I’ve now been living in Tromsø for over a year, so I thought it was about time I put together a guide for visiting Tromsø, including my favorite things to do in Tromsø, the best restaurants and bars in Tromsø, top Tromsø attractions, unique activities in Tromsø, and the best Tromsø day trips. And now that I’ve experienced every season in Tromsø, I can give you my best tips for the best things to do in Tromsø in winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Though to be honest spring and autumn in Tromsø are basically winter.
Okay I’ve actually just finished writing this Tromø guide and feel like I should warn you that I go into a lot of detail here. But I wanted to cover everything you could possibly need to know for your trip to Tromsø, because I really hope that you love your time here. Tromsø is such a special city and truly like nowhere else in Norway.
The best time to visit Tromsø
I’ve divided this guide into things to do in Tromsø in any season, and then “winter” from October to March (which is northern lights season) and “summer” from April to September.
Basically, if you want to see the northern lights in Tromsø, you should visit in autumn or winter, and if you want to go hiking or see the Midnight Sun, visit Tromsø in summer.
What about springtime, you ask? To be honest, spring is not a great time to visit Tromsø. April is definitely my least favorite month here – the northern lights are gone, but there’s too much snow in the mountains to go hiking. And it’s wet, slushy snow too, so not even that great for skiing.
When to see the northern lights in Tromsø
You can actually see the northern lights in Tromsø as early as mid/late August, and then by April it’s too light outside and night to see them.
While most people think of the dead of winter as peak aurora time, my favorite time to watch for the northern lights is actually September and October, because there tends to be a lot of activity then, and the temperatures are much more comfortable for standing outside for a long time.
But if you want those snowy landscapes, then you should probably hold off your trip for January, February, or March, when there’s a higher chance of seeing snow in Tromsø.
And then of course if you want to experience Christmas in Tromsø as well, then December is the perfect time to visit. We barely had any snow in Tromsø in December last year though, so if you’re wishing for snow then maybe wait until January, as December can be hit or miss. Christmas in Tromsø is super magical though, snow or no snow. I actually filmed a video a day last December, so if you want to see what Christmas in Tromsø is like then you can check out my Vlogmas playlist here.
Polar night in Tromsø
Polar night is the period of winter where the sun doesn’t rise at all here, and in Tromsø polar night lasts from the 27th of November to the 15th of January.
While polar night might sound depressing, it’s actually a magical time of year. In fact just writing about it now I’m getting excited to experience my second polar night in Tromsø! Even on the darkest day there are still about three hours of beautiful blue light, and in early December and January there are beautiful pink skies – it’s like an extended sunrise/sunset, except the sun never quite makes an appearance.
So don’t worry, if you’re visiting Tromsø during polar night you will still have several hours each day to see the sights. And then at night you can enjoy the northern lights!
Midnight Sun in Tromsø
The Midnight Sun is the period of summer when the sun never sets here, and in Tromsø the Midnight Sun lasts from the 18th of May to the 25th of July. And no, the Midnight Sun is not a separate sun, it just means that you can see our sun even at midnight. Apparently sometimes tourists are disappointed to find that it’s just the same old sun they can see at home.
The best part of the Midnight Sun period is getting to go on mountain hikes in the middle of the night. There’s something so freeing about not having to worry about darkness setting in.
I do recommend bringing a nice eye mask with you if you’ll be visiting during the Midnight Sun. Most hotels have blackout curtains, but some don’t.
Things to do in Tromsø in any season
The one thing I tell everyone to do when visiting Tromsø is to take the Fjellheisen cable car, which offers great views of the city. Plus lots of hiking trails start here, or you could take the cable car up and then hike back down. There’s also an indoor cafe at the top with great views.
I actually first went up here during polar night when it was totally dark and I thought it would be really boring, but the city lights were beautiful. And then if you’re lucky the northern lights might make an appearance.
Probably my second top recommendation for everyone visiting Tromsø is to try one of our saunas.
Pust is my favorite sauna in Tromsø. The sauna is in a wooden structure floating on the harbor with a beautiful view of the Arctic Cathedral, and since it’s right on the water you can easily run out for a few dips in the sea (it may sound awful, but I promise you will feel incredible afterwards!). You can book a time slot at Pust here. I don’t know if it’s a glitch, but I noticed that you can only book a drop-in hour if you’re on the Norwegian version of the site.
