The city of Tromso sits on an island in the Fjordland of northern Norway in the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by Fjords, lakes, and mountains, Tromso is an amazing place to visit all year round, winter or summer.
It’s the perfect place to reconnect with nature, enjoy the amazing landscapes that surround it andget a taste of northern Norwegian culture and see how life in the Arctic Circle really is.
A trip to Tromso city (or Tromso town as the locals call it) can be as action-packed as you’d like it to be. There are so many things to do in and around Tromso, no matter what season you’re visiting in. There are lots of great places to stay, plus it’s relatively easy to get to.
During the summertime in Tromso, the sun never sets, it’s 24-hour daylight, at least until late July, which gives rise to some amazing things to do whilst you’re there. Here are some of the best…
The Midnight Sun can be seen in Tromso during the months of May, June, July, and August and it’s a few golden hours late in the evening when the sun sets and rises in one motion, never actually going over the horizon. This means you get to see all the beautiful colors of a sunset and a sunrise all in one session and it can give rise to some of the most spectacular skies you will have ever seen.
You can see the midnight sun whilst having a picnic on the beach, from the rooftop of your apartment, or while enjoying some camping in the mountains, but one of the best ways is on a sailing boat.
There is nothing quite like watching the sunset or sunrise whilst sailing out on the ocean and for a very reasonable price, you can hop on board a large catamaran in Tromso that will take you sailing on a fjord cruise for 3 hours whilst the sun sets and rises.
The boat leaves at 10:30 pm from the city center and as you sail you can see the beautiful mountains and fjords, seals, and arctic birds, whilst the water and landscapes are all lit up by the beautiful colors of the sun. It truly is the best way to see the midnight sun in my opinion.
The Tromso Botanical Gardens are the most northern botanical gardens in the world and are open during summer 24 hours per day. They are filled with plants and flowers from across the world that only live in the northernmost part of the northern hemisphere.
The botanical gardens are full of stunning flowers that only survive in Alpine regions. It’s free to enter and they also play host to exhibits and events during the summer so it’s worth keeping an eye on their website to see if anything is happening during your stay.
Inside the gardens, you’ll also find the lovely Hansine Hansen cafe which is set inside an old house. They serve delicious coffee and pastries, it’s a very peaceful place to hang out. You can sit amongst the flowers if the weather is nice or get cozy inside.
The garden is about an hour’s walk from the center of Tromso city and sits just outside of the University of Tromsø Campus. If you’re not up for a walk or want to walk just one way, there are lots of buses that follow the route.
A great way to explore the beautiful coastline that surrounds Tromso is by kayaking. You can easily rent kayaks for the day and you won’t be the only one out on the water as kayaking is hugely popular in Tromso.
The waters around Tromso are very safe for beginners and are also fun for advanced paddlers as well. There is no better way to get to grips with the size of the fjords and interact with all the wildlife than sitting inches above the water and exploring them independently.
You can pack a picnic and paddle across to the many close-in islands, go ashore for some exploration, take a fishing rod and catch dinner, and you might get to see some seals and amazing birdlife.
If you really want to experience the best that kayaking around Tromso has to offer you can book a 2/3 day trip that will have you paddling every day and sleeping in yurts on different islands each night. There is no better way to see the midnight sun and really get reconnected with nature. There is no electricity, no phone signal, just absolute peace and quiet away from it all.
Life in Tromso is all about the sea, especially in the summer and booking a sailing tour around the Fjords is a lovely way to see all the surrounding islands, Fjords, and mountains that make the area so special.
Sailing tours last around 3 hours and include everything you need to be safe and comfortable onboard the boat. The captain and crew are pros and you’ll have an English-speaking guide explaining everything to you about the surrounding area.
Included with the price are warm suits, soft drinks, lunch, plus they will even give you fishing equipment so you can try and catch some fish and/or crabs that will be cooked freshly on board. There is a large cabin if you get a bit chilly and want to warm up and due to all the islands, you can stay protected from rough weather and stay in calm waters.
If you’re lucky, you might even bump into a few humpback whales or seals whilst you’re out sailing and you’re almost guaranteed to see some of the areas stunning bird species.
