All those people who told me I was crazy to go to Norway in December obviously haven’t been to Tromsø! Winter tourism is on the rise and it’s easy to understand why; we had the experience of a lifetime seeing the Aurora Borealis, dog sledding through a breathtaking nature reserve and enjoying the gorgeous glow of snow that blankets the city this time of year! We spent four nights in Tromsø and two nights in Oslo and by the end of the trip we weren’t ready to leave…I would recommend staying 5 – 7 nights in Tromsø if possible and definitely spend a night or two at Camp Tamok (more details below) while you’re there!
Travel tips for visiting Tromsø
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland you’ve come to the right place; Tromsø is considered the northernmost city in the world with a population above 50,000 and it’s known for being one of the most “convenient” places to view the Northern Lights (because it’s relatively easy to get there). The city is located in the Arctic Circle, which means there is polar night in winter and midnight sun in summer. Even though the sun does not rise above the horizon during this time of year, there is civil twilight from about 10am to 1pm which provides enough light to see. The civil twilight creates a beautiful glow that reflects off the snow in the city, but the exact amount of “light” you’ll get midday depends on the dates you visit. The center of Tromsø is located on the island of Tromsøya and it’s also where most of the hotels, shops, restaurants and tour companies are located.
Many people travel to Tromsø for a chance to see the Northern Lights, but it’s important to keep in mind that seeing the Aurora Borealis is never guaranteed…it all depends on the weather and a bit of luck! The best time of year to see the aurora is from September to April; I was told the lights appear year-round, but because there’s sunlight 24 hours a day in summer it’s not dark enough to see them!
There are several companies in the city that organize aurora tours, so my recommendation would be to wait until you arrive and then reserve a tour based on the weather forecast. For example, we arrived on December 16th and I had reserved a tour on the 18th, however after checking the weather it appeared the 17th was the best day to see the lights. We stopped by the Arctic Guide Service office in the afternoon and reserved the Aurora Chasing Tour for that evening. The advantage of doing a bus tour is being able to drive around all night to find the best location to view the lights (increasing your chances of seeing them). The one thing I would have done differently with this tour is rent a snowsuit from the office…I was freezing by 9pm and the tour lasted until 1:30am!
Dog sledding and other winter activities
Dog sledding in the valley near Camp Tamok was an amazing experience. Lyngsfjord Adventure also has other activities like reindeer sledding, snowmobile safaris, Northern Lights tours, etc. My family and I reserved an aurora tour, overnight stay in the cabin, and the next morning we went dog sledding. Originally I had hoped to reserve the chalets to sleep in, but they were already booked (try to make a reservation as soon as possible). Keep in mind electricity is limited at Camp Tamok so bring a flashlight in case you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (otherwise you’ll be wandering blindly, knee-deep in snow trying to get to the restrooms!).
Lyngsfjord Adventure tours include a traditional meal and you’ll be given a snowsuit, boots, hat, gloves, etc. to wear. If you’re staying overnight they will provide sheets and towels too. We only stayed one night but I wish we had stayed at least two – the scenery around the camp is breathtaking and the snowmobile safari and reindeer sledding tours looked like fun!
I wish we had stayed an extra day or two to go on a whale watching tour! During the Aurora Chasing Tour with Arctic Guide Service we could hear humpback whales in the water…apparently a large number of orca and humpback whales gather near the coastline of Tromsø in winter to feed!
Food is expensive in Norway…at least compared to what we’re accustomed to paying in Spain. There are a lot of great restaurants in Tromsø and our favorite was Huken Pub; their burgers and jacket potatoes are out of this world! The place fills up fast so you might want to go a bit early. To save money on breakfast we went to the Eurospar Supermarket; you can get pastries and coffee for just a few Euros and there’s also a deli section where you can get toasted ham and cheese sandwiches for less than 5€.
We had a great experience at the Comfort Hotel Xpress. The hotel is just a few blocks from the main avenue in town, harbor, and has lots of bars and restaurants nearby. The rooms were clean and the staff was super nice.
Money exchange and getting to/from Tromsø Airport
You’ll need to exchange your money to Krone or NOK before traveling to Norway (they don’t use Euros). We brought cash to the airport in Malaga and exchanged it there (most airports have exchange kiosks) before catching our flight to Oslo. The airport in Tromsø is small and only a 15-minute drive to the city; there are several ways you can get to town from the airport including city bus, airport bus or taxi. As you exit the airport you’ll see the bus stops and taxi stop. If you’re traveling in a group of two or more people I would recommend taking a taxi; once you split the cost it’s about the same price as the airport bus (we paid about 180 NOK total). If you’re staying at the Comfort Hotel Xpress there’s an iPad in the lobby that you can use to make a taxi reservation to take you to the airport.