Guide to whale watching in Tromso (& the most ethical way to do it)

a group of orcas in the fjords north of Tromso

The Arctic city of Tromsø in Norway is famous for its Northern Lights and scenic landscapes but it’s also a fantastic destination for spotting whales in the wild. Going whale watching in Tromso is a one-of-a-kind experience and a wonderful opportunity to see these majestic giants with your own eyes.

The whale watching tour I did in Tromso was one of the highlights of my time there. The beauty of the snow-covered landscapes, the thrill of trying to find the whales and, eventually, the excitement of seeing these colossal mammals around our boat – it’s a nature lover’s dream.

This blog post covers everything you need to know to go on a Tromso whale safari – including the best time to see the whales, the different tour options and some practical things you should know. I’ll also go into detail about my preferred whale tour in Tromso and explain why it’s the most ethical option. 

I’m also sharing my discount code for the tour I did, which you can use to save a bit of money when booking your tour.

A view of pink sky and snowy mountainous landscape which we saw on our whale watching tour in Tromso

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Brim Explorer on this tour but as always, all opinions are my own.

Why is Tromso such a great place to see whales

The city of Tromso is located in northern Norway, well above the Arctic Circle, and is surrounded by pristine fjords. Every winter large amounts of herring gather in these fjords to spawn, which in turn attracts lots of whales who come to feed on the herring. This phenomenon makes it one of the best places for whale watching in Norway.

The exact location where the cetaceans spend the winter varies over time as they follow the schools of herring. In recent years, they have been gathering in the Skjervøy area and Kvænangen fjord, northeast of Tromsø. 

two orcas swimming in the coastal waters near Tromsø, Norway
Orcas

The whale spotting tours take you right into the whale territory, to the feeding grounds of orcas (also known as killer whales), humpback whales and other whale species. Therefore, your chances of spotting them here are very high. Nevertheless, sightings can never be guaranteed as wildlife is unpredictable.

The whales most commonly seen on Tromso whale watching tours are orcas and humpback whales. But there’s also a chance of seeing fin whales (the second-largest animals in the world), minke whales, harbor porpoises and even sperm whales if you’re lucky.

a breaching humpback whale in the fjords of Northern Norway
Humpback whale

Best time for whale watching in Tromso

The whale watching season in Tromso runs approximately from the end of October to the end of January. This is when the herring come to northern Norway’s coastal waters and attract various species of whales searching for their next meal.

Outside of this period, it’s still possible to see some whales in the waters around Tromsø but your chances are much slimmer. Throughout the rest of the year, you can go whale watching in Andenes on the Vesterålen coast.

As the best time for whale watching in Tromso coincides partially with the Polar Night – a two-month period when the sun doesn’t rise at all – you might be wondering whether it’s too dark outside to see the whales. 

The answer is no. Even though the sun won’t rise above the horizon in the Tromso region from about November 21 to January 21, there will still be enough light during the daytime to see the whales. The twilight will paint the sky with shades of orange, pink and purple, creating a gorgeous background to the white landscapes.

A woman using her phone to take a photo of pink and purple sky on a whale spotting tour
Twilight colors during our whale tour

The best time to see whales in Tromso also happens to be an excellent time for seeing the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. This makes November-January an ideal time to visit Tromso if you want to tick off these two bucket-list-worthy experiences in one trip. In case you’re wondering what else there is to do in winter, take a look at my Tromso itinerary post to find some inspiration.

Tip: If you’re planning to visit Tromso in December, book your whale watching experience well in advance. December in Tromso is the peak period for tourism and many tours and hotels get sold out quickly.

Orcas jumping out of the water in the fjords around Skjervøy, north of Tromso
A bright full moon illuminating snow-capped mountains during a Polar Night in northen Norway

Tromso whale watching tours

There are many tour operators in Tromso that offer whale safaris. Be aware that all of the tours will take an entire day (at least 8 hours) as it takes several hours to reach Skjervoy from Tromso.

You can choose between four different types of whale watching tours in Tromso:

  • Tour on a high-speed catamaran
  • Silent Whale Watching on a hybrid-electric catamaran
  • Tour on a RIB boat (bus transfer to Skjervoy where you’ll then get on the boat)
  • Overnight tour on a small cruise ship

We chose to do the Silent Whale Watching tour offered by Brim Explorer for several reasons. 

Firstly, it’s a company that’s committed to providing sustainable and ethical experiences at sea. Their Silent Whale Watching tours are carried out onboard modern hybrid-electric catamarans that are switched to silent electric engines when around the whales. This minimises disturbance to the whales and other marine life that are sensitive to noise and vibration.

a small Brim Explorer catamaran sailing in the fjords north of Tromso on a Silent Whale Watching tour
Brim Explorer Silent Whale Watching tour
A woman standing on the deck of a whale safari boat with mountains and orange sky in the background

Furthermore, they follow a strict whale watching philosophy which centers around minimal intrusion and prioritizes the well-being of the whales. This means that they don’t chase the whales or actively try to get very close to them. Instead, they let them feed in peace which sometimes results in the whales coming close to the boat by themselves.

