Tromso is a unique city in the Arctic Circle. Wondering exactly, “Where is Tromso?” Well, it’s located on the 69th latitude. This “Gateway to the Arctic,” as it’s lovingly called, is in Norway, just 31 latitudes away from the North Pole. It’s a very popular winter tourist destination partially because the city and its residents are so accustomed to dealing with arctic climates. Tromso is filled with interesting attractions and corresponding excursions including those for seeing the Aurora Borealis, exploring Tromso fjords, learning about the Sami culture and feeing reindeer, to name a few. Wondering what things to do in Tromso during a winter vacation? We’ve got you covered.
1. Northern Lights Organized Winter Tour
There’s no need to try to find the Northern Lights yourself when there are plenty of organized tour options to spot the Aurora Borealis in Tromso. Our absolute favorite, of a few paid tours we’ve experienced in Trosmo, was Arctic Breeze.
Brynjar was truly an exceptional guide. He knows so much about the aurora between being a Tromso native (born and raised!) and guiding countless tours over the past few years. His Tromso Northern Lights tour was so good we dedicated an entire post to the unforgettable experience.
We were so grateful to see the Northern Lights, firsthand, that night with such strong geomagnetic activity. The phenomenon only lasts a few hours each night if you’re lucky! We’re glad our photos enable us to recall memories of the splendor we witnessed.
Since this Tromso excursion is limited to the amount of seats on the bus (about 15 on Arctic Breeze) we highly recommend booking in advance. Seats may sell out quickly, especially during peak season with tourists flocking to Tromso see the Northern Lights in January and February. (Note these types of tours don’t run during the summer, when midnight sun in Tromso makes it nearly impossible to see the Northern Lights as there is 24 hours of daylight.)
2. Sami Experience and Feeding Reindeer
I feel so passionately about native cultures and supporting their livelihood and embracing their past. On the second day of our trip, we headed out for a daytime excursion to feed the reindeer with Zeme Tours. Two of the things we loved about them is they give some of their proceeds to a charity that’s helping ensure a bright future for the environment and they believe in sustainability and eco-tourism.
Their staff is incredibly knowledgable and I enjoyed having a long conversation with one of their team members about why supporting excursions and experiences, like the one we were on, was important. We chose a “Reindeer Sledding, Feeding and Sami Culture” option and loved getting the chance to interact with beautiful reindeer during the day. It’s a much different experience than at night, as you’re able to really see their antlers more, observe how they interact and herd together with better vision, and enjoy watching them eat.
The challenge with the reindeer these days is their natural habitats are threatened because of global warming. This has made it increasingly difficult for them to winter in the mountains. The Sami people, who are native to Northern Scandinavia (known as Lapland) are the reindeer herders in Norway. Two Sami people shared information about their heritage during the tour, which was a favorite part of the experience for us.
Because of global warming, snow on mountains prematurely melts with the increase of just a few degrees temperature. That melted snow can quickly freeze with any variation in temperature drop, for example. Reindeer thrive in snow. They do not thrive in ice. Icy mountains have meant the reindeer cannot get to their food source, which is usually lichen plants. It also presents a problem when trying to run away from natural predators, like the wolverine and lynx. They’re just not cut out for ice.
Winter tourism has historically, and continues to, grow in Tromso. A natural correlation began to show itself for many Samis in recent years of increased tourism: as the visiting population rose along with an interest in their culture and reindeer, there was an opportunity to help feed their animals and get them through winters off the mountains. They way to do this was for herders to rent land and purchase their feed and allow visitors to pay for the experience, thus helping support a safe winter environment the reindeer. The alternative was risking reindeer to famine on the mountains or no escape from predators. And so a symbiotic opportunity for a Tromso excursion was born.
When you take a tour with Zeme Tours, you’re not just learning something valuable about the way of life Lapland, but you’re also giving back to the environment.