Whale watching is actually at its best in Tromso in winter. The whale watching season actually runs from November to January and Tromso is one of the places in the world you can get up close to Orcas. There is even a silent whale watching company that uses electric catamarans. Or you can go on a RIB boat tour, which is easier to maneuver and get close to the whales.
The area around Tromso is blessed with white-sand beaches and Bukta Beach is just a 30-minute walk from the center of Tromso. It’s very popular with the locals during the summer and it’s the perfect place to hang out on a sunny day, have a picnic, enjoy the midnight sun, and have a very chilly swim.
The beach is geared up for bonfires and BBQs. You’ll find picnic tables, grills, bathrooms, and even a beach volleyball court. The views across the sea are absolutely stunning and it’s the perfect place to have a dinner bbq with some drinks, build a fire, and watch the midnight sun do its thing.
There are no cafes in the area, it’s just white sand and forest, so make sure to bring your own food and drinks to the beach.
Folkeparken, the Tromso Open Air Museum is Norway’s oldest museum of its kind and a great place to get in insight into the history of the area around Tromso. It’s split into two parts, one part in the forest and one by the sea, and is home to 13 traditional houses and fishing boats that date back to the 1800s.
The area by the sea is home to an old white building and a beautiful old boathouse. The old white building called Kvinesgården was built around 1826 and was a trading area and is home to a trade exhibition and has a living area that’s decorated as it would have been in the 1800s.
Inside the boathouse are the old wooden boats that we used for fishing for cod known as fembøringer. You’ll also find an exhibit showing the history of cod fishing in the area.
The forest side of the museum is home to a large farmhouse and log cabins that date back to the 1800s as well. They are lovely to wander around, and the whole experience gives you a sense of what living in Tromso was like back in the day.
Access to the museum is free and it’s just a 30-minute walk from the center of Tromso. It’s also next to the beach so once you’re done you can enjoy a picnic by the sea.
Fishing is a huge part of the way of life in Tromso as the locals have lived off the sea all their lives and the tradition dates back to the first settlers of the area.
You can choose to book a fishing trip with a local skipper or guide who will take you out on a boat to catch cod, wolffish, coalfish, pollock, and if you’re lucky maybe the odd seatrout or halibut.
If you’re a fisherman and plan on bringing your own fishing gear, then the area around Tromso is your oyster. You don’t require a license to fish from the shore in Tromso which means you can go hiking around the rocks and beaches and try your luck at catching some fish.
Make sure you bring something to cook them on after as there is no better way of enjoying an evening with an open fire and some freshly caught fish that has just been plucked out of the ocean.
The areas around Tromso are excellent for both mountain biking and road cycling. There are some excellent trails that will take you around the fjords and mountains, and it’s one of the best ways to see what the islands have to offer.
You can also book a sailing cycling tour which takes you to all the islands around Tromso. At each of the islands, Lofoten, Senja, and Vesterålen, you can hop out on your bike and cycle around them. There really isn’t a better way to see everything the area has to offer and you’re likely to bump into some amazing wildlife on the way.
If you happen to visit Tromso in winter then one thing at the top of your list is probably to see the northern lights. Tromso is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights (aka the Aurora Borealis)and you can see them from September to April, but the best time is between mid-November and mid-January when the sun never sets – the so-called Polar Night.
Seeing the northern lights is never a guarantee and you can search them out on your own as sometimes they are strong enough to be seen from downtown Tromso. But, the light pollution caused by the city makes it much harder and you are far better off getting out of town to areas where there is no light pollution.
The best way to see the northern lights is by booking one of the Northern Lights tours. The guides specialize in chasing the lights and are gifted at predicting where they are going to show up based on clear skies and the weather patterns at the times.
A driving tour lasts around 7 hours and includes a hot meal, drinks, and the use of a tripod so you can take some amazing pictures. They also provide you with all the clothing you’ll need to stay warm on the trip and light a fire so you can keep warm while standing outside waiting for them.
You’ll drive around the fjords, mountains, and valleys looking for the northern lights. Sometimes you have to cross the border between Finland and Sweden to see them.