Or if you want a fancier sauna experience, the Vulkana spa boat has a sauna and hot tub on board. It’s only available for group bookings so this solo traveler hasn’t tried it, but it looks fun!
A cheaper option if you aren’t traveling in a big group is this fjord cruise with a sauna/jacuzzi on board – it looks like only some of their boats have the sauna and jacuzzi, so I’d check with them when booking to make sure you get the right boat.
The Arctic Cathedral
Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral was opened in 1965 and is probably Tromsø’s most famous landmark now. It’s actually in Tromsdalen on the mainland, so you’ll have to cross over the bridge from downtown Tromsø to go and see it. The view from the bridge is beautiful, but actually I don’t think you need to go all the way to the church if you don’t want to, unless you want to attend one of the many concerts held there. Personally I find the Arctic Cathedral most impressive from afar.
Top Tromsø museum choices
Tromsø fjord cruises
One of the best things about Tromsø is the gorgeous surrounding landscape, and what better way to experience it than by boat? There are tons of fjord cruises on offer here, like this fjord cruise with a sauna/jacuzzi on board, this Arctic sailing safari, this Midnight Sun luxury catamaran trip (in summer) or this Northern Lights luxury catamaran trip (in winter).
One of my favorite things to do in Tromsø is simply to wander around downtown. There are several cute shopping streets with colorful wooden buildings, and so many lovely cafes and restaurants to check out.
There are also approximately one million souvenir shops here, so if you want to buy any Norwegian trinkets, or perhaps a Norwegian wool sweater, this is the place to do it. Actually if you do want some Norwegian wool, there’s a discount store next to the Intersport on Storgata that has tons of heavily discounted wool sweaters, socks, hats, mittens, etc.
Tromsøbadet swimming pool center
Tromsøbadet is a big indoor swimming pool complex in Tromsø. It has several different swimming pools, jacuzzis, a sauna and steam room, and a heated outdoor pool area with beautiful views. I was a bit skeptical before visiting, but it’s actually well worth a visit! This can be a great rainy day activity or a fun option if you’re traveling with kids.
Things to do in Tromsø in winter (roughly October to March)
Seeing the northern lights in Tromsø
I’ve written more about how to see the northern lights in Tromsø here, but basically your best bet will be to sign up for a tour that can chase clear skies – sometimes as far as Finland.
And if your heart is truly set on seeing the northern lights, I’ve put together a complete ebook guide covering everything you need to know to plan an epic northern lights trip. You can read more and purchase the ebook here.
Whale watching in Tromsø
From roughly November through January, you can see humpback whales and killer whales, or orcas, near Tromsø. The time they arrive does vary each year, as well as where you can see them. Last winter they were off the coast of Skjervøy, which is a few hours by boat from Tromsø. But luckily for you there are several Tromsø whale safari companies that send boats out to see the whales, wherever they may be (though of course whale sightings cannot be guaranteed).
I’ve been on several whale safaris, seeing humpback, sperm, and killer whales, and they’re always so exciting. If you’re wondering if whale tours are ethical, rest assured that these tours are strictly regulated in Norway and have to follow guidelines to ensure the wellbeing of the whales. Only a few boats are allowed out by a pod at a time, and they have to keep a set distance from them.
If you want to get up close to the whales, then you can take a tour on a RIB, which is a small inflatable boat that will float alongside the whales. If the whales are feeling friendly they often approach the RIB, and if not they will keep their distance. Riding on the RIB is super fun, but also super cold. You’ll be provided with heavy duty floatation suits to keep warm, but it’s still a chilly experience, so if you want to stay warm and toasty I would opt for a regular boat tour instead.
Also keep in mind that the sun doesn’t rise in Tromsø from the end of November until the end of January, so you’ll likely be watching the whales in the beautiful blue light that we get here during the daytime during polar night (like twilight).
If you want to stay on a warm boat the entire time, then this silent whale watching tour on an electric boat is perfect, and lasts around eight hours (depending on where the whales are) for optimal whale sighting chances.
And if you’re feeling adventurous and want to see the whales up close, this boat/RIB whale watching tour takes you to the whales on a boat but then you switch to a RIB when you’re near the whales.
Or if you want a full Arctic experience, this overnight whale lavvo trip includes a drive to Skjervøy, RIB tour to see the whales, and then an overnight stay in a glass roof lavvo where you can watch the northern lights.
