Tromso in December: What to expect & how to plan your trip

Planning a winter trip to Tromsø in Norway and wondering whether December is a good time to visit? The short answer is yes, this beautiful Arctic city is particularly charming in the winter and December is a great month to visit. However, there are some important things you should be aware of so you can enjoy your time there to the fullest.

I spent four days in Tromso in December and it was nothing short of amazing. Imagine snow-capped mountains, herds of reindeer, whale watching, pastel pink skies during the day and the Northern Lights during the night. Tromso truly is the perfect place to experience the magic of the Arctic winter.

In this blog post, I will cover everything you need to know about visiting Tromso in December, including what kind of weather to expect, where to stay and the best things to do.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase.

Pink skies, snowy mountains and a bridge near Sommaroy island during the twilight hours of the Polar Night period in December in Tromso.
Sommarøy island near Tromsø

Weather in December

One thing that many visitors are worried about before their Tromso winter trip is the weather. Since Tromso is so far north, it must be incredibly cold, right? Well, not really. 

Even though Tromso is located in the Arctic Circle, the winters there are actually very mild for its latitude. This is because of the Gulf Stream that brings warmth from the south. The average temperature in December in Tromso hovers around -3°C (27°F) and it rarely gets colder than -8°C (18°F). 

Although the temperatures are relatively mild in the city, many tours and popular winter activities (such as the Northern Lights tours, snowmobile tours, ice domes etc.) take you outside of the city to the inland areas. The weather there tends to be significantly colder with temperatures as low as -25°C (-13°F).

Therefore, if you want to do these outdoor activities, you’ll still need to bring very warm clothing. Alternatively, you can rent thermal snowsuits and boots in Tromso or choose tour operators that provide these items. 

The chances of seeing snow in December in Tromso are high. However, there are some years when there’s no snow or only very little snow in the city in December. If that’s the case during your visit, know that you’re still likely to find snow when you travel further inland, which is where many of the tours take you (more on that below). 

During our visit at the end of December, there was lots of snow everywhere we went. My guess is at least 40 cm (16 inches).

A valley covered with snow and surrounded by mountains with pastel-pink sky in the background on Kvaløya island during the blue hour.
Kvaløya island

Daylight in Tromso in December

As Tromso is located so far north, there is very little daylight in December. In fact, from November 21 to January 21, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all – a phenomenon known as the Polar Night.

Contrary to what many people think, this doesn’t mean that it’s dark all the time. Between 10 am and 2 pm, the twilight casts various shades of pink, purple and orange across the sky, creating a colorful background to the snow-covered landscapes. It basically looks like a long sunrise or a sunset but the sun stays below the horizon.

Because of the limited hours of daylight, some people might consider December a bad time to visit but I actually think seeing the Polar Night is a really unique experience. And there’s definitely enough light to see the city’s attractions and do outdoor activities like whale watching, husky sledding and more.

Me standing on the deck of a whale watching tour boat with snowy mountains and pastel-colored sky in the background.
Colorful skies during the Polar Night period

The peak season for tourism

Winter is the busiest time of the year in Tromso. Tourists from all over the world travel to the city to see the mystical Northern Lights and live out their winter wonderland dreams. Therefore, tours and hotels, especially the nicer ones, get sold out quickly. 

We started looking into booking our tours and accommodation two months before our trip and to our surprise, most of the options were already sold out by then. We only had a few hotels to choose from and some tour dates were no longer available. 

Pedestrians walking along the Storgata shopping street lined with wooden houses and Christmas lights in the center of Tromso in December.

Don’t make the same mistake as we did! If you’re visiting Tromso in winter, I recommend booking your tours and hotels at least three months in advance, if not more.

Here are the best hotels to stay in Tromso:

BUDGET/MID-RANGE: Smarthotel Tromso
A simple hotel with a contemporary design in the heart of the city. The rooms are small but comfortable and considering the price level of Tromso, it’s great value for money.

LUXURY: Clarion Hotel The Edge
This harborfront hotel is the most luxurious one in Tromso and it also has its own sky bar (the only one in the city).

