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Tromsø Whale Watching: Best Tours & Tips from a Local

    Want to know more about Tromsø Whale Watching? You are in the right place! Whale Watching in Tromsø is one of the most popular winter activities for travelers in Northern Norway, this is due to the fact that the fjords around the town are one of the best places in the world to watch whales! In winter this is home to one of the largest cetacean colonies in the Arctic, attracted by the abundance of herring and calm waters.

    If you travel to Tromsø between November and February you shouldn’t miss one of the rare and best chances to see these huge mammals in their natural habitat. Whale Watching Tours leave Tromsø daily for the best spots where to spot cetaceans: this activity is now regulated in Norway and is conducted according to the strictest ethical and safety standards, so only a few specialized operators are able to offer it. In this guide you will find all the advice you need on the best tours and the best places for whale watching in Tromsø.

    What you will find in this Tromsø Whale Watching guide:

    Quick Tip: TOP 5 Best Whale Watching Tours in Tromsø

    Are you looking for the best whale watching tour in Tromsø? This curated selection will be for you: you will find only guaranteed ethical tours, which meet the highest standards of safety and sustainability, approved by the strictest Norwegian regulations.

    OVERALL: Whale Watching to Skjervoy Island from Tromsø

    This in my opinion is by far one of the best whales watching tours in Tromsø, as it offers great value for money, an unforgettable experience.

    Other great tours:

    Tromsø Whale Watching Tour by Hybrid-Electric Catamaran

    Whale and Sea Bird Boat Cruise from Tromsø

    Overnight Lavvo Stay with Fjords, Whales & Aurora from Tromsø

    Tromsø is one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching and this is one of the most popular activities in town. Therefore, especially in high season, it is advisable to book well in advance. But if you’re lucky enough, you might find a last-minute seat! Just check the availability of your whale watching tour!

    How to go whale watching in Tromsø?

    Tromsø is one of the most popular destinations for whale watching: hundreds of whales come in winter to the fjords north of the town, attracted by the abundance of herring. The fjords around Tromsø are the natural habitat of several species of whales and orcas: here there is abundant food and pristine and fairly calm waters.

    However, don’t expect to be able to spot whales in the fjord in front of the town. To spot whales you’ll need to go out to sea, explore the fjords north of Tromsø and especially the remote areas to the northeast. Here are some large, scenic and off the beaten path fjords that are one of the best areas in the world for whale watching.

    To spot whales in Tromsø there are special whale watching tours that depart from the city center. Specially equipped boats take travelers and enthusiasts to the best whale watching areas. These are a few hours away from Tromsø, so whale watching tours take a full day.

    In this guide you will find everything you should know about whale watching in Tromsø, including the best tours (complete with a review from our own experience), useful information and advice on the best places for whale watching and how to dress and how to plan at the best this amazing activity.

    Whale Watching Tours in Tromsø: Reviews & Tips

    Whale Watching to Skjervoy Island from Tromsø

    The best and most beautiful area for whale watching from Tromsø is around Skjervoy, a remote island located about 250 km northeast of Tromsø. The pristine waters of the Arctic Ocean around Skjervoy are home to one of the largest whale populations in the world. In some seasons and especially in winter, whales are attracted here by the abundance of herring, their favorite food.

    Skjervoy offers one of the best scenery for whale watching, plus you can admire the fabulous arctic landscapes of the Kvaenangen Fjord, one of the most beautiful in Northern Norway. Here you’ll see snow-capped mountains plunging into the sea and huge glaciers that cover the remote islands in the background, dotted with just a couple of tiny villages that can only be reached by boat.

    The enchanting fjord around Skjervoy is the perfect place to spot orcas and humpback whales. The whale watching tours from Tromsø last approximately 12 hours. Tours depart from Tromsø to Skjervoy by private bus, with a certified driver and a professional English-speaking guide. Along the way you will discover many interesting things about whales and local culture, plus you can see stunning landscapes such as the Lyngen Alps and the famous Lyngenfjord.

