Tromsø, the lively and wonderful “Capital of the Arctic”: a town perched on an island scenically set in the middle of a strait surrounded by steep mountains, islands with dramatic landscapes and the Arctic Ocean. In this guide – written by a local – you will find all the best tips on the best things to do in Tromsø, the best places to visit, the attractions you can’t miss!
If you are planning your trip to Tromsø and Northern Norway, then here you will find everything you need, explained in depth and in an easy way. Tromsø is a beautiful city, with nice museums and excellent restaurants and hotels, but those who visit Tromsø do it for the many activities you can do in the surrounding area!
Visiting Tromsø in winter will allow you to enjoy all those outdoor tours and activities that make it a one-of-a-kind destination: Northern Lights, Whale Watching, Fjord Cruises, Dog Sledding, Reindeer Sledding and much more! In summer, Tromsø and its surroundings are the perfect place for boat trips, road trips, nature walks and to admire the impressive Midnight Sun. Whatever the season, you will find all the advice you need on the best activities and how to choose the best tours from Tromsø.
What you will find in this guide to visiting Tromsø:
- Best Things to Do in Tromsø
- Tromsø Museums, Attractions & Places to Visit
- Best Things to Do in Tromsø in Winter (roughly October to March)
- Best Things to Do in Tromsø in Summer (roughly April to September)
- Day Trips from Tromsø
- How to Get to Tromsø
- Tromsø Sunrise and Sunset Calendar (Month by Month)
- FAQs about visiting Tromsø
Best Things to Do in Tromsø
Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø
The Northern Lights are one of the most beautiful things you could see in your life. Magic lights dancing in the sky, in soft shades of greenish-yellow, purple and blue. When I lived in Tromsø, I loved to go to the woods, to the edge of the fjords or to the huts in the mountains, and spend time contemplating the beauty, the magnificence, the peace of the Northern Lights.
Tromsø is one of the most famous places in the world to see the Northern Lights. From September to April you can chase them every night, especially between 9pm and 2am, which are usually the best hours.
Actually, the area around Tromsø is good for seeing the Northern Lights, but it’s not the best. This is essentially due to two reasons: it is a fairly large town, so the street lights make it more difficult to get a decent view (and photograph) of the Northern Lights, and it is located on the ocean, which often makes its sky cloudy, preventing you from seeing the Northern Lights.
This is why, if you want to see the best Northern Lights, you will need to go to the most remote areas around Tromsø, along the fjords or in the forests, to the inland mountains or to the most remote islands, away from the city lights. The further inland you go, the higher your chances of getting clear skies. Along the coast it is quite common to have cloudy skies, which obstruct the view of the Northern Lights.
In Tromsø there are some specialized operators who offer excellent Northern Lights Tours: these are local guides with a long experience, they are often expert photographers and have a deep knowledge of the territory, the Northern Lights, the Arctic environment and the local culture.
They will allow you to see the best Northern Lights, as they have the most up-to-date and sophisticated information from observatories and meteorologists, as well as a communication network that allows guides to receive information on the areas with the most favorable weather to see the Northern Lights. Not infrequently, tours go beyond the Finnish border to allow you to see them. You may have to travel 300 km before you can spot them, but when you see them, every effort will be well rewarded.
Below you will find a curated selection of the BEST Northern Lights tours in Tromsø, offered by top specialist operators, boasting expert local guides and decades of honorable service. But be warned, this is by far the most popular thing to do in Tromsø, so it is highly advisable to book well in advance!
Northern Lights Tour from Tromsø with an Expert Local Guide
The most popular thing to do in Tromsø is join one of the Northern Lights Tours which every night – roughly from mid-September to early April – allow travelers, photographers and enthusiasts to chase the best and most beautiful Northern Lights.
This is the most classic option: it is a guided tour held in small groups and led by 1-2 experienced licensed guides and an experienced local driver. A minibus will pick you up in Tromsø city center (usually near the harbor) and take you to some scenic spots around Tromsø where the chance to spot the Northern Lights is highest. These change from night to night depending on the weather conditions: guides have experience, skills and tools to identify the best areas.
Sometimes, if the area around Tromsø isn’t good enough to see the Northern Lights, guides will take you to the heart of Finnish Lapland or some remote inland areas. Guides will do their best to allow you to see the best Northern Lights, which you might not otherwise be able to see without their help.
Northern Lights Tours usually last 7-8 hours, depending on the weather conditions and the time needed to reach the most suitable areas for sighting the Northern Lights. The guides will be able to help you take pictures and set up your camera correctly. Usually they too will take some pictures of you with the Northern Lights, which will be sent to you after a few hours!
You will also be able to benefit from special suits and thermal equipment, designed to keep you warm during the activity, and you can borrow one of their professional photo tripods for free to take your photos. You will usually spend a few hours outdoors, around a bonfire, waiting for the Northern Lights. In the meantime, your guides will tell you stories, legends and will be happy to answer all your questions about the Northern Lights and local culture. At the end of the tour they will take you back to Tromsø. This is arguably the safest, most affordable and carefree way to spot the Northern Lights in Tromsø, but it’s also the most popular, so book early!
An excellent alternative, especially if you want to hone your Northern Lights photography skills, is the Northern Lights Tour with Photographer. Other good and cheaper alternatives could be this, this and this.
Tromsø Northern Lights Photo Cruise
If you want a more relaxed experience, then you could opt for a Tromsø Northern Lights Photo Cruise: a night boat ride through the scenic fjords around Tromsø. Depending on the weather report the captain will choose the best route to get clear skies and the highest chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
You will be able to enjoy a relaxed chase of the Northern Lights, enjoying a peaceful cruise (hot drinks, biscuits and thermal winter suits are provided for free) and relaxing under the stars, in the amazing outdoor jacuzzi or in the sauna located on the deck of the ship. And when the captain spots the Northern Lights, he will slow down the boat, slowly drifting along with the current. So that you can fully enjoy the Northern Lights dance, and snap photos.
Dog Sledding Experiences in Tromsø
Dog sledding is one of the most popular activities in Northern Norway – locals love it, and in the area around Tromsø there are several husky farms that offer the chance to meet these adorable dogs and experience the exciting dog sledding experience.
By participating in a Husky Dog Sledding Adventure, expert local guides will pick you up in Tromsø and take you to a nearby husky farm located on the island of Kvaløya. Here you can meet over 130 adorable Alaskan huskies. You will learn a lot about dog sledding and the discipline of dog mushing, which in Norway is a kind of national sport.
The best time for dog sledding in Tromsø is between November and early April, when there is still enough snow. Dog sledding is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Tromsø, so make sure you don’t miss it! No skills are required, so you can participate even if it’s your first time! Furthermore, it is a family-friendly activity, although recommended for kids over 7 years old.
Each sled requires two people: one is the musher, the one who commands the sled and the team of dogs, the other is the passenger. Halfway through the route, we usually switch roles, so that both can experience the thrill of driving a dog sled! However, if you are traveling with the kids, you can choose to ride the dog sled all the way, while the kids can enjoy the experience as a passenger, which is just as beautiful and exciting!
You will be able to pamper dogs and find out about their personality. For dogs, dog sledding is a fun activity, and each dog has its own personality and natural role within the team. After meeting your team, usually made up of 6-8 specially trained dogs, you can set off on your dog sledding adventure through breathtaking snowy valleys.
In approximately 1.5 hours you will reach a Sami camp, where you will be welcomed into a lavvu, the traditional tent of the Sami people, the natives of Lapland. Here you can enjoy a hot drink and a delicious piece of homemade cake. You will spend time with the locals, sitting around the cozy fireplace, and it will be a good opportunity to learn more about the Sami and the peoples of Northern Norway. The tour includes round-trip transport, an English-speaking guide, and all necessary equipment, including warm arctic suits and boots.
For a truly unforgettable experience, you could opt for a Dogsledding Evening at Camp Tamok. Locals love the evening dog sledding. Sure, you won’t be able to enjoy the fabulous daytime landscapes, but you may well spot the Northern Lights if you’re lucky enough. In fact, daytime and evening dogsledding are two very different experiences, and both are very beautiful. If you have the chance, I recommend you try them both!
