winter is amazing, but I thought it was quite an intense and difficult walk. The snow and the icy conditions make it a difficult Tromso activity in winter. The views at the top make you forget all the hard work it took you to make it there.
Extra tips for hiking in Tromso in winter:
- Make sure you bring ice cleats or crampons, it will make your hike easier. Definitely a thing to pack for a Tromso winter adventure.
- Pack Lefse as a snack. Lefse is a traditional Norwegian flatbread often prepared with sugar and / or cinnamon. You have to try it!
Apart from all these great things to do, there are also a lot of places to visit in the city itself. When you travel to Tromso also go sightseeing in the city.
Is snowshoe hiking something you fancy doing when visiting Tromso in winter then have a look at the offered tours in the link. Half a day trip can already be found for $50.
7. Arctic Cathedral
This cathedral fits in so perfectly within the surrounding scenery. It is located in the Tromsdalen district, the mainland of Norway. The design of the cathedral symbolizes the icebergs, the aurora and the polar night. The cathedral has a glass façade on both the front and back side. If you want you can visit the cathedral and see the inside, however this does cost 50 NOK each. During the winter months they host so called Northern Lights concerts, these are 180 NOK each.
The Polarmuseet is located in the harbour of Tromsø in a 1830’s restored warehouse. Tromsø has a rich arctic history and a long tradition as the departure area for polar expeditions. The museum shows and tells the story of the always risky polar expeditions. Tickets: 60 NOK.
9. Polaria Aquarium
Polaria is the world’s most northerly aquarium. You’re being educated here on the arctic environment, nature and wildlife. The building alone is worth a visit. The idea behind this design are ice floes pressed against the land by the rugged Arctic sea. Entrance fee: 130 NOK.
Zoo’s and Aquaria are discussed worldwide nowadays. Feel for yourself if this is a things to do on your trip to Tromso. But know that animals are treated very well here in Norway and the Aquaria serves a education purpose as well.
10. Fjellheisen cable car
The Fjellheisen cable car is a must do in Tromsø. Bus 26 takes you from the city of Tromsø to the cable car. A return bus ticket costs you 190 NOK each. Once on top the views are breathtaking. If you go up, I would suggest going up in the afternoon, which means you get to see Tromsø from up there by day and by night. Your visit to Tromsø is not complete without doing the Fjellheisen cable car.
11. Ice skating on Prestvannet lake
Located on top of the island, on the highest point, you’ll find Prestvannet Lake. It’s a park and nature reserve. Locals often use the park to work out, walk around or simply for recreation. The lake freezes completely during the winter months, which makes it a popular place for ice skating. Because of its remote location and little light pollution, it is also a very popular spot to chase the Northern Lights. So if you are looking for the best spot to see the Northern Lights in Tromso I just gave you a secret tip. I hope you are lucky!
On my last, clear night in Tromsø I took all my gear, walked to Prestvannet Lake, which took about 45 minutes from the city and set up the gear along the lake. I then waited and waited and waited ,but finally got rewarded with some good Aurora Borealis activity.
As you can see there are many more things to do in Tromsø in winter than just the Northern Lights. Dog sledding, reindeer encounters, impressive scenery, let it all be part of your arctic experience.
Where to stay in Tromso Norway
Here are some accommodation suggestions for your trip to Tromso.
Luxury accommodation in Tromso
For a more unique place to stay have a look at the Camp North Tromso. Looking at the picture below I am sure I don’t need to say more about where to stay in Tromso. Obviously this is not cheap have a look at their rates here.
Mid range accommodation in Tromso
- Bjorn & Bibbi’s: apartment close to the center. Review score 9.7 from more than 60 reviews - $200.
- Clarion Hotel The Edge: 4 star property with 1,500 reviews and a 8.8 score - $150.
Budget accommodation in Tromso
- Smarthotel Tromso: popular budget accommodation in with an 8.1 review score out of almost 3,500 reviews - $100.
- Bed & Waffles Tromso: great value B&B with a 9.1 review score out of more than 400 reviews - $100.
- Comfort Hotel Xpress Tromso: Simple but good hotel with more than 2,000 reviews and an 8.5 score - $100.
Stop dreaming of the Northern Lights and all the bucket list worthy activities in Tromso, start booking your arctic adventure and make your dreams come true!
This article is written by Ashley, an experienced travel writer for the Traveltomtom team. She also wrote guides for a weekend in Stockholm, a weekend in Barcelona and many more.