Tromso is a fantastic Norwegian municipality in the Arctic circle, and there are many fun things to do here in winter.
Although you will likely experience snow during your winter visit, there are still plenty of activities to enjoy, even without snow on the ground. Being such a unique climate, there are certain things you can do here that would be practically unheard of in other parts of the world.
The scenery is magnificent. The wildlife is fascinating. It’s a place that deserves all the hype it gets.
You might be surprised that Tromso is not as cold as you thought. It’s a place that is kept temperate (at least for the Arctic) due to the gulf stream keeping the area that little bit warmer than other places within the circle.
Put it this way, Toronto was SIGNIFICANTLY colder than Tromso, and by a lot. One key difference is that after around the middle of November, Tromso goes into the polar night, which means the sun won’t rise for about two months.
So you better prepare to be in almost complete darkness if you’re there in peak winter – but this adds to the experience! Read on to see the best things to do during a Tromso winter.
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Things to do in Tromso in winter
Northern lights (Aurora Borealis)
Northern lights tours are easily the most popular things to do in Tromso, especially in winter. They’re the reason this small arctic city is so popular with tourists, and it just gets more popular by the year. For those that don’t usually live near the Arctic, the Aurora borealis can be a huge bucket list event to witness for themselves and Tromso is rated as one of the best places to see them!
What’s great about the lights is that you don’t need to travel too far from the city to see them so that you can watch them independently or on tour like the one below:
Check out these quick tips for a successful northern lights chase.
Northern Lights by Sea
You’d be wrong if you think the only way to view the northern lights is on land. Here in Tromso, it’s common for visitors to watch the colours of the winter sky dancing from the sea as well. Since the northern lights are seen at their best with minimal light pollution, it only makes sense to join a boat tour and head out on the Arctic waters to where it’s darkest to enjoy the Aurora.
Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can see the reflection of the aurora borealis in the sea from your boat on a calm night. It’s almost like getting a two-for-one show!
- Northern lights sailing tour
- Hot tub sail cruise northern lights tour
- Northern lights & cruise cuisine tour
Walk around the Storgata shopping streets
You’ll find a few streets near the harbour in the town centre with various stores and restaurants. With almost every type of store, you can find everything you need, from tourist souvenirs, clothing, homewares and more. With regard to clothing, Norwegians have an impeccable sense of style that includes appropriate functionality for the local climate.
Not only will you find the stores lining the street, but you’ll also have the shopping malls just around the corner too. All of your souvenir and shopping needs can be fulfilled with ease.
Relax in the sauna
Located in the harbour is the famous Tromso floating sauna, Pust. This sauna is unique because it is recommended to take a plunge outside before getting back in the hot sauna. By outside, we mean in the Arctic ocean. Pretty crazy, right?
For Norwegians, taking part in a “polar plunge” followed by some TLC inside the sauna is believed to have incredible health benefits. It gets your heart pumping and SERIOUSLY wakes you up. Are you brave enough to give it a go? Few people can say they have taken an ice bath inside the Arctic circle.
The sauna is located here.
Visit the library
If you’re a fan of architecture, then the Tromso City Archives & Library is another building you should definitely check out. Located in the heart of the city, it’s just steps away from popular cafes and the shopping street.
Not only will you find a quiet place to work and countless books to read. You’ll also find the city’s historical archives here too. If you’re a bookworm and want to spend some time out of the cold, this is a fantastic place to relax and pick up a good book.
Visit the ice domes hotel
One of the highlights of this Arctic city is the ice hotel that gets rebuilt every year. The hotel is made from large ice blocks and is a staple to any winter itinerary to the region. With the option to spend the night inside the ice hotel rooms or to eat dinner in the ice restaurant, you’re guaranteed a unique experience.
Plus, they even have a bar and a cinema made entirely out of ice with a short film about making the ice hotel. Not many places around the world offer something so exciting. You can still visit the amenities as a daytime guest, so everyone can enjoy the fun. This cannot be missed off our list of top things to do in Tromso.
Visit the Tromso Arctic Cathedral
Another piece of stunning architecture, this famous cathedral really stands out amongst the rest of the cityscape. Located in Troms og Finnmark county, this is easily the most well-known building in the entire Tromso area.
One side of the unique structure has floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows. Plus, it stands tall at the end of the city bridge which frames the picture-perfect scene. This is undoubtedly one of the best photo opportunities in the city.
Sledges are one of the most convenient ways to travel across snowy landscapes – especially when pulled by huskies! Luckily for you, even when there is no snow, you will likely be able to go for a husky “wagon” ride instead. Many of the companies that offer sledging rides simply change the type of vehicle if there is no snow.
Want to visit a husky puppy training centre? You’ll be able to watch pups from 2-8 months practice mushing and wearing their harnesses during positive training.
