A bucket list destination, the Paris of the North, the Capital of the Arctic. Tromsø, Norway goes by many names, but one thing is clear there’s no place like winter in Tromsø. A winter day in Tromsø can begin with dog sledding in the morning and end with the Northern Lights dancing above your head at night.
Tromsø is where your Arctic adventure begins, and where memories are made that will last you a lifetime. Are you curious as to what else may be waiting for you to discover in Tromsø? Read on for my 10 Must Do experiences during winter in Tromsø.
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Where is Tromsø and do I How to Get There?
Located at 69° North, the city of Tromsø in Northern Norway is the largest urban area north of the Arctic Circle. However, what is interesting is that out of Tromsø’s 70,000+ residents, over 150 different nationalities are represented! Who would have thought so many different nationalities would call this Arctic capital city home?
Tromsø has its own airport, Tromsø Airport Langnes (TOS). Scandinavian Airlines, Norwegian, Lufthansa, and Finnair operate several flights daily to/from Tromsø. The Tromsø Airport is located approximately 4 mi (6.4 km) away from the city center. The trip from the airport to the city center will take you a maximum of 10-15 minutes.
Best Time to Visit during Winter in Tromsø
The snow begins to fall in November, but most winter activities begin from the beginning of December and end around the middle of March. The peak winter season falls between the middle of February until early March.
The Polar Night begins around the middle of November and lasts until the middle of January. During this time the sun does not rise about the horizon. However, despite what you may have heard, that doesn’t mean that it’s dark all the time! During mid-morning until around 2 p.m., the sky has a beautiful blue hue that’s perfect for capturing photos.
I visited Tromsø during the first week of February and was greeted with plenty of snow and even days with sunshine. I recommend visiting Tromsø during late January to early February.
How Expensive is Tromsø?
There’s no denying that Norway is one of the most expensive destinations in the world. Tromsø’s location in the Arctic comes at an extra cost when you factor in accommodation, food, and activities. Despite the high costs, I can assure you that a trip to Tromsø during winter is still worth every penny!
Tromsø hotels in the city center range from $100-$350 USD a night. Later in this guide, I’ll share recommendations of budget, moderate, and luxury hotels that fit any travel style. A great place to save money in Tromsø is on transportation! The city is very walkable and has a very reliable public bus system.
The cost of food and eating out is another factor you’ll want to consider when visiting Tromsø. Tromsø has fantastic restaurants that are certainly worth visiting, but they will come at a higher cost. If you’re staying for a longer period of time an easy way to cut costs is to pick up food up at a local supermarket. Keep in mind that larger supermarkets are closed on Sunday in Norway. If your hotel has breakfast, plan on filling up on breakfast. Several of the evening tours also include dinner.
How Many Days Should I Stay in Tromsø?
Plan on visiting Tromsø anywhere between 3-5 days. How long you stay depends on the number of activities you’re interested in doing. I’d recommend at least two days to have the best chances of spotting the Northern Lights. Dedicate a day for exploring Tromsø city center and visiting museums, the Arctic Cathedral, and any shopping. There are so many unique activities that you won’t have trouble filling your time! Some of the more popular excursions (i.e. dog sledding) do tend to fill up quickly so booking in advance is necessary.
Top Winter Activities in Tromsø
1. Chase the Northern Lights
Tromsø, Norway is famous for being one of the best places in the world to see Northern Lights! Tromsø is located in the heart of the Northern Lights Oval which means there is always Aurora activity for you to see!
Northern Lights season begins in September and ends in March. In order to see the Northern Lights, it needs to be as dark as possible – which is why you can only see them during winter.
Even though there’s always Aurora activity near Tromsø, it doesn’t always mean you’ll see the Northern Lights. Your chances of catching the Northern Lights depend on solar activity (the higher the activity – the better the show), weather conditions, minimal light pollution, patience, and your guide! Your guide is the most important factor!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when visiting Tromsø is thinking that they can see the Northern Lights just by renting a car or from their hotel room in Tromsø – rookie mistake! A guide is the best way to increase your chances! I couldn’t recommend the friendly and knowledgeable guides at Best Arctic, enough! At Best Arctic you can choose between their Aurora Safari Minbus or Aurora Safari Camp.