UNIQUE STAY: Aera Panorama Glass Lodge
Located a 30-minute drive from Tromso, this property has cozy cabins and a beautiful lodge with a glass roof ideal for watching the Northern Lights.


What to do in Tromso in December

The main reason why December is such a good month to visit Tromso is that it offers a wide variety of experiences. Not only is it a great time to see the Northern Lights, do activities in the snow and experience the Polar Night but it’s also the whale watching season and the Christmas period.

Be sure to check out my 4-day Tromso itinerary post to get an idea of how to plan your trip in the most efficient way and make the most of your time there.

Here are the top things to do in Tromso in December:

1) Hunt for the Northern Lights

A small wooden hut surrounded by snow with a backdrop of clear night sky full of green Northern Lights near Tromso.

The Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis) are undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons why people visit Tromso. December is an excellent time of the year to tick off this experience from your bucket list.

Tromso is considered one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights as it is situated in the middle of the Auroral Oval where the probability of seeing them is the highest. 

To be able to see the Northern Lights, there has to be enough solar activity and clear skies. Also, it’s important to stay away from any light pollution, so it’s best to get out of the city.

People admiring and photographing green and purple Northern Lights outside Tromso.

For the highest chances of seeing them, you should book a Northern Lights chasing tour. I recommend this 6-hour bus tour or this minivan tour if you prefer a smaller group.

On these Northern Lights tours, the guides do their best to find clear skies and are in contact with other tour guides in the region to determine the best location for viewing the aurora on that night. Sometimes they even take you all the way to Finland in case the sky above the Tromso region is too cloudy.

However, be aware that the Northern Lights are unpredictable and therefore you can never be guaranteed to see them. I recommend spending at least 4 days in Tromso and going searching for the aurora every night!

2) Go whale watching

A group of orcas feeding on herring in the fjords north of Tromso.

Another great reason to visit Tromso in December is to see humpback whales and orcas (killer whales) in the wild. Whale watching season in this region runs from late October to late January and reaches its peak in December.

Every year, the whales gather in the fjords at Skjervøy, northeast of Tromso, to feed on large schools of herring. As the whale watching tours take you right into the feeding grounds of the whales, your chances of spotting them are very high.

There are a few different types of tours available. We opted for the Silent Whale Watching tour by Brim Explorer, which is the most ethical one. It was a wonderful experience and we got to see several pods of orcas, a few humpback whales and even a fin whale. If you’d like to book this tour, you can use my discount code ‘smoothescape’ to get 5% off your booking.

Check out my Tromso whale watching blog post where I’m sharing all the essential information you need to go on a whale safari and what to expect on the Silent Whale Watching tour.

3) See reindeer and learn about the Sami people

A brown and a white reindeer that we got to pet and feed during our visit to a Sami reindeer camp near Tromso.

In the winter months, the areas around Tromso are home to thousands of reindeer. The best way to see them is to visit a Sami reindeer camp.

The Sami are the indigenous people of Scandinavia with their own distinct language and traditions. Reindeer herding has been an important part of their culture for thousands of years and is still practiced today.

We signed up for this evening reindeer tour, which took us to a Sami camp just 30 minutes outside of Tromso. The camp has a herd of 300 adorable reindeer whom we got to pet and feed. Reindeer sledding is included in the tour as well. 

You’ll also get to meet the Sami people, hear stories about their culture and have a traditional dinner around a fire in a Sami hut. If you’re lucky like we were, you might also see the Northern Lights while visiting the camp!

4) Go husky sledding

Dog sledding is another one of the most popular things to do in Tromso in winter. If you’re concerned about whether this is an ethical activity, fear not – the huskies absolutely love to run and get excited as soon as they see their harnesses. 

There are two types of tours that you can take – a husky sled ride, where you’ll be the passenger and a husky self-drive tour, where you’ll be the musher or the ‘driver’.

Be aware that the dog sledding tours often get sold out months in advance so be sure to book your tour early if you’re planning to visit Tromso in December.

5) Visit the viewpoint on Storsteinen

A panoramic nighttime view of the city of Tromso viewed from Fjellheisen viewpoint on a December afternoon.

