Known as the "Gateway to the Arctic," Tromsø is a wonderful Arctic destination that offers a unique blend of stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and thrilling winter activities. I was pleasantly surprised by Tromsø. I hadn’t done much research into it, because it was included on my Lapland tour’s itinerary. The surprise made me feel like the trip was ending on a high note!
Tromsø is beautiful, cool and full of delicious restaurants perfect for a foodie like me. With its breathtaking landscapes, shimmering fjords, and the elusive Northern Lights dancing across the night sky, Tromsø is a dream come true for winter enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. In this blog post, I will guide you through the best things to see, do, and experience in Tromsø during the magical winter season.
When it comes to winter activities, Tromsø offers all of the exhilarating experiences you hope for on a Lapland holiday. I highlight a few of my favorite things, including a husky sledding adventure through pristine snowy trails, or exploring the tranquil beauty of the Arctic wilderness on a snowmobile safari. Winter in Tromsø is truly a magical experience. This Arctic gem has something for everyone. So, bundle up and get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty and charm of Tromsø's winter wonderland.
The Best Things to See, Do & Experience in Tromsø During Winter
Unique Things to Do in Tromsø
One of the most iconic attractions in Tromsø is the Fjellheisen cable car. The cable car takes passengers from the base station near the city center to the summit of Mount Storsteinen. From sea level to an elevation of 421 meters in just a few short minutes! As the cable car ascends, you will be awestruck by the breathtaking views of Tromsø.
The Fjellheisen cable car is open year-round, and there isn’t a bad time to go. Check the hours for sunset, and try to plan your visit for the late afternoon golden hour. You’ll be greeted with sunset colors! If you wait until darkness, you might even catch a gorgeous glimpse of the northern lights over Tromsø.
A café at the summit offers a range of food and drinks, making it a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the views. Grab a glass of bubbly at the summit and head out onto the observation deck. It provides an ideal 360 degree vantage point of the surrounding fjords, islands, and mountains. There are also several hiking trails that lead from the summit, allowing visitors to explore the beautiful mountain scenery during summer time. You can even ski from the summit!
The Arctic Cathedral is a striking architectural masterpiece that has become an iconic symbol of Tromsø. Officially known as the Tromsdalen Church, this magnificent structure is renowned for its distinctive triangular shape and gleaming white facade. Finished in 1965, it was designed by architect Jan Inge Hovig. The cathedral's unique design draws inspiration from the Arctic landscape, such as stone, ice and nature. Inside, you'll be treated to a serene and minimalist atmosphere, enhanced by the soft lighting that filters through the stunning stained glass windows.
Pust Floating Sauna
It is no secret that I am obsessed with saunas. One of my favorite sauna experiences OF ALL TIME was Pust Floating Sauna. This innovative concept takes the idea of a traditional sauna to new heights by combining it with the tranquil serenity of floating in a fjord and stylish modern design. The wood triangle-shaped sauna literally floats in the middle of Tromsø harbor!
The soothing warmth inside will envelop your body, immediately melting away stress and tension. You can fully experience the health benefits of a sauna by alternating between hot and cold temperatures. This process is known to stimulate blood circulation and strengthen the immune system. After enjoying the intense heat of the sauna, you jump directly into the sea water! The invigorating cold water is shocking but feels amazing and surprisingly refreshing.
Best Museums in Tromsø
Housed in a charming 19th-century customs house, the Polar Museum highlights the rich history of Arctic exploration. It serves as a tribute to the brave adventurers who ventured into the icy wilderness. You'll be transported to a world of Arctic expeditions, where you can explore artifacts and photographs from legendary explorers like Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen. You'll also experience an intriguing exhibition dedicated to Arctic wildlife, showcasing the diverse species that call the polar regions home.
The Troll Museum is one of those silly yet fun museums that only takes about an hour to explore. Full of whimsical exhibits and stories of mythical creatures, it isn’t just for kids. Adults can enjoy it too! The museum showcases a collection of intricate troll sculptures and artifacts, each crafted with meticulous detail, showcasing the rich Norwegian troll mythology. From mischievous tricksters to wise and ancient beings, these captivating creatures are brought to life through interactive displays. I wouldn't say it is a must-do if you're short on time, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Outdoor Activities to Try in Tromsø
Northern Lights Viewing
Seeing the Aurora Borealis is a bucket list item that most people have in mind when visiting Lapland in the winter. Also known as northern lights, the aurora are a natural electrical phenomenon which occur when solar wind particles from the sun collide with Earth's atmosphere. The Earth's magnetic field deflects the electrically charged particles towards the poles, which is why you can only see them around the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
The particles interact with elements in Earth’s air, creating colorful streaks of purple, red or green waves of light, or aurora, in the sky. I first saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, and it was an incredible feeling. The displays I witnessed in Lapland were next level! There is something awe-inspiring about watching this natural phenomenon dance across the sky. I even cried a little bit – it is just so special!
