Are you thinking about taking a winter trip to Tromsø and wondering how to plan your itinerary? Then you’ve come to the right place!
The enchanting city of Tromso in Northern Norway is a real winter wonderland and is often called the Capital of the Arctic. We spent 4 days in Tromso in December, in the middle of the Polar Night period, the Aurora Borealis season and the whale watching season. It was absolutely magical!
Below, I’m sharing my 4-day Tromso itinerary that allows you to experience the incredible beauty of the Arctic winter, complete with Northern Lights, snow-capped mountains, reindeer, orca sightings and husky sledding.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll also find my recommendations on where to stay, what to do when the weather is bad and a map that gives you an overview of where the main sights on this Tromsø itinerary are located.
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How to get around
You don’t really need to rent a car when visiting Tromsø. The town itself is small and the main points of interest are within walking distance from each other or can easily be reached by public buses.
Also, most of the classic Tromso winter activities have to be done as part of organized tours, meaning you can’t do them on your own. They usually include transportation to a location outside of the city and back. These are activities like reindeer and husky tours, whale watching tours, Sami tours, northern lights tours etc.
With that said, we did rent a car for one of the days of our Tromso itinerary to take a road trip outside of the town and explore the beautiful landscapes at our own pace. We really enjoyed it and can recommend doing the same but only if you’re confident in your ability to drive on icy roads.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to drive, you can book an organized tour that takes you to more or less the same places that we visited on our little road trip. I’m sharing more details about this in the itinerary below (see Day 2).
Another reason for renting a car would be if you want to go searching for the Northern Lights on your own. It probably won’t be cheaper than joining a Northern Lights tour though (unless you travel with a bigger group) and you would miss out on the expertise of the professional tour guides.
Good to know: From about November 21 to January 21, Tromsø experiences the Polar Night – a period when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. However, this doesn’t mean there’s no daylight or that it’s dark all the time. From about 10am to 2pm, you can see beautiful colors of twilight in the sky so plan to be outside during these hours if you’re visiting during the Polar Night.
Tromso itinerary: How to spend 4 days in Tromso in winter
Day 1: Storsteinen, Tromsø town & Northern Lights tour
On the first day of your Tromso itinerary, head to the viewpoint on Storsteinen Mountain (420m/1378ft) for an amazing panoramic view over Tromso. You can get to the foot of the mountain from the city by bus #26.
From there, the Storsteinen viewpoint can be reached in two ways – by taking the Fjellheisen cable car (what most people do) or by hiking up the mountainside along the Sherpatrappa (‘Sherpa stairs’) trail. The round-trip ticket for the cable car costs 415 NOK whereas hiking is free.
Since we love to hike, we decided to hike up and take the cable car back down. The hike was quite challenging since we were walking through thick snow but it was a fun experience nonetheless with some great views along the way. It took us under an hour to reach the top, where we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the city below us.
Besides the viewpoint, there’s also a cafe and several hiking trails on the top. We got there a bit late when it was already starting to get dark so we didn’t explore any of the trails.
After Storsteinen, spend the afternoon getting to know the town of Tromso. Visit the Arctic Cathedral (one of the most famous landmarks of Tromso), take in the views from Tromsø Harbour and stroll along Storgata, a lovely pedestrian street lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.
Northern Lights tour
In the evening, take a Northern Lights tour to (hopefully) see the magnificent Aurora Borealis dance in the night sky. Although Aurora sightings can never be guaranteed, the guides on these tours work hard to find the best locations each night and communicate with other guides to find clear skies.
We took this Northern Lights bus tour, which started at 6.30pm and finished around 1am. If you prefer a smaller group instead of a bus, you can book this tour. On the tour we took, you also have the option of booking another Northern Lights tour for only 50% of the price if you don’t see the lights the first time.
Unfortunately, we only caught a faint glimpse of the Aurora that night but this is nothing to be blamed on the tour company. It’s nature – sometimes there simply isn’t enough solar activity or the sky is too cloudy.
We did end up seeing a fantastic Northern Lights display on our final night (see Day 4 of this itinerary). It was an awe-inspiring experience and truly a sight to remember!