Husky sledding in Tromsø
I haven’t actually gone husky sledding in Tromsø yet, but I have on Senja, in Helgeland (twice), in Sweden, and on Svalbard, all of which were such fun experiences. And don’t worry, the huskies absolutely love it.
For best chances of snow I would do this in January, February, or March, but sometimes there will be enough snow on the ground in November and December for husky sledding. And then if there isn’t enough snow, some companies will take out carts with wheels instead.
Usually you’ll be in pairs for this, with one person driving and one seated on the sled, though when I’ve traveled alone I’m usually given a sled for myself. The guides will teach you everything you need to know to drive the sleds – it’s definitely a workout (especially if you have to run uphill in the snow a bit) but certainly not difficult. I usually spend the entire time laughing because it’s so much fun.
There are lots of different husky sledding tours offered from Tromsø which you can find here, but I recommend going with the Tromsø Wilderness Center. I know several people who have adopted retired huskies from the Wilderness Center and they offer really great care to the dogs when they aren’t working.
One of the fun things about living in Tromsø is that there are a lot of reindeer nearby! I’ll often see reindeer roaming the streets when I drive to the neighboring island of Kvaløya.
Of course the best way to see some reindeer is to visit a reindeer camp. This reindeer excursion takes you just 30 minutes from the Tromsø center to feed reindeer, learn about Sami culture, and even take a short reindeer sleigh ride. Or this reindeer tour takes you out to the gorgeous Lyngen Alps, which is a bit longer of a drive but one of the most beautiful areas outside of Tromsø. They also offer an evening reindeer sleigh ride where you’ll have the chance to see the northern lights.
It’s true that cross-country skiing is Norway’s national past time. It’s incredibly popular in Tromsø, and there are some easy trails for you to try it yourself, even as a beginner.
You can rent cross-country skis at Tromsø Outdoor right downtown (I believe rentals are 340 kroner for adults), but if you’ve never been on cross-country skis before you might prefer to go with a guide instead. This guided cross-country skiing Tromsø tour includes all the equipment, a ski lesson, hot drinks, and lunch.
If you want to go downhill skiing near Tromsø, Tromsø Alpinpark is a short bus ride from the city center and offers equipment rentals.
Norwegians are all about skis, but I actually think snowshoes are really underrated! I miss hiking so much here during the winter, but on snowshoes you can still experience a bit of hiking, and I love the slow pace of snowshoeing – it’s very peaceful. You can also rent snowshoes at Tromsø Outdoor downtown.
There are also several different snowshoeing tours on offer in Tromsø, which you can find here.
If you come at the right time, when it’s cold enough for the lakes to freeze but not too snowy, then you’ll find most of Tromsø out iceskating on the weekends. You can rent ice skates downtown and join in the fun!
Snowmobiling is incredibly popular here, and it’s certainly a lot of fun. If you want to experience snowmobiling for yourself there are a bunch of snowmobile tours offered out of Tromsø here.
Things to do in Tromsø in summer (roughly April to September)
While most people want to visit Tromsø to see the northern lights, the city is also well worth a visit in the summer as well. You won’t be able to see the northern lights, but you’ll be able to enjoy all of Tromsø’s gorgeous natural surroundings without worrying about snow and ice. Plus it will be light all the time!
The best thing about visiting Tromsø in the summer is being able to go on hikes. There are so many hiking options here, and if you’re coming earlier in the summer I would just ask around for where isn’t too snowy.
Or if you’re feeling a bit lazy you could always take the Fjellheisen cable car and then hike around the top of the mountain and back down. You could also hike around Prestvannet, a beautiful lake in the center of Tromsø island, or do the full Lysløpa loop around the top of the island.
Huskies aren’t just for sledding! The Wilderness Center offers a bunch of different husky visits and activities, like this husky hike, or if you want to stay closer to Tromsø, this husky hike trip from the cable car would be perfect.
Or if you’re not into hiking, you could just the trainers at the Wilderness Center for some puppy training!
If you’re up for a real Arctic adventure, this multi-day sea kayaking trip looks absolutely epic, including camping overnight in yurts.
If you’re here on a beautiful summer’s day, head down to Telegrafbukta, Tromsø’s southern beach, and lay out in the sun with the locals, or have a little picnic or barbecue. And if you’re brave you could go for a dip!
Where to eat in Tromsø
Risø is a super cute cafes that is especially popular with coffee connoisseurs. They really know their coffee at Risø and have lots of different options. Just be aware that Risø is really popular and not that big, so it often fills up. But it’s worth stopping by to see if you can get a table!