3. Polar Tromso Fjords Boat Tour
This is actually one of our excursion recommendation you can enjoy all year, whether you visit Tromso during winter or summer. The fjords in Norway are an attraction in themselves. These bodies of water, that creep into the land masses like sinuous fingers, are all over the country’s long coastline.
For all the times we’ve been to Norway we have never actually sailed much on the fjords; we’ve been on them mostly to take a ferry ride between destinations though not for pure leisure. We were SO glad we decided to sail aboard the Fjord Queen with Polar Adventures! Marlena and Christine were our guides and they were humorous, full of life and personality, and made the adventure extra fruitful!
We’ll throw caution to the wind here by putting a disclaimer on any boat tour through the fjords: it is possible to see a lot of wildlife during the tours. This would include things like seals, dolphins, moose, whales (mostly in January and some of February) and birds. But it’s also very possible you won’t see anything. There’s just no guarantee because it’s nature.
Thus we think the expectation for a boat tour should be this: expect to see incredible, inspirational scenery as you cruise through the fjords and learn wonderful information about life in Norway. And hope to see a lot of wildlife!
Here’s what we were lucky to see on our excursion:
- An eagle soaring high above the water
- Dolphins from a distance
- Two moose swimming in the ocean (also at a distance)
- Fish (out of the water actually)
Marlena and Christine had told us they had seen whales the two days prior to our sailing. But unfortunately they had migrated away by the third day so we didn’t see them.
Other perks included absolutely gorgeous scenery and a stunning sunset, which were a dream for a photographer. We also had one of the best meals of our entire 10 days in Norway, which was a fish stew they served for lunch. It was homemade and incredibly tasty. We even asked for the recipe so we can make it at home.
While this isn’t a fishing trip allowed some people to fish off the boat in hopes to catch fresh food for the lunch stew. Thus, we saw fish! (They had back up fish stored in the kitchen just in case.)
We learned Norway is a land of “large fish,” as Marlena and Christine joked, while they explained how big Norway is in the fishing industry. It was also news to us that the water is warmer than you may think in Norway because of the Gulf Stream. This is why it doesn’t freeze. As we cruised through the water from Tromso towards Greenland Island, we also learned about the micro climates there; micro climates may explain the cool mist hanging out above the water’s surface in one area we passed, which you can see in the photo below on the right.
If you’re on the boat during a month like February or March (and even late January after polar nights, which is 24 hours of darkness) it’s likely you’ll be able to see the Tromso sunset like we did on the tour. If you’re there during a time closer to when they have midnight sun, which is 24 hours of daylight, you’ll have light the entire excursion.
4. Historic Walking Tour
Tromso’s town center is a lovely place to walk around before, after or in between your excursions. This is the area most tourists stay as the hotels are concentrated here. (Many apartment Air BnBs are situated here too.)
We thought, “There must be a lot of history about Tromso and its various buildings and sculptures around town we aren’t aware of.” But where could we learn more? Google led us to a historic walking tour with Tromso Budget Tours!
If you’re looking for what to do in Tromso for just a few hours one afternoon, that doesn’t require you to hop on a bus or a boat, this is the perfect activity.
Our guide, Lionel, took us around the city on a two and half hour walk that included a stop at The Polar Museum (or Polarmuseet, in Norwegian) and ended at a bar. (Just how we like tours to end.)
As if we didn’t already love it enough, we learned so much on our tour that enriched the way we experienced and viewed Tromso. We won’t give away all the secrets you learn on the tour but here’s some fun facts to pique your interest if you need any convincing to sign up:
- The Sami Flag was designed 25 years ago. Its colors were taken from the traditional clothing Sami people wear and the flag’s circles represent the sun and the moon.
- The Polar Museum was originally built as a warehouse for taxed goods and imports arriving to the city.
- Do you know where the name Norway is thought to have come from? Albert the Viking Slayer wrote about people living all along the “north way” in an English document in the 9th century. The “north way” became “Norway”. (Mind….blown!)