    You’ll enjoy the scenic landscapes of the northern fjords, including a couple of ferry rides (required to cross some fjords). Furthermore, the last stretch of the road to Skjervoy is truly breathtaking: this is one of the most remote and desolate fjords, and only recently the island can be reached by road. You will pass through an underwater tunnel and a scenic bridge. Once in Skjervoy you will be able to enjoy the view of this picturesque fishing village.

    From Skjervoy you will set sail on a rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) that will take you to areas where whale watching will be possible. They will give you a special warm flotation suit to wear before getting into the RIB. Whale watching tours in Skjervoy are conducted only with small boats and in small groups, maximum 10-12 people.

    The whale watching excursion by boat will last at least 2.5 hours, during which you will visit some of the best spots to see whales and many other fish, sea birds and other local wildlife. The small boats and the small number of people is perfect not to scare the whales and to enjoy this tour in an ethical and sustainable way.

    The tour includes round-trip transportation, rigid inflatable boat (RIB) excursion, licensed and experienced drivers and sailors, professional English-speaking guide and even a snack.

    Tromsø Whale Watching Tour by Hybrid-Electric Catamaran

    This is one of the most popular whale watching tours in Tromsø and the reason is simple: it is one of the best! Led by an experienced local operator specialized in whale watching tours, this is one of the best experiences you can have around Tromsø.

    This whale watching tour from Tromsø will allow you to explore the wonderful arctic landscape north of Tromsø, a maze of icy fjords surrounded by stunning landscapes. You will set sail on a hybrid electric catamaran: a large and modern boat that will allow you to live this unforgettable experience in an ethical and sustainable way!

    The boat is perfectly silent, is respectful of the delicate Arctic environment and does not scare whales, sea birds and other wildlife. You will depart Tromsø in the morning and experienced captains will take you to the areas where whale watching is most likely. Typically, you will enjoy at least 3 hours of quiet and leisurely cruise during which you will have breathtaking views of the surrounding frozen landscapes.

    Once you’ve spotted the whales, you’ll be able to spend at least 1 or 1.5 hours spotting them, photographing them and enjoying the unforgettable sight of these wonderful marine mammals! You will be able to see orcas and humpback whales, as well as dozens of other marine animals in their natural habitat.

    This whale watching tour from Tromsø lasts from 7 to 9 hours depending on the whales’ location. The ship is large enough, very modern, comfortable and has several panoramic covered decks as well as a bar. This tour is easy and suitable for everyone.

    Whale and Sea Bird Boat Cruise from Tromsø

    One of the most popular whale watching tours from Tromsø is the beautiful cruise of the fjords and islands north of the city. Catamarans navigate the waters of the Arctic Ocean in the direction of Skjervøy, sailing around the shores of Whale Island, famous for whale watching and seabirds.

    This boat tour, lasting about 8 hours, is suitable for everyone and takes place with large and comfortable boats. It’s a cruise along the calm waters of the scenic fjords north of Tromsø, one of the best places in the world to spot Arctic wildlife.

    This peaceful cruise will allow you to take lots of great photos of seabirds, sea eagles, gulls, guillimots, cormorants and eider ducks, as well as humpback and killer whales, of course. On the way you can enjoy good complimentary soups, snacks and hot drinks. In addition, you will be provided with warm clothing, so that you can enjoy your unforgettable arctic experience in total comfort and safety.

    Overnight Lavvo Stay with Fjords, Whales & Aurora from Tromsø

    This is what is called a once in a lifetime experience! Four must-have experiences in Tromsø combined in one tour:

    • the RIB boat whale watching tour in Skjervoy;
    • breathtaking views of the northern fjords;
    • overnight stay in a Lavvo – the traditional tent of the Sami, the native people of Lapland – in the scenic setting of the Lyngen Alps;
    • You will be in the ideal setting to try to spot the Northern Lights with the help of a guide and a professional photographer!

    You will depart from Tromsø for Skjervoy, from here you will set sail with the RIB boat for the whale watching experience in the surrounding scenic fjords. In the afternoon you will go to the Lyngen Alps, where you will stay overnight in a comfortable modern wooden lavvu, with a transparent glass roof, perfect for enjoying the breathtaking Arctic sky and its unforgettable Northern Lights.

