The most popular time to visit Tromsø is during the winter. This Tromsø in winter guide will give you all the things to do in Northern Norway’s capital city- from the best northern lights tours to dog-sledding excursions and more! If you’re seeking how to plan your trip to maximize your time there, be sure to check out our winter Tromsø itinerary.
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24 Things to Do in Tromsø in Winter
Tromsø is the largest city in Northern Norway and is often considered to be the gateway to the Arctic. One of the most magical times to visit this Arctic dreamland is during winter when the nights are long and snow lies deep on the ground.
During the cold winter nights, the sky is often lit up by the elusive aurora that hangs out and dances above the city and hills that surround the area. Despite the lack of sunlight in Tromsø in winter, there is still a trove of things you can do and experience in the Arctic city. From the thrill of dog sledding in Tromsø to spending days in cozy Scandinavian cafes, there are things to do for everyone.
This guide will take you through the most amazing things to do in Tromsø during winter. If you feel I have forgotten anything, please feel free to comment below.
Places to Visit in Tromsø During Winter
Visit the Polar Museum
The Polar Museum is one of the best places in the city to learn all about Tromsø’s rich and interesting history. Long considered the gateway to the Arctic, this cold northern city was the starting point of many Arctic expeditions and home to many hunters.
Polarmuseet (Polar Museum) is a relatively small museum that takes you through the cultural, natural, and archeological history of the region. You will learn all about the arctic expeditions that set off from the city and how hardy hunters survived overwintering in this harsh land.
There is also an amazing display about the first woman to overwinter in the Arctic. The museum is relatively small but is a great place to escape the cold outside. Displays are in Norwegian, but you will be provided an English guide book to help you navigate your way around the museum.
You can find the Polarmuseet at Søndre Tollbodgate 11B in Tromsø.
Marvel at the Library of Tromsø
Scandinavia is known for its cutting edge design and the library of Tromsø is a prime example of contemporary modern design.
Located close to the harbor, the library was completed in 2005, taking inspiration from the Mexican architect Candela. The library is located over four floors and houses an extensive collection of books, as well as the city archives.
In addition to the books, you will also find incredible works of art and an amazing staircase in the middle that will take you up to the various floors. Because of the design of the building, it really pops out amongst the surrounding buildings and the library has become an important landmark in the city and is often used by locals as a meeting point.
You can find the Library of Tromsø at Grønnegata 94 in Tromsø.
Check out the Arctic Cathedral
One of the most imposing pieces of architecture in the city of Tromsø is the Arctic Cathedral, a large concrete cathedral that was built in the 1960s. The large cathedral towers above the surrounding buildings and is visible from much of the city and as you land at the airport.
The Arctic Cathedral holds 600 people and has a grand glass facade at the entrance, creating a dramatic first impression. There is also an amazing stained glass window depicting God’s hands reaching down to Jesus. Referred to as the opera house of Norway due to its similarities with the Sydney opera house, the building is not just a place of worship but also hosts an array of concerts throughout the year.
During the winter in Tromsø, the cathedral hosts northern lights concerts from Thursday to Sunday. The concerts feature an array of music from classical to traditional Sami joik and much more. Tickets can be purchased at the door with concerts typically starting around 23:00.
You can find the Arctic Cathedral at Hans Nilsens vei 41 in Tromsø (on the opposite side of the river across from the main city).
Photograph the Tromso Cathedral
One of the most interesting buildings in Tromsø is the large, wooden cathedral. The cathedral is the only one made entirely out of wood in the whole of Norway. The ground the cathedral stands on has been home to religious buildings since 1225, although the current building was built in the 1860s.
The Tromsø Cathedral was originally able to seat close to 1000 people but renovations and extra additions within the cathedral have limited that capacity down to around the 600 mark. During winter months, head into the cathedral and take time to climb up its spite and view the shimmering lights of the city in the darkness of the later part of the year.
Surrounding the northernmost Protestant cathedral in the world is a lovely park that has a World War II memorial and some other statues. In the evenings, there are also concerts and various performances that can be enjoyed throughout Tromsø’s winter.
