Top Things to do in Tromsø, Norway
Located within the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is the most densely populated area in northern Norway. The popularity of this destination has been increasing over the past number of years, as many people are attracted by the breathtaking scenery, the natural landscapes and of course being known as one of the best places in the world for catching a glimpse of the northern lights. Here is a list of the top things that you must do or see when you are in Tromsø.
Northern Lights Tour
For me, seeing the northern lights was priority number one when I was in Tromsø and the main reason which brought me there. Being located under the Aurora Belt you have the best chances of seeing the lights. However, it’s important to keep in mind that seeing the Aurora Borealis is never guaranteed. It all depends on the weather and a bit of luck. The best time of year to see the aurora is from September to April, so make sure you plan accordingly to avoid disappointment.
There are several companies in the city that organize northern light tours, so my recommendation would be to wait until you arrive and then reserve a tour based on the weather forecast. The weather changes so quickly up there, so what looks good a few days out might be completely different when you get there. Pre-booking your tour can be good and bad. It can be a good idea if you are only visiting for a short time, want to make sure you see the northern lights and want to guarantee a place with a particular company. We did this but there was a bad side to it as well. Our first tour was amazing as we were extremely lucky to have a clear night with lots of activity. However, because we didn’t know how the first night would be we pre-booked a second night and to our dismay it wasn’t as good as the first night. Don’t get me wrong, it was still amazing to see the lights again for a second time but looking back now we would have been very content after our first tour.
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Choosing a tour company can be a tough task, but after reviewing a few different companies online the best one seemed to be Chasing Lights. With over 800 reviews on TripAdvisor it was hard to argue that they weren’t the best.
Chasing Lights offer an “unforgettable and adventurous outdoor experience”. Their maximum group size is 13 people so it feels a lot more personal than jumping on a large bus. Their service is amazing, they provide hotel pick up, thermal suits and boots to keep you warm, hot meals and beverages, a campfire and they even share photography tips and take photos throughout the tour as well. On top of this they have great tour guides who are very knowledgeable and don’t give up till they find a glimpse of the northern lights. I think this is what separates them from other companies. To sum this up perfectly, on our second tour we drove close to the Finnish border before doing a u-turn in the hope of catching a glimpse of the lights somewhere further south.
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During the winter months large numbers of humpback and orca (killer) whales gather near the coastline of Tromsø to feed. These tours will generally operate from mid-October to mid-February, but will be weather dependant so my advice would again be to wait until you get to Tromsø before booking anything.
Like the Northern Light tours there are several companies in the city that organize whale watching trips. The main difference between the companies is the type of boat they use. There are large fishing boats, small sailboats and catamarans and also speed boats too. For our tour we decided to book with Arctic Adventure Tours as they used a RIB with a small group size. This would give us a great opportunity to see these amazing mammals up close and personal.
The tour lasts roughly 4-5 hours and starts with Arctic Adventure Tours doing a pick up from the centre of Tromsø at 9am. From there you drive a short journey to the harbour where they provide you with Arctic suits and lifejackets. Once everyone is suited and booted it’s onto the water to start the search. During the trip you are served hot chocolate and given some snacks to heat you up. Once the tour is finished and you arrive back at the harbour you are driven back to Tromsø. For me this tour was an amazing experience. To be able to witness these giants of the sea so close was truly special. It is one that I highly recommend to anyone who is in Tromsø during these months.
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The breathtaking fjord landscapes in the Tromsø region are some of the finest Norway can offer so it’s a tour not pass up on. Touring the fjords is a great day trip as it allows you to kick back relax and soak up the stunning surroundings. Especially if you’ve been out the night before chasing the lights. Like the other tours, there are several companies in the city that organize fjord excursions, but we decided to go with Chasing Lights.
We had such a good experience with them and enjoyed their small personal tours that we chose them again.
They operate in small groups and go by mini-bus, so it’s very comfortable. They stop and let you experience the surroundings, walk on foot, take photos and enjoy the scenery. They also provide lunch and hot chocolate during the trip too.
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Explore the City
Although Tromsø is a relatively small city, there are lots of things to see and do. Whether it be walking around browsing the shops or exploring one of the many museums you will not be short of things to see and do.
You should try visit the following places, however, if you are stuck for time I would recommend the latter two:
- The Polar Museum, here you can learn about polar expeditions. You will meet men, women, ships and equipment that were essential for life on the sea and in the Arctic and you can also learn about the history of seal hunting in the Arctic.
- Polaria. Located just five minutes walk from the centre of Tromsø. The Polaria has an Arctic aquarium, interesting exhibits, a panoramic cinema, and a gift and souvenir shop.
- Walk over the Tromsø bridge and visit the Arctic Cathedral. The Arctic Cathedral is characterized by its bright white and triangular architecture and is now a landmark of Tromsø.
- If you are tired of experiencing Tromsø on the ground, you should take a cable car ride and view the city from the mountain top. Fjellheisen is the name of the cable car, and it takes you up to Mount Storsteinen, which overlooks Tromsø. The short ride up takes you to a viewing point where you can have phenomenal panoramic views. You can see the whole of Tromsø from the viewing point and you can also see snowy mountain ranges in the distance. At the top of the mountain there is a cafe, which serves food and drinks and has a fire on so you can heat back up before making your way back to the city centre.
Eat & Drink
Another option when exploring the city is to sample the local pubs, cafes and restaurants. The Nordics are known for being crazy expensive and Tromsø is no different. Although it’s a small place there are so many places and options to choose from, even if you are on a budget. Over the course of our trip we were able to sample a few places. Here are the places I would recommend:
- For breakfast and especially coffee make sure you check out Riso mat & kaffebar and Art Cafe. Prices weren’t too bad and the quality was great.
- For bars make sure you check out the famous Mack’s Beer Hall. There are over 100 beers on tap so it is a place not to be missed. Warning the beer can be expensive here. Also make sure you visit Huken Pub. This small pub is filled with retro furniture, has a great atmosphere, serves locally produced Mack beer and makes the most epic burgers. No seriously, these burgers were incredibly good, make sure you try them.
- For restaurants, check out Mathallen (located just off the main street) and the Kitchen & Table (located in the Clarion Hotel). Both serve a mix of international and great local dishes such as fish and reindeer.
- For travellers on a budget there is a large Eurospar supermarket where you can pick up supplies to either cook yourself or buy things for breakfast or lunch. There is also a Burger King, multiple sushi restaurants and other convenient stores. Also being a student town there are bars and restaurants that offer deals.
Depending on the time of year you visit there are more activities and things to do. During the winter months you can go dog-sledding, reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and witness the polar night. During the summer months you can do more water sports like kayaking, hike and witness the midnight sun.