Pros of Booking the Aurora Safari Minibus
- Smaller, more intimate experience
- Stop at 2-3 difference places where high aurora activity is anticipated
- Experience the thrill of chasing the auroras
If the forecast has a chance of clouds I would recommend booking the minibus! The guides are great at finding the best spots with the highest chances of catching the northern lights. When the auroras make an experience it’s a victory for the whole group!
Pros of Booking the Aurora Safari Camp
- Warm place to sit and relax with restrooms and hot drinks/snacks
- Option to add on a homemade dinner
- Larger group
I recommend the camp on nights when high aurora activity is forecasted, or on really slow aurora nights. The camps provide a warm place to sit and relax when the aurora activity isn’t as strong. The dinners are always homemade, and will definitely fill you up!
I’m so happy we found Best Arctic! What sets Best Arctic apart from other tour companies that you find in Tromsø are their knowledgeable and friendly guides. The Best Arctic guides captured beautiful high quality photos of us that we will have forever. Their photography skills were impressive, and the guides are committed to ensuring guests receive high quality photos! All photos come included in their tours, and they are available to download for free the next day.
2. Go Dog Sledding
Experience the Arctic Wilderness in an unforgettable way with your Team of Alaskan huskies! Join a husky safari tour and fly through the snow with husky dogs guiding you along the way.
The best dog sledding company in Tromsø is the amazing team at Tromsø Villmarkssenter. Tromsø Villmarkssenter is a family-run dog sledding business that started from the owner’s passion for dogs and love of nature.
3. Relax in Luxury Sauna on an Old Whaling Boat!
Step into a luxury spa in the most unlikely of places complete with a steam room, sauna, and hot tub ….. on an old whaling boat?! Vulkana Arctic Spa is something you just have to see to believe, and when you do, it will completely blow your mind. On the outside, Vulkana looks like your traditional boat docked in the Tromsø harbor, then you step inside to find beautiful rooms complete with hardwood floors, fireplaces, and a full bar.
On the top deck is their wood-fired hot tub perfect for soaking in all the views. If you’re so daring you can take the “Polar Plunge” and jump into the ocean before climbing back into the hot tub.
On the main deck is the traditional Finnish sauna with the most jaw-dropping views of the sea. If you haven’t been in a traditional Finnish sauna yet, you’re in for a treat! Toss water onto the hot rocks and hear the satisfying “SSSSZZZH” sound of the water against the rocks.
The real oasis is hidden down below. What was once an area that stored the “catch of the day”, is now a Zen lounge and Turkish inspired hammam. It’s the perfect place to lounge and sip a cocktail.
Vulkana is a hidden local secret that you won’t want to miss. Reservations fill up fast! Robes, slippers, and towels are provided. A complimentary welcome drink, fresh fruit, and Norwegian waffles are included to snack on. They have a full bar onboard, and I can confidently say their cocktails are a must try!
4. Reindeer Feeding and Sami Culture
Spoiler alert – reindeer don’t fly, but there’s something so magical about these creatures that you have to see to believe! Reindeer and people have a strong connection that’s thousands of years old, beginning with hunting, then through domestication and herding. The Sami people are known for their connection with reindeer, and in Northern Norway, it’s still a sufficient source of income for many Sami.
Visiting a reindeer farm is a must-do experience during winter in Tromsø! The best place to interact with the reindeer and learn about Sami Culture is Tromsø Arctic Reindeer. At Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, you’ll have a chance to feed the reindeer, take a sled ride, and learn more about the Sami culture from Sami people.
At Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, they are intentional about educating guests about the Sami Culture with traditional food, songs, and stories. You can choose between a daytime tour or an evening tour – I went on both tours!
Reindeer Sled Tours
Both the daytime and nighttime tours include transportation, lunch/dinner, reindeer feeding, and Sami storytelling. I recommend choosing the tour that includes reindeer sledding on a handmade wooden sleigh. I want to point out that a sled ride is not a tourism industry innovation, but an ancient Sámi way of getting around. Sledding is a great way to connect with the arctic nature and the Sami people. Speeds are very moderate, which makes the rides suitable for all ages.
All tours include a hot traditional Sami meal cooked over the fire, and Sami storytelling. I recommend thinking of a few questions to ask your Sami hosts during their presentation. They want their guests to ask questions, and they’re eager to share more stories about experiences about growing up in a Sami family.
During the evening tours you have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights! We were lucky enough to have the Auroras dance during our visit. If you want to capture photos, you’ll need a tripod and DSLR camera.
