Tromsø City Guide – Winter Edition

Tromsø is the perfect place to base your Northern Lights trip! Here’s what you should know about this tiny Norwegian city.

Tromso city guide Norway

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Tromsø is a cute Nordic city, small and easily walkable. It was formerly a port city and is now a jumping-off point for seeing the northern lights and other polar activities.

In summer, it’s a stunning area for hiking and other outdoor activities, but this guide is focused on Tromsø winter highlights! 

Tromso city guide harbor views Norway

Planning Your Time in Tromsø

Here are the things I wish I had known before going to Tromsø, Norway:

One of the most convenient things about Tromsø is its own airport. It took less than 15 minutes by taxi to get to our accommodation, and there’s also a shuttle that runs from the airport to the center of town, so it’s very easy to get back and forth quickly.

Like any northern lights area, it’s a bit remote and often means multiple flight layovers. We flew from Italy and still took three flights to get there! On the way home, I found a route with only two.

Once you’re there, you can walk everywhere in town! It’s small enough not to need buses or taxis.

Norway is part of the EU but uses its own currency. The Norse Krone works about to *very loosely* 10 to $1. But everywhere you go take credit card, so no need to get cash!

Tromso architecture city guide Norway
Tromso Norway harbor

Tromsø is expensive compared to much of the world. Norway already has a high cost of living, but Tromsø takes it to the next level. Its distance from the major cities combined with mostly tourist population means that visiting gets pricey fast.

I hesitate to give you a number because it depends on what you do and how you want to spend your time. Remember that even basic hotels are often $200+ per night. I think most mornings we ordered two coffees and 2 pastries at cafes and usually paid about $25 per morning.

Cost aside, it’s better to give yourself more time than less on a trip like this, especially if you’re here for the northern lights.

Guides will say a week is the ideal amount to ensure you get a great aurora sighting. I’ve spoken with people who did weeklong trips in other non-Tromsø parts of the green zone (green zone = where it’s possible to see the northern lights) and only saw them once, on the 8th night. 

I go into way more detail on this in my Northern Lights guide, but I recommend spending at least 3-4 days. That way you can give yourself 2-3 northern lights chases and add in some daytime excursions if you’re interested! Save the rest of the afternoons for exploring Tromsø and relaxing. 

Explore Tromso Norway street views

Things to see within Tromsø

You don’t need a lot of time in Tromsø itself. It’s charming, but you’re mostly there for the experiences. That being said, there are a few things worth checking out in town!

Generally, walk around! This former port town is now a charming tourist draw. Storgata Street is very cute in that Nordic mix of old school and super new design sitting side by side. And definitely see the Tromsø Cathedral: it’s nothing crazy, but one of the major old buildings in town. Also, make sure to Tromsø down to the harbor: while there’s not a lot of action there in winter, it’s still beautiful to see all the boats tied up for winter.

The biggest activity draw within Tromsø is the Fjellheisen Gondola. You can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain overlooking Tromsø! If you get a clear day, best to go up and watch the sunset. Others have occasionally been lucky enough to see the northern lights from up here in the evening! There’s a restaurant at the top, perfect for a drink or meal to soak up the views.

As a university town, Tromsø has two museums. Both are run by the Arctic University of Norway and are cute small museums with great local exhibits. The Polar Museum features exhibits on the realities of living through the winter in the Arctic, the history of Norway’s major polar explorers, seal hunting & trapping, and more! The University Museum has exhibits about the northern lights, arctic kelp forests, Sami culture, and others. Both are NOK 110 each, or a combination ticket for NOK 165. If you’re a museum person, I’d say yes to whichever appeals more. If nothing grabs you, skip it.

Tromso city guide Norway northern lights base

If you go to the gondola, you’re already near the Arctic Cathedral. While it comes up on everybody’s list of the best things to do in Tromsø, I didn’t love this one. Its unique architecture is interesting and the stained glass is beautiful, but it didn’t capture me. I’m voting this one overrated.

Another way to lean into the full Norwegian culture is to go to the sauna! Sauna Pust sits in the middle of the port. It has an indoor locker room, sauna, and a fenced-off area to jump into the arctic waters! Locals do this year-round – many have sauna in their homes – and this is the easiest way to get in a polar plunge. Best to reserve in advance; it’s small enough that entry is timed.

Tromso harbour views



Norway has a strong coffee and pastry game! Every morning we tried a new place, and these were our favorites:

Kaffeebonna was the best. The drinks are great, and they have a good variety of pastries. Make sure to have a cinnamon bun! They have a few locations in town, so you’re probably staying near one.

Risø was another great coffee shop. They had a smaller range of food, but they focus on great sourdough bread! I had a toasted breakfast sandwich and it was delicious! They also offer more meal options that hit breakfast or light lunch perfectly.

Smortorget is a blend of cozy coffee shop and secondhand store. As such, the chairs are delightfully mismatched and squashy, perfect for getting out of the cold! They have a full breakfast menu as well, so if you want more than a pastry to start your day, it’s a win.

Breakfast pastries in Tromso Kaffeebonna


Skarven is a set of restaurants, giving you plenty of options for price points. We ate at Skarven Kro, a more casual spot. It feels a bit like a brewpub in all the best ways. The food was fantastic! This was my favorite meal of the trip. We tried whale steak, which was delicious. It’s hard to explain the texture: somewhere between an ultra-rare tuna steak and with the beefiness of a beef steak. Amazing. We also loved the goat dish.

If you love seafood and want a splurge, go to Fiskekompaniet. This elegant restaurant sits right on the harbor and the menu is packed with beautiful seafood dishes. I didn’t eat here – we decided to save our money for the excursions – but it’s universally considered one of the best restaurants in Tromsø.

Tromso Norway whale steak

Art Cafe Bistro has coffee shop feel, but it opens at noon, so it’s out of the running as a breakfast option. But it’s a good spot if you want a good lunch! It’s more than just sandwiches and soups; they offer a full menu of hot dishes.

If you’re craving a burger, head to Blårock Cafe. It’s a dive bar with a good burger menu. Not the cheapest (nothing is in Tromsø), but it was a good burger with plenty of craft beer on tap! They host live music, but mostly in summer.

Snowy nights in Tromso, Norway

Where to Stay in Tromsø

Scandic Grand Tromso is a great mix of a nice hotel with a decent price. It’s my favorite of the bigger hotels in the center of town. But book in advance, it fills up!

Enter Backpack Hotel hits the middle ground between a hotel and an apartment: the rooms are private and comfortable, but the hotel offers a shared kitchen and dining area. While it’s not cheap by normal backpacker standards, it’s a decent price for the northern lights high season in Norway.

Skaret by Vander is a good option if you want your own apartment. They offer options for more than two people as well, making it easier to split the costs for a group. Most of the apartments sleep 4-6.

Pust sauna right in the Tromso harbor!

Overall, I highly recommend Tromsø, Norway as your headquarters for seeing the Northern Lights! The town has everything you need and plenty of excursions to get the most out of your time in the Arctic.

Looking for more help to see the Northern Lights? Check my guide to a Northern Lights chase and excursion guide!

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