Discover The Best Attractions and Activities in Tromsø, Norway
Are you planning a trip to northern Norway, wondering what the best places to visit in Tromsø are, what kind of activities you should do, and where to stay and eat?
We were asking the same questions when we moved to Tromsø in 2021.
We asked the locals for their recommendations, spent several days doing google research, and spent much of our free time exploring Tromsø and its surroundings.
Finally, after half a year of living in Tromsø, we put together an interactive map of Tromsø that contains our tips for:
The best activities you should do in Tromsø and our recommendations for trusted tour providers
The best museums to visit in Tromsø
The attractions that you can visit for free without breaking the bank
Accommodations both in the city center as well as in the surroundings of Tromsø
Restaurants, cafés, pubs, and bars
Places where you can buy or rent winter equipment
You can either zoom into the map, click on the icons, or read the descriptions about every place.
However, our map of Tromsø contains more than 130 points of interest, so we recommend you use the icon in the upper left corner of the map that shows you the legend.
Here, we have grouped all the points of interest (POI) into layers you can display or hide based on your interests.
Therefore, you can only display, for example, the layer called Restaurants, if you are searching for a place to eat.
For planning purposes, we recommend opening the map on the desktop PC, where you can browse through the pictures and click on the links in the description.
On the other hand, while traveling, we recommend you download the map into your google maps, so it can be your personal guide to Tromsø that fits into the back of your pocket.
There is no best time to visit Tromsø. The ideal time for visit depends very much on what you want to see and do.
If your main goal is to see the northern lights, then you need to travel between the beginning of September and the end of March.
If you want to whale watching, you must come to Tromsø between the beginning of November and the end of January.
Tromsø enjoys Midnight Sun for more than two months in the summer, from about the 18th of May to the 25th of July.
June, July, August, and September are excellent months for hiking trips in the mountains.
In our experience, we would skip traveling to Tromsø in April and May (unless you are an avid skier). September and October are still great for hiking, and you can see the northern lights. However, it is too early in the season for other activities like dog sledding, reindeer feeding, or whale watching.
To see the northern lights, you need the sky to be dark enough so the aurora would become visible. In Tromsø, the sun does not set below the horizon from about the 18th of May to the 25th of July. It is not until the beginning of September that the sky gets dark enough again.
You can see the northern lights from the beginning of September until the beginning of April. However, most travel agencies run their tours from mid-September until the end of March.
The peak season is February and March when the weather is slightly more stable than in the other winter months. Moreover, the days become bright enough so you can enjoy lots of different activities and hunt the northern lights during the night.
As much as we love Lofoten, when it comes to the northern lights, Tromsø is a supreme location.
Tromsø is in the center of the northern lights’ oval, which means you can see the northern lights even when the activity is low.
Moreover, the region around Tromsø has many microclimates, meaning that the neighboring valleys or fjords can have significantly different weather conditions.
That means that even on very cloudy nights, it is often possible to drive to a place with clear skies within a 2 – 3 hr drive.
You do not need to book a tour with a travel agency to see the northern lights. If the sky is clear and the northern lights activity is good, you can see northern lights even from the city center of Tromsø.
However, if you want to increase your chance of seeing them, booking a tour with an experienced guide is always better.
On cloudy days, the guides are excellent at reading the local weather forecast and choosing the spot with the biggest chance for a hole in the cloud cover.
If the weather forecast looks dim, they might drive you all the way to Finland and back if that is the spot that promises the best chances for the night.
On top of that, you will learn a lot about the physics of the northern lights, as well as local legends. The guides will also take pictures of you and the lights, which requires a bit of practice, and give tips on taking great pictures with your own camera.
There are many companies that offer northern lights trips from Tromsø. Some use 15-seater minibusses, some big coach buses; some offer private tours in electric cars. But all in all, they are all quite similar. It can also happen that you will meet other companies in the same spot, especially on days with not-so-good weather forecasts.
When choosing a northern lights tour, you should first decide what kind of tour you want – do you want a tour by minibus? Sailing tour? Do you want to combine the northern lights hunting with another activity like dog sledding or reindeer feeding?
Let me quickly go through some pros and cons.