5. Visit the Magical Ice Domes
The newest addition of winter experiences in Tromsø are the Tromsø Ice Domes that opened during winter in 2017. Ice carvers come from all around the world to work on this masterpiece that begins construction around November – with an opening season at the end of December through March.
The Tromsø Ice Domes offers their guests who stay overnight a package deal that includes transportation, a guided snowshoe tour, dinner over an open fire, and dog sledding in the morning. If you’re lucky, you might just spot the Northern Lights! Showers and changing rooms are provided in a separate area outside of the Ice Hotel. You sleep inside a polar expedition sleeping bag on top of your reindeer hide covered ice bed to keep you nice and toasty warm.
A one-night stay in the Ice Domes (for 1 or 2 guests) is kr12,500 (around $1,400 USD). That’s understandably a large price to pay for this one-of-a-kind experience. I recommend taking a tour of the Ice Domes that includes a video in the ice cinema and a drink inside the Ice Domes at the ice bar! The ice bar at the Tromsø Ice Domes is incredible!
If you just want to visit the Ice Domes on a tour you have the option of adding on an optional snowshoeing, dog sledding, or snowmobiling tour for an extra cost. I highly recommend adding on snowmobiling!
6. Take a Snowmobile Tour
Snowmobiling lets you see the wilderness with a little adrenaline mixed in! I added on the optional snowmobiling tour when we visited the Tromsø Ice Domes at Camp Tamok. All the guides were really friendly, and they made you feel comfortable driving your snowmobile.
Warm thermal suits, helmets, and gloves are provided. You don’t need to worry about being cold! The tour lasts around two hours. Each snowmobile is driven in pairs with one driver and one passenger. You can switch drivers half-way through. All tours include a delicious fish soup for lunch served inside a traditional lavvu tent.
7. Explore the Museums in Tromsø
I recommend dedicating at least an afternoon in Tromsø just to explore the museums. They tell a unique story of life in the Arctic.
The Polar Museum is the perfect museum if you’re curious about the of Arctic exploration and the history of hunting and trapping. Some of the exhibits are only in Norwegian. The Polar Museum has a free paper guide in English you can request when you purchase your ticket. It was very interesting to see the creative traps that were designed by explorers to hunt polar bears.
The most northern aquarium in the world! Polaria is designed to be an educational experience. It’s a small aquarium that you can easily see in under an hour. They’re famous for their bearded seals with seal feeding and training times you can watch throughout the day! You can see available times for seal training and feeding here. I do want to point out that these seals were not rescued. Two were born into captivity, and the other two were previously captured for science and have since been given to the aquarium. I recommend visiting Polaria for an educational experience, but I also wanted to shed some light on how the seals were brought into Polaria.
8. Have a Beer from the World’s Most Northern Brewery
Beer lovers rejoice! With over 70+ different types of Mack beer on tap a visit to Ølhallen pub is must do in Tromsø.
When Ølhallen first opened in 1928 up until the 1970’s, you would only find men from the hunting, fishing, and trapping industry who would stop in for a drink before heading up North.One of Ølhallen’s most famous customers was Henry Rudi, the “Polar Bear King”, who killed more than 700 polar bears during his career as a huntsman. Currently, polar bears are considered a Vulnerable Species. You could only imagine the fascinating stories you would hear at the bar about someone encountering a polar bear!
When the University of Tromsø opened in the early 1970’s, the pub changed from just a hangout for hunters and fishermen to a place students and professors would go after class for a drink.
Ølhallen is filled with unique history, and it’s a perfect place to relax with a drink. If you can’t pick just one beer, order a flight to sample the best beer in the Arctic.
9. Try a Reindeer Hot Dog
You can’t miss the bright yellow kiosk in the heart of Tromsø city center serving up reindeer hot dogs and mulled wine. Raketten Bar & Pølse has been in Tromsø for more than 100 years! The city has even listed Raketten as protected by the Department for Cultural Heritage.
Raketten is famous for their reindeer hot dogs (pork and veggie hot dogs are available too) and being known as “Norway smallest bar since 2014”. Adjacent to the kiosk you can sit on reindeer hide benches and warm up next to a fire with a hot dog and mulled wine in hand. The perfect winter in Tromsø experience.
