For those seeking snow, winter sports and some nearly-mythical creatures, there’s possibly no better place than this water-side city, touching the mountainous countryside. We’ve gathered the top ten things to do in Tromso in the winter, from whale watching to reindeer sledding to spa days.
If you fantasise about watching this magical light display dance across the sky in all its glory, you’ve come to the right place. Tromso is one of the best places in Norway to spot the aurora borealis thanks to its stable weather, famously clear skies and its location at the centre of the northern lights’ oval, which means you can spot them even when the activity is low. You may catch them here any time from September through to April and your best chance is to book a Northern Lights Chase tour. You can opt for a large coach trip or a small, mini-bus group – though these sell out faster – and both are equally likely to catch the phenomenon, thanks to the experts at the helm. These are one of the most popular things to do in Tromso in winter, so definitely book ahead and maybe book more than one excursion during your stay, to maximise your chances.
Another magical phenomenon that’s quite unique to this part of the world are the great cetaceous visitors. If you’re visiting between November and January, one of the top things to do in Tromso is go whale watching. Whale watching safaris often last all day, starting in Tromso and driving by minibus to the Skjervøy launch point, from where you’ll enjoy an exhilarating ride through the sea on the hunt for orcas, hump-back whales, minke whales, dolphins and numerous amazing sea birds. Even if you don’t spot a whale, you will get an unrivalled view of the sea, fjords and unique landscape of Norway in its breath-taking winter light.
Dog sledding is another quintessential Norwegian experience that won’t disappoint. Picture dashing through the majestic snow-covered landscape, wrapped up in a sled with the sky dancing overhead and dogs wagging their tails ahead. You can easily make the dream come true on one of Tromso’s many dog-sledding experiences. You can opt for a simple tour, where a professional musher drives the sled and you glide serenely in the back, or you can choose a tour where you get to drive the sled yourself – a totally thrilling experience. Tours usually involve meeting the huskies or dogs (possibly meeting some cuddle-able puppies too) and getting to know the mushers who work with them, before heading out into the Arctic landscape. It will definitely be chilly in winter, so wrap up warm.
Reindeer husbandry is a big part of Sami culture – Sami being the indigenous people of the north. There are many ways you can experience Sami culture, while helping to keep it alive and a thriving industry for tourism. Reindeer experiences are especially popular from October to March, as Sami are traditionally nomadic and move their reindeer to pastures further from Tromso in summer. Reindeer sledding tours are a fascinating way to learn a bit about the culture, while also ticking off an absolutely bucket-list experience. You can opt for daytime or magical evening tours. Some experiences involve visits to a reindeer farm, feeding the reindeer or cultural storytelling sessions around fire in a lavvu (Sami herdsmen’s tent) and possibly traditional Sami delicacies and songs. If you don’t want to actually go in a sled, you can still support the guides by booking a Sami culture and reindeer feeding experience.
For the best view in the area, head up the Fjellheisen cable car. The cable car runs every half an hour and within five minutes you’ve been whisked to a cloud-level viewpoint with an out-of-this-world panorama over the city, the fjords and the epic mountains in the distance. If you go in the daytime you’ll see the spectacular snow and surroundings, as well as have the opportunity to go for a short hike (good snow boots are highly recommended). If you opt to soar up during the evening, you’ll be dazzled by the twinkling lights below, and probably sample some of the warming fayre and a drink at Fjellstua restaurant. There’s always the possibility you’ll see the aurora too.
While you may have visited cathedrals on many of your European city breaks, chances are, you won’t have seen one like the Arctic Cathedral. This striking, angular building makes its presence felt all across town, looking like it’s been dropped down by aliens. Inside there is an enormous glass mosaic wall, oak pews, large prism chandeliers, an exquisite organ – it’s an architectural delight. There are often fantastic concerts and light shows here too. Seeing this building illuminated at night, with the aurora dancing in the background if you’re lucky, is indescribable. At less than £5 a ticket (which will also include some concerts if there are any that day), it’s one of the cheaper things to do in Tromso too.
With of the most-popular things to do in Tromso in recent years has been to visit the ice domes, a roaring success since their opening in 2017. This carved, frozen wonderland is built every year and opens from December to March for guided tours. Inside you can experience an ice cinema, ice restaurant and ice bar – complete with intricate frozen sculptures and delicious drinks in ice glasses. It’s also a popular starting point for various tours and wintery experiences, such as snow shoeing and lights-chasing excursions to an aurora camp.
In a land of snowscapes, skiing seems like an obvious thing to do if you’re in Tromso for longer than a few days. There are several options for downhill skiing and ski touring or cross-country – a very popular way to enjoy the local landscape – but one of the most easily accessible is Tromsø Alpinpark. If skiing isn’t your thing, snow-shoeing is a fabulous, and perhaps less scary way for newbies to get out in the snow. You can hire snow shoes and plan your own hike, or head out on a tour, possibly combined with northern lights viewing too. What could be more romantic than traversing the snowy countryside at your own pace and getting to most incredible photo opportunities in the peaceful winter air.
All that snow and ice may be stunning to look at, but it can get mighty chilly and you might be in need of warming up. In which case, head to a sauna or pool. Tromsøbadet is a big pool complex with multiple different indoor pools, an indoor hot-water grotto, jacuzzis, sauna, steam room, and heated outdoor pool area with a gorgeous view. Pust is a popular floating sauna, gentle bobbing in the calm waters of Tromso harbour. You can enjoy the sweltering heat inside and then plunge into the cool sea – if you dare. For something a little more elevated, enter Vulkana Spa Boat. This spa on a converted whaling vessel promises a wood-fired hot tub, traditional Finnish sauna, Turkish hamman and ice bathing.
There are plenty of things to do in Tromso if the weather is inclement, from the Polar Museum, Troll Museum and Northern Norway Art Museum to the planetarium and the world’s northernmost whisky distillery. Polaria is an aquarium and arctic experience and science centre, where you can watch seals being fed, walk through an underwater tunnel, and get up close and personal with the local sub-aqua flora. Ølhallen brewery is probably the northernmost craft brewery in the world and certainly the oldest pub in Tromso – highly recommended for the cosy, polar-night afternoons.