Another reason why we chose the Brim Explorer tour is that their catamarans have comfortable heated salons. As I’m pretty sensitive to the cold, it was important to me that the boat had a nice warm indoor area where I could hide from the freezing temperatures outside – something you can’t do on a RIB boat.

Seats, tables and a bar in the salon of Brim Explorer's whale tour catamaran
Brim Explorer catamaran

Also, we were confident that the whale tour with Brim Explorer would be a great experience because we had already taken their Silent Trollfjord Cruise during our Lofoten Islands road trip and had an amazing time.

DISCOUNT CODE: If you’d like to book the Silent Whale Watching tour, you can use my Brim Explorer promo code ‘smoothescape’ to get 5% off your booking.


Our Silent Whale Watching tour experience

We boarded the Brim Explorer boat in the center of Tromso and embarked on our whale watching trip at 8am on a crisp morning. It was still dark outside but the big bright moon was illuminating the frozen landscapes around us as we started sailing towards Skjervoy.

The trip to Skjervoy takes 3-4 hours, depending on the location of the whales. During this time you can relax in the catamaran’s heated indoor lounge areas without missing out on the views as the boat has panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s also a cafe where you can purchase drinks, pastries and soup.

Me posing on the outdoor deck of a boat with picturesque Arctic landscapes and colorful sky in the background.

After about an hour of sailing, the beautiful colors of twilight started appearing on the horizon. The snow-capped mountains against pastel pink skies created such a magical scenery that everyone headed outside on the deck to capture photos of this spectacular setting.

Throughout the journey, Brim Explorer guides kept us entertained with interesting presentations about Tromsø and the geography and history of the area. We also learned about the different types of whales that we were likely to spot, their behaviors and how to identify the different species by their fins.

Eventually, we arrived at the whales’ feeding grounds in Skjervøy and heard our guides announce that whales had been spotted! First, we saw the whales’ blows – clouds of air when the whales exhale at the surface. Shortly after, we spotted a pod of 9 orcas showing off their tall black dorsal fins. It looked like a scene out of a nature documentary.

Black fins of a pod of orcas sticking out of the sea in Skjervoy, one of the best places to see whales in Norway
A family of orcas

Other smaller groups of orcas as well as several massive humpback whales also made an appearance around our boat. As a cherry on top, we also caught a glimpse of a fin whale – the world’s second-largest animal.

the tail of a humpback whale spotted in Skjervoy, north of Tromso

After spending some time with the whales, it was time to head back towards Tromsø. On the way back, it will be dark outside so you won’t be able to enjoy the views anymore but if you’re lucky, you might see the Northern Lights instead!

Practical info about the tour

  • The season runs roughly from October 21 to January 31.
  • During the season, there are daily tours, departing at 8am and returning between 5pm and 6pm.
  • The price of the tour for an adult is 1790 NOK (or 1701 NOK with my code ‘smoothescape’). There are discounted rates for kids, students and youth.
  • The tour departs from the pier next to Skarven Kro Restaurant in Tromsø.
  • Dogs and cats are welcome onboard.
  • The tour includes English-speaking guides.
  • The boat is wheelchair accessible.
Brim Explorer boat surrounded by views of snowy mountains

Tromso whale tour route

On the map below, you can see the approximate route that the Brim Explorer boat takes to get to the area where the whales gather to feed. As you’ll be sailing through fjords the entire way, you’ll be surrounded by scenic mountainous landscapes.


Final tips for Tromso whale watching

Below are some things you should be aware of and tips on what to bring on your Silent Whale Watching trip:

  • Dress warmly because it can get very cold out on the sea. Even though the indoor areas of the boat are warm, you’ll definitely want to spend time outside on the deck to take in the views and see the whales.
  • If you tend to get seasick, bring some anti-nausea pills or a seasickness wristband with you. During our tour, the sea was really calm though and it didn’t look like anyone was feeling sick.
  • Even though you can buy some food on the boat (pastries and soup), I recommend bringing extra snacks or a sandwich because it’s a long day (up to 9 hours) and you’ll likely get hungry.
  • Getting photos of the whales can be tricky since they move pretty fast and are some distance away from the boat. Use a camera with a telephoto lens to get the best shots and choose the right camera settings for low light conditions.
  • As the journey back to Tromsø is quite long and in the dark, you might want to bring a book to keep yourself entertained. Or you can just take a nap like I did.

Seeing whales in their natural habitat, where they belong, is a beautiful experience. It’s a fantastic way to connect with nature and get to know the Arctic wildlife. And doing it with a reputable tour company that genuinely cares about the whales makes it even better.

If you have any questions about whale watching in Tromso, leave them in the comments below.

For more tips and inspiration for planning your Norway trip, take a look at my other Norway travel guides:

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