5 Free Things To Do In Tromsø: Norway Budget Travel Guide

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A city break in Arctic Norway is not known for its money-saving opportunities, but Tromsø on a budget is possible. Here's our money-saving trips for a trip to Tromsø.

When I moved to Norway back in 2011, Tromsø was one of the first places I wanted to visit. The lure of the Arctic scenery, the northern lights, and the midnight sun, has meant I went on to visit the town many times over the years.

View of Tromsø from downtown. Photo: David Nikel.
Tromsø. Photo: David Nikel.

As do many people from all over the world. It never ceases to surprise me every time I visit. There'll be tourists from here, there, and everywhere.

The reasons are many and varied. From the Sami people to the polar explorers, Tromsø has a rich cultural heritage.

Renowned for its spectacular northern lights in winter and the enchanting midnight sun during summer, Tromsø is a year-round destination. But despite its pull, something that makes people pause is the expense of visiting Northern Norway.

But there are ways to keep the costs down. While a trip to Tromsø isn’t going to be cheap, the city does boast several attractions that are completely free. All they’ll require is a small expense for local transport in some cases.

Here are five such experiences, followed by some advice on saving money on hotels and some other attractions that are worth the small cost. Enjoy!

1. Hunt the Northern Lights

A primary attraction in Tromsø is the awe-inspiring northern lights. Visitors from around the globe come with high hopes of witnessing this natural wonder. To maximize your chances, it's advisable to check the aurora forecast a day or two before your outing.

Northern lights above Tromsø. Photo: David Nikel.
The northern lights can often be seen in Tromsø city centre. Photo: David Nikel.

While guided northern lights tours, which may venture several hours into Finland for optimal viewing, are an option, they can be costly. A more economical do-it-yourself approach can also yield results.

Despite some light pollution, Tromsø's city centre offers decent viewing opportunities. For a clearer view, especially when the lights are faint, locals and tourists alike often flock to the shores of Prestvannet lake or the tranquil beaches of Kvaløya island. Just wrap up warm!

The optimal months for viewing are typically from September to October and February to March. Just bear in mind you’re taking a chance by only staying in Tromsø.

If the skies are overcast in the city or the forecast is weak, you’ll likely miss out by not taking a tour. It’s a good idea to speak to the experts in the tourist information office if you’re considering staying in the city for the night.

2. Take the Sherpa Steps

For a breathtaking view of Tromsø's natural scenery, many opt for the Fjellheisen cable car to Storsteinen. It’s a wonderful view, no matter the time of year. As long as there isn’t low-lying cloud, of course!

Sherpa-built steps in Tromsø. Photo: David Nikel.
An alternative way to get to the famous viewpoint in Tromsø. Photo: David Nikel.

However, the cable car ride is quite expensive. A wonderful, completely free alternative is to hike up the recently constructed Sherpa steps.

These 922 meticulously laid stone steps were designed to minimise erosion on popular hiking paths and have quickly become a favourite among outdoor enthusiasts.

This challenging yet rewarding hike offers not only a sense of accomplishment but also stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Just bear in mind that the steps are difficult if not impossible to use in the winter months, and can be dangerously slippy after rainfall.

If you don’t like the idea of hiking up so far but still want to save some money, there’s an option for you. You can opt for a one-way ticket on the cable car up to the mountain ledge, then walk down the steps.

The steps start at a different location from the bottom cable car station. This is fine if you're walking or planning to take a bus back over the bridge, but it's something to bear in mind if you're driving.

3. Enjoy the Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens, nestled on the University of Tromsø campus, showcase an impressive collection of Arctic and Alpine flora from around the globe. The garden's Tibetan blue poppies and Falkland Islands’ slipper flowers are particularly striking.

Free to visit throughout the year, the gardens transform with the seasons. Winter and spring cloak the area in snow, emphasizing the rugged terrain.

Botanic Gardens in Tromsø. Photo: David Nikel.
Botanic Gardens in Tromsø. Photo: David Nikel.

The flowering season, typically from May to October, brings an array of vibrant colours and scents, offering a tranquil retreat in the heart of the city.

4. Relax on an Arctic Beach

A beach vacation may not be the first thing you think of in Northern Norway, but it’s possible in Tromsø!

Situated at the southern tip of Tromsø island, the beach and bay of Telegrafbukta is an idyllic spot to enjoy Tromsø's endless summer days. Despite the chilly waters, the beach's serene bay and sandy shores are inviting, providing a perfect backdrop for relaxation or a brisk swim.

Adjacent to the beach, Folkeparken, a popular wooded area, offers an array of recreational activities including hiking, skiing trails, coastal paths, and charming play cabins.

This natural haven is ideal for picnics, leisurely strolls, or simply soaking in the Arctic atmosphere. It’s not always peaceful though. One of Arctic Norway’s biggest music festivals is held here every summer.

5. Admire Tromsø’s Wooden Cathedral

While the famous ‘Arctic Cathedral’ often steals the limelight, the true Tromsø Cathedral, located at the city's heart, is equally fascinating.

Constructed in 1861, this unique wooden cathedral holds the title of being Norway's only wooden cathedral and the world's northernmost Lutheran cathedral.

Tromsø Cathedral. Photo: David Nikel.
Tromsø Cathedral. Photo: David Nikel.

Free to enter (when it is open!), its modest yet elegant interior is adorned with golden chandeliers and a remarkable 19th-century resurrection painting by Adolph Tidemand above the altar. The cathedral's historical and architectural significance offers a glimpse into Tromsø's rich cultural heritage.

Other Things To Do In Tromsø

Of course, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy a trip to Tromsø by paying a little, but still staying within a budget.

Of the museums with an entry fee, the Polar Museum is the most comprehensive about Arctic history but is a little old-fashioned and academic in its presentation. Entry is NOK 100.

My personal favourite museum in Tromsø is the lesser-known Perspektivet (The Perspective), a largely photography-based museum. According to the museum, it aims to “provide knowledge and foster curiosity about what it means to be a person with a northern perspective.” It costs just NOK 50.

Outside of Tromsø, there are many tour providers offering tours beyond aurora hunts. These include reindeer farms, husky-pulled sled rides, snow-shoeing experiences, and many more.

Budget Accommodation in Tromsø

Choosing where to stay in Tromsø will be the biggest contributor to your budget, especially if you’re staying more than one night.

There are a collection of hotels along the waterfront in Tromsø, but the majority will set you back at least NOK 1,500 per night. Elsewhere in the city, there are some cheaper accommodation options.

The 160 rooms of Smarthotel Tromsø are tight, but all feature good quality Scandinavian beds, a work desk, and a private bathroom with shower. The 24-hour reception doubles as a café serving light sandwiches, salads, and coffee throughout the day.

If price is the most important factor for you, you might find cheaper rates at Comfort Hotel Xpress. This is a no-frills hotel, so there’s no restaurant, rooms are not cleaned daily, and the hotel is entirely cashless.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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