You can find the Tromsø Cathedral at Sjøgata 2 in Tromsø.
Go to the Perspective Museum
One of the most interesting museums in Tromsø is the Perspective Museum that features collections of photographs detailing the diversity of Tromsø past and present. The museum exhibits constantly change and feature different aspects of the cultural diversity of this amazing city.
There are also exhibits featuring photographs celebrating diversity’s impact on other regions of the world, such as the former USSR. Through their work, they hope to encourage social awareness and tolerance amongst people of different backgrounds.
The museum is free to visit and truly a great place to spend a few hours learning about the region and people from a completely different angle. Since the exhibitions are often changing, I recommend checking their website to see what will be on display while you are visiting.
You can find the Perspective Museum at Storgata 95 in Tromsø.
Peruse the Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden
The Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden is the northernmost botanical garden in the world and it includes an eclectic range of plants, shrubberies, and rockeries. During the winter months, the flowers disappear from the gardens with the last flowering plants dying when the first snow comes in October.
However, the evergreen shrubs and rock formation remain visible. When the snow lay thicks, even the shrubs and rocks start to disappear and getting around the gardens can be incredibly difficult without some skis. The free-to-enter gardens also provide a lovely view of the surrounding area.
You can find the Tromsø Botanical Garden at Stakkevollvegen 200 in Tromsø.
Ride Fjellheisen for a Killer View
Fjellheisen is a cable car that takes you around 420m above Tromsø to Storsteinen Mountain ledge. From the top of Fjellheisen, you will experience mindblowing views over Tromso and the surrounding fjords.
In Tromsø in winter, the viewpoint makes for an epic spot to try and observe the Northern Lights dancing above the city. At the top of the cable car is a fantastic restaurant where you can enjoy a traditional, local meal while you wait for the lights to come out to play.
If you are visiting during the day time, the restaurant also offers more of a cafe-style menu with light lunches and snacks available. The cable car takes around 4 minutes to reach the top of the hill and each of the two carts (adorably named Seal and Polar Bear) holds around 28 people. It is important to take appropriate clothing up to the top of the cable car as the weather can change within seconds.
You can find Fjellheisen at Sollivegen 12 in Tromsø. Please note, this is across the bridge near the Arctic Cathedral.
Walk around Tromsø Harbor
The harbor in Tromsø is nothing but picturesque, with small fishing boats bobbing in the frigid Arctic Sea to a backdrop of traditional, red Scandinavian-style wooden houses. Take the time to wander around the harbor, taking in its quaint beauty and see the snowy mountains that provide a dramatic backdrop.
Around the harbor, you will find plenty of little cafes and restaurants to stop into and warm-up and appreciate the views of the Tromsø harbor in a relaxing and cozy setting. For those traveling to and from Tromsø by the Hurtigruten, the harbor will be your arrival and departure point with a purpose-built ferry terminal servicing the city.
Many of the sea-based tours will also depart from the harbor, so it’s worth making sure you are familiar with the harbor and the various parts of it to make finding your tours easier, especially during polar nights when the light is low and things can be slightly disorientating.
Visit the Skansen House
Skansen House is the oldest house in Tromsø and it dates back to around 1789. Located close to the Polar Museum, the house started off as a customs building, servicing the Arctic trading routes. Although there have been buildings in the area for longer than the Skansen House, they have been torn down and rebuilt over the centuries, whereas the old custom’s post has remained intact.
Around the house, other smaller buildings have been reconstructed in a similar style to enhance the feeling of history, along with some canons and foundations of the 13th-century building. Even though it’s not possible to go into the building, the area is free to explore and a pleasant way to spend an hour and see a little of the history of this wonderful town.
You can visit the Skansen House at Søndre Tollbodgate 8 in Tromsø.
Tromsø Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars
Delicious sushi in Europe is often difficult to find but Rå Sushi, thankfully, is one of the better sushi restaurants I have been to in Europe. The menu is fairly extensive serving a range of different types of sushi, from really fresh sashimi to delectable sushi rolls.
The interior of the restaurant is charming and cozy offering views over Tromsø’s darling harbor. I recommend ordering a set platter of sushi so that you can try the various types of sushi. Alternatively, you can order individual items off of the menu.