Tromsø Fjord Cruises
Another must-do in Tromsø is a nice fjord cruise, which will allow you to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the fjords and islands around Tromsø. You will sail in the dramatic scenery of the Arctic Ocean, between landscapes covered with snow and ice and scenic sounds, narrow and islets dotted with tiny fishing villages.
Tromsø Fjord Cruises are held all year round, in winter you can enjoy the magical snowy landscape, while in summer you can enjoy the stunning views of the green islands dominated by steep and peaky mountains, as well as spot a large number of seabirds, such as eagles, puffins and seals!
Tromsø Wildlife Fjord Cruise with Lunch and Drinks
One of the most popular things to do in Tromsø is the Wildlife Fjord Cruise with Lunch and Drinks. You will enjoy a 5-hour cruise on the Arctic Ocean, explore the most beautiful fjords around Tromsø and see some of the main attractions along the coast, such as fishing villages and even a submarine bunker from the Cold War.
This is a relaxed and family-friendly activity. The guides will allow you to discover many interesting things about the geography of Northern Norway and the local wildlife and culture. You can try your hand at fishing (gear provided free) and spotting sea eagles and many other sea birds, as well as killer whales, beluga whales, porpoises, seals and more. You can also relax with a good lunch, based on local seafood.
Tromsø Arctic Fjord Cruise by Hybrid-Electric Catamaran
Another great fjord cruise around Tromsø is the Arctic Fjord Cruise by Hybrid-Electric Catamaran. It is similar to the previous one, but does not include lunch on board and is more suitable for those who want a more ethical and green experience, as the boat tour is mainly designed for the sighting of arctic fauna, sea birds and local culture.
The tour is held with a hybrid-electric catamaran, which allows you to switch to the silent engine in the vicinity of whales or other animals, so as not to scare them. No fishing activities are planned, while you will visit some authentic small fishing villages, some active fisheries and modern fish farms and some ancient island communities on the outside of Kvaløya, the island also known as “Whale Island”. Here you can get in touch with the local culture, and learn more about life in Northern Norway.
Tromsø Arctic Sailing Safari
This will be an experience you will love! The Tromsø Arctic Sailing Safari is the most immersive fjord cruise around Tromsø, lasting around 5 hours and only held in small groups. You will set sail on a sailing catamaran and your licensed professional skipper will take you through some of the most scenic fjords around Tromsø.
Along the way you will be able to see seals, orcas, eagles and other sea birds. You will cross excellent fishing areas, and you will be able to try your hand at Arctic fishing. They will provide you with everything you need, including thermal gear that will keep you warm. You will be able to try to catch some fish, which will be used to make a delicious fish soup. On the way back you will enjoy a good lunch based mainly on the catch of the day, served in the warmth of the catamaran cabin.
Whale watching in Tromsø and Skjervøy
The more remote fjords around Tromsø are one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Between early November and early February, hundreds of cetaceans arrive in the calm waters north and northeast of Tromsø, attracted by the abundance of herring and plankton they feed on.
Until about ten years ago, whales were easily spotted in the vicinity of Tromsø, so much so that the large island just north of the city is called Kvaløya, which means Whale Island. Now, due to climate change and increased maritime traffic around Tromsø, whales have moved to some more remote areas, especially near the small fishing village of Skjervøy, located about 200km northeast of Tromsø.
Excellent whale watching tours by hybrid-electric catamaran depart from Tromsø, lasting around 8-9 hours. These tours are carried out with a specially designed boat: when the boat is close enough to the whales, the captain switches to a super-silent electric engine, so as to allow you to spot whales in an ethical and sustainable way.
The whales will not be disturbed or frightened by the boat, so they will continue to swim and feed, allowing you to see them at their best. The crews are highly experienced and specially trained, have tools to locate whales and know the best areas to go. So the chances of spotting whales on a tour are very high. Make sure you bring your camera!
For an even better experience, you might want to check out the exciting RIB Boat Whale Watching Tour on Skjervøy. Expert guides will take you to the beautiful island of Skjervøy, set in a breathtaking landscape, on one of the most remote fjords in Northern Norway, surrounded by uninhabited islands covered with high mountains and glaciers.
The RIB Boat allows a small group to explore the more remote areas of the fjord, a perfect place for whale watching. The small boat, unlike the large ones used for classic tours, will allow you to get closer to the cetacean colonies, which are not stressed by small boats.
Arctic Experience: Overnight Lavvu Stay with Fjords, Whales & Aurora
If you are visiting Tromsø in the winter, you may want to opt for an Arctic Experience (Overnight Lavvu Stay with Fjords, Whales & Aurora) that combines some of the best things to do around Tromsø in one tour. You will enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the fjords around Tromsø, enjoy the unforgettable RIB Boat tour to Skjervøy to spot whales, porpoises, orcas and humpback whales.
You will explore the magical landscapes of the remote Kvaenangen Fjord, then continue on to the Lyngen Alps, overlooking the fabulous Lyngenfjord. Here you can stay overnight in a private crystal lavvu, a modern reinterpretation of the traditional lavvu, the typical tent of the peoples of Lapland. Your lavvu will be warm, cozy and comfortable, with a transparent glass roof, perfect for seeing the Northern Lights.
Enjoy a delicious dinner of homemade local food, then spend the evening watching the Northern Lights. You will also be able to participate in a short photo workshop on how to take great shots of the Northern Lights. In the morning, a generous breakfast will be waiting for you, and then you will be driven back to Tromsø. This experience is quite in demand and availability is very limited, so book early!
Experience Lapp Culture: Reindeer and Sami Culture
When in Tromsø you shouldn’t miss the chance to learn more about the local culture. You could join an exciting reindeer farm tour, where you can experience the magic of reindeer sledding and meet some Sami people dressed in their traditional clothes.
The Sami are the native people of Lapland. The lands of the far north of Scandinavia are the native territory of these nomadic peoples, who are mostly reindeer herders. Lapland extends over much of Northern Norway, Northern Sweden and Finland. Even though their traditional way of life is threatened by progress and modernity today, the Sami seek to protect their cultural roots and traditions.
I personally lived and worked with some Sami people, nowadays most of them are perfectly integrated into modern society. They live, work and dress like every other Norwegian, so don’t expect to find Sami in traditional costume around Norway, except at tourist attractions. In fact, some nomadic herders still exist, but it won’t be easy to meet them, as they live in the most remote areas of Lapland.
The Sami are very proud of their origins, they boast an exciting history and culture (it is not easy to live in such extreme lands!) and their traditional costumes are truly wonderful: finely decorated in blue, red and white colors. The Sami people use to dress traditionally on special occasions and on traditional holidays. Hence, a traveler should not miss the chance to meet them, to see their wonderful traditional clothing and to learn more about their history and culture.
Visiting a traditional reindeer farm you can meet hundreds of wild reindeer: these animals are much loved and respected, you will be able to see for yourself how cute and affectionate they are. You can even feed them from your hands, an unmissable experience if you are traveling with kids.
Also you can experience a magical reindeer sled ride, but don’t expect a long ride, as it is usually just about ten minutes or half an hour ride. You will meet the Sami and warm up around the fire inside a candle lit gamme (traditional Sami hut). You can also enjoy a traditional Sami stew cooked over the open fire, then join your host in a lavvu (Sami tent) and gather round the fire to listen to stories about Sami culture.
You can opt for a daytime experience, or for an evening one. Personally I prefer the evening one, as the atmosphere of the Sami camp in the evening is truly unforgettable and will be one of the highlights of your trip. And maybe, you will also be able to see the Northern Lights, as the Sami camp is a good place to spot them!
Experience the thrill of a Snowmobile Safari
Locals love snowmobiling! In winter it is very popular and wandering the countryside around Tromsø it will be quite common to see people in snowmobiles. Do as the locals do, experience the thrill of a snowmobile safari among the breathtaking snowy landscapes of Northern Norway!
You could join a snowmobile safari in the beautiful Lyngen Alps, a mountainous area that boasts scenic valleys, steep mountains and stunning fjord views. This is one of the best spots for a snowmobile safari, as there are many miles of trails and opportunities for driving through forests, snow-covered valleys and along fjords and rivers.
Each snowmobile carries 2 people, one as a driver and one as a passenger, and along the route – which takes 2 hours – there is plenty of opportunities to switch places. The experience is also suitable for beginners, is led by licensed expert guides, includes round-trip transport from Tromsø, and you will be provided with everything you need, including warm suits and boots. Plus, you can also enjoy a good lunch or dinner at a camp that will be the end point of your safari.
