If you´re wandering what to do in Tromso this winter, then this travel guide is for you. We decided that we wanted to try and see the Northern Lights, so I googled “best places” and came up with Tromsø in Norway. Tromsø is known as the home of the Northern Lights and the Paris of the North, which sounded perfect to me. It’s a great base for heaps of arctic activities, and has a thriving food and nightlife scene. Here’s what to do while visiting the north of Europe.
Chasing the Northern Lights
Let’s face it, the Northern Lights were the main reason we ventured into Norway. I’ve always dreamed of seeing them, and was so nervous that the weather wouldn’t play nice for us. I cover more about how to photograph them in this travel guide. We had some good weather and then we had some shocking weather. But we did end up seeing the Northern Lights on one of the nights for half an hour.
Here’s some tips that will hopefully make your chances higher for seeing the Aurora Borealis.
- It’s hard to see the Northern Lights in Tromsø due to light pollution. So don’t just book a plane flight here and hope for the best. You’ll need a way out of the city whether you hire your own car or book a tour.
- I would recommend at least five to seven days in Tromsø. The longer you have the higher your chances. We only had three nights and two of them were so bad that most tours were canceled.
- The less moon light the better. If there’s a huge round torch in the sky it will be hard to see the lights. New moon is the best time to go.
- The lights happen all year apparently, but in the arctic summer you can have 24hrs of daylight, and you can only see the lights at night. They are seen from August to April, but they say September to March are the best months due to more darkness.
Feed Reindeer at the Sami Experience
Feeding the reindeer was actually so much fun. You can easily book a tour online or while you’re in Tromsø. It’s called the Sami experience, who are the indigenous inhabitants of Scandinavia. They have been herding Reindeer for thousands of years and live a semi nomadic life following them into the mountains in summer and back to the sea in winter.
The reindeer are well socialised and the herd is large enough to lose yourself in, even when there’s two busloads of tourists. You get given a bucket and then it’s up to you where you go in the field. If you can outlast everyone you end up with most of the herd following you around, which is hilarious. There’s a little hut with a fire where you can warm up when you get cold and endless tea, coffee, and biscuits.
They feed you lunch, which ironically is reindeer stew. The reindeers are life to the Sami, so eating them is part of their culture. They obviously appreciate them, and love the ones they’ve raised from babies, but they’re still a large food source of their culture. They offer vegetarian stew for those who don’t want to feed the reindeer, and then eat them.
Afterwards we listened to a talk on the Sami culture and learnt about their way of life in these modern times. The lady who ran the talk was very passionate about her culture and was eager to share it with us.
On one of the days we were in Tromsø we did dog sledding. Unfortunately it was on the day with the worst weather, so we have no photos due to the sleet and freezing wind. It was still a fun experience and I do recommend it.
We did a self drive dog sledding experience. I’d only recommend this if you are relatively healthy and not afraid of running up hills in the snow. It’s tough work, and you have to remember how to guide the dogs so they don’t lose interest, and break at the right times so you don’t crash into the person in front. If this sounds like too much work, then you can take the easier option and go on a guided tour.
If you’re worried about animal abuse, the good news is that the dogs seemed to genuinely enjoy the sledding. While they wait to take off they all start howling and barking in excitement, and once you’re off they bound through the snow. One thing to note is they are working dogs, not pampered dogs who live in a house. They live outside, but have little huts they can go into if they get too cold. They were so friendly, and so happy to say hi. There’s nothing to worry about with them, and the only biting they’ll do is nibbling on any buckles on your pants. At the end of our ride I said thanks to our dogs and they were beside themselves with excitement, leaning against my legs, rolling in the snow and lifting their heads for pats.
If you have some downtime between Aurora chasing and feeding reindeer then the Arctic Museum in Tronsø is great for a peak into the life of Tromsø and the history of Norway. The exhibits are all in Norwegian, but you get given a guide in your language at the beginning, so you can read what it’s all about. Be warned that a lot of Norway’s arctic history is hunting. There are some confronting photos and exhibits on how they butchered hundreds of creatures. What was really fascinating was the history of their arctic explorations. My favourite one was on the explorer Nansen and his attempt to reach the North Pole. It’s an incredible journey, and I’m amazed that him and his companion survived. I actually want to find a book on it and have an in-depth read.
The Tromsø Cable Car and Arctic Cathedral
The Arctic Cathedral and Cable Car are on the opposite side of the water to the city centre. You can catch the number 26 bus there easily from the city centre. Otherwise it’s a really pretty walk across the bridge and only takes about 30 minutes.
If you’re going to do the cable car I’d recommend getting there at 10:00am or earlier. There’s only two cars and they fit twenty-eight people in them. You don’t want to get caught waiting behind a busload of other people. Once you’re up the top the views are amazing.