There are plenty of things to do in Tromsø in winter and its surrounding. This was my first winter holiday (apart from skiing) ever and I really loved it. All the freezing at -20 degrees were so worth it. We were rewarded by very pretty landscape, untouched nature, nordic lights (even without a guided tour!!) and my personal highlight, a husky sledge tour – just to name view things to do in Tromso.
Things to do in Tromsø in winter
Tromsø is already spectacular when approaching by plane. The last 40 minutes before arriving just looked like an unreal winter wonderland without any traces of civilization:
In general Tromsø is a very compact, small town which doesn’t offer many things to do in Tromsø town itself. For most tourists, it serves as a starting point for activities in the surroundings, like hiking, snowshoe hiking, skiing, husky or reindeer experiences, of course, hunting for Nordic lights.
Things to do in Tromsø in winter: Nordic lights
Probably the main reason why people go to Tromsø is to finally see this stunning green nordic lights all of us know from videos or pictures online. Indeed your change to see the lights in the north of Norway is quite likely – very likely I would say.
And so did we! Lucky us. We saw lights during a Nordic light bus chase as well as when we were hunting on our own. One night we were even that lucky and saw the lights from the town which is very rare. We felt very blessed about it.
But be warned: the lights may be very light and in reality don’t look as green as on pictures. Only the long aperture of DSLR cameras make the lights appear that green. The first lights we saw were almost not visible to the naked eye. If the guide would not have told us that this white fog in the sky were nordic lights I would not have realized. So don’t expect this intense green lights as you know it from pictures. You will be disappointed if you do so.
But the good news is: the lights can be strong and even appear green to your naked eye and if you are lucky and will ever be in this situation you will truly be amazed. Green lights, maybe even dancing, are a very special natural spectacle. The fast they come, the fast they can go away. So enjoy every moment you see the lights and don’t stick to your camera all the time trying to catch the best shot.
And another warning: It will be freaking f**** cold, we had around -20 degrees which you can stand when wearing warm shoes, ski pants, ski jackets, etc. But even taking off the gloves to take some pictures made me suffer a lot. Nevertheless, the dancing green lights make up for all the cold, all the waiting, no sleep till 4 am – because it is just a wonderful experience.
Luckily we had a bonfire at one of the spots:
So what would I recommend to do?
If the main reason for visiting this town among the various things to do in Tromso is seeing the lights you should definitely book a bus tour well ahead. The guides are experts, know how to interpret the weather and know the spots where nordic lights may appear. In addition, they have a big network of guides normally and exchange the conditions of the spots where they are currently so that other groups can come there also.
If you don’t want to afford a guided light chase (which costs around 100 Euros or more depending on the size of the bus) you can try to hunt the lights on your own – ideally with a rental car. In this blog post, I wrote down all locations in and around Tromso where we saw Nordic lights: http://ready-steady-travel.com/where-to-see-nordic-lights-in-norway-tromso/
Tour operators in Tromsø try to keep expectations low and give you discounts if you book 2 or more Nordic light chases. They keep emphasizing that there is no guarantee of seeing the lights and the chance to catch some is way higher when booking two or more tours.
From my point of view, the chances in winter are very high. The Nordic light chase tours normally go from one spot to the next and literally hunt the lights meaning it is really quite likely to see at least few lights.
But there are plenty of more things to do in Tromsø in winter than hunting for Nordic lights. My favourite activity was the following:
Things to do in Tromsø in winter: Husky sledging
If you like dogs you will love this tour. Me personally I love dogs, so I super mega much loved this tour. So what is it all about? Well, you are basically pulled by huskies through a winter wonderland. One person normally sits on the sledge and the other one is standing on the back of the sledge and is responsible for breaking and steering. And the hard work is done by the dogs. In our case 4 dogs (only!!) we pulling us two girls. It was incredible how powerful they are and how much fun they had pulling us through the snow. Already before we started the dogs were super excited and couldn’t wait to finally run like crazy. It was so much fun.
And like on many of my travels, of course, something (funny) happened to us:
I wanted to take the possibility and fly my drone on this epic day. Our guide said we will stop at a spot where this is possible and I can even film the dogs while running and she will stop a bit later again so that I can land the drone. This plan worked out very well, but it took me some time to land the drone again and pack it in my bag. Our guide and the group of other people were gone already further but we could still see them from far away. So we let our dogs run like crazy to catch up and it seemed they had a lot of fun too. But then we came to a crossing and the dogs turned to the left while we saw before from far away that the group turned right. We thought the dogs would turn right also at one point because the guide told us that we don’t need to be able to steer the sledge because the dogs will always follow here and know the way.
Well, they didn’t. Or they just abused the feeling of freedom we gave them by keeping some distance to the group. Anyways, what to do now?! First, we were still laughing and let the dogs run but then we realized that we are in the middle of nowhere, every spot looked the same and we had no clue where we had to go. So we stopped the sledge and tried to make them go back where we came from. But the dogs didn’t care and just turned around again and run to whatever direction they wanted to.
