For some people, planning a holiday usually brings visions of sandy beaches, sunny skies and cocktails by the pool. For others, there’s nothing better than jetting off to a glittering city for a cash-fueled weekend of shopping, parties and champagne. While I’ll never say no to either of these trips, there’s one place for me that absolutely stole my heart and shot straight to the top of my favourite holiday destinations. That place is Tromsø, way up the top of Norway. So far up, it actually sits in the Arctic Circle, making it a winter wonderland that looks like it belongs in a snow globe.
Sitting so far north, you can imagine it’s pretty cold up there. Its Arctic position means it has a totally unique landscape you won’t see in many other places on Earth though, where you can do some pretty cool things. So don your scarf and gloves, here are 10 reasons why you should visit Tromsø in winter.
It’s the perfect place to see the Northern Lights
Being 69° N and 18° E, it’s safe to say this is a pretty good spot to catch the Northern Lights. As well as being so close to the North Pole, Tromsø is an incredibly remote city, meaning there’s very little light pollution to interfere with the Aurora. If you’re lucky and are visiting Tromsø when the solar activity is particularly high, you can see the Northern Lights here with the naked eye. If the solar activity forecast is a little low or you’d rather go out and explore the fjords and Lapland under the lights, there are plenty of tours run by locals. They’ll take you to all the best spots to see the Northern Lights that night, as well as provide thermal suits, take photos of you, and many of them include hot food and drinks to keep you warm.
You can stay in a glass igloo
There are a couple of glass igloos dotted around the Arctic, but I stayed in one at the Aurora Borealis Observatory. It’s not in Tromsø so you’ll need to either catch a ferry, bus or drive there, but it was an experience I’ll never forget. Located on the remote island of Senja, the observatory is pretty much the only building there, meaning there’s absolutely no light pollution to disturb the sky.
The entire observatory is designed to optimise views of the Northern Lights dancing across the snowfields and trees, from the glass-domed igloos to the floor to ceiling windows in the apartments. There’s even an outdoor hot tub for those who are game enough to strip down when it’s below zero, with a unique viewing experience as a reward for those who do.
I managed to catch the lights on my first night there, and on my second there was a massive blizzard that totally shut down the roads and cities between Senja and Tromsø. Whether you’re gazing at the green lights dance across the sky or watching a blizzard swirl around you from the warmth and comfort of an igloo, it’s really not possible to have a bad time at the Northern Lights Observatory. It’s a unique experience you can’t live in many other places, and you feel like you’re in another magical world during the time you spend there.
Live your winter wonderland dream and ride in a husky sled
If there’s anything more amazing than riding on a husky sled through snow-laded trees in a glittering frozen landscape, please let me know because I’d love to hear about it. Whether you sit in the sled or drive it, both are an extremely peaceful experience because the huskies LOVE running as fast as they can, and as they take the same routes each day they know the way really well. The driver isn’t really the driver at all, the huskies are definitely the ones taking you for a ride here.
You can experience the polar night
From about the 27th of November to the 15th of January, the sun doesn’t rise in Tromsø, bringing the polar night. While an endless night might seem like a bad thing, nobody goes to Norway for a safe and boring holiday, they want adventure! The polar night means you can see things in a totally different way, from the pastel-coloured sky that’s streaked with teasing signs of sunrise and sunset for a few hours a day, to the jet black night filled with billions of stars as far as the eye can see. More darkness also means more time to see the Northern Lights, which is probably one of the reasons you came to Tromsø.
Alternatively, if you visit in summer you can experience the midnight sun, where the sun doesn’t set for a couple of months.
Tromsø was the base for many of the first polar explorations
This one’s a little nerdy, but if you’re like me and love everything snowy and polar, you’ll love learning about Tromsø’s history in Arctic exploration. Many expeditions left from Tromsø to map the Arctic and explore the North Pole, and there’s a really cute museum you can visit to learn all about that. Called The Polar Museum, from the outside it looks tiny but they’ve managed to pack quite a bit into there. There are loads of original artefacts from explorations on display, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours warming up when there’s heavy snowfall outside.
You can feel on top of the world by hiking a snowy mountain
Mount Storsteinen borders the little town of Tromsø, and makes it easy for you to hike a mountain in the Arctic safely. You can climb the 1200 Sherpa steps to the top, or take a cable car most of the way up, where you can then walk the rest of the way or just admire the view from the comfort of the warm and cosy restaurant.
Whatever way you choose to get to the top, this is one thing not to miss. The view over the frozen, glittering city of Tromsø, surrounded by dramatic snowy mountains and icy fjords looks like something from another planet, and you truly feel like you’ve reached the end of the world. If you’ve come during Northern Light season, you can also watch the aurora dance across the sky as far as the eye can see.
A word of warning though: being at the top of Mount Storsteinen was probably the coldest I felt during the entire trip as it’s so high up. If you do decide to walk up past the restaurant like I did, be prepared to feel the cold!
The local food is really delicious
With so many deep fjords and coastal towns, it makes sense that Norway would have some fantastic seafood. Any seafood dish you get in Norway is bound to be delicious, whether it’s a rich fiskesuppe (fish soup) or a modern sushi restaurant serving up divine platters of sashimi. Another must-try in Norway is anything reindeer, but my favourite was finnbiff, or reindeer stew. Tender strips of reindeer are cooked in a rich and creamy stew (made with brunost, Norweigan brown cheese) and served with mushed potato and vegetables. It’s the perfect thing to warm you up from the inside out!
Norway is also famous for its heart-shaped waffles, found everywhere from cities to ski resorts. Generally served with jam, they’re another warming dish that makes the perfect pick-me-up when sheltering from the cold.
Tromsø is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to
Even if you do absolutely nothing but move from your hotel or Airbnb to a cosy cafe and back again, Tromsø is a stunning city to simply wander and admire. It’s a tiny little place surrounded by snowy mountains as far as the eye can see, and connected down the middle by a sweeping bridge over a dramatic fjord. During the lighter hours of the day you can admire the colourful traditional buildings by the harbour, snow-capped boats docked for the deepest of winter and quaint streets filled with restaurants, bars and traditional shops. When even the smallest hint of daylight has gone you can watch the twinkling city lights contrast against the black water of the fjord and grey snowy landscape, or listen to the Northern Lights Concert at the Arctic Cathedral.
I’ve barely touched the tip of all the amazing things you can do in Tromsø, with some others being whale watching, cross-country skiing and even climbing a frozen waterfall. This is everything I did during my six-day stay in Tromsø though, and I would honestly go back in a heartbeat to tick some other things off the list. Norway is definitely one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, and whether you visit when it’s blanketed by winter snow or vibrant and green in summer, it should be on everyone’s travel list!