One of the best activities and excursions in Northern Norway during the winter is visiting a Tromsø reindeer farm and learning more about the Sami culture and their relationship with reindeer. This guide will showcase ethical Sami tours and places where you can see reindeer in Tromsø.
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Ethical Sami Tours and Tromsø Reindeer Farms
Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic has long been inhabited by humans with settlements and traces of human activity dating back to around 10,000 BCE. The Sami people have had a constant presence in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic areas of northern for at least 3,500 years.
The semi-nomadic people heavily relied on fishing and reindeer herding to support their communities, with herders migrating huge herds of reindeer from their summer feeding grounds in the north, further south to where the snow is less deep and the reindeer are able to dig out the lichen.
As modern society and culture have crept into the Arctic (my way of politely saying that colonization and attempts to endanger the culture and traditions of the indigenous people of Northern Scandinavia DID exist despite being a very taboo topic), the Sami people have managed to keep a few traditions afloat, even if just for showcasing them to curious tourists.
The importance of Sami culture in the region has led to some of their activities becoming protected, such as reindeer herding may only be done by the Sami people. These permissions hardly justify actions that were taken in the past, but at least it is giving the Sami a chance to carry on with some of their traditions.
Today, you can experience many aspects of the Sami culture in and around Tromsø, with the herders still bringing the reindeer south to the traditional overwintering grounds in the Tromsø area. Although, modern life has moved in with snowmobiles revolutionizing the way they travel and has made communication much easier these days.
The Sami still practice the traditional methods and ensure they pass down the stories and methods of their forefathers to the younger generations. To help preserve and teach people about this extraordinary culture, there are plenty of tours you can take from Tromsø to learn all about the Sami way of life and reindeer herding.
Tours normally include visiting a reindeer ranch, where you will spend time feeding and learning about the reindeer followed by a traditional meal in a lavvo (a special kind of Sami tent) where your informative Sami guide will teach you all about the culture and share stories of the Arctic. The following guide will take you through some of the best Sami tours to learn about the unique culture of the indigenous people of the north.
Is Reindeer Sledding Ethical?
I feel I need to add the following part to this guide. One of the most common things to do in Tromsø is to enjoy a Sami experience and go reindeer sledding. Is it ethical? I don’t think so and here is why:
Unlike dog sledding in Tromsø, the reindeer looked miserable when I saw them dragging people in sleds around. I have been on two different experiences where I witnessed this- one in Norway and one in Finland. Both times, the reindeer were lured around following a person carrying an apple or food as they slowly pulled along a sled of tourists.
Something just felt wrong. I went dog sledding in Tromsø and I was expecting that to be the Tromsø tour I didn’t agree with. But, the dogs were stoked on their work and were eagerly running around enjoying themselves. I also went whale watching in Tromsø where I had some issues (you can read about in the aforementioned link).
For the sake of finding this reindeer sledding in Tromsø unethical, I left out tours that do this. The tours I listed below all include a Sami experience and feeding reindeer, so no fear, you will get to see them. And please note, this is not to condemn any Sami traditions of using reindeer for work… this is merely them being used for tourism purposes in a way that didn’t sit well with me.
What to Wear to a Tromsø Reindeer Farm
You can actually view my entire guide to what to wear in Norway in winter here. But, here are a few things I suggest bringing with you if you visit a Tromsø reindeer farm:
- Mobile power bank: You will be out in the middle of nowhere and the temperatures will be negative. Your phone will be your worst enemy… trust me! I recommend traveling to Tromsø with a large power bank that you will not have to charge more than once or twice on the trip. I love this 25000mAh power bank on Amazon.
- Good snow boots: I wear Sorel snow boots and have for years. They are well-insulated and offer protection from the Arctic temperatures. You can view the pair that I wear here.
- Heavy winter parka: I wear the Svalbard Parka from Helly Hansen, a Norwegian brand. It kept me super warm during my visit to a reindeer farm in Tromsø and I can easily recommend it to everyone doing the same! You can see my Helly Hansen parka here.
- Headlamp: You will likely be able to go outside and photograph the northern lights on your own. I suggest walking away from the crowd a little and finding your own spot to admire them. You will want to have a headlamp on you to navigate your way around and to get your equipment set up. A headlamp is one of the number one things I suggest bringing to Norway in winter, nevertheless. View my headlamp recommendation here.
Will You See the Northern Lights?
It is very likely that you will witness the mesmerizing northern lights in Tromsø during your Sami experience at a reindeer ranch! I did, at least. Make sure you bring your camera equipment and be ready to see the skies dancing.