Sh*** What to do know?
Now we were actually a bit scared.
What if the dogs don’t know how to get home?
Few minutes of trembling and the luckily we saw a group of dog sledges approaching us. And it was even our group. Thank god! At the same time, a snowmobile arrived which was supposed to search for us. Hahaha I think the guide was a bit mad at us but we had to laugh about it.
So stick to your group when going on a dog sledge tour 😉
But we were still friends after the tour:
Things to do in Tromsø in winter: Hiking – or a relaxed walk at Eidkjosen
Hiking is probably the most popular activity in summer and winter in Norway. Initially, we wanted to do a snowshoe hike but we were a bit sick so we decided for a walk along a fjord close to Tromsø town. We took the bus to Eidkjosen, a little authentic town just 20 minutes away from Tromsø. We just strolled a bit along the water and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. This is a real insider tip. It is not a crowded place where all tourists go or tourist buses stop or which is mentioned in any guidebook. It is just a great authentic place to spend the afternoon.
There is a café in a local store called „Eidehandel“ where you can enjoy some Norwegian specialities like cinnamon roles or traditional lunch meals.
Take bus 42 or 43 to the final station Eidkjosen.
Things to do in Tromsø town
Things to do in Tromsø town: Viewpoint Fjellheisen
The most stunning thing to do in Tromsø town is heading up to the viewpoint which is overlooking the whole town and the river. Fjellheisen, a cable car leaving from the other side of the bridge brings you up there in just a few minutes – alternatively, you can walk (with good equipment or snowshoes only!).
Watching the sunset there is magical, as well as the view by night.
This is the view at Tromsø town:
And the view at night:
People also told that it is a good spot to see Nordic lights. On top of the mountain, there is a cafe which also serves some meals. The atmosphere there is not very nice as it is full of people popping in to heat up as it is the only warm spot on top. Nevertheless, it is worth for a café. If you are lucky you will conquer a spot at the window and an enjoy the view from a warm place.
Things to do in Tromsø town: Watch the sunset at the harbour
Another thing to do in Tromsø is to half a walk at the harbour. When the sun is setting the atmosphere there is very magical and dips the whole harbour area in red colour.
Things to do in Tromsø town: Beer tasting at Olhallen
The local microbrewery Mack is ruling the beer scene in Tromsø. In their beer hall, you can taste various different beers of their own brewery and also almost a hundred other Norwegian beers. A must-go for beer lovers.
Restaurants & Cafés in Tromsø
There are view museums in Tromsø but we didn’t really go there. We strolled one afternoon around the town and found some cute places for a taking or coffee or dinner.
Restaurants & Cafés in Tromsø: Svermeri Kafé
Address: Skippergata 2, 9008 Tromsø
This cute little place serves very delicious carrot cake and a good choice of tea. The comfortable sofa is perfect for a little rest and to escape the cold:
Restaurants & Cafés in Tromsø: Bardus Bistro
Address: Cora Sandels gate 4, 9008 Tromsø
This was the best pick in town for me. The restaurant is small and has a cosy atmosphere, the waiters are very friendly and the fish dishes are outstanding – the portions a bit small though.
Restaurants & Cafés in Tromsø: Mathallen
Address: Grønnegata 60, 9008 Tromsø
This seems to be the fanciest restaurant in town – at least in terms of the interior design. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to eat there, but the ambience looks great. Let me know in the comments if you were there!
Restaurants & Cafés in Tromsø: Pastafabrikken
Adresse: Sjøgata 17, 9008 Tromsø
This is a very very delicious pasta place. Don’t miss to try the spaghetti scampi. The concept is a self-service concept which I normally don’t like very much. But the great pasta made up for it.
Best time to go to Tromsø:
We were there in winter and it was absolutely fantastic. I’m sure in summer it is worth it the same way. Nevertheless, Norway in winter is just magical and a unique experience.
February is a great time to go as the days are quite long again but there is still snow. It is light from around 7:30 a.m till 5:30 p.m. In November and December, the day is way shorter and there might only be few hours of daylight.
How to get to Tromsø:
Tromsø is actually more north than Iceland! That is why the only way to get there is by plane. It is around 3 hours by plane away from Oslo.
How to get around in Tromsø:
The centre of Tromsø is quite compact and you can walk everywhere.
From the airport, there are buses marked with the word „Center“ with 3 drop-off spots in Tromsø. They go directly to the airport. The bus driver will tell you which stop is closest to your hotel. This bus costs around 10 Euros. If you want to save yourself the money you can pick the public buses (40 or 42) which stop few times and take a little longer but are cheaper.
One part of Tromsø town is located on the other side of the river. This is also where you have to go to take Fjellheisen cable car. But there are also buses to go there.
In general, you don’t need a car in Tromsø, as many tours start from the centre and there is also a good bus connection. See the bus plan of Tromsø here:
If you want to be more flexible or go on a Nordic light hunt by yourself, better rent a car. Plus there are plenty of things to do in Tromso in winter which makes it easier by car.
Never stop exploring! #Maria