Tromsø, Norway is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been.
This little island city nestled between fjords over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle is vibrant, cosmopolitan and bustling despite its freezing temperatures and remote location. Tromsø is an excellent and incredible welcome point into all that the Arctic has to offer. I would return in a heartbeat.
Tromsø sounds off the beaten path. Once you’re there, however, you discover it has all the comforts and amenities of home. There’s even a Boston-themed sports bar! Ha!
Tromsø is home to one of the largest universities in Norway, and that influence can be felt in the packed pubs on the weekend, the museums, and the vibrancy of what is a pretty small city. People there are friendly and, like everywhere we traveled in Norway, most everyone speaks perfect English.
If you love the outdoors and the cold or you are dreaming of seeing the Northern Lights, I cannot recommend Tromsø enough. It is beautiful.
When to Visit
If you want to see the Northern Lights, the months between late September and March are the best times to try your luck. The major factor in deciding when to visit in that timeframe is the cold. You will be heading to the Arctic, so this is definitely a major consideration!
We visited in late November, which ended up working out perfectly for us. It was around freezing during the day, dipping below at night. With our layers, this was mostly comfortable. According to the locals, it was very strange that there was little to no snow on the ground so late into November. It gets much colder and snowier in Tromsø in late December and January.
Polar Night begins November 21st and lasts through January 21st. During this time, the sun never rises above the horizon. There were several hours of light while we were there in late November – a dusky, twilight. These hours were beautiful and gave the city a dreamy glow. The photo below was taken at 11:45am!
How to Get There + Get Around
Tromsø has a nice airport and the scenery cannot be beat. As soon as you step outside, you are greeted by the sight of gorgeous fjords. There are direct flights from London and a handful of flights from Oslo each day as well. We flew from Bergen to Oslo then onto Tromsø.
Once we arrived, we were able to walk outside and right onto the nice coach bus that takes you into the city center. You can buy tickets on board the bus which makes it super convenient. It’s about a ten minute ride to downtown Tromsø. There are tunnels that connect the island of Tromsø with neighboring islands and allow drivers to avoid climbing the fjords in the snow. It is pretty neat!
Tromsø is a small city, so once you are in the center, it is easy to get around. There is a bus system that other tourists around us seemed to take with ease. We ended up walking everywhere we wanted to go, as that was often equally as fast as waiting for the bus. Walking over the Tromsøbrua (Tromsø bridge) allowed for some stunning views.
There are a number of hotels right downtown in Tromsø. We chose City Living Hotel & Apartments for the combination of price, location, and the fact that it featured a kitchenette. The kitchen allowed us to make some of our meals and the location was right by the pick up spots for the Northern Lights tours we booked.
Our hotel was clean and comfortable and the staff was friendly. I would recommend to travelers looking for a relaxed lodging that allows you to cook for yourself and not blow your whole travel budget on Norwegian food prices!
We thought we’d be waiting around in darkness for our Northern Lights tours to start… not so! There are many things to do in Tromsø. Here are some highlights:
We decided to take the Fjellheisen up to Storsteinen to see view at sunset. I wish we had arrived earlier! Once we got up there, we realized you could hike up the mountain! Luckily sunset doesn’t mean darkness during Polar Night, so spent the next hour or so seeing how far we could get.
Up there, surrounded by gorgeous fjords, you really feel like you’re out there. It is so beautiful and peaceful. If you’re able, I highly recommend the hike. Dress comfortably and get up there!
Ice Skating on Prestvannet
Tromsø has many shops downtown. We didn’t spend much time shopping, but I was keen to check out Wintervold. Facing the Tromsø cathedral, it features jewelry from Norwegian and other Nordic designers. They had a beautiful range at varying price points and the woman working there was so friendly and helpful. She gave us some seriously good insider info – t the top of the hill on the island where Tromsø lies is a lake where you can often see the Northern Lights from the city itself… and you can ice skate!
Armed with this local scoop, we set out the next morning for the sports shop we had passed in the days before advertising ice skate rentals. We got some skates and made our way up the hill to Prestvannet. It was icy, but we made it up without any falls.. just plenty of slips!
The pictures do not do the views justice. From the top of Tromsø, you can see all the surrounding fjords. Skating on a frozen lake in the dusky sunset light with dramatic clouds, it was another dreamlike moment!