10. See the Best Panoramic View of Tromsø
Without a doubt, the best view of Tromsø is from the top of Storsteinen mountain! Thanks to the Fjellheisen Cable Car, the journey only takes you 4 minutes! I recommend timing your visit around sunset to see the sun slowly fade behind the horizon on the west, and the sky darken in the east.
A roundtrip ticket is kr260 (USD30), and tickets can be purchased at the cable car entrance, or online. They have restrooms and a coffee shop at the top with pastries and sandwiches. Some people recommend trying to see the Northern Lights here, but I would caution against it. Unless you’re a very skilled photographer, it’s challenging to capture the Northern Lights from this vantage point with the light pollution from the city. The sky needs to be very clear, and the Aurora activity needs to be very high in order to see the Northern Lights over the city.
Where to Stay During Winter in Tromsø
The hotels listed below are all in the main city center of Tromsø. If you’re staying in Tromsø between 3-5 days, it’s the best option for convenience is to stay in the city center. All tours leave from a bus stop between the Radisson Blu Hotel Tromsø and the Scandic Ishavshotel.
The best budget friendly hotel in Tromsø. Enter Amalie Hotel is just around the corner from the Radisson Blu. They have 24/7 complimentary tea and coffee and free waffles available in the mornings and afternoons! The rooms are smaller, but they have all the necessary amenities ( i.e. hair dryer, hot water kettle, and mini-fridge) that you would need for your stay.
Another budget friendly hotel with a convenient location – just across from the city’s main street Storgata. The rooms are clean and modern, but there’s no daily cleaning service. Hot water for tea/coffee is available 24/7 in the lobby.
A perfect location facing the harbor with gorgeous views! Clarion Collection Hotel With is charming and a popular spot for couples. A few of my favorite perks of this hotel are their top-floor relaxation area with a sauna and complimentary breakfast and dinner!
A delicious organic breakfast and dinner comes included with all stays at the Clarion – an easy way to save money on eating out! Free coffee, water, tea, and fruit are also available 24/7 in the lobby. If that didn’t convince you enough, don’t miss the Norwegian waffles in the afternoon with toppings ranging from traditional jam, sour cream, and Norwegian brown cheese.
The Radisson is the ideal choice for those who love convenience. The majority of tours pick-up and drop-off right in front of the Radisson. Best Arctic has a desk in the Radisson lobby for any last-minute Aurora tours you may want to hop on!
You won’t leave hungry, thanks to the delicious breakfast spread in the mornings and the Radisson-owned Yonas Pizzeria just next door (they are known for their taco pizza). Don’t miss the Radisson’s rooftop sauna and fitness center overlooking the mountains!
Arguably the best hotel in Tromsø is the Scandic Ishavshotel! The rooms have been recently renovated, and almost all of them have a stunning view of the mountains.
Foodies will be happy here! The Scandic Ishavshotel breakfast has won “Best Breakfast in Norway”. It’s a convenient place to stay with central pick-up and drop-off locations for tours nearby.
Guests at this Clarion rave about the fabulous rooftop sky bar that overlooks the harbor and Arctic Cathedral. All rooms have modern amenities with a stylish design. With the hotel’s convenient location, you’re just minutes away from all the best sites.
Where to Eat in Tromsø
Reindeer, whale, and dried cod – just a few of the Norwegian delicacies you’ll find on the menus in Tromsø! Below are the best Norwegian restaurants in Tromsø.
If you appreciate high quality food made with local ingredients and a beautiful presentation, definitely make a reservation at Mathallen. You can choose between the 4-course or 6-course tasting menu. I recommend the 6-course for the full experience. The wine selection is extensive, and your server is always happy to suggest a pairing for the dishes. I loved the reindeer at Mathallen!
A local secret that was my favorite dinner in Tromsø! Bardus is a cozy cocktail bar and restaurant with a seasonal menu that rotates to showcase the best dishes of Northern Norway. Bardus is known amongst locals for preparing the best reindeer in Tromsø served with lingonberries, a cauliflower puré, and beats. Save room for dessert because the chocolate fondant will melt in your mouth.
If you’re a fish lover Fiskekompaniet is a must try! You can choose between a 4 or 6-course dinner that rotates depending on what’s in season. When it’s winter in Tromsø, there’s nothing better than a hot soup and their blue mussel soup was delicious!
Beautiful location right in the heart of harbor. The quality of the sushi and presentation was fantastic. Rå is one of the few restaurants that is open Sunday too.