You can opt for a morning snowmobile safari, or an evening snowmobile safari. They are quite similar, and even if the evening one is a bit more impressive, I prefer the one in the morning, as it allows you to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Lyngen Alps to the fullest.
Stay overnight at Tromsø Ice Domes: Tromsø’s wonderful ice hotel
For an unforgettable holiday and to fully experience the magical atmosphere of the Far North, you could opt for a stay at the wonderful Tromsø Ice Domes. Highly recommended especially for couples, this all-inclusive experience combines a stay in a magical ice hotel with some of the best activities to do in Tromsø.
An English-speaking guide will pick you up in Tromsø and take you near Camp Tamok, after 1.5 hours of driving through the beautiful mountainous landscapes south of Tromsø. The enchanting Tamok Valley is located in the heart of Norwegian Lapland, nestled between scenic mountains and crisscrossed by rushing streams, just a few kilometers from the Swedish and Finnish borders. This is a perfect place to spot the Northern Lights!
The Tromsø Ice Domes is located right next to Camp Tamok, and is an ice hotel that is rebuilt every year, as it melts in the spring. It has a heated area, with all the necessary facilities: bathrooms, showers, restaurant and so on, and a part of ice, with ice domes – double rooms made of ice, where guests will sleep on a real mattress, but at a temperature around -5 °C. They will give you a polar expedition sleeping bag and everything you need to sleep warm and comfortably.
Once there you will join a guided tour of the ice hotel, which boasts hundreds of ice sculptures. You will learn more about how it is built and you can also enjoy a drink in the ice bar. Your experience staying at Tromsø Ice Domes also includes a snowshoe hike (special winter clothing and all necessary gear for the activities are provided), which will allow you to reach some remote areas in the surroundings, where you can admire the Northern Lights sitting around a bonfire.
Also included will be a delicious 3-course dinner, featuring regional cuisine, served in an atmospheric and warm restaurant. In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, you can enjoy a 1.5-hour dog sledding tour through the beautiful snow-covered valleys. It will be a truly unforgettable experience! Finally, enjoy a delicious traditional meal around an open fire in a traditional Sami tent, and relax a little longer before returning to Tromsø.
Staying in one of the few rooms of this ice masterpiece will be the highlight of your once-in-a-lifetime winter adventure. You will only be able to live this experience in winter, as it is only open from the beginning of December to the end of March. But you’ll have to be lucky enough to find availability! In fact, the ice hotel has only a few rooms, meaning you will share this 600 m² ice hotel with only a limited amount of other guests. This makes it the ideal place to celebrate a special occasion with your loved one in a setting of your dreams. But it will be essential to book early!
Otherwise, if you just want to take a look at the famous Tromsø Ice Domes and enjoy the views of the beautiful surrounding natural landscape, you may just want to opt for a day tour to the Tromsø Ice Domes which will allow you to see the iconic ice hotel, enjoy a drink at the ice bar and visit a reindeer farm in the fabulous Tamok Valley. Here you can meet reindeer up close, and relax with hot drinks and a delicious traditional stew before returning to Tromsø.
Tromsø Museums, Attractions & Places to Visit
THE ARCTIC CATHEDRAL
Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral is an impressive modern-style church built in 1965. You can’t miss it, as it is clearly visible from Tromsø harbor, from the promenade that runs alongside Tromsøysundet – the strait on which the island of Tromsøya stands, where Tromsø is situated – and by the hillocks that drape the old town.
With its iconic shape, Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral is one of the first things that catches the eye of those arriving, no matter if from the sea or the land, as it overlooks the strait, but also the main road to the city center. This makes it one of its best known landmarks, it is featured on all postcards and brochures, and is easily recognizable by its Christmas tree shape or, as architecture books say, shaped like an iceberg or lavvu, the traditional tent of the Sami people.
The church is located on the Tromsdalen side, so to get there from the city center you will have to cross the iconic Bruvegen Bridge, the bridge that crosses the strait and connects Tromsø to the mainland. You can walk around it, as there is a comfortable sidewalk separate from the roadway. It is just over a kilometer long and offers a nice view over the strait and the port of Tromsø. In winter it could be windy and uncomfortable, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral – whose name Ishavskatedralen literally means “The Cathedral of the Arctic Sea” – was designed by Jan Inge Hovig, who was one of Norway’s foremost architects, and maintains the classic architectural elements of Norwegian long churches, innovated through the massive use of concrete, glass, steel and aluminum. On the eastern side – that is, the one behind the church – features a huge glass mosaic. The interiors are minimal, and the only notable elements are the organ and the chandeliers.
The church belongs to the Church of Norway and can be visited for a fee (55 NOK). However, you can take a peek through the windows, which is more than enough. Occasionally, the church also hosts temporary exhibitions, while a nice thing to do is attend one of the organ and choir concerts. Notable are the Midnight Concerts and also the Christmas and New Year’s Eve concerts (tickets from 350-400 NOK).
Tromsø Old Town (Free Self-Guided Walking Tour Itinerary)
Spread over a handful of gentle terraced hillocks interspersed with a maze of steep streets, Tromsø’s city center is one of Norway’s prettiest. Its beautiful houses with their façades in light pastel shades, climb the hills, gaining an enviable view of the strait and the high peaks of Tromsdalstinden, the mountain that rises in front of the town.
Its compact city center is easily explored on foot, and you can get from one end to the other in less than half an hour. The real heart of Tromsø is its old town, nestled around the harbor. Here modern architecture coexists with fabulous wooden houses that were once the home of merchants, hunters and fishermen.
These lands, once populated mostly by the Sami – the people of Lapland – were a major Arctic trade center until the early 1900s. Tromsø merchants traded from Russia’s Arctic ports to France, and the surrounding region bordered directly on Russia and Karelia. In the early 1900s, Tromsø was a quiet town with a bustling trading port. From here originated some of the most important Arctic expeditions, and it was common for explorers – such as Umberto Nobile, Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen – to recruit their crews in the city.
Even today, Tromsø is a gateway to the Far North, towards the Svalbard Islands. Traces of its past are evident walking through the old town, which boasts one of the biggest concentration of historic wooden houses in Norway, mostly dating back to the period between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century. You can see them walking along Storgata and Skippergata.
These two parallel boulevards are mitigated by the breeze blowing from the sea, and seem to pulsate with life radiating from the nearby harbor, which spews out waves of tourists twice a day. Just turn onto Kirkegata, the perpendicular boulevard that runs alongside the Tromsø Domkirke, to arrive at the Hurtigruten pier. Even today it is the small port that animates the city: the Hurtigruten coastal express ships calls the port of Tromsø twice a day, one along the northbound route and the other along the southbound one.
Don’t miss its arrival in port! Even today as in the past – when it mainly transported mail and goods – the Hurtigruten ships as they approach the port of Tromsø sound the siren several times to greet the city and warn travelers. Until the mid-1900s, when the regions of Northern Norway were still quite remote and difficult to reach, Hurtigruten ships were the fastest, if not the only, way to travel from port to port and connect the cities of the south with the far north.
This has been reflected in recent history and local culture, making Tromsø closer and more integrated to the rest of Norway, and marking the rhythms of local life. Especially in summer, the city comes alive when ships dock in port: cruises, vessels and fishing boats loaded with travelers and goods.
But Tromsø is not only a bustling crossroads of people traveling to the far north, but also the largest town in the vast surrounding region, which is mostly made up of villages, small towns and remote rural areas. Therefore, especially on weekends, Tromsø is teeming with locals from all over the surrounding region. It is not uncommon for locals to drive over 2-300km to get here from their villages.
In fact, Tromsø is the largest administrative center in Northern Norway, it has the most important airport, but it is also full of good and well-stocked shops of all kinds, trendy restaurants and bars, shopping centers and large supermarkets. So, people come here to shop and have fun!
Storgata is the main street of Tromsø: a straight avenue that from the Tromsø Bridge leads to the modern town south of the old town, near the Polaria aquarium. It is lined with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is really nice to walk here, whatever the season. Along Storgata – or a short walk from it – you will find most of Tromsø’s attractions and most of its historic buildings.
