Hunt for the northern lights, experience a husky sled ride or simply enjoy the museums in the cultural heart of Arctic Norway.
The regional capital of northern Norway, Tromsø is the biggest city for hundreds of miles around.
As such, it punches way above its weight when it comes to cultural events and attractions considering its small population of just 72,000.
The city's island setting makes for some awesome photo opportunities in both the summer and the winter. Of course, the city also has a deserved reputation as being a great base for northern lights hunting.
The northern lights in Tromsø
Several organised tours are available where experienced aurora chasers will typically drive you by minibus out of the city to wherever the lights are strongest and the cloud cover is weakest.
Of course, you can also take the DIY approach by swotting up on how to see the northern lights in advance. This is made much easier with your own transport, but you can see the lights from the city itself when they are particularly strong.
However, to increase your chances, joining a guided tour is highly recommended. Experienced guides know all the best places and have access to live space weather and ‘regular' weather data to optimise the chances of seeing the lights.
While seeing a display can never be guaranteed, visiting Tromsø during September-November or February-April and leaving yourself 2-3 evenings free will drastically increase your chances.
Although the city is the perfect spot to base yourself during an Arctic adventure or for northern lights hunting, there's so much more to do within the city itself.
From the iconic Arctic Cathedral to some interesting museums and galleries, let's take a closer look…
What to do in Tromsø
The city may be small, but there's no shortage of things to do whatever the weather.
Don't miss a trip up to the top of Mount Fløya on the cable car. From here you can start one of many popular hikes, or simply gaze in wonder at the island city and its mountainous backdrop.
While you're over that way, it's worthwhile calling into the Arctic Cathedral to admire the architecture.
If you visit during the summer, you'll have an opportunity to catch one of the unique midnight sun concerts. If you don't mind staying up late, of course!
Despite its modern look, the cathedral (which is actually a Parish church) is actually more than 50 years old.
The city is also blessed with a surprising number of great museums, many of which are suitable for all the family.
The Northern Norway Art Museum is a must-see, while the Tromsø Museum at the south of Tromsøya island reveals the science behind the aurora borealis.
The Polar Museum documents the city's important history as a base for Arctic exploration. It opened exactly 50 years to the day after Roald Amundsen left the city on his final expedition north.
The Polar aquarium and the former sealing ship MS Polstjerna located right next door are other top sights worth checking out on a visit to the city.
Where to stay
Budget hotels are few and far between in most Norwegian cities, but Tromsø seems to have more than its fair share.
There is also a good selection of luxury hotels if you fancy treating yourself after a long night of aurora chasing. Check out our guide to Tromsø hotels.
If there's a group of you, or you just like the idea of self-catering, you could try the great-value, modern Viking Apartments. Whatever your requirements, search accommodation in Tromsø here.
Getting here and getting around
Given the big distances involved, most travellers will fly to Tromsø from another Norwegian airport (most likely Oslo), or visit the city on the Hurtigruten or another cruise ship.
Driving is of course possible but only recommended if you have plenty of time to spare.
It might not look far on a map, but driving from Oslo to Tromsø is a massive undertaking requiring at least one (and probably two!) overnight stops.
Once you're in the city you'll find it easily walkable, however it can be useful to get to know the bus system if you want to cross Tromsø bridge to the Arctic Cathedral or the cable car, or if you're visiting in the winter.
Check out our guide to transport in Tromsø, which covers getting here, and how to move around the city once you're here.
Before you visit Tromsø, here's a quick checklist of important things to consider:
- Guidebook: The Moon Norway guidebook has everything you need to plan your trip
- Accommodation: Book your hotel in advance and save money
- Car Rental: Secure the best rates by reserving your choice of car in advance
- Insurance: Don't run the risk of travelling to Norway without adequate cover
- VPN: Secure your smartphone's internet connection while you travel
- Tours & activities: Save money by pre-booking tours & activities
6 thoughts on “Tromsø Travel Guide”
We have booked a Hurtigruten round trip in March/April next year (2019), but can’t afford the on shore trips they offer. In any case, we would prefer to explore on our own, using local transport wherever possible. I have found detials of Nettbuss and Fram, but they only seem to operate south of Trondheim. How can we find out about buses north of Trondheim, up to Kirkenes? Is there one bus company, or is it individual bus companies in each town? Can you please point us to any sites or information or books which would help us “do our own thing” when we stop at different ports for a few hours? We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
The bus companies tend to be regional, but I’m not sure you’ll need to use any of them as Hurtigruten stops are pretty short. Most ports of call are tiny places and easy to explore on foot. Bigger places like Tromsø have plenty to see and do within walking distance of the ship. Enjoy your trip!
Wow, Tromsø looks amazing. I would love to visit, especially to see the Northern Lights but also because there are plenty of other things to do. Plus, I’ve barely visited Norway before. My main issue is that I would really love to see the Northern Lights and it’s so expensive and then so disappointing if I can’t manage to see them. But I guess that’s a risk that everyone has to live with.
Anyway. It seems like there are plenty of things to do in Tromsø itself. Do you know if there are also great excursions outside the city, especially in winter when it’s also possible to see the Northern Lights? Like riding a dog sleigh or just enjoying the snow? The former has been on my bucket list for what feels like forever.
Thanks for the great guide to Tromsø and for making me want to go there!
Hi ! We Visit Tromso from 18.02.-22.02. and we Need Tips how to Stay ! We would like to Drive Snow mobile and Huskies slides – where is thronest Place to stay ?
We are definitely inspired to visit Tromso after reading your article David. Thank you for all the information you have provided. The Northern Lights is also high on our travel list. You have given some great information on how best to see the Northern Lights. Thanks.
Our cruise botanist recommended the Tromso Botanical Gardens (no charge) which were a trip highlight in July. The vast collection of alpine plants was well labelled and blue poppies were impressive. The little coffee shop was open on Sunday. We used a taxi from the dock and the driver returned for us after 2 hours. Great adventure!