Smørtorget is my personal favorite cafe in Tromsø. It’s quite big so usually I can get a table easily, and I just love the space. In the front there’s a small antique shop, and the cafe itself is furnished with super cosy mismatched tables, sofas, and chairs. I always order their soup of the day for lunch, or if I’m there for coffee I’ll get a skolebrød – the best I’ve had in Tromsø!
Selfie is a beautiful little cafe downtown and has even won design awards.
Tromsø has so many restaurants, so you definitely won’t go hungry here. I would check out Casa Inferno for pizza, Rå for sushi, Art Cafe for a cosy setting, Kystens Mathus, Fiskekompaniet and Full Steam for local specialties, and Burgr for burgers. And then if you want something a bit fancier, Mathallen and Smak are excellent.
Where to go out in Tromsø
I’ve heard that Tromsø has more bars per capita than any other city in Norway and I’m not sure it’s true, but I would definitely believe it. For such a small city, Tromsø has a lot of places to go out.
And Storgata Camping is a popular nightlife place with indoor mini golf, karaoke, and lots of couches and tables to hang out.
There are so many more bars and pubs here though – just wander around downtown and you’ll find plenty of places to check out.
Where to stay in Tromsø
Tromsø has so many wonderful hotels, so you’ll have lots of options here. I’ve stayed at the Thon Hotel Polar and loved it, and my parents stayed at the Thon Hotel Tromsø across the street, which is just as wonderful.
Everyone I’ve asked in Tromsø seems to agree that the nicest hotel in town is the Clarion Hotel The Edge. The Edge is right on the water and is home to Tromsø’s only sky bar. Though actually I think the Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora looks even nicer – they even have a jacuzzi on the roof!
The best Tromsø day trips
I’m actually not much of a city person, so when I moved to Tromsø I was most excited about the beautiful nature outside of the city. There are so many wonderful day trips you can do from Tromsø, or you could even spend a night or two outside of the city.
All of these places are connected by bus, however if you can I definitely recommend renting a car so you can really get out and explore. The buses don’t always run very often, plus it’s so fun to explore on your own without having to stick to the bus routes. I like Sixt for Tromsø car rentals, or you can compare prices at autoeurope.com
Kvaløya is the island right next to Tromsø, connected by a bridge, and home to many of my favorite hikes in the area. This is also where I drive when I want to take northern lights photos in the winter.
There are so many beautiful fjords and mountains around Kvaløya, so really I recommend driving down all the prettiest roads you find and simply exploring. Grøtfjorden has a beautiful beach that’s particularly popular in the summer and great place to camp.
Or if you want a really easy trip you could go to Ersfjorden and hike up Nattmålsfjellet and then stop by Bryggejentene, a super cute cafe/shop right on the fjord, for coffee or lunch afterwards. You can also get here by bus, but you will have to change buses once.
If you drive a bit farther down Kvaløya you’ll get to Sommarøy, home to the most beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise water. Sommarøy is especially beautiful on a sunny day and worth a visit any time of year. If you drive to Sommarøy you can then loop back around the other side of Kvaløya on your way back to Tromsø.
If you’re willing to venture a bit farther, the Lyngen Alps are absolutely incredible. You can visit on a day trip, but if you have the time I’d really recommend spending a night or two here, as it’s so beautiful.
My favorite place to stay here is this cabin with a hot tub and the most incredible views, though it only has running water in the summer. I also loved staying at this mini fjord cabin right by the Bivrost Arctic distillery. Both are about a two hour drive from Tromsø. The route with the ferry is more scenic, but you could always take the ferry route on the way and then return the other way so you get to see all the different views.
I’ve written more about things to do in Lyngen here, including my favorite hike.
Or if you don’t want to drive you could take this Lyngen hiking tour, which includes the transfer from central Tromsø.
And if you’re willing to drive farther, Senja is one of the most beautiful islands in Norway and absolutely worth a visit. Senja is about a three hour drive from Tromsø, so this would be a long day trip, but the drive is beautiful. If you can I’d really recommend spending a night or two here.
My favorite place to stay on Senja is the lighthouse at Norwegian Wild – I’ve stayed there twice now. They also have an Arctic Dome, which would be great if you’re visiting during the northern lights season.
I’ve written more about visiting Senja in the winter here.