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Guide to winter in Tromso, Norway

19/12/2022 by .
guide to winter in Tromso

Amy McPherson travels north of the arctic circle in winter to explore Norway’s colourful Arctic capital in her guide to winter in Tromso.

It is Norway’s gateway to the Artic, also known as Paris of the North due to its relative sophistication in the late-19th Century. In winter this far up, you’d think the cold would be unbearable, but thanks to the North Atlantic Current it isn’t as bad as you’d think, so let my guide to winter in Tromso give you an idea

2 TromsoFrost

For my guide to winter in Tromso I start the day with a run along the coastal path on the southern end of Tromso island. It hasn’t snowed for two weeks but the cold has formed thick layers of frost across the landscape, creating the look of a frozen kingdom. I watch the pink horizon and the glimpse of the golden light from a rising sun that no longer rises above the horizon anymore. It is as bright as it’ll get until the eventual sunset that happens only three hours later. Winter in Tromso is mostly in darkness, but there is so much to explore here that you’ll forget how little light there is.

winter in Tromso

Paying a visit to the Arctic University Museum of Norway, I learn about the Sami culture, the forming of Norway as a nation and the scientific explorations to the Arctic. Then rounding the corner, past a group of local swimmers plunging into the cold waters off the beach, seemingly without a flinch, I  enter the harbour where the city is just waking up. To my left is the busy city centre of Tromso, where the cold doesn’t stop anyone from their daily business.

4 PolarMuseum

In winter with limited daylight, there’s surprisingly a lot to do in Tromso. Starting with museums, you can learn all about the Arctic environment in Polaria by the harbour, which is part aquarium, part educational centre for the family.

For a history lesson on Norway’s Arctic explorations, the Polar Museum on the other side of town is worth a visit. In between these two artic-themed museums is the Troll Museum, the only museum dedicated to the trolls, where you get to meet legendary creatures in Norwegian folklore enhanced with augmented reality.

Walking around visiting museums and sights can take a lot of time, and wanting to utilise as much daylight hours when I can, I cross Tromsø Bridge towards the stylish Arctic Cathedral (which isn’t a cathedral at all, but rather, the Tromsdalen Church) with an impressive glass mosaic. It was completed in 1965 and is one of the most identifying landmarks of Tromso as you approach the city from the air.

A little further on I get on the Fjellheisen, the cable car, up to the peak of Storsteinen (421m) for sunset. This is also the perfect place to admire the beautiful surrounds of Tromso, and watch the city light up as the natural light dims.

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After dark in Tromso means it’s time to explore the city’s lit-up streets. Visiting in December has the added bonus of Christmas markets dotted around the city, and a little nostalgic Ferris wheel at the waterfront.

But of course, when visiting in winter, it isn’t the most practical (nor comfortable) to be walking around outside all the time. For this, Tromso has plenty of cosy places to retreat to for a dose of hygge. In fact, taking refuge in Tromso’s stylish city library is an architectural experience in itself.

Sharing the fourth-storey building with the town hall and a cinema, you get a lovely view of the city from the domed glass walls of the top floor. It is also a great place to begin a bit of wandering around the city with plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby.

9 Library

For excellent specialty coffee with a view, pop into Kaffebonna for a cup of their best Norwegian coffee, with a pastry from their own bakery. Alternatively, for a more hoppy break, get a pint of beer brewed under the northern lights at Mack – whose brewpub was opened in 1928 making it Tromso’s oldest pub.

As much as the darkness could make the body clock lethargic, there is no sleeping early when you are in Tromso, unless you want to miss the ultimate display of nature’s brilliance. Tromso is located 69° north in latitude terms, making it one of the ideal locations for northern lights spotting. “You see, due to the round shape of Earth, the lights occur around the 70° angle, too far south or north, you’d actually miss it!” Says our guide Pau from  Best Arctic, a small group local tour operator.

Best Arctic Pau Martinez

No one can really tell you what it is like to see the northern lights, because it’s different for everyone. Northern lights differ in strength, depending on the solar activities of the sun, it could appear as a light haze of green barely visible to the naked eye, or a brighter shade of green that dances across the sky.

Thanks to Pau, guide and photographer, who explained that the phenomenon is in fact, better seen from the long exposure lenses of a camera did we truly see the magnificent green and purple lights. Standing still in the freezing cold for 30 seconds for Pau meant I had a photo of myself with the arrays of spectrum that spread above us as a souvenir and memory of my guide to winter in Tromso magic to keep.

Northern Lights Image (C) Best Arctic Pau Martinez

Tell Me More About this guide to winter in Tromso

Fly with Widerøe from London and Aberdeen to Tromso via its domestic hub in Bergen.

The Bussring Airport Express costs 125NOK (£11) single or 200NOK (£17) round trip and takes 15 mins to the city.

Where to Stay in Tromso

Scandic Grand Hotel in the city centre offers spacious and comfortable rooms and an excellent breakfast buffet.

Where to Eat in Tromso

For modern tapas dishes with an arctic twist, reserve a table at Tromso Tapas on the main square with a selection of Norwegian specialties such as king crab, mussels, and reindeer on the menu, as well as some traditional tapas dishes.

For a cosier dining experience with a more traditional flavour, Bardus Bistro has a changing menu featuring local seasonal ingredients around Tromso.

More information on Tromso

Best Arctic is a locally operated tour operator offering small group tours from Tromso.

Visit Tromso has great itineraries and updated suggestions for visitors all year round.


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