Auroras happen all year round, but they can only be seen at night in the winter because of low light pollution levels. You can hire a professional guide or photographer who can both teach you about the aurora and take you to particularly good photography and viewing locations. On clear nights in the winter in Lapland, you can also simply walk outside and look up to spot the Northern Lights.
Husky Dog Sledding
If you’ve ever been fascinated by the Iditarod or dog sledding, taking a dog sled ride is the experience for you! My husky dog sled experience was perhaps the most magical of all the things I did in Lapland. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone! Surprisingly thrilling, there is nothing quite like the excitement of the dogs speedily pulling you forward as you look out over the snow-covered wilderness.
A standard dog sled package includes a 2 hour ride through the wilderness on a 2 person dog sled. One person mushes while the other sits in the sled, and there will be an opportunity to switch off during the trail ride. While 2 hours felt long enough, I could definitely have stayed out for a few more hours because of how much I loved the experience. The sleds are comfortable, but they are entirely exposed to the winter climate. Most operators offer guests the option to wear a thick snowsuit, but you’ll want to pack appropriate warm layers to wear underneath the suit.
With miles of snow-covered forests, frozen lakes, and snow-capped mountains, Tromsø is the perfect destination to try snowmobiling. Riding a snowmobile allows you to access areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach, giving you unforgettable access to the Arctic wilderness. You can also typically pair snowmobiling with another activity, such as Northern Lights viewing.
Most guided trips include warm and waterproof clothing, including snowsuits, gloves, and boots, to stay safe and comfortable in the extreme cold. Many tours include stops for hot drinks and snacks, allowing you to warm up and take in the stunning surroundings. On ours, we made grilled cheese sandwiches over an open fire!
Fjord Cruise & Whale Watching
Departing from Tromsø harbor, you can set sail on the crystal-clear waters of the fjords, surrounded by majestic mountains and awe-inspiring landscapes. These scenic cruises are absolutely gorgeous! Depending on the time of year, you’ll have different cruise options, ranging from an aurora dinner cruise to an aquatic wildlife cruise.
One of the potential highlights is the opportunity to find whales. Humpback whales and orcas are the most common whales around Tromsø . The best time to see orcas in Tromsø and the best time to see whales in Norway are the same: from November to early February. This is when the herring migration attracts a high concentration of whales, making it the prime season for sightings.
Arrival & Departure to Tromsø
Prior to my first trip, I thought finding flights to Tromsø was going to be difficult. Actually though, arriving at Tromsø Langnes Airport (TOS) is relatively straightforward with both domestic and international destinations. There are direct flights from major cities in Norway, such as Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim, as well as connecting flights from international destinations like London, Frankfurt, Stockholm, and Helsinki. Most connecting flights to mainland Europe connect in Oslo.
Tromsø Airport is located approximately 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) from the city center. I think the airport shuttle bus is the most convenient option. The Flybussen shuttle runs every 15-20 minutes seven days a week with service starting very early in the morning. The journey takes less than a half hour, and it can drop you off in a few locations around Tromsø.
Where to Eat & Drink in Tromsø
Tromsø is a food lover's paradise! I am blown away by the quality of food here. You can expect to pay a pretty penny for most meals in Tromsø – this is not a cheap destination for foodies. In exchange however, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best cuisine in all of Norway. I summarize all of my favorite Tromsø restaurants in a separate post. This surprisingly foodie destination has an abundance of restaurants serving up delicious and diverse dishes. Whether you're a seafood lover or a vegetarian, a coffee addict or a cocktail enthusiast, you'll find plenty of options to satisfy your cravings in Tromso.
Where to Stay in Tromsø
Given the copious number of restaurants and cute shops to explore, I would recommend staying in Tromsø’s city center. It is totally walkable! Plus, most of the activities I’ve listed in this blog post offer transportation if it isn’t walkable. I loved my stay at Scandic Ishavshotel! Styled as a boutique hotel, the central hotel is located on Tromsø Harbor’s quay. Almost all of Scandic Ishavshotel’s rooms boast panoramic views of the area.
Another good option is Clarion Collection Hotel, a waterfront Tromsø hotel where many rooms look out over the Arctic Cathedral or Tromsesundet Sea. If luxury is what you’re after, you can’t go wrong with Clarion Hotel the Edge, which stands out for its rooftop terrace and sky bar that offer stunning views of Tromsø.
Have questions about Tromsø? Tell me in the comments!
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