Winter in Tromsø: Unforgettable Experiences in Norway’s Arctic Circle

Norway | Tromsø

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Lying well within the Arctic Circle, the city of Tromsø in northern Norway is home to a plethora of the world’s most northerly attractions. The city was a perfect choice for a recent trip to celebrate my 30th birthday, offering once-in-a-lifetime winter experiences within easy reach from most European destinations, alongside superb city-centre culture and gastronomy.

The city’s proximity to the North Pole results in the phenomena of the Polar Night. Between mid-November and January, the sun does not rise in the city, and temperatures average between 0°C and -5°C. However, Tromsø is anything but uninviting in this time, where the city’s many lights reflect in the Norwegian sea, and cafés, wine bars, and restaurants provide warm havens for those braving the snow-covered streets.

Norway is notoriously an expensive country to visit, and whilst the price of some things, particularly alcoholic drinks, can be a bit steep, it was certainly not as bad as we were expecting. Whether a sad indictment of the current economic situation in the UK or an unfair stereotype of Norway, we didn’t find the prices too dissimilar to what we pay at home, with evening meals including drinks costing around £50 per couple and attraction tickets costing around £15-£20 per person.

Getting to Tromsø

Getting to Tromsø is surprisingly simple, with many direct flights operating from European cities such as London, Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. There are also several daily flights from Oslo which offer connections from plenty of other destinations around Europe, with the flight time just under 2 hours from Oslo to Tromsø. There are no direct train links to Tromsø, but there are seasonal bus routes that operate from around both Norway and Sweden.

Things to do in Tromsø

Alongside memorable winter excursions in and around Tromsø, you can also appreciate great food and drink in the city, learn about the history and heritage of those who live in the Arctic Circle, and enjoy fantastic encounters with nature. The city is compact and walkable, meaning many of the attractions can be found on foot, whilst the majority of excursions have pick-up points from within the city-centre. Here are a few of the best things you can do in Tromsø during winter.

Northern Lights Experiences

Undoubtedly, one of the most popular reasons for visiting Tromsø is to catch the elusive northern lights, and the winter months offer the best opportunities to see them, when the skies are darker and there are fewer daylight hours. Whilst sightings can never be guaranteed, Tromsø’s
location in the Arctic Circle offers one of the best locations to view the northern lights, as the solar activity required for the phenomena is at its most intense closer to the North Pole.

There are several options for chasing the northern lights in Tromsø, from private tours to cruises. Some visitors opt to hire their own car, however unless you’re familiar with the roads in and around Tromsø and confident driving in icy conditions I wouldn’t recommend it, as the rural roads can become difficult and you risk becoming stranded in subzero temperatures. Instead, opt for one of the many group or private guided tours, where professional tour guides and drivers can safely navigate you to the best spots on a given night to view the northern lights, offering advice and insight along the way. Tours generally last several hours and often include appropriate warm gear, food, drinks, and photo opportunities. The best chances of seeing the northern lights are outside of the city, where there is minimal light pollution.

You can also choose other evening or night experiences which can offer the opportunity to view the northern lights, including whale watching or husky experiences, where you’ll make plenty of memories even if you don’t catch the lights.

Husky Experiences at Tromsø Villmarkssenter

To view the northern lights during our trip, we chose to visit Tromsø Villmarkssenter, home to 200 husky dogs and offering a range of experiences in both summer and winter. Launching back in 1988 when founder Tove moved back to Tromsø with just two husky dogs, the centre has now grown in size to includes husky and puppy yards; 3 lavvos, which are traditional Sami tents; a space for conference and events; sleeping pods; a shop; northern lights terrace and more. Tove and her family are highly knowledgeable in all aspects of husky racing, and Tove and her son Torkil race every year in Finnmarksløpet – the longest dogsledding race in Europe at a distance of 1200km. 

Tromsø Villmarkssenter offers a range of experiences, from puppy training and aurora visits to dog sledding and multi-day expeditions, with pickup and dropoff included from the city centre. On our visit we opted for the aurora experience, where we spent time with the huskies and puppies in the dog yard, enjoyed traditional cod stew and coffee inside one of the lavvos at tables surrounding an open fire, and were lucky enough to spend the evening watching the northern lights dancing across the sky above us. 

Whale Watching

Between the months of November and January, orca and humpback whales head to the area of Skjervøy, north of Norway, in the search for herring. During this time, plenty of providers offer excursions by boat in the hope of catching a glimpse of the magnificent mammals. Most trips will last the full day, with either car transport to Skjervøy or by boat from Tromsø. Do your research to ensure that the trip provider respects the natural habitat of the whales and conducts the trip in a sustainable way. Don’t worry if you don’t spot the whales, the fantastic landscapes you’ll experience in the north of Norway should be worth the money alone.