Going up to the viewpoint on Storsteinen Mountain is a must on any Tromso trip, regardless of the season you visit. You can get there either by the Fjellheisen cable car (what most people do) or by hiking up the ‘Sherpa steps’ (Sherpatrappa). Or you can hike one way and take the cable car the other way like we did.

The Storsteinen viewpoint is located 420m (1378ft) above sea level and offers a fantastic panorama of Tromso and the surrounding landscapes. The view is spectacular both during the daylight and in the dark. There’s also an indoor cafe where you can hide from the cold.

Storsteinen is a good spot to look for the Northern Lights if you don’t want to take a guided tour. Be aware though that the cable car stops running at midnight so you won’t be able to stay on the mountain longer than that (unless you’re willing to hike back down in the dark).

6) Visit Tromsø Ice Domes

Tromso Ice Domes is a fascinating ice park where you can see impressive snow and ice sculptures, have a drink in an ice bar, visit an ice cinema or explore a snow maze. You can even spend a night in their ice hotel and sleep on a bed made of ice! They also offer husky and reindeer sledding and snowmobiling.

The park is built from scratch every winter by an international team of experienced snow carvers. It usually opens in the middle of December but the exact date varies from year to year.

Tromso Ice Domes is located in Tamok Valley, a 95 km (59 mi) drive from Tromso. Therefore, you’ll either have to rent a car to visit the park or sign up for a tour that includes transport.

7) Take a road trip outside of Tromso

A coastal mountain range covered with snow and a pastel-colored sky with purple and pink tones in the background on Kvaloya island.

To get a better look at the wonderful Arctic landscapes around Tromso, I recommend taking a road trip through Kvaløya and Sommarøy. These two islands are home to picturesque fjords, snow-capped mountains, cute little fishing villages and Arctic beaches.

The islands are located just next to Tromso and don’t require taking any ferries as they’re connected to Tromso by bridges.

You can rent a car and do this trip on your own if you’re confident driving on icy roads. Otherwise, you can sign up for this 5-hour minivan tour which takes you to the most beautiful spots on these two islands.

If you have time for another longer road trip, consider driving to Senja Island, which is a little further south. We visited it during the summer and were truly amazed by its dramatic mountainous landscapes. 

Tip: If you’re looking to extend your trip, I recommend heading to the Lofoten Islands, my favorite place in all of Norway!

8) Go winter sea kayaking

Another unique experience to have in Tromso is to take a winter sea kayaking tour. You’ll paddle through picturesque fjords where the water is calm and crystal clear while being surrounded by towering mountains. If you’re lucky, you might even see sea eagles, otters and seals.

This highly-rated kayaking tour includes pick-up and drop-off in Tromso as well as a dry suit, gloves and boots to keep you warm.

9) Go snowmobiling

If you’re looking for a bit of an adventure, why not go snowmobiling through the scenic winter landscapes? 

There are snowmobile safaris both during the day and nighttime. The daytime tours offer better views of the beautiful surroundings since there’s more light whereas the nighttime tours offer the possibility to see the Northern Lights.

10) Enjoy the Christmas season

Wooden houses decorated with Christmas lights along Storgata, the main shopping street of Tromso.
Storgata street in Tromso

Besides all the fun activities in the Arctic nature, December in Tromso also offers a festive Christmas atmosphere. The streets and buildings are adorned with twinkling lights and cute decorations which creates a really cozy ambience.

On Tromso’s main square (Stortorget), you’ll find a big Christmas tree and the city’s largest Christmas market. Here you can buy handicrafts and local specialties and enjoy a cup of hot gløgg (a type of mulled wine). Also, several Christmas concerts are held in the Arctic Cathedral throughout December. 

Be aware that from December 24 to December 26, most shops and restaurants are closed in Tromso.


I hope this post helped you clear up any questions you might have had about traveling to Tromso in December. If not, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

2 Comments

  1. Hello
    me and my husband are planning to visit tromso in december end for our honeymoon (travelling from india to switzerland to tromso)
    we were planning on taking the havila cruise from tromso to kirkenes then back to tromso,
    in addition to this we are also staying in tromso for 3 nights..

    jus wanted a suggestion,
    will yall suggest to take this cruise or are there any drawbacks we are unaware of?

    thankyou in advance🙌🏻

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