    This is the best activity for couples, as you will enjoy a fabulous evening, see the Northern Lights (if you are lucky enough) in one of the best areas to spot them, stay overnight in a magical setting. Plus, you can enjoy a delicious and hearty traditional dinner (included) and a fabulous breakfast in the morning.

    This experience is carried out only in the period in which it is possible to see the whales, which is usually from November to January. Book well in advance!

    Best Seasons for Whale Watching in Tromsø

    Unfortunately, whale watching in Tromsø is only possible in a few months of the year. This is because the whales are constantly moving and after winter they go to the warmer waters further south, where they will find abundant plankton and other fish they eat. Others will move to Svalbard, Russia or the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, in the southernmost regions, such as the Lofoten Islands or the Vesterålen Islands, whales can also be seen in summer, as well as in Svalbard and other arctic regions, such as Iceland or Greenland.

    In Tromsø and the surrounding region, whale watching is usually possible between November and the end of January. So the whale watching season is quite short, so it’s important to book your tours well in advance, as the operators only manage a few groups per day and the tours are in high demand, especially in December and around Christmas.

    The whale watching season in Tromsø begins in late October, when whales congregate in the waters north of Tromsø and in the quiet fjords to the northeast. The period in which the whales arrive can vary depending on the temperature of the water and the presence of large shoals of herring that attract them. Herring, like whales, are constantly moving, which makes whale watching an exciting adventure, requiring some specific skills from the sailors.

    Tours generally start in November, when the likelihood of whale spotting is high enough. November is indeed a great month for whale watching in Tromsø. In this period the sea is quite calm, the temperatures are not too cold yet, and there is still enough light to enjoy the boat ride to the fullest.

    December is the most popular time for whale watching in Tromsø, as this month has the highest number of whales in the fjords of Northern Norway. In this period you will only have the light of the so-called civil twilight, which is the typical light of dawn. In fact, in December there are polar nights: the sun never rises above the horizon. But trust me, it’s not as dark as one might think. There is enough light to see the landscape, the whales, to enjoy the boat ride and take amazing photos. The day is shorter and after midday it gets dark early, this means that by the afternoon you will be able to see the Northern Lights!

    January is also a great month for whale watching in Tromsø and is very similar to December in light and atmosphere. However, the last few days of January – depending on the season – will have a slightly lower chance of success, which means you may not see whales. Guides often offer a second try the next day for free, so plan your whale watching in Tromsø in the first few days of your stay.

    However, this is not a rule, often whale sightings are also excellent in February and March, but local operators prefer to play it safe and offer satisfying experiences for travelers. This is because all whale watching tours in Tromsø usually cease by mid-February. Still, I would recommend going there by the end of January to be on the safe side.

    Best Places for Whale Watching in Tromsø

    Tromsø was once a major whale watching destination. Suffice it to say that the island located in front of the city, Kvaløya, is nicknamed “Whale Island“. However, whales are no longer visible all year round, as they move around following the herring, plankton and other small fish they feed on.

    Climate change, fishing and the many ships in the fjord have pushed the whales to more remote and quiet fjords and to the colder and harsh fjords located northeast of Tromsø, especially in the area around Skjervøy. Other very popular areas are located south of Tromsø, around the island of Senja and the Vesterålen islands.

    The area around Skjervøy, as well as the islands and fjords north of Tromsø are easily accessible by day boat trips from Tromsø. There are some specialized whale watching tours from Tromsø which are the ones reviewed in this guide.

    These are tours offered by local specialized operators, who have special boats, including special hybrid catamarans, which being equipped with a silent electric propulsion do not scare cetaceans and other wildlife. These operators have specially trained and experienced crews, as well as licensed professional whale watching guides.

    These tours, designed specifically for whale watching, will allow you to reach areas where there are large groups of whales, which greatly increases the chance of seeing them! The experienced sailors follow the routes of herring and whales, trace their movements, so that you can see them close enough. This takes several hours of navigation, often it takes at least 3 hours to reach the place where the whales are.

    However, Tromsø and the surrounding region remains one of the best areas in the world to see orcas, humpback whales and other different types of whales in their natural habitat. Furthermore, here the probability of seeing them is so high that by booking a tour you will almost be sure of seeing them! Personally, I have even seen porpoises or fin whales several times, which is quite rare! These species are protected by law in Norway which is great! Seeing them in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience!

