Looking for the best things to do in Tromso this winter? Look no further! After 2 wintry weeks in this adorable city, I’ve got all the best tips for you below.
My favorite part about my friend, Silvia, constantly moving around Norway is that it allows me to visit many different parts of the country…repeatedly. Since she’s gotten her dog, Alfie, I visit her in her new homes instead of meeting her elsewhere in the world so she doesn’t have to leave him. If you can’t tell from all my Norway posts and photos, this is a very noble sacrifice on my end as you know this country isn’t the most scenic. :p
Anyway, since my first visit in 2020 where we started in Trondheim, explored the beautiful Helgeland, and then ended in Lofoten, she’s moved two more times! Now she’s in Bergen, but in between Mosjøen and Bergen, she moved to the ultimate Norwegian winter hub of Tromsø wayyyy up north.
Once restrictions were lifted, I beelined to visit her for about two weeks in the winter to catch the Northern Lights. I also returned briefly that May and for another week that summer where I even ran a 10k in the Midnight Sun Marathon weekend. That’s all to say with Silvia’s local guiding and my extended visits, I think I’ve gathered a pretty good idea of all the best things to do in Tromsø in the winter. From actually seeing the Northern Lights to driving around the most stunning arctic landscapes, check below for all my picks!
Quick Tromsø Travel Tips
- Getting in: The best way to get to Tromsø is to fly in to take the Flybussen into town or just book private transfer.
- Money Matters: Credit Cards are accepted everywhere; I’ve never pulled out cash.
- Stay in Touch: eSims are the way to go! Buy a plan ahead an activate on arrival.
- Where to Stay: Downtown for sure; more on that below.
- Weather Expectations: Tromsø is actually not super cold in the winter. Very similar to NYC and Philly because of the Gulf Stream effect.
- Getting Around: Because Tromsø is so small, you can walk everywhere. You really only need a car to do excursions, and I’d only rent a car if you’re very comfortable driving in icy conditions.
- What to Wear & Pack: Just pack normal winter gear you’d want. The only extra things I can think of are crampons, snow pants, gloves, and a tripod. Also grab some of Avene cicalfate cream or La Roche Posay cicaplast cream. They do wonders against the wind.
Where to Stay in Tromsø
I’d recommend staying in downtown Tromsø so you can walk to everything. To help you visualize, imagine the city is on the slope of a mountain. There are a bunch of parallel roads and downtown is at the very bottom by the water. Stay in this area.
While Nordic hotels tend to be pricier than what you’d expect elsewhere in Europe; I actually think they’re reasonable compared to American hotels. Not to mention, they do complimentary breakfasts very, very well.
|Smarthotel Tromsø $||Located maybe one street up from the main downtown area. I’ve stayed here and it’s nice – VERY basic and no breakfast.||View Here|
|Clarion Hotel The Edge $||This is the hotel I’ve heard you stay in if you want an extra special experience!||View Here|
|Scandic Ishavshotel $$||Scandic is always a reliable choice in Norway. I’ve stayed in two others and had a great time. I’m especially fond of their breakfasts.||View Here|
|Radisson Blu Hotel Tromsø $$$||Radisson Blu also usually has high ratings across Norway.||View Here|
16 of the BEst Things to Do in tromsø in the Winter
1. Catch the views coming in
Before you’ve even officially landed, one of the best things to do in Tromsø in the winter is to make sure you can see the absolutely epic views from your airplane window. If you’re facing the front of the plane, you’ll want to be on the left. The right doesn’t really get any views, but the left side gets to see some of the most stunning snowcapped mountains as you land! It’s really quite magical, my jaw was on the ground and my face plastered to my window the whole descent.
2. Chase the Northern Lights, of course
I mean, why come all the way to northern Norway in the dead of winter if not to catch the northern lights? They’re actually trickier to see than you’d think because of cloud coverage. They do dance about though, and if you give it a good week, you’ll get at least one night. Silvia has a whole guide to finding and photographing them here.
If you’re lucky, you can literally see them from your hotel or just walking around when the forecast shows they’ve arrived. Otherwise, you’ll want to drive out of the city a bit to get to really dark areas far from the city lights. This can be kind of tricky if you’re not with someone local, so I strongly recommend booking some sort of Northern Lights tour.
3. Embrace the art of koselig
Hygge is a Norwegian word, after all (even if the Danes are the ones who made it famous)! Silvia told me a more common word used to capture the coziness of winter is koselig. I have to say having been to Norway twice in the winter, I see exactly what she means.