You can find Rå Sushi at Stortorget 1 in Tromsø.
Burger restaurants have become commonplace over the world. Normally, I tend to avoid them as I am pretty picky about burgers and not the world’s biggest fan, however, something about Burgr drew me in. I headed there on a cold and wintery day and the cozy setting really appealed to me.
The interior of the restaurant is decked out with retro video game decor, providing a cool and funky vibe and this theme carries throughout the menu with all the burgers referencing classic Nintendo games. The burgers themselves are tasty and not over sauced (nothing worse than too much sauce on a burger in my honest opinion).
Another great draw of the restaurant is the price point with Burgr being a very budget-friendly place compared to other spots in Tromsø. I highly recommend the Doom burger paired with one of their tasty craft beers. The Doom burger has a habanero mayo that will definitely warm up from the inside after a day exploring the Arctic.
You can find Burgr at Skippergata 6A in Tromsø.
Scandinavian cafe culture is a thing to be admired. From world-class coffee paired with delicious cakes and a whole world of open-faced sandwiches, there is something that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Smørtorget Cafe, formerly Smorkringla Cafe, is a great little spot to escape the cold for a bit while exploring the city. The cafe is known for serving some of the best cakes and lunches in the city, and all for a very reasonable price.
After you have eaten a slice of cake and had a coffee to warm up, check out the attached little store selling small second-hand trinkets for the chance to find something unique and special to take home with you. If you’re popping into the cafe for lunch, I highly recommend trying the homemade soup.
You can find Smørtorget at Fredrik Langes gate 9 in Tromsø.
Kafe Globus is a vibrant and popular cafe in the city center. Serving an array of day time eats, it’s the perfect spot for lunch if you are looking for something other than the standard Norwegian fare most cafes offer up.
Along with awesome coffee, Globus sells a range of internationally-inspired platters, such a fantastic Middle Eastern platter or a spicy Indian-inspired one. Alternatively, you can try a range of the items included in the platters in tapas form and create your own around-the-world culinary experience.
For those just looking for a quick coffee to warm up from the cold, then the coffee served at Globus is really superb and they will try to accommodate any needs, such as creating drinks that may not be on the menu.
For vegans and vegetarians, Globus has a range of suitable options, including various plant-based milks for coffee.
You can find Kafe Globus at Storgata 30 in Tromsø.
Verthuset Skarven (Biffhuset)
Verthuset Skarven is a small complex consisting of four different parts, Skarven Pub, Skarven Bar, Biffhuset, and Arctandria. The two places have well-stocked bars with a great range of local beers to try.
However, the Biffhuset is the highlight of the complex with an extensive menu of grilled meats. The restaurant mainly focuses on traditional Norwegian dishes, utilizing the food available in the Arctic. It is a great opportunity to try local dishes, including reindeer or other local specialties.
For those are not too keen on meat, Arctandria is a fantastic fish restaurant highlighting the fruits of the high Arctic sea. The aesthetics of the restaurant oozes Scandinavian charm with the largely wooden interior making you feel right at home as you enjoy your meal at one of the restaurants, or simply a casual beer at the bar.
You can find Verthuset (Biffhuset) Skarven at Strandtorget 1 in Tromsø.
Magic Ice Bar Tromsø
Ice bars have become popular around the world, however, I think Magic Ice Bar in Tromsø is one of the best I have ever been to. This fantastic bar is a great place to head to for something out of the ordinary on your trip.
As you enter the bar, you will be provided with warm clothing and gloves to help you survive the sub-zero temperatures (trust me these are needed). Within the bar, you will find out that everything is made of ice with impressive works of art and statues made from ice contained within the bar.
The artistic elements are enhanced by the use of LED lights to make them really pop and add a new dimension. The bar is fully stocked and the drinks are relatively reasonably priced for Norway. The gloves are very useful when it comes to drinking since the glasses are all made from ice. There is a set fee to enter the bar that also includes a welcome drink. All drinks after that will need to be paid for.
You can find the Magic Ice Bar at Kaigata 4 in Tromsø.