Do you Need Travel Insurance for Norway?
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Tromsø Sami and Reindeer Tours
From Tromsø: Reindeer Ranch and Sami Culture Tour
Depart from Tromsø and drive into the surrounding countryside where you will visit a traditional Sami reindeer ranch. You will have the opportunity to get up close to several hundred partly wild, but friendly reindeer who will gather around you to get some of their preferred food, lichen.
After feeding the Tromsø reindeer, you will head for a traditional meal that has been stewed over an open fire. The meat included in the stew is normally reindeer, however, for those who don’t eat meat you can request a vegetarian option in advance.
Following lunch, you will head into a lavvo and sit around a fire to learn all about the history of reindeer herding and the Sami people. Your welcoming hosts will also perform traditional joik songs that have been passed down through the generations.
Tromsø: Reindeer Camp Dinner with Chance of Northern Lights
Spend the evening at a Sami reindeer camp where you will enjoy an amazing three-course meal that is traditionally served at Sami weddings. Prior to the meal, you will have the chance to help feed the herd of reindeer that are overwintering in the region.
The friendly animals will come up close and eat directly from your hands. While spending time outside, keep an eye out for magical displays of the northern lights that, if you are lucky, will come out and play. The evening will end in a Sami lavvo listening to stories of the Sami people and performances of joik, a form of traditional chanting.
Reindeer Feeding, Lasso Throwing, and Sami Culture Tour Including Lunch from TromsØ
Head out to one of Tromsø’s magical reindeer camps. You will spend time with the reindeer- giving them food and learning how they are taken care of. Learn the traditional way to lasso reindeer on special practice targets that are shaped like the reindeer. The activity will help you further understand the hardship the herders go through each year.
After playing around with the reindeer and lassos, you will go inside a lavvo for a delicious bowl of bidos, a delightful soup made from reindeer meat. As you enjoy your lunch and some cake, you will be told stories about the rich cultural history of the Sami people and hear amazing examples of the typical joik singing.
Sami Northern Lights Experience
Venture out to a traditional Sami camp and enjoy a delicious meal around a fireplace while your Sami guide tells you all about the indigenous culture and its connection to these mystical lights that light up the Arctic skies during the dark winter months.
Your expert guide will explain to you in detail how to capture the magical lights on your camera and the settings you will need. You will then head out into the Arctic wilderness to hunt down the elusive lights. As they are a natural phenomenon, it is not guaranteed that you will be able to see them on the given night.
If you are looking for more information taking a northern lights tour, check out my northern lights tour guide. It gives a variety of options for northern lights tours in Tromsø.
Other AMazing Tromsø Tours
If you’re going to Tromsø for a few days, you will want to make sure you take advantage of the many tours and excursions the capital of Northern Norway has to offer. Here are some of our favorite recommendations to those traveling to Tromsø in winter.
- Northern Lights 7-Hour Tour from Tromsø
- Tromsø: 5-Hour Polar Fjord Cruise
- Northern Lights Chase in Tromsø
- Tromsø: Silent Whale Watching Tour by Electric Catamaran
- Tromsø: Guided Husky Sledding with Lunch
- From Tromsø: Northern Lights Experience with Aurora Camps
Where to Stay in Tromsø
You will find several options for where to stay in Tromsø but many of them tend to be around the same price range. I have stayed at two different hotels there and I can recommend both of them to people visiting Tromsø. One is a mid-range hotel and the other is a bit more on the budget side (take mind that budget in Norway is not budget in other places!)
Thon Hotel Tromsø (Mid-range)
Confession: I love Thon Hotels because I love their breakfast buffet. I’m not even ashamed to admit that and I will sit there for multiple hours making the most of what they offer to travelers. The rooms are also usually pretty modern and are always extremely comfortable. I have stayed in Thons all over and this one in Tromsø is amongst my favorites.
Smarthotel Tromsø (Budget)
One of my favorite affordable recommendations for those traveling to Norway is the Smarthotels that exists in many cities throughout the country. There is a Smarthotel in Tromsø and its affordability and great amenities make it one of the best places to stay in Tromsø for budget travelers.
There are many tours available that offer reindeer sledding in addition to Sami cultural experiences but I truly think that activity is unnecessary and pointless when you’re visiting Tromsø or anywhere in the Arctic. Again, just an opinion.
If you’re heading to Lofoten in winter, be sure to check out our guide there too! You can also read our suggestions of what to know before you visit Lofoten or visit the Nordkapp if they are on your Northern Norway itinerary. Also, be sure to head to our Oslo in winter guide if you’re stopping over there on your way north.
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