Check out the Verdensteatret, the fabulous cinema recognizable by the “Kinematograf” sign, which was built in 1915 and is Northern Europe’s oldest cinema still in use. Its interiors boast some large wall paintings, made by the local artist Sverre Mack in 1921, which picture scenes from Norwegian folklore and fairy tales. Most foreign films are screened in their original language, mostly in English with Norwegian subtitles.
Tromsø is also famous for its Tromsø International Film Festival, held every year in mid-January: open air events, screenings and movie nights are held scattered in the squares around Storgata, and especially around the Kulturhuset Tromsø – which usually hosts exhibitions, plays and concerts – and at the large and modern Aurora Fokus Cinema, located in the large glass building which also houses the Tromsø Town Hall (Tromsø Rådhus). If you visit Tromsø on festival days, book your hotel well in advance, as they tend to be fully booked and rates soar.
Right in front of the Tromsø Town Hall you will be able to see a small square with the King Haakon statue and a concert pavilion. The old wooden building behind the pavilion is the former town hall, dating from 1864, which now houses a small theater and exhibition space. The main attraction of the square, however, is the Pro-Cathedral of Our Lady (Vår Frue Domkirke i Tromsø), dating from 1861. This beautifully preserved small neo-Gothic style church belongs to the Roman Catholic Church and is the northernmost Catholic cathedral in the world. The adjacent Episcopal House, dating from 1832, also hosted Pope John Paul II during his visit to Tromsø in 1989.
Especially in winter, make a stop at the small kiosk Raketten Bar & Pølse, on the corner of the square and Storgata, which serves reindeer hot dogs, mulled wine, hot chocolate and other good specialties (even some vegetarian options), and it’s a quite atmospheric place, with the best view on the square. The adjacent square is called Stortorget, and is Tromsø’s main meeting point. In the square you can easily recognize the statue of the Arctic Hunter (Fangstmonument).
Tromsø City Library, Grønnegata and Sjøgata
Just behind the Tromsø Town Hall you can see another iconic building of the town: the Tromsø City Library and Archive, a masterpiece of contemporary Norwegian architecture. Its shape is reminiscent of sails inflated by the wind, while the glass walls make it transparent, luminous, creating a sense of continuity between the outside – the city – and the inside, which represents culture and knowledge.
You will not miss it, as with its large and bright windows it dominates the Grønnegata boulevard and the picturesque Cora Sandels Gate street, which leads to the harbor and the lively Sjøgata area. Here is one of the best waterfront promenades, which is the main starting point for tours and activities, as well as some of the best hotels in the town, such as the Scandic Ishavshotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With, the Radisson Blu Hotel Tromsø and the Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora, all with fabulous views.
Troll Museum and Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum
Adjacent to the hotels is the cruise port and the Hurtigruten terminal, as well as some of the best restaurants and bars in the city, some set in beautifully restored historic buildings with a contemporary twist. Just across the harbor are some small museums and galleries, such as the Troll Museum (adult tickets NOK 180, children NOK 100), where you can learn more about the famous Norwegian mythological creatures and traditional Norwegian fairytales. It could be an interesting stop if you are traveling with kids, otherwise just skip it.
Worthy of note is the nearby Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum (tickets from 80 NOK, admission may be free on some occasions), which houses an interesting – albeit small – collection of local modern and contemporary art, as well as some interesting temporary exhibitions. Opposite the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum you can see the statue of the famous polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and right across the street is the famous Magic Ice Bar Tromsø, serving frozen cocktails in ice glasses, in a venue full of ice sculptures.
Tromsø Cathedral (Tromsø Domkirke)
Returning to Storgata you will see the main attraction of the old town, the beautiful Tromsø Cathedral (Tromsø Domkirke), completed in 1861 and not to be confused with the modern Arctic Cathedral. This beautiful yellow, wooden Lutheran cathedral of the Church of Norway was built in a long church format and in the Gothic Revival style by the architect Christian Heinrich Grosch, one of the most prominent Norwegian architects of the 19th century. It is considered the northernmost Protestant cathedral in the world, as well as one of Norway’s biggest wooden churches. If you find it open (go there in the late morning – early afternoon) take a look at its beautiful wooden interiors. Occasionally, atmospheric organ concerts are also held.
Ølhallen – the oldest pub in Tromsø – and the Old Mack Brewery
From the Domkirke continue south on Storgata until you reach the Polaria aquarium. Along the way you will see the Ølhallen, the oldest pub in Tromsø, set in a beautiful historic building from the late 19th century, set in a restored former industrial complex. This is a must for beer enthusiasts, as this was the northernmost brewery in the world until 2012.
Mack Bryggeri (Mack Brewery) was founded in Tromsø in 1877 by Ludwig Markus Mack, and although the factory is now outside Tromsø, a stop at his pub and the nearby Kjeller 5 beer store is one of the nicest and most original things to do in Tromsø if you like beer. Starting from Kjeller 5, where you can find all the products that are available from Mack Brewery, as well as everything you need to try your hand at home brewing, from equipment to ingredients, and various souvenirs, such as personalized beer bottles, you can then go to Ølhallen, which is the real attraction.
Once simply called “The Hall” by locals, Mack’s brewpub Ølhallen opened in 1928 and, in addition to original and atmospheric interiors, boasts one of the largest tap selection in Europe serving Norwegian quality beer from 72 taps! The beers (and alcohol in general in Norway) aren’t cheap, but it’s worth going there just to see it, as well as for some great pints! If you visit Tromsø over Christmas go for their Christmas Beer, which is hugely popular with the locals! Macks Ølbryggeri also organizes guided tours of the old brewery and some of the perfectly preserved rooms that were the offices and home of Ludwig Mack and his family, as well as interesting beer tastings.
Opposite Ølhallen you can also take a look at Blåst Glasshytta i Tromsø (Blown Glass Factory in Tromsø) an artisan shop that produces and sells blown glass art. Just beyond the brewery you will see a large historic building from the early 1900s surrounded by a lush garden, this is the Tromsø Center for Contemporary Art (Tromsø Kunstforening), home of the Tromsø Art Association. It hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, admission is free. Right across the street you will find one of Tromsø’s most famous attractions: the Polaria Aquarium.
POLARIA: THE ARCTIC AQUARIUM
One of the best things to do in Tromsø, especially for families, is a visit to Polaria, the world’s most northerly aquarium. This aquarium is quite different than any you would find anywhere else in the world, as it is primarily focused on Arctic wildlife, and is primarily designed to be an interactive, kid-friendly educational experience.
Polaria is a small aquarium located in a striking building of modern architecture, which represents represents ice floes that have been pressed up on land by the rough seas of the Arctic, and in a sense echoes the Arctic Cathedral, located on the opposite shore. Many of Polaria’s exhibits are focused on the Svalbard Islands and the far north of the Arctic. These remote, unspoiled and wild islands are in fact some of the northernmost and furthest lands in the Arctic, and Tromsø is somehow the base camp to get there.
The Svalbard Islands are a paradise for Arctic wildlife lovers, as they are home to polar bears, seals, several species of seabirds and several strange aquatic organisms, many of which you can see in Polaria. You will be able to see dozens of species of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and so on, and you can even touch them: there are special tactile tanks, where you can touch some fish and other marine organisms.
But the real draw is the seals: Polaria has a huge tank that is home to a family of seals. Through transparent underwater tunnels that pass inside the tank, bridges and windows you will be able to see the seals swimming one step away from you. Don’t miss the feeding of seals, which usually takes place at 10.30, 12.30 and 15.30. These animals are adorable, and I would have spent hours admiring them!
The visit to Polaria also includes watching a couple of documentary films on the mind-blowing Svalbard Islands (the documentary is titled Svalbard – Arctic Wilderness) and on the queen of all Tromsø attractions: the Northern Lights.
Polaria in Tromsø is open daily from 10.00 to 16.00, tickets from 210 NOK (adults) or 105 NOK (children).
Next to Polaria you will be able to see – protected by a glass building – the MS Polstjerna, Norway’s best-preserved sealing ship. Seal hunting has long been a major business in the Arctic, and a major source of livelihood for locals.