These are just three of nearly twenty interesting facts we wrote down as we experienced this wonderful tour; we enjoyed every minute of it.
We also learned about why the roof is the way it is on the iconic architectural attraction in Tromso, the public library. Can you guess why? Sign up for the Historical Walking Tour in Tromso and be sure to keep your ears open to learn the correct reason.
5. Fjellheisen Cable Car
Where is the best view of Tromso and how do you get there? The answer: atop a mountain for a bird’s eye view of the city, reached by Fjellheisen cable car. Be mindful of Tromso’s sunset time when you visit because this could be a determining factor for when you head out for this little excursion. It was a factor for us because we specifically wanted to see the view just before sunset then into dusk.
The cable car runs year round, including winter and summer. (Summer hours are a little shorter than winter so be sure to check for current operating hours.) It was built in the 1960s and went through a major renovation in 2016. The price tag of nearly $80M USD (whoa) was so they could replace cable cars and mechanics, make it a bit more handicap accessible and extend the viewing deck.
We also suggest allotting about two hours for it:
- An hour for travel time (even though it takes a little less time to get there if you walk or take the bus and only about ten to twenty minutes, depending on where you are in Tromso, if you drive or take a taxi)
- Another hour to be up on the mountain to enjoy it as well as potentially waiting in line for the cable car up or back down the mountain
In hindsight, we were too adventurous for our liking in the way we got there. We walked from our hotel to Fjellheisen and the 45 minute journey nearly drained all our energy. (Remember: your body works overtime to keep warm in below freezing temperatures.) We could have reached Peppe’s Pizza (the only one in town) that was just 10 minutes from our hotel by foot and taken a bus from there. Oh well? We didn’t know! (We even asked our hotel concierge about it, and they said to walk. Rubbish!)
The bridge route was long and incredibly windy – even icy in parts. But we made it! (The severity of the walk depends on the weather. There’s sure to be colder temperatures during winter, snow, a bit of ice and potentially wind on the bridge. Summer is probably very different!)
The cable car’s ticket office is accessible by foot, car or a short five minute walk around the corner from the closest bus station. They have a small parking lot if you drive. If you walk, it’s about ten to fifteen minutes past the famous Arctic Church once you reach that iconic point on your journey.
It’s perhaps a little pricy: a single adult roundtrip ticket costs about 400 Norwegian Krone, which is approximately $47 USD. But we were in Tromso without plans to come back (yet) and we wanted to do it. The trip to the top takes four minutes and reaches an altitude of 1381 feet (421 meters) above sea level.
It is possible to hike up the mountain but we think you’d have to be a serious adventure hiker to do so while there’s snow on the mountain as it’s incredibly steep. If there isn’t snow on the mountain there are 1,300 stone stairs, called the Sherpa Steps because they were built by Nepalese sherpas, that reach the mountain’s height. Tickets can be purchased for one way journeys as well.
Those are the five excursions in Tromso we recommend most and experienced first hand. There are many more to consider, however, so here’s a few we wish we could have done, with companies we trust. (They’ll have to wait for our next trip!):
- Polar Fishing Adventure with Polar Adventures
- Fjord Excursion by Bus with Polar Adventures
- Guided Snoeshoe Walk on Tromsoya Island with Tromso Outdoors
- Beer Safari with Tromso Budget Tours
Please note: we thank Polar Adventures, Tromso Lapland, Tromso Budget Tours and Polar Adventures for generously hosting us. We also may make a small commission from affiliate links in this post but all opinions are ours and we bring you genuine content with real facts, photos, thoughts and recommendations. Always.
Heading to Tromso or Norway? Also check out:
- These 15 Photos of Tromso During Winter Will Get You Out in the Cold
- Why You Must Take an Organized Tour in Tromos to See the Northern Lights
- 10 Not to Miss Sites and Things to Do in Oslo Norway
Which Tromso winter excursion is most appealing to you?