There are also more adventurous ways to see the northern lights. You can book a sailing tour, reindeer tour, snowmobile tour, or a dog sledding tour. All the tours provide you with everything you need to stay warm and comfortable during the trip and there isn’t a cooler way to see the northern lights than on a sailing boat in a fjord or while being pulled around by reindeer or huskies.
The Sami people of northern Norway have tamed reindeer and used them like farm animals, just like sheep or cows. Reindeer are very peaceful and relaxed animals and there is nothing quite like hanging out with them, storing and feeding them, and then going Reindeer sledding.
If you book a reindeer sledding tour you’ll be picked up from Tromso city center and driven about an hour through beautiful mountains to a traditional Sami settlement where you can interact with the Sami people, enjoy a hot meal around a fire in their traditional tipis, and of course, feed and hang out with reindeer before going reindeer sledding.
There isn’t a better way to get to know the Sami culture of northern Norway and reconnect with nature. Being towed around the mountains by a pack of reindeer is something else! It’s safe for people of all ages, even young kids, who love the experience more than anyone.
Just an hour’s drive from Tromso are the legendary Tromso Ice Domes of Tamokdalen which are well worth a visit during your stay. Every year the domes are completely rebuilt from snow and ice and it’s quite an experience to walk around a house that is built completely from ice.
At the Tromso Ice Domes, you’ll find a hotel, restaurant, and bar. It’s a great place to day trip to and enjoy a lovely meal inside the ice restaurant, the drive inland is also spectacular as you’ll go past some great mountain landscapes that are covered in snow.
If you choose to stay the night at the Ice Dome hotel you will have an unforgettable experience. Not only will you get to sleep in the ice hotel but included with the room is dinner on an open fire, a northern lights tour, guided snowshoeing, breakfast, and all the clothing you need to stay warm on this frosty adventure.
One of the winter activities you have to do in Tromso during the winter is to go dog sledding. There is no better way or more fun way to see the amazing countryside and snow-covered mountains than being pulled on a sled by 8 huskies. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might even get to see the northern lights too.
There is a huge range of options when it comes to dog sledding. You can book to go dog sledding for an hour or two, for half a day, a full day, or even do overnight or a multiple-day dog sledding experience.
There are numerous operators in Tromso who can organize your ideal dog sledding experience. You’ll go with a professional guide, get to meet the sweet dogs, and be taught how to sled properly. It really is the experience of a lifetime.
The mountains around Tromso have some of the best skiing in Norway and usually have excellent skiing conditions between November and April.
The closest place to ski is on Kvaloya Island which is just a 10-minute drive from Tromso. You can drive there or get a bus, or book a ski guide to take you there. You can also drive or get the bus to Rodtind which is within 30 minutes of Tromso and also has good skiing.
Other options, reserved for more advanced skiers with avalanche training are the mountains of Kattfjordeidet and The Lyngen Alps. These are some of the best slopes in the area but they are quite technical and a little further away from Tromso. People do die every year in avalanches in these mountains so it’s not for novice skiers.
The area around Tromso is surrounded by snowy mountains during the winter and there is no better way of seeing the amazing views of the fjords and mountains than snowshoeing your way up to them.
You can hire snowshoes easily and then it’s just a matter of picking your mountain and going for a hike. There are several that are accessible by bus from Tromso and if you have a car you can really get adventurous and pick any area you like for some snowshoeing.
If you’re new to snow, mountains, and snowshoeing you can also book a guide who will show you how it’s done and make sure you’re safe while learning to snowshoe up the mountains. The added bonus is also that our guide will take you to places where you might get to see moose and reindeer plus eagles and other arctic birds.
Most of the fjords around Tromso do not freeze during the winter but there are some that do and by hopping onto an ice breaker and sailing around them so will see the winter landscapes in Tromso at their best.
The boat slowly breaks the ice as it sails up the fjord giving your incredible views of the surrounding mountains. The crew will also tell you all about the area’s history, point out any landmarks or wildlife, and explain the ecology of the local ecosystem.