Between 1949 and 1981 this ship had 33 fishing seasons and harvested close to 100,000 seals from the West Ice and East Ice, the inhospitable areas of the Greenland Sea (to the west) and the White Sea and Barents Sea (to the east) covered by pack ice during winter time. The wonderfully preserved ship is a piece of local history, and is now a museum, owned by The Arctic University Museum of Norway.
The ship is currently only visible from the outside, as the museum is closed for maintenance. In front of MS Polstjerna you will be able to see a statue of Helmer Hanssen, who was Roald Amundsen’s assistant on three polar explorations and was one of the first five explorers to reach the South Pole.
Polarmuseet: The Polar Museum in Tromsø
The Polarmuseet, or Polar Museum of Tromsø, is one of the most interesting museums in the town, even if it is quite small. Located in an 1830s warehouse on the seafront, this museum tells the story of arctic hunters and explorers.
This is a historical museum, so be prepared to see lots of stuffed animals and gory hunting scenes. The Polarmuseet is in fact part of The Arctic University Museum of Norway, and its purpose is to faithfully depict how local life was in the past. Tromsø was the “Gateway to the Arctic” and this meant that it was the base not only for polar expeditions, but also for hunting trips.
The Polar Museum in Tromsø preserves and conveys stories related to this aspect of the history of Tromsø and the Arctic, through dioramas and permanent exhibitions deal with sealing and overwintering trapping. At one time these, along with whaling and reindeer hunting, were the main jobs for the locals. Experienced sailors and hunters had a hard life on Svalbard, facing the pitfalls of the Arctic winter and polar nights.
But in addition to this dark and gory side of local history, you can also learn more about the exciting polar explorations, the expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen and the airship expeditions of the Italian explorer Umberto Nobile.
The Polarmuseet is open every day from 11.00 to 17.00. Tickets cost NOK 100, free admission for children and students.
Other Interesting Museums in Tromsø
Just in front of the Polar Museum you will be able to see a mound with a large yellow wooden house surrounded by a garden, called Skansen. This is the only remnant of the bastion that defended the town in the Middle Ages, against raids from Russia and Karelia. The wooden house is the oldest in Tromsø, built in 1789. It used to be a customs office, but it was also an epidemic hospital. You can just have a look at it from the outside, and wander among the surrounding picturesque houses, then return to Storgata and take a look at the Perspektivet Museum.
This museum boasts a large collection of contemporary and modern art, as well as an extensive photographic collection, featuring over 500,000 images that trace the history of the city from the early 1900s to the present day. It also hosts interesting events and temporary art and photography exhibitions. The Perspektivet Museum is housed in what was once the home of local writer Cora Sandel (1880–1974), and on the first floor is a small section of her on her life and her literary works.
To see another interesting museum in Tromsø you will have to take a long walk, or take a bus. The Tromsø Museum, also known as The Arctic University Museum of Norway, is located about 3km south of the city center. You can get there with Bus n. 40 from the city center, the bus stop is right in front of the museum.
The Tromsø Museum is the most comprehensive museum of local history and culture and boasts very interesting permanent exhibits on the Sámi and Kvan peoples and natural history. You will see lots of artifacts, fossils, traditional costumes, as well as interesting permanent exhibits on ecclesiastical art and the links between Norwegian merchants and the Hanseatic League. Other interesting exhibits are those on the Northern Lights and those on the impact of man on nature and Arctic wildlife. It also often hosts interesting temporary exhibitions. You can check the updated opening hours on the museum website.
Tickets start at NOK 100, free admission for students and children. Combo ticket Tromsø Museum and Polar Museum from 150 NOK.
Tromsø Arctic – Alpine Botanical Garden
Another interesting venue of the Arctic University Museum of Norway is the Tromsø Arctic – Alpine Botanical Garden, located 6 km north of the city center, reachable by Bus n. 20, 21 or 22 leading to the modern campus of the Arctic University of Norway.
The University of Tromsø is the world’s northernmost university, as well as the city’s largest workplace, and its botanical garden focused on Arctic and alpine plants from all over the northern hemisphere, has the reputation of being the world’s northernmost botanic garden. It’s not something tourists usually come to see, but if you’re going to be in Tromsø for a long time, well then you might want to check it out. Also nearby is a science museum for kids, the Northern Norwegian Science Center, which also features a planetarium (including Northern Lights, of course).
Fjellheisen – Tromsø Cable Car
One of the most popular things to do in Tromsø is to climb the Storsteinen, the mountain ledge (420m) overlooking Tromsdalen, the suburb of Tromsø located on the mainland, on the opposite side from the city center. The Fjellheisen, also called Tromsø Cable Car, starts from sea level to reach the top of the mountain, where the upper station called Fjellstua is located.
Just behind the upper station there is an observation deck that will allow you to enjoy a sensational view over the city. With a short walk you can also reach another nearby viewpoint, the Tromsø Utkikkspunkt (Tromsø Viewpoint). The view sweeps across the city: you will be able to see the entire island of Tromsøya, its iconic bridge, the harbor, the city center, the small lake behind the city center – called Prestvannet – and the large island of Kvaløya in the background, one of the largest in Norway, with its rugged snow-capped peaks.
This is indisputably the best view in Tromsø and one of the most stunning in Norway. From here you can also continue on one of the various hiking trails. Some, like the one for Mt. Tromsdalstinden (1,238m) are quite strenuous and long (approx. 5 hours), others are quite easy and allow you to go just a little further than the viewpoint, which can get crowded. So you can enjoy the view in peace, and contemplate the wonderful surrounding landscape in silence. In summer (approx. 20 May to 20 July) it is the perfect place to see the Midnight Sun!
An easy path will allow you to walk back down, saving on the ticket or allowing you to make the most of the midnight sun, as in summer the Tromsø Cable Car closes at midnight. Just walk south (to the right from the upper station) and follow the path that goes down. The trail will bring you back near the lower station, it is an easy walk, doable in half an hour.
Alternatively, there is a shorter but much steeper path which starts near the upper station, following the path on the left. This involves a stairway of 1,203 steps built by experienced workers from Nepal, and for this reason nicknamed Sherpatrappa or Sherpa Steps. The climb takes about 1-1.5 hours and does not require any special skills. The Sherpatrappa trailhead (GPS: 69.64161, 18.99335) is a 10-minute walk from the Tromsø Cable Car lower station car park, or a 15-minute walk from the Arctic Cathedral.
The Tromsø Cable Car opened in 1961 and is still one of the main attractions of the city. It can get quite crowded in the summer, as it is very popular with cruise-ship passengers. The cable car ride takes about 4 minutes and the tickets are a bit expensive: return tickets from 320 NOK (adults, approx. 32 €), one way 210 NOK (adults, approx. 21 €). Discounted tickets available for families, children and students. Prices are subject to change, as well as timetables, you can check them on the official website. Tickets can be purchased online or on site. It is not advisable to go with strollers, even if allowed. Parking at the lower station is subject to charges (from NOK 25 per hour).
Best Things to Do in Tromsø in Winter (roughly October to March)
Winter is the liveliest season in Tromsø! The typically subarctic climate is mitigated by its advantageous position, on an island nestled in the middle of a strait and surrounded by fjords and mountains. This is why in winter Tromsø is usually covered by a blanket of snow and temperatures are a few degrees below zero, but winter is less severe than inland, where temperatures frequently drop below -20 °C.
In winter, the days get shorter and shorter, so be prepared for little or no daylight hours. In Tromsø, the polar night season starts on November 27th and lasts until January 15th. During this period the sun never rises above the horizon.
However, contrary to what one might think, the polar night is not that dark. You will have enough light to visit the city and its surroundings, and have enough light to fully enjoy the main activities and tours, such as whale watching or fjord cruises. This is due to subtle twilight, which usually occurs from about 9 AM to 2 PM. This brightness, similar to what you can see just before sunrise, is enough to see and take amazing pictures!
In fact, the best months to visit Tromsø are in the heart of winter: between November and February you can experience all the best activities. Whales will flock to the fjords north of Tromsø and around Skjervøy and it’s the best season for a whale watching boat tour.
The Northern Lights will dance in the sky almost every night, which means it is a great time to chase the Northern Lights around Tromsø, while a thick blanket of snow will make the landscape enchanting and the atmosphere magical.