A former fish factory turned harbor side restaurant. Don’t miss their caviar starter with dried cod chips. If you’re curious about trying whale steak – this is the place! Whaling in Norway is highly regulated, and hunting is only approved for minke whales. If whale isn’t on your mind, I recommend ordering the codfish.
We had several Italian tour guides in Tromsø, which had to mean, you guessed it, the city must have a great Italian restaurant. We were not disappointed with Casa Inferno. Casa Inferno has a large variety of wood fired pizzas made the Italian way. I recommend starting with their bruschetta and ending with tiramisu and espresso.
What to Pack and (not to pack) for Winter in Tromsø
Packing for the Arctic requires a different packing style! Norwegians have a saying that there’s no bad weather – just poor clothing choices.
The coldest winter months in Norway are December and January. Surprisingly, for how far north Tromsø is, their average winter temperature is only 25.7 °F (-3.5 °C). The mild winter temperature is thanks to the Gulf Stream that brings warm sea currents north. Once you move more inland, the temperature begins to drop.
Outside of your traditional winter jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, thermals, etc., below are a few unique packing items I recommend that you bring with you.
- Crampons – Tromsø can get very icy! It’s common to see locals wearing crampons around the town on icy days. Slipping on the ice isn’t fun! We loved these crampons here.
- Snowboots – Leave your favorite sneakers or regular shoes at home, and invest in a good pair of winter boots.
- Neck Gaiter – A neck gaiter will add an extra layer of warmth on windy days.
- Swimsuit – Most moderate and luxury hotels have a jacuzzis.
- DSLR Camera and Tripod – I almost made the mistake of not bringing my DSLR – bad idea! For the best quality photos of the Northern Lights, you’ll definitely need a DSLR and a tripod.
- Hand Warmers – We loved these reusable hand warmers here.
Below are a few items you won’t need!
- Snow Pants – Thermal suits are available from the tour companies on most activities that require extensive time outdoors. It’s not common to see locals walking around in ski pants, or ski jackets.
- Goggles – Unless you plan on cross country, skiing you can leave your googles at home!
- Fancy Cocktail Attire – Even if you plan on dining at the nicest restaurants in Tromsø, the dress code is always casual!
Unique Gifts to Buy in Tromsø
Take home a piece of Tromsø with one-of-a-kind gifts you’ll only find in Northern Norway.
The best sweater store with the highest quality of knitwear and best variety is at Snarby Strikkestudio. You’ll want to look for the brand Dale of Norway.
If you visit Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, don’t miss their small souvenir store. Popular handmade Sami crafts to purchase here are cheese slicers or butter knives with handles made from antlers. Another popular gift you’ll see is a traditional Kuksa cup carved from birch burl.
The northernmost glass blowing studio, Blåst, is located in downtown Tromsø! Come by during the weekday to catch the studio at work and learn a little more about the glass blowing process. They definitely make it look easier than it is! All the products here are 100% handmade using traditional glass blowing techniques. I picked up a beautiful glass polar bear to take home. The team at Blåst are great when it comes to wrapping up your purchase to make them safe for travel.
Reindeer or Whale Sausage
Bring home vacuumed sealed reindeer or whale sausage for your foodie friends! This is a delicacy that’s truly unique to the Northern region of Norway. Reindeer sausage is guaranteed to spark conversation when you lay it out on your next charcuterie board.
Helpful Tips for Visiting Tromsø in Winter
- Do not rent a car. Complimentary transportation from Tromsø city center is included in all of your tours.
- If you take the public bus, be sure you have wireless data if you purchased an electronic bus ticket.
- Supermarkets and most restaurants are closed on Sunday.
- Don’t obsess over the weather forecast! Then weather in Tromsø changes all the time.
- Do not take out cash (Norwegian Kroner). Everywhere that we went was credit card friendly.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Tromsø in Winter
A winter vacation in Tromsø is a trip of a lifetime. Tromsø is the type of place where every day will amaze you, and where memories are made. Not every paradise is tropical, and Tromsø will show you how beautiful winter can be. Just pack warm clothes, and I promise you this Arctic wonderland will capture your heart.
Read More About Europe during Winter
- Dog Sledding in Tromsø: Best Tour and Tips
- 13 Incredible Things to do in Alta, Norway
- Rovaniemi, Finland: The Ultimate Winter Wonderland
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