The boat leaves from the city center and you’ll be provided with all the warm clothing you need plus a warm lunch or dinner. You might even be lucky enough to see the northern lights while you’re sailing around the fjords which is one of the best ways to see them in my opinion.
One of the coolest things to do in Tromso in both summer and winter is to take the Fjellheisen cable car ride up to the top of Floya Mountain where you can see amazing views over the city and into the Fjords. It’s one of the best places to watch the midnight sun in summer and a great place to see the northern lights in the winter.
The cable car has been in Tromso since 1961 and as you ride it you’ll go past the Storsteinen at 420 meters above sea level. From the top of the cable car, you walk up to the peak of Floya which sits at around 670 meters above sea level where the views are even more spectacular.
It truly is a magical wonderland if you get to see the northern lights from the top of Floya and the midnight sun is also amazing in the summer. Be sure to wrap up warm as it can get quite windy at the top but there is a nice cafe you can warm up in that serves pastries, cakes, waffles, light meals, tea, coffee, beer, and ice cream.
You can also choose to hike up or down the Floya mountain instead of getting the Fjellheisen cable car. The hike takes about an hour and it’s a great way to get some exercise and some fresh air. There are two trails, to the left and to the right of the cable car. One is short and steep and the other is long and no as steep.
The Arctic Cathedral is about a 30-minute walk from the center of Tromso across the bridge that leads into town.You can see it from almost anywhere in town, especially if you are walking along the waterfront. It has this Sydney Opera House kinda vibe, albeit more modern. This is not surprising perhaps, as it= built in 1965 in the shape of an ice burg. On the front of it is a stunning mosaic of glass that sparkles at shines as it catches any light that runs through it.
Side Note; It is actually one of the few “nice” places to see in Tromso in my opinion. I was not overly taken by the town. Sure, there are a few old buildings in town, but in general, it lacks a little charm. Tromso is more about where it is than what you can do there. Just my take!
During the winter and summer, the Arctic Cathedral plays host to concerts around the midnight sun and the northern lights. Concerts are put on every night from Thursday to Sunday and they start at 11 pm at night. You can buy tickets at the door for around 200 NOK per person and it’s best to show up early at around 10:15 pm as the concerts are hugely popular and there is always a race to get the best seats in the cathedral. The church isn’t far from the cable car either so it’s very easy to combine the two into one fun evening outing.
When you are visiting Tromso, the Polar Museum is a must. It is really helpful if you want to gain a good insight into the history of the town as the gateway to the arctic and why it became the sealing capital of the world. The exhibitions showcase the life of the famous seal trappers that used to sail to Svalbard for the winter.
It does only focus on seal trappers though and you’ll also find exhibitions around famous polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and many more. The exhibitions explain the rigors of their journeys into the arctic and just how they managed to survive and what they discovered.
Next door to the Polar Museum is the oldest house in Tromso, Skansen. It was built back in 1789 as a customs station and is now a beautiful house with a garden and there is also a cafe there in the summer. It’s situated in Tromso’s old town which is also beautiful to walk around.
Related: You could also visit the Tromso Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum if art is your thing. I did not have time to visit it while I was there, but it gets a lot of good reviews
The Polaria Arctic Center is a museum and a place to interact and learn about the Arctic wildlife and experiences of the Arctic. While you’re there you can see seals, cod, wolffish, and crabs at the aquarium and if you’re there during seal feeding time, you can even feed the seals and see them do some cool tricks too.
The Polaria also shows two excellent films about the area – Svalbard – Arctic Wilderness, and Northern Lights in Arctic Norway which give you an excellent insight into the island of Svalbard and explain everything you need to know about the northern lights.
It’s an excellent place to go with kids, they will especially love the seal feeding, and so will you.
While you are visiting Tromso you might want to head out on the town, especially on a Friday or Saturday nights. Most people are centered Storgata, the main street in Tromso.
We saw lots of young people lining up to go to Driv, an apparently very popular place for the students in town. There is also the Bastards Bar, Lola and Chad’s Window, which you might also want to check out in more detail.