Personally, I would choose a tour by minibus over the other options mainly because the minibus tours cover the most extensive distance. Moreover, on the days with a not-so-good weather forecast for Tromsø, they will be driving you to Lyngen, or even Finland, if there is a promise of better weather.
Being a photographer myself, I would go for a trip in a small group with a focus on photography. I can also recommend the companies Northern Horizon and Wondering Owl.
You will not get that on a sailing trip that will stick to the nearest surroundings of Tromsø. Moreover, taking decent pictures of the northern lights from a constantly moving boat is difficult. It is OK if you want a few snaps on your cell phone, but it is less than ideal for photographers traveling with a tripod.
There might be differences between tour operators, but here is what you can expect when you sign up for the northern lights chasing trip.
First, you need to understand that the northern lights are highly unpredictable. Moreover, the chance of seeing them depends not only on their activity but also on the local weather and cloud cover.
The northern lights generally extend from 80 kilometers (50 miles) to 640 kilometers (400 miles) above the Earth’s surface. Therefore, the tour’s name might be misleading since the activity is not about chasing the northern lights but searching for a clear sky.
At the pick-up point, you will meet your guide and driver, and they will brief you about the current aurora and weather conditions and tell you about the spots they have chosen for the evening. You will also be offered to wear a warm thermal suit and winter boots unless you have your own.
Then, you will get into a bus/minibus and drive to the chosen location. When the conditions are great, you might be able to see the northern lights straight away, and the guide will take pictures of you and respond to your questions.
On other nights, the guide will make a campfire and tell you stories and legends about the northern lights while you wait for them to show up. And sometimes, when the conditions could be better, the guide will need to be checking other options and be in touch with other guides to decide where are the best chances to find a hole in the cloud cover.
In any case, there will be a campfire, there will be stories, and the guides will do anything they can to find a spot where you can spot the northern lights and make sure that you are staying warm and having a good time while you are waiting for them.
However, it would be best if you had the right expectations from the start. It might be cold, there might be a lot of waiting, and it can happen that you will not see the northern lights.
So if seeing the northern lights is your biggest dream, I recommend booking tours on multiple nights.
Absolutely! Winter is the main tourist season in Tromsø! The main reason Tromsø is a popular winter travel destination is its location within the aurora oval, giving high chances for seeing the spectacular northern lights.
You can do many other exciting winter activities in addition to northern lights chasing. Try dog sledding, reindeer feeding, whale watching, or driving a snowmobile! Tromsø is also a renowned destination for randonee skiing!
Most travel agencies and tourist offices would not recommend you drive on the winter roads in northern Norway. However, renting a car is your best option if you want to explore the region around Tromsø or take a road trip to Lyngen or the Lofoten Islands.
The roads in and around Tromsø are cleared regularly and are usually relatively safe for driving. That being said, there will be days when the streets will be dangerous. There will be snowstorms, and there will be icy roads.
We absolutely recommend renting a car with studded tires that provide an extra grip. Also, do not over plan your itinerary so you wouldn´t have to drive long hours during darkness and bad weather.
For example, many people plan to go from Tromsø to the Lofoten Islands in a day. Do not do that; instead, split the trip into two days, so you do not end up being caught in a snowstorm at night.
Due to Tromsø´s location in the far north, there will be a big difference in daylight hours if you arrive in December or March. We recommend you check the page Timeanddate for your specific dates to see how many daylight hours you will have.
But to give you an idea, here are the daylight hours on the 15th day of each winter month:
Daylight: 7:54 – 17:03
Daylight hours: 09:09
Daylight: 09:25 – 13:31
Daylight hours: 04:06
Daylight: Not for this day
Daylight hours: 0:00
Daylight: 11:29 – 12:18
Daylight hours: 0:48
Daylight: 08:15 – 15:42
Daylight hours: 07:28
Daylight: 06:06 – 17:41
Daylight hours: 11:35
Daylight: 04:43 – 20:28
Daylight hours: 16:05
Dressing in layers is the ultimate answer to all your questions regarding how to dress for Tromsø in winter.
The layer system is designed to let you modify your clothing for all kinds of temperatures and weather conditions, with warm air generated by your body trapped between the layers to keep them warm.
We wrote a comprehensive article on what to pack for winter trip to Lofoten, where we explained the layering system and give practical tips for what to wear in northern Norway in winter. Make sure you check it out!