Tromsø is touted as the Northern Lights capital of Norway, but as we’re always reminding people, there’s never any guarantee that you’ll see the Northern Lights. It’s a good thing, then, that it’s not just the Northern Lights that make Tromsø an excellent choice for a winter getaway. Between stunning fjords and the gorgeous Lyngen Alps, Arctic Norway is far from a barren polar tundra. And when it’s just too cold outside to bear it any longer, Tromsø is host to a bevy of the world’s northernmost things from the northernmost film festival to the northernmost aquarium. So pack some mittens and prepare for tons of fun in the Polar Night with these 5 things to do in Tromsø in winter.
1. Dog Sledding
There’s not much like bouncing in a sled with only the sound of puppy paws pitter-pattering on the snow. No matter how many times we’ve been dog sledding (nearly a dozen now), we’re always amazed at how much sled dogs enjoy running. It’s what they’re born to do and there’s hardly a better way to experience the Arctic wilderness.
Though snowmobiles offer some comforts like heated handle bars, the noise scares the wildlife off. Dog sledding just makes you feel more like one with nature. It’s not uncommon to spot reindeer, and if you’re really lucky, to see elk. Regardless of what wildlife you encounter, the Lyngenfjord is a breathtaking place to take in from a dog sled.
2. Reindeer Sledding with the Sami
Norway’s reindeer are all wild and roam freely, but they are also all owned by Sami people much like Jordan and Israel’s camels are all owned by Bedouins. Reindeer herding and moving about the Arctic was once the Sami’s only way of life, but these days they have permanent homes and share their story with lucky travelers.
Just outside Tromsø, you can experience the Sami culture on their rural farms. Seated upon warm reindeer furs in a sleigh, the reindeer pull you silently through the snow and, if you’re blessed with a cloudless night, with the Northern Lights dancing above.
After the sleigh ride, the Sami graciously invite you in to their lavvu. It’s a traditional Sami tent shaped similar to a Native American tipi and covered with reindeer skins. You’ll share a delicious meal of reindeer stew around the campfire as they explain what life is like as a Sami and sing traditional folk songs. Just never ask a Sami how many reindeer they own; it’s like asking someone how much money they make.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even spend the night in a Sami lavvu. Away from Tromsø’s city lights is the best chance to see the Northern Lights.
3. Chasing the Northern Lights
Northern Lights dancing above Tromsø is a pretty regular occurrence, since the city is situated almost perfectly in the center of the Northern Lights oval. And when that green curtain shimmers across the sky, it’s nothing short of spectacular.
If you’ve never seen them before, going on a guided Northern Lights tour from Tromsø definitely isn’t a bad thing. The Northern Lights can appear in a range of colors from white-gray to vibrant greens, reds and purples. When they have lower activity, the Northern Lights can even appear like a wispy cloud to the naked eye.
The key to seeing the Northern Lights is to get outside of the city and away from the light pollution. Northern Lights tour guides know the best spots and can easily spot what you might not. The Arctic even experiences little micro-climates; guides and locals know where to go for clear skies and sightings.
You can connect with locals, as we did before our trip, who can give you excellent Norway local tips like the best spots to chase the Northern Lights and where to find the most picturesque backdrops. Some locals even offer private tours and professional photography instruction to help you capture gorgeous photos you’ll definitely want to show off.
The Polaria is the world’s northernmost aquarium, though we’d more appropriately call it an Arctic experience center. The Polaria does have an aquarium and you’ll want to be there to see the daily 3:30pm bearded seal feeding, where researchers are on hand to answer questions while the playful seals gobble up all the fish that they can.
It also has a panoramic cinema, which shows a short film that explains the phenomenon of the Northern Lights (that you’ll hopefully witness in person on your trip). The museum addresses tough topics like how ice is melting in the Arctic, as well as the wildlife that calls our Polar regions home. It’s an experience not to miss for both kids and adults alike.
Polaria is open May – August from 10am – 7pm and September – May from 10am – 6pm. Seal feedings are at 12:30pm and 3:30pm in winter and at 12:30pm and 3pm in summer.
5. Visit the Northernmost Brewery in the World
We’re all about visiting the northernmost things in the world, like the northernmost wine cellar in Svalbard and the northernmost McDonald’s in Rovaniemi, Finland. So we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tour Mack Brewery, the world’s northernmost brewery.
A towering polar bear greets you in the pub, Ølhallen, which is the oldest pub in Tromsø and has 67 beers on tap. You can just hang out with the locals drinking beers (and this is definitely where they hang) or you can also join a guided tour of the brewery and bottling plant. Mack brews 18 different beers and is also the northernmost Coca-Cola bottling factory in the world. We think the 60 minute guided tour is worth it, especially for the generous tastings along the way and the souvenir personalized bottles of Mack beer you get to take home.
Guided tours of the Mack Brewery are available Monday – Saturday on request. Tours last 60 minutes are are 450 NOK per person. Email [email protected] to book.
Know Before You Go
The Flybussen Airport Express bus takes 15 minutes from the airport to the city center.
The Scandic also has an award winning breakfast buffet fit for Olympic athletes. Literally. It was designed in collaboration with the Norwegian Olympic Team and features foods to give you energy for a day out in the Arctic. I especially liked the yogurt bar where I could select a yogurt flavor and various granola and toppings to make a custom yogurt parfait. Every kind of fish fresh out of the Arctic waters was available including no less than five different kinds of caviar.
And if the views and the award winning breakfast weren’t enough to win us over, we returned to the hotel the day of my birthday to find a huge fruit basket and birthday card from the hotel.