This is the ideal time for dog sledding and reindeer farm visits and you can also enjoy a nice reindeer sleigh ride, which is a must if you are traveling with the kids. It will also be the only time of year when you can experience the thrill of the snowmobile, go for a nice snowshoe hike through the arctic wilderness and enjoy the unparalleled views from the top of the Kvaløya mountains.
You will be able to try your hand at cross-country skiing around Breivikeidet and in the beautiful valleys south of Tromsø, you will be able to visit a camp of reindeer herders, meet these amazing animals up close and learn much more about the local culture and the history and traditions of the Sami people, the natives of Lapland. Finally, you can enjoy the peace and awe of a relaxed cruise through the beautiful fjords around Tromsø and enjoy an unforgettable stay at the famous Tromsø Ice Domes, Tromsø’s ice hotel.
Best Things to Do in Tromsø in Summer (roughly April to September)
In summer Tromsø wakes up from the torpor of the long winter and from April the days quickly get longer and longer. The snow melts, giving way to flowery meadows, green grasslands, waterfalls and streams in flood (and full of fish, especially salmon and trout). The air smells of spring and optimism, the locals are happy for the end of the polar night and the arrival of milder temperatures.
This is undoubtedly the best time of year for a boat tour to the small and remote islands north of Tromsø. You will be able to skirt the large island of Kvaløya to reach the tiny islands of Gåsvær, Musvær and Risøya, a paradise for arctic lovers and bird watchers, as here you can spot eagles, cormorants, puffins, seals and porpoises. Sometimes even orcas and whales!
Locals love to go fishing, take long nature walks, swim in lakes and enjoy the best of outdoor activities: cycling, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and much more. The mountains around Tromsø, and especially those on the island of Kvaløya, are a popular destination for easy hikes. In short, summer is a great season to visit Tromsø! The big downside is that you won’t be able to experience the many amazing winter activities that make Tromsø a one-of-a-kind destination, but there is still a lot to do!
If you like to fish, this is a great season for a fishing boat trip in the fjords around Tromsø, also suitable for beginners, while families should not miss a day trip to a husky farm, to get the chance to take part in training and take a nice walk with the puppies.
From mid-May to the end of July you can see the Midnight Sun in Tromsø. The sun will never set from the 18th of May to the 25th of July, which means you will have plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor activities and stunning scenery of the fjords around Tromsø.
If you will be traveling to Tromsø in the summer, then you should definitely consider hiring a car and exploring the surroundings on your own: the Lyngen Alps, Senja and the beautiful wilderness on the border of Norway, Sweden and Finland. You could explore Reisa National Park, 270km southeast of Tromsø, or embark on an epic journey to the North Cape (Nordkapp).
Just south you could visit the Vesterålen Islands (377km) or the stunning Lofoten Islands (420km). A road trip through the breathtaking landscapes of Northern Norway is the best thing you could do in Tromsø in the summer.
If you are short on time, or if you don’t want to rent a car and drive, you could opt for a comfortable 4×4 Arctic Roadtrip Guided Tour, which will allow you to see the most beautiful fjords and fishing villages around Tromsø, as well as have the chance to spot wildlife, such as moose, reindeer and eagles.
Day Trips from Tromsø
Tromsø itself can be easily visited in a couple of days, but most of the best things to do and activities are outside the town. No visit to Tromsø is complete without wandering around chasing the Northern Lights, experiencing the thrill of dogsledding or visiting a reindeer farm.
But above all, you can’t miss the breathtaking landscapes of the surrounding fjords, mountains and idyllic fishing villages scattered over the surrounding islands. Let’s go and discover some easy day trips from Tromsø, which will allow you to make the most of your trip to Northern Norway!
Kvaløya and Sommarøy
Kvaløya is the large island located just north of Tromsøya – the island on which Tromsø city center stands – and is a good place for an easy day trip. From the city center head to the airport and from there follow the Fv862: a road bridge will take you to the suburb of Kvaløysletta. Continue to the small village of Kaldfjord, overlooking a peaceful fjord. Here you can take a look at the cute little Kvaløy Church, which is usually surrounded by a thick blanket of snow in winter.
Continue south on Fv858 to Hella, a small beach that is a popular fishing spot for catching cod and coalfish, boasting beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Along the way, just before Hella, on the right you will see a rock with large petroglyphs dating back to the Stone Age. From here you can continue along the road, the landscape is a bit monotonous but still pleasant. After about 40 km you will have to turn left to take the road towards Sommarøy.
Connected by a scenic road bridge, the island of Sommarøy is the most beautiful around Tromsø. It is a small island surrounded by white sandy beaches and an emerald ocean. Its pleasant relaxed atmosphere, typical of the fishing villages of Northern Norway, and its convenient location, away from the street lights of Tromsø, make it a good destination for a pleasant stay, and maybe you can try to spot the Northern Lights. There is a great hotel on Sommarøy, the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel Tromsø, which is actually hugely popular, so book early.
Returning back, take the Fv862 back to Nordfjordbotn and from there continue towards Ersfjordbotn. The road crosses a green valley interspersed with a few small lakes, and then arrives at the small fishing village of Ersfjordbotn, which has a nice fjord view, a small but pretty waterfall and a nice café, the Bryggejentene, which is enormously popular among both locals and tourists. From Ersfjordbotn you can drive back to Tromsø in half an hour. On the way out you could also skip Hella and drive straight to Sommarøy, which would save you around 20 km (30 minutes of driving).
To do this day trip you will need a car, or you can take Bus n. 420 from downtown Tromsø to Sommarøy, the bus stop is located near the Tromsø tourist office. You can find the bus timetable here.
Lyngen Alps and the Lyngenfjord
One of the best day trips you could take from Tromsø is to the Lyngen Alps, steep and rugged mountains located about 80 km east of Tromsø. It will take you about 2 hours of driving to get there and this involves a ferry crossing from Breidvik to Svensby. This trip is even more beautiful than the previous one: the Fv91 runs through a scenic valley until it comes out on a fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
From Svensby you will skirt a narrow sound until arriving at Lyngseidet, which is the main starting point for exploring the Lyngen Alps. In the surroundings there are some hiking trails that allow you to climb the surrounding mountains and enjoy sublime views. In winter this is also a popular ski resort.
From Lyngseidet you could take a detour to the remote and picturesque fishing village of Koppangen, or take another ferry to Olderdalen, located on the opposite bank of Lyngenfjord, one of the most beautiful and famous fjords in Northern Norway. You will also be able to visit Aurora Spirit, the northernmost whiskey distillery in the world, which offers interesting guided tours and tastings.
It is highly recommended to stay overnight in the surrounding area to enjoy the fabulous views and peaceful atmosphere. Some good options are Solheim Fritidsgård, Aurora Fjord Cabins, Koppangen Brygger, Olderdalen Ski Camp, and Viking Cabins Solvik.
☞ You can find here a comprehensive guide to visiting the Lyngen Alps and Lyngenfjord.
From Tromsø to the North Cape and detours to Skjervoy and Reisa National Park
Things get serious in Olderdalen: you can choose whether to go north or south.
The road north takes you to the small town of Storslett (45 minutes drive from Olderdalen), from where you can explore the beautiful Reisa National Park. With a detour from the main road E6 you can reach the remote fishing village of Skjervoy (1.5 hours drive from Olderdalen), the road to Skjervoy is very scenic! Otherwise you could try to conquer the far north, heading towards Alta and from there to the North Cape (Nordkapp)! From Tromsø to Alta it is 380 km (6 hours), while from Tromsø to the North Cape it is 620 km (9 hours).
From Olderdalen to Tromsø and detours to Skibotn, Finland and Sweden
If in Olderdalen you choose to go south along the E6, you can return to Tromsø by a different and slightly longer route (180 km, 2.5 hours), which skirts the Lyngenfjord until you reach the Balsfjorden, the same fjord on which the island of Tromsø.
In Skibotn, a small village famous for being one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, you can continue along the E8, a breathtaking scenic road that leads to Finland. From Skibotn to Kilpisjärvi, the first village after the Finnish border, it is 50 km (45 minutes drive).
Here you are in the heart of Lapland: Kilpisjärvi and the villages along the E8 to the town of Karesuvanto are among the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Just think that, if necessary, the tours from Tromsø even drive here to allow you to see the best Northern Lights! From Karesuvanto a bridge will allow you to visit the pretty village of Karesuando, in Sweden.
