The Northern Lights were what intrigued me to visit Tromsø, but in planning the trip, we were delighted to discover there was so much more to the northernmost city in the Arctic Circle.
The timing of our trip was definitely influenced by our best chance to see the lights- generally, winter months are the best time (November – March) when the nights are longer and it gets dark earlier in the evening.
Heading to the Arctic Circle in late December, we wondered what else we’d be able to do, and how cold Tromsø would be. A lot of people assume that since Tromsø is so high up north, it must be very cold- however, the city is located by the coast and enjoys a relatively mild climate. During our stay, the temperature was around 25-30 Fahrenheit most days.
Back to the point of what else you can do in Tromsø.
We planned our trip for 5 days and 4 nights- we wanted as much time as possible to see the lights (in case our luck wasn’t great).
Our itinerary was pretty relaxed-
-Day 1: Arrived at 11 am, checked into our hotel and then napped / hung out in our rooms until ~4 pm when we left to explore the city and have dinner
-Day 2: Explored the city, Northern Lights hunt at night
-Day 3: Slept in, cross country skiing, explored the city
-Day 4: Reindeer excursion, explored the city
-Day 5: Explored the city, flew to Oslo in the evening
All in all, we felt we had a lot of time- more than we needed. But, again, we planned a bit of flexibility because we wanted our best chance to see the lights and knew weather conditions could be great some days and terrible on others.
What about the polar night?
Around 9/10 am, we noticed it’d get light blue outside, which ultimately set by 2/3 pm. Even though it wasn’t full sunlight, it was light enough to see the city.
Overall though, the polar night didn’t bother us- we did most of our activities in the morning (cross country skiing, reindeer excursion), and left our nights open for hunting the lights or simply relaxing.
What to Do in Tromsø (in winter)
- Hunt for the Northern Lights: Do not attempt to go at it on your own- the guides and tour companies are trained at navigating the landscape and know how to read the aurora predictions. Yes, it’s expensive, but so, so worth it. Watching the lights dance across the night sky is something I’ll remember forever. I’ve written a separate post about that experience because there’s so much to share
- Take the Cable Car to the Top of the Mountain: Fjelheisen takes you 1,400 ft up to the mountain ledge at Storsteinen and lets you see the city from above. We took the bus from city centre to the cable car station at the bottom and timed our visit so we’d arrive around 1:30 pm. Once at the top, we snapped pics of the city in daylight and then walked along the mountain ledge for 30-40 minutes to capture the sunset. As the sun started dipping below the horizon, we headed to the cafe to warm up with glogg and pie. An hour later, we headed back outside to the viewpoint for more shots of the city sparkling in the night sky
- Admire the Architecture of the Arctic Cathedral: One of the most recognisable and iconic buildings in town, it’s easy to visit the cathedral on your way to/from the cable car
- Feed & Pet Reindeer: Getting up close and personal with reindeer was so much fun. There wasn’t enough snow for sledding, but we loved feeding the reindeer and learning about Sami culture
- Work Up a Sweat Cross Country Skiing: Albeit I did more falling than skiing, I still had fun learning the ropes and would actually consider getting back on the slopes someday
- Let Huskies Take You For a Ride: We were super bummed there wasn’t enough snow to go husky sledding during our trip- a definite must do on my next time in Lapland
- Go Whale Watching: We opted not to do a whale tour (I’ve been on ones before), but whales feed in the fjords that surround Tromsø until late January
- Hit Up the City’s Quirky Museums: We didn’t have a chance to check out the Polar Museum, but I’ve heard it’s an interesting look at life in the Arctic. However, we did enjoy wandering through the Perspektivet Museum, Tromsø’s free photography museum, which often displays work by Scandic artists
- Browse the Shops on Storgata, Tromsø’s Main Shopping Street
- Curl Up with a Coffee At:
- Smørtorget: A hybrid cafe/vintage shop, it’s the definition of cosy- candles burning, soft music playing and great lattes
- Kaffebønna: Another great Scandi coffee shop, we loved both locations. Come for the cinnamon buns, stay for the hot chocolate on a snowy afternoon. The downtown location has more seating, but we preferred the other location for relaxing/chatting in booths
- Risø: Excellent cortados
- Huken: Burgers and beers
- Feast on Arctic Deliciousness At:
- Emmas: A must visit, homecooking with a French twist
- Kitchen & Table: American dining in the Arctic (think: nachos and burgers)
- Kafe Globus: Great for breakfast/brunch
- Vertshuset Skarven: Great seafood, which is a must do while visiting Norway. We especially liked their soup bar
- Yonas: Relatively affordable pizza. We got it the night of our Northern Lights hunt so we could eat while relaxing in our hotel. It did the job, but the crust was a bit too thick/dense for my liking
- Pastafabrikken: Another relatively affordable dining option- good pastas AND a huge bowl of ice available for water
- Sip a Tipple At:
- G Cafe: Had one of the best (read: strongest) hot toddies here, I now understand how the Norwegians stay warm in winter 😉
- Bardus: One of our favourite places for both decor and an awesome beer list
- Agenturet Øl og Vinbar: Beer and wine
- Lugar 34: Good mulled wine and a quiet upstairs area to relax, which was decked out in Christmas lights when we visited
- Ølhallen: Serving beers from the world’s northernmost brewery, we loved having a few pints here, especially since most of the crowd when we visited seemed to be locals
- Rorbua: Hailed as one of Norway’s most famous pubs (because it appeared on a sitcom), we found the beer selection pretty standard but appreciated all the space, wooden beams and polar bear decor
- Note: Most nights, we had 1-2 drinks out (if that), and instead chose to drink in our hotel while playing card games and hanging out. This really helped keep costs down on our trip
If you’re convinced to visit Tromsø, you should know Norway is an undeniably expensive destination. I’ve written about my tips for saving money while travelling Norway, but will say- don’t let cost put you off. As with any trip, we found ways to save- we took the bus return from the airport, walked everywhere, brought breakfast and tried to limit our drinking at restaurants. We also chose a cheap destination after Tromsø- Budapest- to help balance out trip cost overall.
It’s a city offering experiences that are priceless- worth a visit in every sense.