Note: For a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights, you should head out every night to search for them, either with a tour or by yourself. For this reason, this Tromso winter itinerary includes outdoor activities on each of the four nights.
Day 2: Kvaløya, Sommarøy and DIY Northern Lights hunt
Arctic road trip
On the second day of your trip, it’s time to take a road trip out of Tromsø to see some beautiful Arctic scenery. I recommend heading to Kvaløya and Sommarøy, two islands located west of Tromsø, which can be reached by driving (no ferry crossings needed).
To do that you can either rent a car and explore on your own like we did or join a tour that includes transport and a guide. We rented a car at Tromsø airport. Please only consider renting if you’re familiar with driving on snow and ice. Otherwise, you can take this 5-hour small group tour with a minivan, where you’ll visit the most scenic spots on Kvaløya while your guide shares their knowledge of the area. Lunch and photos are included.
On these islands, you can expect to see snow-covered mountains, picturesque fjords, Arctic beaches and quaint fishing villages. If you’re lucky, you might even come across some wild reindeer. The main points of interest on Kvaløya are Ersfjordbotn and Grøtfjorden, whereas on the tiny island of Sommarøy, I recommend just driving around and taking in the charm.
Search for Northern Lights on your own
In the evening, I recommend going Northern Lights hunting again. If you rented a car and are keeping it for the evening, try to find a dark area away from light pollution on Ringvassøya, Kvaløya or Sommarøy islands.
Otherwise, you can also look for them in Tromsø without a car but they will likely look a bit weaker because of the city lights nearby. The best spots to see Northern Lights in the town are Prestvannet Lake and Telegrafbukta Beach, both of which can be reached by walking or public buses from Tromsø center. We visited both of them but unfortunately, the Northern Lights didn’t show up that night.
The Storsteinen viewpoint is another recommended place to see the aurora but remember that this requires taking a cable car (which stops running at midnight) or hiking there in the dark.
Day 3: Whale watching & Northern Lights
Whale watching tour
On day 3, wake up early and get ready for what’s probably going to be one of the coolest experiences of your Tromso trip – a whale watching tour. Every year from late October to late January, orcas, humpback whales and fin whales gather in the fjords at Skjervøy, northeast of Tromsø, to feed on herring.
The whale watching boat tours take you right into their feeding grounds, which means you’ll have very good chances of spotting the whales. The tours last for a full day as it takes several hours to reach the whale territory. You definitely won’t get bored though because the views of the Arctic scenery around the boat are amazing.
We took the Silent Whale Watching tour by Brim Explorer and saw several pods of orcas, a few humpback whales and even a fin whale. If you’d like to book the same tour, use my discount code ‘smoothescape’ to get 5% off your booking.
It’s a bucket-list-worthy experience that should definitely be on your Tromso itinerary if you’re visiting during the whale season (late October to late January).
Be sure to read my detailed blog post on whale watching in Tromso for all the information you need to plan your whale tour.
Note: If you’re visiting Tromso outside of the whale watching season, you can take an Arctic fjord cruise instead. Although you won’t see whales, you will see picturesque coastal landscapes, fjords, fishing villages and maybe even some eagles and harbor porpoises.
Look for Aurora Borealis
After the whale tour, grab some dinner and then head outside to search for the Northern Lights again. You can look for them on your own by going to one of the places in Tromso that I mentioned in the section about Day 2 or you can take another Northern Lights tour to increase your chances of seeing them.
Day 4: Dog sledding, reindeer & Sami camp
Dog sledding tour
Kick off the last day of your Tromso trip with a husky sledding tour. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Tromso in winter and gets sold out months in advance so make sure to book your tour in time.
You can either take a husky sled self-drive tour, which means that you will be the one controlling the sled or you can take a sled ride, where you’ll just be the passenger and a professional musher will do the ‘driving’. In either case, you’ll ride through beautiful frozen landscapes with a team of huskies and finish the tour with a traditional lunch.
Reindeer feeding and Sami culture tour
In the evening, round off your Tromso winter trip with one final tour – a visit to this Sami camp to learn about the Sami culture and meet a herd of 300 reindeer.