Staying here could be the highlight of your trip to the Far North – some great options are Arctic Land Adventure Glass Igloos, Tundrea Holiday Resort, Cahkal Hotel, and Saivaara Cottages. Booking well in advance is essential!
The remote, distant and small island of Skjervøy is constantly lashed by winds and storms, and until the early 1990s it was only accessible by boat. Now an undersea tunnel that reaches a depth of −92.5 meters and a scenic yet slender bridge connect it to the mainland, so you can get there by car.
Famous for being in one of the best whale watching areas in the world, overlooking the Kvænangenfjord and nestled in an idyllic landscape of mostly uninhabited islands and high glacier-covered mountains, Skjervøy is one of the ideal day trip destinations day trip from Tromsø. Actually, if you don’t go there with your car or a guided tour, it will be quite difficult to get there and back in the day.
There is an express boat from Tromsø to Skjervøy, only a few days a week. There are usually departures on:
- Tuesday (Tromsø – Skjervøy – Tromsø: 16:00 – 20:05)
- Thursday (Tromsø – Skjervøy – Tromsø: 16:00 – 20:05)
- Friday (Tromsø – Skjervøy – Tromsø: 16:05 – 21:15)
- Sunday (Tromsø – Skjervøy – Tromsø: 14:30 – 19:50)
Timetables may be subject to frequent changes, but you can check the updated ones here. Yours is “Linje 3 Tromsø – Skjervøy”. The timetables are in Norwegian, so… let’s learn Norwegian: Mandag: Monday / Tirsdag: Tuesday / Onsdag: Wednesday / Torsdag: Thursday / Fredag: Friday / Lørdag: Saturday / Søndag: Sunday.
There are two main drawbacks to going to Skjervøy by express boat, and that’s why I wouldn’t recommend it. The first is that you will not be able to leave the boat, otherwise you will be stuck there. Once in Skjervøy, the boat leaves again for Tromsø in a few minutes. In the summer you might at least enjoy the ride, but in the winter it will be too dark. And this is not cheap, as the ticket costs 980 NOK (784 NOK if purchased in advance at the ticket machine). For just a few extra bucks you would go on an amazing whale watching tour!
An alternative could be to go by bus (several changes) or the express boat to Skjervøy and take the southbound Hurtigruten back from Skjervøy to Tromsø, which leaves from Skjervøy around 7.45pm. However, this alternative may be more expensive. For tickets and prices you should inquire at the ticket offices of Troms Fylkestrafikk, at the Tromsø Port Terminal in Samuel Arnesens gate, 5.
The fabulous Senja Island can be easily reached from Tromsø and is the ideal destination for a few days road trip. In the summer it might be feasible to visit it in the day, but it would be a bit of a rush. Senja is in fact the second largest island in Norway, boasting an extraordinary variety of landscapes ranging from peaky mountains to enchanting valleys, as well as forests, scenic fjords, beautiful sandy beaches and quiet, tiny fishing villages.
Senja is a paradise for hikers and cyclists and is the ideal destination for a nice road trip, as its main attractions are mostly found along the Fv86 and Fv862, which essentially allow you to take a complete tour of the island.
☞ Here you will find a comprehensive guide to visiting Senja Island.
I would not go with the express boats that goes from Tromsø to the village of Lysnes on the north east coast of Senja, because it is not meant for tourists, I mean, from there it would be difficult to get around and visit. The village itself consists of a couple of houses and a pier, local buses are infrequent and are not ideal for exploring the island. Instead, rent a car in Tromsø and drive there! You will enjoy breathtaking landscapes, and it will be well worth the effort!
Allow some time to visit it and to enjoy its beautiful views, at least 2 or 3 days. To get there you could drive from Tromsø to the village of Brensholmen, just south of Sommarøy on the island of Kvaløya. From here there is a comfortable car ferry that will take you to the village of Botnhamn – on Senja – in just 45 minutes. There are 2-4 ferries per day and extra runs in the summer. It is 70 km, about 2-2.5 hours. You can find the updated ferry timetables here, yours is line No. 181 Botnhamn – Brensholmen. Ferry ticket prices from NOK 264 per car. Pedestrians and bikes travel for free. Alternatively you could drive along the E8 to Nordkjosbotn and from there on the E6 to Olsborg, then the Fv855 will take you straight to Silsand on the island of Senja. It is 180 km, about 3 hours of driving on a nice road.
How to Get to Tromsø
Getting to Tromsø by Plane
The most common way to get to Tromsø is by plane. Tromsø Airport is located on the island of Tromsøya (the same as the city center), approximately 5km north of the city center. Tromsø Airport is a modern, albeit small, international airport, with direct flight connections to major cities in Norway and some destinations in Europe.
Tromsø Airport has frequent flights to and from Oslo, as well as Bodø and Bergen. It also serves as the main base for flights to Northern Norway such as Alta, Hammerfest and Kirkenes. It is also one of the main bases for flying to Longyearbyen, in the Svalbard Islands.
Tromsø Airport is well connected to the city center by city buses no. 40 and 42, which stop in front of the terminal. From the city center to the airport it takes 15-30 minutes. Tickets from 39 NOK (one way) when bought at the machine or via the Troms Billett app. If bought on board they are approx. 50% more expensive! A faster way is the direct shuttle bus called Airport Express Coach (Flybussen), which take about 15 minutes from the city center to the airport or viceversa. Tickets from 125 NOK (one way). More info on the official website.
If you need a taxi or a private transfer, comfortable and convenient especially for those traveling with heavy luggage or for families, you could book it in advance here, at an affordable price!
Alternatively you could rent a car at Tromsø Airport. There are few car rental desks, it is advisable to book in advance online on reputable sites, such as Rentalcars.com (owned by Booking.com) or Discovercars.com (one of the best-rated in the world). These offer the best rates in real-time, top-notch insurance, guaranteed booking and free cancellation.
Getting to Tromsø by Bus
The main bus routes to Tromsø are from Narvik, Alta or Rovaniemi, depending on whether you are from Central Norway or Finland. From Narvik the Bus n. 100 goes to Tromsø in approx. 4 hours. Tickets from 390 NOK (one way). If purchased on board, the ticket price starts from 488 NOK.
Bodø is the terminus of the scenic Nordland Railway which runs from Trondheim for 729km through dramatic landscapes, passing through Fauske and arriving in Bodø. From Trondheim there are trains to and from Oslo.
Those coming from Sweden could arrive in Narvik with the Arctic Circle Train, a night train that leaves Stockholm in the evening and arrives in Narvik the following day, crossing the breathtaking landscapes of Swedish Lapland and passing through the towns of Kiruna and Abisko.
There are direct express buses from Tromsø to Rovaniemi and viceversa, which depart from Tromsø Bus Station and arrive in Rovaniemi in 10 hours (tickets from 112 €), via Skibotn, Kilpisjärvi and Karesuvanto. Info and tickets on Eskelisen Lapin Linjat.
There are direct buses between Tromsø and Alta, which depart from Tromsø Bus Station and arrive in Alta in 6.5 hours (tickets from 468 NOK, bus line 150), via Lyngen and Storslett. Info about Troms Fylkestrafikk.
In winter (December to March) there are also daily winter bus routes operated by The Arctic Route, which connect Narvik, Tromsø, Alta, Rovaniemi and many other tourist destinations. These buses are primarily intended for tourists, as they connect major hotels and tourist attractions in Northern Norway, Northern Finland and Northern Sweden. Journey times are similar (sometimes longer) than public buses. The Arctic Route has an info and reservations desk at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Tromsø.
Getting to Tromsø by ship
Ships of the Hurtigruten Coastal Express travel from Bergen to Kirkenes connecting major ports along the Norwegian coast, including Tromsø. Hurtigruten ships call the port of Tromsø daily, at 2.15pm on the northbound route and at 11.45pm on the southbound route. You can travel port-to-port by booking a ticket in advance on the Hurtigruten website.
Exactly the same route, with the same departure and arrival times, is operated by Havila Kystruten, a competitor of Hurtigruten who operates large and modern eco-friendly ships. Havila’s ships also allow port-to-port travel by booking a ticket on their website.
Tromsø is also a popular stop for cruise ships, both those operated by Hurtigruten and those of other companies. There are two cruise terminals, one in the city center (mainly operated by Hurtigruten) and the other – the Breivika Cruise Port – located north of the city center, near the University and the Botanical Garden, connected to the city center by the city bus n. 42.