Reindeer are hard-working throughout the winter so it’s only right they get spoiled with food and treats too! Many of the reindeer sledging tours have an included stop where you can feed these majestic animals but you can also do it as a tour on its own.
Reindeer are gentle, tame and friendly creatures that are comfortable with human interaction due to being kept as a herd by the Sami people. This means there are minimal risks with feeding them on your own reindeer feeding tour.
Being so close to Lapland it only makes sense to visit these majestic creatures, and who knows, maybe you’ll get a glimpse of your very own Rudolph.
Go hiking or snowshoeing
Hiking has to be one of the best things to do in Tromso and that’s because of the stunning and unique landscape. Unlike the UK, Tromso has huge fjords almost completely surrounding the city. This means you have so many opportunities to get out and enjoy the local hiking trails.
Although hiking is typically associated with the summer months, there are plenty of hiking trails you can still do in the winter. This is all thanks to snow shoes and cross-country skiing routes. Wrap up warm and you can still head out to enjoy nature, whatever the weather.
Enjoy the viewpoint at the top of the cable car
If you want to see a bird’s eye view of the city, the best place to go is the Sherpa Stairs trail. This is a stone staircase that leads to the top of the cable car. and you’ll find a viewpoint at the top Whether you’re up here during daylight or at night, you’ll be able to enjoy Tromso from a new angle.
If you’d rather not break a sweat or you don’t want to walk to the top, you can ride the cable car up or down. Whichever way you choose to reach the top will be worth it. The contrast between the snow and the city lights truly is beautiful!
The cable car (Fjellheisen) runs from 10 am-10 pm each day and you can buy tickets directly at the ticket booth.
Visit the local parks
If a strenuous hike isn’t your style, there are also easy walking trails along the beaches. Towards the south end of the island, you’ll find Southern beach and the Folkeparken. In this area, you’ll find coastal walks and nature trails to enjoy. The best part? They’re only a 30-minute walk from the centre of town and there are buses headed that way too.
On clear nights you can often see the Aurora from here and the parks remain open whether there is snow or not. This is a quiet part of the island that helps you enjoy being out in nature.
Whale & sealife safari
No trip to the arctic circle is complete without a boat ride looking for whales and sea life. In particular, you are likely to see humpback whales and orcas in this part of the Arctic. They travel through the icy waters here when on the hunt for herring near Skjervoy before they go looking for warmer waters.
This is one of the best things to do in Tromso during the winter season due to their natural migration patterns. It’s these migration patterns that allow us to see whales and orcas in their natural habitat between November and February each year.
- Whale & Arctic Wildlife Safari – Large boat
- Silent whale watching with a silent engine – Mid-sized boat
- Whale Watching RIB Boat Tour – Small boat
Try some local cuisine
Every destination has its own unique food and Norway is no exception. Due to the cold climate and distance from many other cities, Tromso has a few specialities that put this part of the world on the food map. These include fårikål (mutton and cabbage stew) and reindeer.
Because it’s hard to grow many foods in the arctic, it’s much harder to find vegetarian or vegan options – but they are there. They take a little longer to find suitable options but more and more places are offering veggie options as time progresses. Check out potato & cabbage stew!
Visit the troll museum
Norway is the land of the trolls so it only makes sense that there is a troll museum to visit. Located by the harbour there is a small museum dedicated to the legends and stories that fill the nation. Trolls have been part of the history and folklore in Norway for as long as locals can remember so this is the perfect place to learn all about that.
The small museum is a great way to stay warm in winter and learn all about these mythical creatures. You can easily get around the whole museum in just a few hours and is a great insight into a different side of Norway.
The troll museum is located here.
Learn about Sami culture
Most places you visit will have the option to spend time getting to know the locals. Tromso is no exception! Other than the Norwegian residents who live inside the city, there are also many native Sami people who live in more rural regions of northern Scandinavia.
The Sami people who live near Tromso are a long line of reindeer herders who live off of the land eating arctic berries, reindeer meat and fish.
For those of you that enjoy learning about new cultures, I’d highly recommend visiting the Sami camps where you can be introduced to their unique way of life. During these visits, you can often visit their traditional lavvu tents, meet their herds of reindeer as well as hear their fascinating stories over a traditional Sami-cooked meal.
You can either meet these friendly and welcoming families through a day tour or a multi-day homestay depending on how much time you have available.
Fjords road trip
Although you can see the surrounding fjords from almost anywhere in Tromso, you could easily go and get a much closer look by car. The fjords offer many stunning viewpoints of the rugged landscape and there are many to choose from.
If you have a license and are comfortable driving yourself, then you could very easily get a rental car and do a self-drive itinerary. If you’re travelling solo, can’t drive or just prefer to have someone else plan things for you, you can book a small group tour that takes you to all of the best fjord lookouts and teach you about each one.
These tours do run in winter, however, the tour will depend on the level of snow and ice on the road. Most stops are around Kvaloya or Sommaroy.