Arctic Cathedral

The city’s most iconic landmark is Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral. Located at the end of Tromsø Bridge, the church was constructed in 1965 and features a huge stained glass window on the eastern side, whilst the western entrance has a large glass façade with a cross that’s magnificently illuminated during Tromsø’s dark nights. Check out their website for a calendar of concerts and events at the Arctic Cathedral, or simply admire the architecture that provides a wonderful focal point for photographs of the city.

Fjellheisen Cable Car

Whisking visitors 420m above sea level up Mount Storsteinen in just 4 minutes, Fjellheisen Cable Car offers pretty much unrivalled views of Tromsø. At the top you can explore the viewpoints above the city, hike the snow-covered trails, enjoy food and drink at the Fjellstua Restaurant, or scan the skies for the elusive northern lights. Return tickets start at 415 NOK for adults and 200 NOK for children.


As a university city, Tromsø has its fair share of museums for those looking to escape the cold and learn about the region’s cultures and traditions. The Arctic University Museum of Norway showcases northern nature, Sami  culture, and the wonder of the northern lights. At the Perspektivet Museum, explore changing exhibitions of stories from Tromsø and around the world with a focus on photography and artistic expression. Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum is a visual arts museum containing over 2,225 works by artists from the 17th century to the present day, and serves the regions of Troms, Finnmark, Nordland, and Svalbard. The Polar Museum takes you behind the scenes of over 300 years of Arctic expeditions, though some of the exhibits depict quite graphic scenes of animal hunting which may be distressing. In Norway’s only Troll Museum, get acquainted with Norwegian fairytales and folklore, which forms an important part of Nordic culture.


Polaria, located in a stunning building constructed to depict ice floes washing ashore Tromsø, is the world’s most northerly aquarium. Featuring a panoramic cinema and several aquariums that house only northern species, the aquarium aims to teach all about Arctic marine life. The stars of the show are undoubtedly the Arctic seals from Svalbard, Bella and Mai San, and the harbour seals Loffen and Lyra with their baby Leo. Visitors can enjoy the seals from an underwater glass tunnel, or watch them feed and play whilst staff share the important work undertaken in caring for the marine mammals. 

Vulkana Spa

Located on a renovated 1950s deep sea fishing boat in Tromsø’s harbour, Vulkana is an authentic Scandinavian spa experience in the heart of the city. With a Turkish hammam, traditional wood-fired sauna with windows, and a woodfired hot tub on deck, you can enjoy fantastic views of both the harbour and the surrounding fjords whilst on a spa cruise.

Food and Drink in Tromsø

Alongside the Arctic adventures available on Tromsø’s doorstep, the city centre has plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafés to enjoy. The cold, clear waters that surround Norway result in fish being a staple on many menus, and Fiskekompaniet, on Tromsø’s harbour, is one of the best fine dining options for seafood in the city. For tasty burgers and beers with cosy, rustic surroundings, both Egon and Hukken Brygg are located on the main Storgata shopping street. In the centre of the town you’re likely to find queues outside Raketten Bar & Pølse, the self-proclaimed tiniest bar in the universe. The kiosk, opened in 1911 by 18-year-old Margit Løkke, is fully-licensed and specialises in mulled wine and hot dogs (including reindeer, pork, and vegan options) which you can enjoy on their wooden terrace.

There are also plenty of coffee shops frequented by locals and visitors alike, including Risø Kaffebar with its focus on high-quality coffee, Backstube with a huge selection of pastries, and Kaffebønna with its window seating and views of the harbour. Our favourite of all had to be Smørtorget, an eclectic homely café filled with mismatched and unique furniture and interesting bric-a-brac.

Clarion Hotel’s rooftop bar is available for non-guests, serving a range of cocktails and offering a terrace with fantastic views across the city. Don’t worry if it’s cold, you can take your drinks at the indoor bar and just pop outside for the views, though check opening times as the bar isn’t open all week. To watch sports, there’s nowhere better in the city than Fun Pub Tromsø, a spacious bar with plenty of screens, booths, and beers, including from Tromso’s own Mack brewery. Fun Pub also offers karaoke, two large shuffleboard tables, and regular DJs. Agenturet Øl og Vinbar offers a good range of wines, along with craft beers and cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere, and is a great spot to start or end an evening.

What to Pack for a Visit to Tromsø

There’s a thin line (or thermal layer) between a once-in–lifetime adventure and a poor experience in Tromsø, and that is the gear that you pack. Though often not as cold as you would expect of its northerly location, winter averages are still in single-digit minuses, the streets of the city can be icy, and any tours or excursions are likely to take you out for several hours in cold and windy conditions. Make sure you pack a good pair of sturdy walking boots, and don’t be afraid to wear them when just exploring the city centre. Thick socks and a thermal base layer along with layered fleeces and jackets, waterproof and windproof coat, and a warm hat and gloves should mean you can make the most of your trip to this wonderful part of the world.

This article first appeared in Issue 7 of the Low Season Traveller Magazine


Hello! I’m Ryan Maley, a 30-year-old Mancunian with an insatiable desire to travel the world.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. 


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