The Sami are the indigenous people of Scandinavia who have a distinct culture, language and traditions. They are known as excellent reindeer herders and at this Sami camp, you can pet and feed their reindeer and go reindeer sledding. During the tour, the Sami people will also share stories about their culture and beliefs. The tour includes a traditional dinner served around a fire in a cozy Sami hut.
We loved everything about this tour (especially feeding the adorable friendly reindeer) but the absolute highlight of the evening was when the Northern Lights suddenly appeared in the sky.
We were in complete awe as we watched the vivid green lights dance above our heads. It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience and the perfect ending to our Tromso itinerary.
Where to stay in Tromso
The most convenient place to stay in Tromso is the center of the city. This way you’ll be just a short walk from all the restaurants, shops and tour departure points.
Keep in mind that winter (especially December) is the peak season for tourism in Tromso and hotels get sold out fast. I recommend booking your accommodation at least 3 months in advance if you’re visiting Tromso in winter.
MID-RANGE: Smarthotel Tromsø
Situated in the center of Tromso, this is an unpretentious hotel with a contemporary design and a delicious breakfast. Considering the high price level of Tromso, this place offers great value for money.
LUXURY: Clarion Hotel The Edge
This is the most modern and luxurious hotel in Tromso with an excellent location right by the harbor. The hotel has an on-site restaurant and Tromso’s only sky bar.
UNIQUE STAYS: Aera Panoramic Glass Lodge or Tromso Ice Domes
The first one is a gorgeous cabin with glass walls and glass roof, perfect for watching the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed. The second one is a hotel made entirely of ice! The Ice Domes experience also includes a snowshoe hike, husky sledding, a Northern Lights hunt and all meals.
What to do in Tromso when the weather is bad
Although people mostly visit Tromso for all the wonderful outdoor activities, sometimes the weather can let you down and you’ll just want to stay indoors instead. If that’s the case during your trip, here are some ideas for what to do in Tromso in bad weather:
- Relax in a spa – In Tromsøbadet, there are different types of heated pools, saunas and water attractions for kids. For something a bit more unusual, visit the Vulkana Arctic Spa boat or the small floating PUST Sauna.
- Explore Tromso’s museums – From the Polar Museum and the Arctic University Museum of Norway to the Troll Museum and Perspective Museum, there are plenty of museums to explore in the city.
- Taste local beer and spirits – You can take a brewery tour of Mack Brewery (the northernmost brewery in the world) and do a beer tasting at their bar Ølhallen. Or you can take this Northern spirits tasting tour that also includes Norwegian delicacies.
- Visit Tromso library – A nice place to hide from the cold weather. There’s a cafe, quiet areas, a kids’ area and board games that you can borrow.
Other places to include in your Tromso itinerary
There are lots of fun things to do and places to see near Tromso, so if you have more time to spend or you’re just looking to add other activities to your Tromso travel itinerary, here are my suggestions:
- See the ice sculptures at Tromso Ice Domes
- Go on a snowshoe hike
- Go snowmobiling at Camp Tamok
- Go winter sea kayaking and potentially see seals and eagles
- Visit Norway’s second-largest island Senja (we visited Senja in the summer and loved it!)
- If you have more days, visit the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago that has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.
4-day Tromso itinerary map
On the interactive map below, you can find the main points of interest and the hotels I mentioned in this blog post. Click on the icon in the top left corner of the map for more details.
Tromso itinerary: Final thoughts
And that’s it – these were my recommendations on how to spend 4 days in Tromso. It’s a magical place to visit in the winter and offers so much to discover. Once you’ve experienced its Arctic charm and seen the beautiful wildlife and the Northern Lights, you’ll want to go back again!
If you have any questions about this Tromso winter itinerary, leave them in the comments section.
Don’t forget to check out my other Norway blog posts for more helpful travel tips:
- Whale safari in Tromso
- Travel guide to Senja Island
- 5-day Lofoten Islands itinerary
- How to take a campervan trip in Norway
- Most beautiful hikes in Lofoten
- Best beaches in Lofoten
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