Think lowly lit restaurants with candles burning in the middle of the table. Fuzzy blankets thrown over chairs. Steaming hot cups of coffee and chocolate. Hearty soups and stews. Coming in from the cold to a roaring fire and flannel pajamas. I LOVE koselig.
4. Walk (or run) all around Tromsø’s central area
Like I’ve mentioned, Tromsø is absolutely adorable in the winter. It truly looked like it belongs in a snow globe. Because it snows for the majority of the year (seriously, I took this video in May), I feel like Norwegians have painted and designed the city to stand out against all the white.
My best advice if you don’t want to do something like a city walking tour, is to sort of zigzag your way up towards the more residential neighborhoods. When I ran and took Alfie for walks, I’d do this and just look down onto the town and the water below. Go when it’s dark, you’ll get all the houses and buildings warmly lit up. It just feels really cozy!
Pro-Tip: Tromsø is a lot like Trondheim and other Norwegian cities in that they don’t use salt. Often sidewalks are hidden under solid ice. While some sidewalks are heated, many are not. So you might want to bring some crampons with you or buy them when you arrive. Otherwise, it’s a lot of careful shuffling and sliding, especially going downhill. I don’t know how Norwegians just walk over ice like it’s nothing!
5. Shop for the perfect souvenirs
If you walk along Storgata and Havnegata streets, you’ll find tons of fun shopping mixed in with the restaurants and museums. They’re fun to pop in and out of to look for unique souvenirs. After my 10k, I spent a good deal of time looking for the perfect, red wool sweater.
Also – for those with a sweet tooth, pop into the grocery store and get a giant Freia chocolate bar! Best milk chocolate in the the world, and you can quote me.
6. Pop into Norli Bokhuset
This one is for my fellow book lovers! While browsing around downtown, check out Norli Bokhuset, which has a small English section and some books about Norway in English. I picked up a few here (pictured further down). Nothing like a good book to aid in the art of coselig.
Another bookstore that looked interesting is Tromsø Bruktbokhandel! I’ll definitely be popping in should I make it up to Tromsø in the future.
7. stop at world’s smallest bar
Word has it that Raketten Bar & Pølse is not just Norway’s, but the world’s smallest bar. This tiny spot is right on Storgata and serve shot wine, hot dogs, and cocoa.
Funnily enough, I only walked by when we were on our way to eat or I was running, so never a good time to stop in. Another thing to do on a return visit.
8. Try out a Norwegian sauna
If there is one thing I now have to do every time I visit Norway, it’s spend a few hours at a sauna. Sweat it out in a dry sauna room and then jump into the icy arctic waters right outside? Sign. Me. Up. Yes – even in winter!
Note that saunas usually have locker rooms and showers to rinse off, but otherwise you provide everything else. You’ll definitely want to remember a towel, a swim suit, and a change of clothes for after. Also bring water to stay hydrated; I always forget and regret it.
I could easily spend like 2-3 hours at a sauna if not more, but I would also turn into a mermaid if I could, so take that with a grain of salt. You want at least an hour. Book ahead if possible only because most saunas only fit around 10 people max, so if it’s a busy day, you may not be able to just drop in.
9. Cross over the big bridge over to the Arctic Cathedral
If you notice, there’s one really big bridge that leads away from Tromsø’s downtown. Walk across it! I ran it twice and it’s an easy 1-1.5kms across to the very cool-looking Arctic Cathedral. From the bridge you’ll get some cool views from the city as well as across the water to the fjords. I remember the landscape being so pretty I just had to stop in the middle of my run to take it in!
10. Enjoy Norwegian Cafe Culture
I noted in my post comparing Norway to Korea that cafe culture is very real, and Tromsø is no exception. The difference is that most cafes also serve some food, so they’re good places to relax and get lunch. If you’re not with a friend, go here with one of your newly purchased books!
Here are some specific cafes to try:
- Smørtorget Kaffe & Mat – This is easily my favorite cafe, and I think I’ve been each time I’m in town. It’s got a fun, antique design that leaves it feeling very cozy and the soup is always delicious.
- Selfie Konditori– Selfie is a super cute cafe that reminds me a lot of the trendy cafes in Seoul or Ho Chi Minh City. It’s pink and full of flowers and just begging to be photographed, hence the name. They also have a good menu if you’re looking for a brunch date.
- Risø – Lovely cafe with a Scandanavian vibe. They take their coffee very seriously. This is also where I first tried my favorite Norwegian dessert – success cake!