At the sports shop, the man there said we were lucky as this was probably the last day of the season to skate. What he meant was that Tromsø had not yet gotten much snow. If you do go up to Prestvannet to skate, make sure to check that it is not covered in snow! It snowed the next day as we were departing, so we were truly lucky!
I grew up skating on lakes so this was a super special and fun way to share that tradition with Andrew the Californian! There were many families and impromptu hockey games (and dogs!) on the lake with us. It was such a unique and fun afternoon, then we made our way back to town and visited the Bondens market. A lovely day!
Northern Lights Tour
The reason many tourists go to Tromsø is to try their luck catching the Northern Lights. If you went all the way there, it’d be foolish not to go! This was absolutely the highlight of our trip and is not to be missed. There are tons of tour companies to choose from and you can check out our experiences here.
Eating and drinking in Norway is expensive. Like really, really expensive. That said, everywhere we ate was delicious. If you are gluten free, you will eat well! The grocery store had a huge gluten free section and every restaurant was incredibly accommodating.
Here are some of our favorite spots that we visited:
Skippergata 11, 9008 Tromsø
We discovered Hildr on TripAdvisor while searching for a relatively authentic Norwegian restaurant in Tromsø that wouldn’t break the bank. It is very unassuming on the outside, without their ironic clapboard sign outside you might think it was someone’s house. The room we ate in also had homey vibes, with rustic curtains, paintings and plates on the wall. There was a funky, cool, small bar in the back and an ABBA-themed bathroom – what more could you ask for? Norwegian hipster at its finest.
Upon sitting down, we began to realize that we were the only people in the restaurant speaking English. Good sign, we thought. We both ordered the catch of the day and a drink from the bar. As we waited for the food, we saw many catches of the day making their way to other tables. Another good sign!
The food was fantastic. Simple, fresh, delicious. It looked so good and beautiful on the plate that I dug right in and forgot to take a picture. Oops. I would highly recommend this restaurant to all and if I were to return I would absolutely be tempted to try the tasting menu. Everything smelled so good!
Vestregata 2, Tromsø
Not Norwegian cuisine, but a must-visit! It would appear that Norwegians love pizza as much as I do (pizzas at 7/11, huge pizza section at the grocery store… etc) and they do it right. I also discovered Casa Inferno on TripAdvisor when searching for gluten free dining options in Tromsø.
I have to say I was really skeptical of the rave review of their gluten free pizza. Amazing gluten free pizza 200 miles north of the Arctic circle? It sounds crazy, but it is true. The crust was only second to that of Ciro & Sons in Florence, Italy. For real. Andrew loved his regular pizza, too!
Seeing pizza everywhere while in Norway, we saved this restaurant for our last night. The ambiance is funky, modern and sophisticated. The staff was incredibly friendly. We really enjoyed our experience here, so definitely check it out!
We did eat lunch out one day, grabbing some street food at Bondens street market. There was a stage set up and local acts serenaded us as we wandered the booths. It felt so festive and fun, with the sun almost setting, the Christmas lights twinkling along the street, and tons of families out and about.
We found some gluten free delicacies there that we couldn’t resist picking up! There was limited info available on Google, but my research shows that mørlefser is a traditional northern Norwegian treat! It was delicious.
Our tour guide on our second Northern Lights tour told us that Ølhallen was his favorite spot in the city. It’s the oldest pub in Tromsø and is connected to a brewery there, so expect to find tons of beers available! The space is unique and very nice. The crowd was a mix of locals and tourists.
A note for fellow aspiring bon vivants: If you are not a beer drinker, do not, I repeat, do not order a cider here unless you like super sweet drinks. For some reason it seems Norwegians prefer artificially flavored drinks ala Smirnoff Ice instead of ciders pressed from apples. If you’re expecting an apple drink with a hint of flavor, you will be sorely disappointed. Opt for the wine instead!
I can’t not feature this place! For any Boston fans/travelers, O’Learys is impressively authentic and a great spot to catch a game. They have Guinness on tap and real hard cider. I tried the nachos at their Oslo airport location and they were fantastic. Go and see if the “Steak Belichick” special is still on. They have locations all through Scandinavia … who knew!?
If you are contemplating a trip to Tromsø – I say go for it. It is such a beautiful and unique place. It is a city surrounded by nature that reminds you how incredible this planet we live on truly is.
If you have been I would love to hear your thoughts on where to go and what to do! Did you try a Norwegian restaurant that is not to be missed?