Tromsø Day Tours and Excursions
Take a Whale Watching Tour
Winter is the perfect time to go whale watching in Tromsø and the Arctic. The warmer waters attract the herring to leave the Bering Strait and head south where the whales follow them, feasting on the huge shoals of fish as they go.
You will predominantly encounter two types of whales on the tour- the giant humpback whales and pods of majestic killer whales, or orcas. The boat will normally take you a few hours outside of Tromsø to where the whales have been recently feasting in winter.
Another thing that is important is that you should look for a sustainable tour that has the whales’ best interest in their hearts.
For an amazing day tour, I recommend taking an 11 hour research tour, where you can help scientists track and study these beautiful creatures. You will experience seeing the whales in person, hearing their awesome ‘songs’, and assist the scientists with the underwater footage.
If you are lucky, you may even get to encounter the northern lights high above the boat.
GOOD TO KNOW: I have created a guide that details how to find ETHICAL whale watching tours in Tromsø as well as what to expect, how to dress for a whale safari, and more.
Hunt Down the Northern Lights
One of the biggest allures to visiting the Arctic in winter is the opportunity to witness the magic of the northern lights.
The northern lights tend to come out between October and April, with the depths of a Tromsø winter being the prime time to see them since the nights are much longer.
During strong displays, it is possible to see the lights hang above Tromsø, although, it is not possible to just rely on such displays as times when the solar activity is weak the lights will be lost in the light pollution admitted from the city.
I fully recommend booking a Northern Lights tour in order to increase your chances of seeing the lights in their full glory, I advise taking a tour that will take you deep into the Arctic to find these mystical lights. The 7-hour Northern Lights tour from Tromsø is the perfect way to see these lights. You will head out into the countryside crossing the borders between Norway, Sweden, and Finland in an effort to track down the Aurora Borealis.
GOOD TO KNOW: I have created a guide to how to book the best Tromsø northern lights tour and it details the top-rated tours as well as what to expect, how to dress, and more!
Check out the Tromsø Ice Domes
Spend a day at the impressive Ice Domes, one of the most magical winter experiences in Tromso. Located outside of the city in the middle of the Arctic wilderness, the Ice Domes are built as the winter sets in each and every year.
The complex includes works of art made entirely of ice, a bar, hotel, restaurant, and cinema- each of which carries its own theme that changes annually. If you are looking to just visit the Ice Domes for a day, the best way to go is with a guided tour.
Leaving Tromsø, you will head out to the domes where you will tour the various parts of the complex and enjoy a complimentary nonalcoholic drink at the ice bar and a film at the ice cinema. For an additional charge, you can also enjoy a delicious meal at the ice restaurant.
Alternatively, if you are looking for the full experience, you can book an overnight stay at the ice hotel. The overnight stay includes a full program of activities from snowshoeing under the northern lights to dog-sledding and enjoying dinner in the wilderness.
Before heading to bed, make sure you check out the awesome ice bar for a nightcap. You will be provided with all you need for an overnight stay, including warm clothes so that you can survive the sub-zero temperatures overnight.
Learn About Sami Culture at a Reindeer Ranch
Reindeer have long had an important role in Sami culture and still do to this day. Take time to visit a reindeer ranch and learn all about the rearing of these beautiful animals and the Sami culture.
There are plenty of tours advertised online and many that include reindeer sledding, but I have to say I find reindeer sledding completely unethical. I witnessed it when I was in Tromsø the first time and I have never felt so awkward or wrong in my life and really believe the animals did not enjoy pulling a sled for human entertainment.
However, it is possible to visit a ranch without having to go reindeer sledding. You will spend the day feeding the reindeer and learning all about their role throughout history and how they are cared for, followed by being taught all about Sami culture while eating a traditional stew cooked over an open fire.
GOOD TO KNOW: We have put together a guide of the best Sami experiences in Tromsø. We sought out ethical ones and our guide also details how to ensure you dress for the evening and what to expect.
Go on a Tromsø City Tour
If you are looking to gain more in-depth knowledge about Tromsø, then I recommend taking a private walking tour of the city. On the tour of Tromsø during winter, you will learn all about the long history of the city and its role as the gateway to the Arctic.