    Map of the Best Whale Watching Spots in Tromsø and Northern Norway

    Are whale watching tours on a large boat better than those on a RIB boat?

    A small boat is better than a large one when it comes to whale watching. Small boats can get closer to the cetaceans without frightening them. On this the tours in Skjervoy are the best, as they take place in scenic and remote fjords, much quieter and away from mass tourism. The RIB boats are small, as are the whale watching groups, which do not exceed 10-12 people.

    Those who opt for this type of whale watching tour are usually more conscientious, curious and passionate about nature and adventure. Often it is also about photography enthusiasts. The advantage is that these people generally know how to behave, they don’t scream, they don’t speak loudly, they just want to enjoy being close to these wonderful cetaceans.

    The cons are that the RIB whale watching tour boats – unlike those in catamarans or larger boats – are not suitable for children under 140 cm tall, for people over 120 kg in weight and for people with disabilities. This is for safety reasons, as guides put the safety and well-being of travelers first.

    The other tours, which are held in medium or large boats or catamarans, are suitable for everyone, including children. The boats have panoramic covered decks with comfortable seats and sofas, they have toilets, bars and so on. It’s like an easy and comfortable cruise!

    Ethically a small or quieter boat is better than large, noisy ships. So, a good option might be the electric catamaran whale watching tour, as these boats approach the whales silently, not disturbing or scaring them. The whales will continue to feed, swim and jump undisturbed which is best for them and for you as you will be able to see and photograph them at their best.

    Tromsø Whale Watching: What to Know Before You Go

    Whale watching tours from Tromsø are one of the most popular things to do in winter. Whales once stationed right in the fjords around the town. Recently, due to climate change, mass tourism and fisheries, whales have moved to quieter places.

    The whales are constantly moving between the northernmost areas (near the Svalbard Islands) and the southernmost ones (especially around the Lofoten Islands and the Vesterålen Islands). Sometimes some specimens can also be seen much further south, but here we are talking about large populations of whales, hundreds of wonderful humpback whales, killer whales and fin whales! This is what you will see around Tromsø, as it is one of the best areas in the world where whales come in winter, attracted by the abundance of herring and other fish they eat.

    Whales are found mainly in the fjords north and northeast of Tromsø, especially in those – much quieter and less traveled – around the small village of Skjervøy, located on the remote island Skjervøya, 250km northeast of Tromsø. Nestled between islands covered with huge glaciers and mountains, here is also the Kvænangen Fjord, which the Sami once called Návuotna, one of the best places in Norway for whale watching.

    Harbor porpoises, dolphins, humpback whales, minke whales, sperm whales and beluga whales are common in these waters. Here there have also been rare observations of North Atlantic right whale, which is a critically endangered species and which is now considered functionally extinct.

    Recently, whale watching tours from Tromsø have become very popular and in high demand. There are several tour operators and agencies that offer this activity, but only a few offer an ethical and high-quality standard experience. Local authorities now strictly regulate this type of activity and special licenses and knowledge from the guides are required.

    To protect the cetaceans from mass tourism, only a small number of boats are allowed in the fjord. Driver pilots are required to abide by a set of strict rules: whales can only be approached in a certain way and from a certain direction. There is a maximum speed to be observed in whale watching areas and the boat should not come closer than 50 meters from the whale.

    The best specialized tour operators strictly respect these rules, safeguarding the environment, the whales and the possibility of continuing to enjoy them in the future. The ones recommended in this guide are all tours offered exclusively by serious, ethical, reputable and licensed specialized operators. We do not compromise on this!

    Tours nowadays last much longer than a few years ago, this is because whales are often far from Tromsø. It can take at least 3 hours to get to an area suitable for whale watching and as many hours to return to Tromsø. Net, you will spend around 1- or 1.5-hours spotting whales, the rest is navigating the calm and astonishing landscapes of the fjords.