No trip to northern Norway is complete without trying your hand at fishing. Since it’s so cold for most of the year, seafood is one of the easiest foods to find. Unlike warmer climates that can successfully grow a wide range of crops, here in Tromso, fish is the easiest cuisine to make and prepare – and they’re experts at it.
While you are here, it’s worth heading out with an experienced boat crew and learning how to fish in the Norwegian sea. On a tour, they’ll provide the fishing road and line, along with the bait and any tips and tricks that might help you catch a fish!
Explore the city on foot
Technically this activity can be done at any time of year, but it’s especially beautiful during the winter time. Every year without fail, the city of Tromso gets covered in snow and turns into a winter wonderland. However, there is still so much to see right here in the city itself.
Wander around and take a look at the harbour and admire the boats, or head over to the stunning cathedral that points up into the sky. You could take a ride on the cable car for views of the city and visit some local stores. Just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean the city hibernates. The city has more life than ever!
This is a sport you can do solo in a one-person boat or as a pair in a double kayak. Listed as one of the best things to do in Tromso in the winter it’s clear to see why. It’s a relaxing relaxing activity that can be enjoyed on the icy waters outside of Tromso on the coast of Hakoybotn, Kvaloya island.
Although kayaking is usually associated with warm climates, it’s mesmerising in the Arctic when you’re surrounded by small icebergs and snow-covered fjords. Don’t worry though, you’ll be given a thick arctic wet suit so you won’t get too cold!
Visit the aquarium (Polaria)
Polaria is a small aquarium that aims to educate people about the arctic. Not only will you find information about certain sea life in the arctic regions, but you’ll also have access to their panoramic cinema and short films. These films discuss a range of topics surrounding the arctic region through all 4 seasons and can be watched on a 21-metre screen.
Note: This aquarium does have a small group of seals that you can watch being fed.
Ok, this is slightly different from the rest of the activities on our list and yes it can be done all year round. However, this could be one of the perfect things to do during the Tromso winter since you can stay inside in the warm!
There are multiple ways to experience a Norway beer tasting. You can either just head over to a bar you like the look of, get comfortable and try various beers throughout the evening. Or if you’d prefer less spontaneity and more organisation you can join a small group for a pre-planned experience. You never know, you might find your next favourite beer here!
Head to the Polar museum
If you’re not quite finished learning about the Arctic way of life, the Polar Museum is another place to visit. It’s located next to the harbour and doesn’t take up much of your day. This is a historical museum that educates people on how original settlers and nomads started making this area home.
From the food they had to catch, to the clothing and tools they crafted themselves, it really gives you an insight into how they made an almost desolate place, livable.
Trigger warning: This museum does showcase taxidermy animals so if this type of thing upsets you, it might be worth skipping it.
This museum regularly changes and updates its exhibits so if you’re visiting Tromso for a while you might get to see some variation. With popular artists providing artworks for the museum it gives you an insight into the Arctic life and the artists that call this region home. This museum is regularly regarded as one of the top things to do in Tromso. Many of the exhibits are thought-provoking.
If you love art and can appreciate different types of photography, you’ll find it easy to get lost for a few hours on a winter’s day.
Look for art installations
One thing I love about Tromso is how many art installations are scattered around the city. This just proves that it doesn’t matter how cold it is, the city can still be beautiful. From a heart structure that lights up underneath the city bridge, to the statue of a small dachshund overlooking the sea.
Not to mention the memorial statues honouring those who completed Arctic expeditions throughout history. These art pieces are permanent fixtures so you’ll easily find them during the winter too. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll spot these artistic structures and find the hidden beauty around the city. You can find this statue here.
Have a drink in the magic ice bar
You might be wondering why you’d go into an ice bar in winter since it’s so cold outside. But the ice bar is a great way to enjoy a drink in a slightly more interesting way. After going through a renovation in late 2022 the ice bar is ready to invite visitors back in for a drink on ice.
The bar is located right downtown and is only a few minutes on foot from the Storgata shopping street and the harbour. Inside you’ll find ice sculptures and colourful lighting while you spend the time in -5C, so don’t expect to spend too much time in here without getting chilly.
You can find the bar here.
Where to stay in Tromso
When it comes to choosing hostel accommodation, Tromso only has a couple of places to choose from. If you would like to stay somewhere in the city centre and close to everything (and for cheap), then I recommend considering Aurora Friends Apartment which is a sociable, basic property within walking distance of most amenities.
If you would like to stay somewhere with a little bit more luxury, then why not head over to the Booking.com website where they have a much larger collection of properties to choose from?
Summary of things to do in Tromso
As you can see from our extensive list there are so many fun and unique activities to enjoy on your trip to Tromso! It’s a destination often overlooked due to its extreme weather and proximity to the Arctic circle but it has so many experiences you can enjoy on one trip or on your gap year!