Other than the core history of Tromsø, the tour is completely customizable and you can focus on things that matter to you, be it nightlife or museum. The local guide will be able to show you everything you need to see.
Tours can be booked for 2-6 hour blocks and you will need to cover any additional costs if you are looking to go further afield. It is important to wear practical clothing as the weather can change very quickly.
Go on a Husky Safari in the Arctic
One of the highlights of my winter excursion to the Arctic was husky sledding. Originally, I thought I would have issues with husky sledding and the treatment of the dogs, however, unlike the reindeer sledding, I could really see that the dogs actually enjoyed the activity and were excited to be racing around the course.
There are several options for types of dog sledding tours available around Tromso with the most popular being guided or self-guided tours. Personally, I did a self-guided tour, where, in a team of two, we were in charge of the sled ourselves.
This was a really immersive experience, and at the end of the tour, you really felt like you had achieved something. Prior to the sledding, you are given a brief lesson to learn how to control the sled and what both members of the team must do in order to help the pups out along the way.
After the tour, you will get to warm up in a Sami Lavvu with cake and hot drinks.
GOOD TO KNOW: We have shared all of our Tromsø dog sledding tips in our guide that focuses solely on the experience. Check it out for tips on what to expect and what to wear if you go on a husky safari.
Take a Polar Fjord Cruise
The fjords of Norway are stunning. Up and down the coast, these former glacial valleys have formed dramatic waterways. Take a cruise through the polar fjords around the Tromsø region and marvel at the incredible scenery and try and spot the wildlife of the Arctic.
During the winter in Tromsø, it is possible to see sea eagles hunting for herring, reindeer on the coastline, and various species of whale and seals. As you sail along, you will be taught all about the history of the region from a geographical aspect as well as the human side.
The tour includes hot and cold beverages, as well as a light lunch that consists of a dish made of fish from the Arctic.
Get Adventurous on a Snowmobile Safari
Explore the Arctic wilderness while enjoying the thrill of riding a snowmobile. After a short training session, you will head out into the countryside, cruising through the Lyngen Alps and along gorgeous fjords.
The journey will cover various terrains from tundra-like landscapes to Arctic forests, giving you an all-round experience.
While out on the expedition you will enjoy a special lunch prepared on the go. Driving back to base, you will enjoy panoramic views over the mountains that will not fail to take your breath away.
To take part, you will need to be in a relatively good physical condition and hold a full driver’s license.
Go Snowshoe Hiking in Tromsø
One of the best ways to explore the beautiful Arctic scenery is to head out into the wilds with a pair of snowshoes and a trusty guide.
The guided snowshoe hike is one of the best tours available in Tromsø for snowshoeing. You will start your tour by being picked up in a Tesla, which thankfully means the groups will be kept small and intimate, and then you’ll be taken to pick up your snowshoes.
The guide will drive you along the scenic fjords to the perfect snowshoeing spot where you will then head out on a snowshoeing expedition. On the expedition, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the Arctic and look out for the wildlife that inhabits these lands.
As you hike above the majestic fjords, keep an eye out for marine mammals with seals and whales often playing and hunting in the fjords. You will need to wear warm clothes, such as ski clothing and gear. Since this activity is relatively strenuous, you should be of a certain level of fitness in order to be able to complete the hike.
What to Do in Tromsø in Winter Map
Do You Need Insurance for Norway?
We recommend booking travel insurance for Norway. We suggest booking your policy through SafetyWing, an insurance company that is from Norway but pretty exceptional around the globe. They offer competitive rates, comprehensive policies, and wonderful customer service.
Where to Stay in Tromsø
If you’re looking at finding the best Tromsø hotels for your budget, we have three recommendations covering luxury, mid-range, and budget options. You can read our accommodation guide linked above for additional recommendations and details, but here is a quick glimpse into our top picks for hotels in Tromsø:
We hope that you find many things to do in Tromsø in winter that suit your needs and desires from this magical city of the north. If you have any additional questions or suggestions, please leave us a comment or send us an email!
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