Getting to Tromsø by Car
If you are planning an incredible road trip, you could easily reach Tromsø by the E8 road which connects the Finnish city of Turku to Tromsø, passing through Karesuvanto, Kilpisjärvi and Nordkjosbotn.
In Nordkjosbotn there is an intersection with the E6 road which connects Tromsø to Southern Norway, passing through Narvik, Fauske, Mo i Rana, Trondheim, Lillehammer and Oslo, and continuing to Sweden, Gothenburg and Malmö. The E6 road has connections with Denmark, Germany and allows you to get even to Rome!
From Nordkjosbotn the E6 continues north towards Skibotn, Alta, Lakselv, Karasjok and Kirkenes, where there is the border between Norway and Russia. What a wonderful trip!
Tromsø Sunrise and Sunset Calendar (Month by Month)
Tromsø is located over 350km above the Arctic Circle, so you can experience polar nights and the midnight sun, depending on the season. If you want to see the midnight sun, or chase the Northern Lights, this calendar is sure to come in handy, as you can easily get an idea of the sunrise and sunset times in Tromsø, month by month.
TROMSØ IN JANUARY
01/01: The sun is always down
14/01: Polar Nights Season Ends
15/01: 11:19 – 12:28
TROMSØ IN FEBRUARY
01/02: 09:20 – 14:34
15/02: 08:12 – 15:44
TROMSØ IN MARCH
01/03: 07:07 – 16:45
15/03: 06:03 – 17:42
TROMSØ IN APRIL
01/04: 05:45 – 19:50
15/04: 04:39 – 20:49
TROMSØ IN MAY
01/05: 03:16 – 22:06
15/05: 01:32 – 23:48
18/05: Midnight Sun Season Begins
TROMSØ IN JUNE
01/06: The sun is up all day
15/06: The sun is up all day
TROMSØ IN JULY
01/07: The sun is up all day
15/07: The sun is up all day
25/07: Midnight Sun Season Ends
TROMSØ IN AUGUST
01/08: 02:26 – 23:14
15/08: 03:48 – 21:48
TROMSØ IN SEPTEMBER
01/09: 05:03 – 20:24
15/09: 05:59 – 19:19
TROMSØ IN OCTOBER
01/10: 07:01 – 18:06
15/10: 07:57 – 17:02
TROMSØ IN NOVEMBER
01/11: 08:13 – 14:42
15/11: 09:28 – 13:29
27/11: Polar Nights Season Begins
TROMSØ IN DECEMBER
01/12: The sun is always down
15/12: The sun is always down
FAQs about visiting Tromsø
Can you see the Northern Lights in Tromsø on your own?
You may not want to book a specialized tour to see the Northern Lights and try your luck on your own. Well, then you will need a car, so that you can move to certain areas where you will have a better chance of seeing a fabulous Aurora Borealis.
You could rent a car and drive to the remote island of Sommarøy, approx. 60km west of Tromsø, where there is a quaint fishing village and a fabulous place to stay overnight, the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel Tromsø. In December it could be hugely popular, so book early!
Car rental prices in Tromsø in the peak season could be around NOK 900 per day if you book well in advance, so if you are a couple or a family it could be convenient. You can check prices and availability in real time on Rentalcars or Discovercars, in order to get the best rates.
Another fabulous place to stay overnight and spot the Northern Lights on the nearby island of Kvaløya is the Yggdrasil Farmhotel Retreat & Spa, which offers great rooms on a farm with fjord views, a sauna and a nice outdoor hot tub. Or the Buvik Sea Lodge, another good guesthouse located a short distance from the previous one.
The best areas – the ones where guided tours often go – are, however, a few hours’ drive from Tromsø, hidden among the mountains and fjords of the hinterland. You will have to drive towards the Lyngen Alps or towards Skibotn (120 km from Tromsø). In the area you could stay at the wonderful North Experience Basecamp. For an unparalleled adventure you could cross the Finnish border, reach the fabulous Lapland village of Kilpisjärvi (160 km from Tromsø) and stay at Arctic Land Adventure Glass Igloos or Tundrea Holiday Resort.
If you don’t want to rent a car, and just want to try to spot the Northern Lights in Tromsø, then some decent places could be the banks of Prestvannet, the small lake located behind the city center, reachable by car or by bus no. 40 and a short walk from the bus stop (about 10 minutes walk). Otherwise, you could go to the Tromsø Cable Car viewpoint, but keep in mind that it closes at 10pm, and you wish you could attempt to chase the Northern Lights until past midnight. Another place could be Telegrafbukta Beach, the public park located on the southern coast of the island, accessible for free and reachable in about 1 hour walk from the city center.
However, unless you are traveling on an extremely tight budget, I would not recommend going on your own, especially if you are staying in Tromsø for just a few days, as you risk not seeing them. You should trust the expert local guides, who have the tools, experience and know-how to enable you to comfortably see the BEST Northern Lights. This is a once in a lifetime trip – so you should try to enjoy it to the fullest! If you still don’t know which tour to choose, this is one of the best and the price is quite affordable.
What are the Best Festivals and Events in Tromsø?
Tromsø is a lively town, much more than you might imagine. In Norway people love music, it is no coincidence that this is one of the homelands of European rock, metal and electronic music. Norwegians also love art, cinema and books, this is particularly evident in the eclectic Tromsø, which is famous for being “The City of Festivals” due to its many musical and cultural events.
Below you will find a list of the best (and most popular) Tromsø festivals and events. It might be nice to visit Tromsø during a festival to discover the more modern, sophisticated and vibrant side of the city. But be warned, Tromsø hotels are usually fully booked during festivals, and rates tend to soar. Suffice it to say, each event attracts over 60-70,000 visitors from all over the world! Quite a lot for a town that has a population of just over 60,000.
Tromsø International Film Festival
One of the most interesting film festivals in Europe, the Tromsø International Film Festival, is held annually on the third week of January in Tromsø, especially around the Erling Bangsunds Plass (outdoor cinema) and in some of the city’s cinemas and theaters. Unlike the more famous festivals, the Tromsø International Film Festival focuses mainly on little-known high-quality films, independent and non-mainstream works.
When: around the third week of January. Info on the official website.
SMAK Nordnorsk Matfestival (Northern Norwegian Food Festival)
SMAK Food Festival is one of my favorite events in Tromsø. It is usually held in mid-September and is a good opportunity to learn more about local food, cooking traditions and the freshest local ingredients: fish, meat, herbs and vegetables. You’ll find over 80 stands, as well as local restaurants and producers offering tastings at affordable prices.
When: around mid-September. Info on the official website.
One of Norway’s most popular rock festivals is held annually on Telegrafbukta Beach, south of the city center. Dozens of local and international artists play for three days under the midnight sun. Don’t expect mainstream artists, the line-up here is pretty indie-rock.
When: around the end of July. Info on the official website.
One of the most important electronic music festivals is Insomnia, which is held around the city at the end of October. It usually lasts 3 days and boasts an interesting selection of the best Scandinavian electronic music artists and producers.
When: around the end of October. Info on the official website.
Nordlysfestivalen – Tromsø Northern Lights Festival
Classical music lovers will enjoy the Northern Lights Festival, 10 days dedicated to the best of Northern European and Scandinavian classical music, including vocal concerts, choirs and classical-electronic music. The line-up is usually sophisticated and never predictable.
When: from the last week of January to the first of February. Info on the official website.
This festival is held in the heart of Tromsø, right in Stortorget square, usually lasts a couple of days and hosts the best of Norwegian and Scandinavian pop and rock music. For example, here I had the opportunity to attend several times the performances of Röyksopp, probably the most famous electronic music duo from Tromsø.
When: around the end of August. Info on the official website.
This festival usually lasts 4 days and is held throughout the city, hosting some of the best jazz artists mainly from Scandinavia, but also from the rest of the world.
When: around early or mid-August. Info on the official website.
Midnight Sun Marathon
The most important marathon competition in Norway is held annually in Tromsø in mid-June. If you are a runner, then you might take the opportunity to run the marathon or half marathon under the midnight sun, in the idyllic landscape around Tromsø. Think about it!
When: around mid-June. Info on the official website.