- Kaffebønna Stortorget – I love the retro interiors and they make a mean hot chocolate and kanelbullar (Norwegian cinnamon rolls).
11. Eat sushi! Lots of sushi
There are an absurd amount of sushi places in Norway, which makes sense when you think about it. Japan’s biggest cultural export has to be the art of sushi, and Norway is known for its salmon. A match made in globalized heaven. While you visit, be sure to get sushi at least once, but, you know, I won’t judge you if you go multiple times.
I’ve only ever been to Asian House and another spot that’s since closed down. It was Silvia’s go-to sushi spot and very chill and no frills. The owner is also super sweet.
Suvi and Sumo are also supposed to be great spots.
11A. Bonus: Go to Asian Healthy Foods for Thai
Ever since my trip to LA, I’ve been having the most random and intense cravings for Thai food. Towards the end of my first trip in Tromsø, I just really, really wanted pad Thai and some sort of soup.
I wound up finding this restaurant that, from the outside, doesn’t even look like a restaurant. It’s literally called Asian Healthy Foods, but it’s a Thai place. Did I go three times in 48 hours? Have I gone back on each subsequent visit? You betcha! I’m particularly fond of the khao soi after Silvia introduce me to it.
I’m adding it as a bonus point because I’m sure 99% of you reading this aren’t looking to eat Thai in Norway, but it hit the spot soooo perfectly, I had to give it a special shout out.
12. Try Mathallen for Norwegian cuisine
Okay, so for those of you looking for places that actually specialize in Norwegian cuisine, I’d recommend going to one of the cafes above or, for fine dining, Mathallen. I can’t say I’ve been anywhere in Tromsø that particularly specializes in Norwegian cuisine because anytime I wanted to try something, Silvia makes it. From her cooking, I would say look for places that offer reindeer stew (finnbiff), waffles with brown cheese, or fish soup (fiskesuppe). Those are always what I want to eat when I see her.
13. Plan a day or two to Sommarøy
If you’re looking for somewhere to combine with your trip to Tromsø, Sommarøy is perfect and is only an hour away. It’s an old fishing village and only an hour away by car. We stayed over at Sommarøy Arctic Hotel for a better chance of seeing the northern lights since there’s a lot less light pollution! The hotel also a very nice dining and sauna situation, so it was the perfect way to cap off the trip.
14. Embrace Friluftsliv in Tromsø
Ok to explain this a bit, I need you to know that Norwegians are kind of crazy. They do all sorts of outdoor sports no matter the season of the weather. I’ll never forget when Silvia told us she went on a date where they hiked up with skis to… ski down. And most first dates involve a proper hike – like the kind you’d never do in America out of fear of being murdered. It’s all summed up in the word friluftsliv.
Now, I myself have not tried any of these activities in Tromsø. But I did run outside, so, you know, I flirted with friluftsliv. For those that really want to embrace it, try these activities:
15. Run in the Polar Night Marathon!
If you visit Tromsø in early January, why not join in on the PolarNight Marathon? There are four different kinds of races to participate in, so don’t worry if you’re not up for a full marathon:
- Ishavskraft Marathon (42 km)
- PolarNight Halfmarathon (21 km)
- Mørketidsmila (10 km)
- Mørketidstrimmen (4,2 km)
I haven’t run this one, but I ran a 10k during Midnight Sun Marathon in the summer, and it was a lot of fun. The route is really nice and there’s something exciting about running during the night instead of early in the morning like most races.
16. Take in the views from Fjellheisen
For those that want that panoramic view of Tromsø, you’ll want to take the Fjellheisen cable car up. It’s across the bridge (same side as the Arctic Cathedral), so you’ll need to drive or book a ticket for the electric shuttle there and back. I didn’t go until the summer, hence the green image above, but if you plan properly in the winter, you might even catch the Northern Lights from above. Even if you don’t or you plan to go during the daytime, you’ll be treated to a stunning snowy view.
The area at the top is lovely, and you can stop in to get a snack before going back down. We got tickets when we arrived, but winter in Tromsø is a bit busier, so to be on the safe side, book both the cable car and shuttle ticket ahead of time.
And there you have it – all the most wonderful things to do in Tromsø in winter. Let me know if you have any questions or tips to add below!
For more Norwegian travel:
- What to Expect Hiking to Blåvatnet
- Visiting Lofoten in the Winter
- Lovund, Norway: A Charming Island Escape
- Visiting Vega, Norway
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