There is also a great bar for beer lovers right next door, called Ølhallen, which we popped into for a drink after dinner. They have an insane line of taps with all local beers including some very creative Ales, IPAs and just about anything else you can imagine. It is not the most trendy of interiors, more like an Irish pub, but the beer more than makes up for it. Especially since the guy serving definitely knows his stuff. I found my new favorite IPA because of him!
Note: Just be aware that alcohol in Norway is insanely expensive. I ended up paying about 14.5 (dollars, euros) for a half pint of IPA. You can see the prices in the image below for quarter, half and full pints. Ouch!
Tromso has a bit of a foodie scene for such a small city, especially if you take the time to look beyond what is most obvious on the main street.
There are a few places worth recommending like Emma’s Dream Kitchen and Restaurant Smak, which are both top-notch and not cheap.
We, however, chose to go to Mathallen, which is an upscale Norwegian restaurant with a modern interior in a somewhat unassuming building. Don’t let that fool you though, the food is well balanced and absolutely divine. And the service is pretty darn good too. We had the four-course taster menu which runs about 800Kr but is worth every cent. I have eaten many a meal that cost that much or a lot more, and never been as 100% happy with every course as this meal. We even asked for seconds of the fries because they were so dreamy, light and fluffy. That is something I have never done in such a restaurant before!
Norway is quite an expensive place altogether and hotel prices in Tromso can be quite expensive, the most affordable being around $80 US per night, and the sky is pretty much the limit from there. But there is a good range of options and most of the hotels are in downtown Tromso near the harbor so it’s easy to walk everywhere in the city.
The Raddison Blu in Tromso sits right on Tromso harbor and comes with warm cozy heated rooms with an en-suite shower, TV, tea, and coffee-making facilities. The beds are super comfy and the rooms are well done just like most Raddison Blu’s across the world and they come with a view of the city plus free Wifi.
On the 10th floor of the hotel, you’ll find a gym and sauna, all of which are included in the price and have amazing views of the mountains. It’s just a pity the outside is so ugly! Such a 70s feel to it.
There is also a bar and restaurant at the Raddison which serves regional dishes from local ingredients and you’re close by to the famous Yonas Pizzerias and the Rorbua Pub which is the world’s northernmost brewery.
At the Clarion Hotel The Edge you’ll get amazing views over the harbor and there is a sky bar and roof terrace on the 11th floor which is worth visiting even if you’re not staying there. The hotel overlooks the Arctic Catherdal and Tromso Sound and you’ll be just a few hundred yards away from the Polaria Aquarium and the Tromso Cathedral.
The rooms are nicely furnished with comfy beds and come with a private ensuite bathroom, TV, desk, and of course, free wifi plus breakfast is also included. You will also have free access t the Sky Fitness center next door during your stay.
Inside the hotel is also a delish restaurant that serves New York-style cuisine that is all made from locally sourced ingredients.
If you’re looking for more of a budget option then a good choice is the Comfort Hotel Xpress Tromsø. It’s about half the price of the hotels featured above and comes with everything you need in your room including a private bathroom, wifi, and a TV.
The hotel is eco-certified, clean, and friendly. It’s located about a minute from the Storgata shopping street in Tromso and some of the rooms even come with great sea or city views.
Breakfast is not included and there is no restaurant at the hotel but you can buy breakfast items and snacks from the 24-hour shop in the lobby.
If you are camping or traveling in an RV or campervan your only option in Tromso is Tromso Camping, up the hill behind the Arctic Cathedral. It is about 30 minutes walk into town, so not a complete disaster, but it is not as ideal as staying in town.
The parking is quite cramped and it lacks a lot of charm, but the facilities are all quite modern and well kept from our short experience there. Unfortunately, we were only able to briefly check it out as it was full due to a three-day dog show that was on while we stayed in town. We ended up wild camping in the town car park instead!
So, if you want to stay there, be sure to call ahead and check they have space. They do take bookings.
If Tromso wasn’t at the top of your list for places to visit this year, then I hope it is now. There really isn’t a better place to experience all that Norway and the Arctic have to offer from Fords to the Northern Lights, the Midnight sun, and more – as you can see the list is pretty much endless when it comes to great things to do in Tromso.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!