    So, give at least a full day to your whale watching tours from Tromsø. Better if planned in the first few days of your stay, so that you have enough days in case the tour is rescheduled. When traveling in the arctic regions, nature commands. The weather conditions are very unpredictable, as is the will of the whales. In case of extremely bad weather, the whale watching tours are rescheduled. It is not common, but it happens. So, it’s best to allow for a few extra days, just in case.

    Nowadays spotting whales requires a well-trained crew: marine biologists study the movements of whales and send constantly updated bulletins to the authorities and also to specialized operators. The ships are specially equipped for whale watching tours, the boat pilots have special tools that allow them to locate the whales, so as to approach them in total safety. Despite this, there is a small chance that you won’t be able to spot whales on a tour – it’s nature!

    The whales in Tromsø are part of the ecosystem, that is their natural habitat. So, they are not a tourist attraction. Of course, we all love to spot them, photograph them, contemplate their magnificent beauty. But we must remember that they are wild animals and that we are lucky to spot them.

    Cetaceans move freely following their own routes, shoals of herring or plankton, water temperature and many other environmental conditions that they consider favorable. And we have to adapt to them. However, the best whale watching tours from Tromsø are fully aware of this and know how to provide you with the best possible experience, in total safety. In case of missed sighting, it is often offered to repeat the tour for free the following day. It is very unlikely that you will not see whales for two consecutive days!

    As the best whale watching tours from Tromsø are in high demand, it is advisable to book them well in advance. We recommend that you book on GetYourGuide, which is the most popular and reliable way to book your excursions and activities in Tromsø. The reason is simple: get the best tours from the best reliable local operators, only licensed and experienced guides, guaranteed and flexible booking (you can cancel for free if you change your mind and get full and immediate refund), full and immediate refund in case of tour cancellation (for example in case of bad weather or adverse sea conditions). Plus, you’ll have great customer support, and you won’t run into any tourist traps or illegal tours.

    FAQs about Tromsø Whale Watching Tours

    How to dress for a Tromsø Whale Watching Tour?

    The best whale watching tours in Tromsø provide travelers with warm, comfortable, activity-specific suits. This is usually enough to enjoy the tour to the fullest, although it can get very, very cold on the outer decks of the boats!

    So, from personal experience I recommend that you dress warmly and comfortably. Prefer mountain clothing and dress in layers, perhaps wearing a comfortable wool sweater. A parka or a windproof jacket is highly recommended, preferably rainproof.

    Better to bring gloves, a scarf and a warm hat. As for shoes, they should be comfortable and preferably waterproof, especially for those who go to the whale watching tour in RIB boat. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

    How to photograph whales on a whale watching tour?

    If you have the choice of lens, opt for a zoom. Professional photographers recommend a focal length of at least 300-400mm, in order to get very detailed and close-up photos of the whales. Prefer bright lenses, with a large aperture (f). Below f/2.8 is better, so you’ll be able to get bright photos even in twilight. With a well-set camera you will take amazing photos, as the twilight in Norway is magical!

    When traveling to Norway it is best to store your photographic equipment in a waterproof bag, as rain, snow and salt water splashes are quite common and could easily damage your delicate gear.

    Is the tour suitable for those with seasickness?

    It depends, I have tried both the RIB boat tour and the big boat tour and I have friends who suffer from seasickness. Personally, I found both tours very easy, but the big boat tour can cause more problems for those who suffer from seasickness. There are stretches of open sea where the ship could sway a little. On the other hand, you’re in the Arctic Ocean – technically the harsh Barents Sea – so don’t expect a cruise in the calm tropical seas!

    The RIB boat can be intimidating to newbies, because it is just a small and fast boat. But when it comes to seasickness it’s much better, because it doesn’t sway like bigger boats! However, if you are seasick, take a motion sickness patch or tablet with you. It will be more than enough!

    Tromsø Whale Watching: Is It Worth It?

    Absolutely yes! A whale watching tour is one of the best things to do when traveling to the arctic regions, and Tromsø is one of the best places! The guides here are knowledgeable, very well trained and friendly, fluent in English and the quality of the experience is great!

    Other Useful Tips for Your Trip

    Are you planning your trip to Tromsø? Here you will find lots of useful information, guides and tips to better plan your trip!