Tromsø: city of the Northern Lights and gateway to the Arctic Ocean

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Between the golden midnight sun and the colourful northern lights, the city of Tromsø in the far north of Norway offers everything fans of nature and adventure could wish for. Those who are not afraid of the cold can go on a whale safari or a husky sled ride. In addition to so much action, there is also plenty of culture: in the museums you can find out why the city is considered the gateway to the Arctic Ocean.

City in Norway

Tromsø (also Tromso in English) is the largest city in the north of Norway and the northernmost university town in the world. It lies north of the Arctic Circle and therefore offers the opportunity to observe the Northern Lights. The city area is divided between the mainland and two islands and is the largest in Norway, but only a fraction of it is urbanized. The urban area also includes reindeer pastures.

Area2,520 km²

Why should you travel to Tromsø?

Whether summer or winter, the metropolis of the far north is always worth a visit, especially for adventure-seekers. Its location north of the Arctic Circle is what makes it so attractive and ensures superlative nature experiences: in winter, Tromsø has icy polar nights when the sun does not rise, but there is the opportunity to observe the spectacular Northern Lights. In summer there is also no sunrise, but the midnight sun turns night into day.

Tromsø bridge
View of Tromsøbrua in snow-covered Tromsø.

Tromsø has been recognised as a “Sustainable Destination”, which indicates that the destination is developing in a particularly sustainable way. The Sami culture is also within reach in Tromsø. The indigenous Sami people have lived here for centuries and give tourists an insight into their traditions.

Tromsø is considered the northernmost university town in the world. The university with around 15,500 students is called the “Arctic University of Norway”. Tromsø also offers an exciting culinary scene: Arctic delicacies from the region, such as stockfish or reindeer fillet, are available here. A visit to the northernmost beer brewery in the world, called “Mack”, is also a must. There are also cultural highlights such as concerts, art exhibitions and festivals.

By the way: the Hurtigruten ships depart from the city’s harbour. Norway’s former mail ships sail up the Norwegian coast to the northernmost tip of the country.

Where is Tromsø located?

Tromsø is located in the far north of Norway, in the northernmost province of Troms og Finnmark. The city is located on the island of Tromsøya and is a long way from other Norwegian cities. The capital Oslo, for example, is over 1100 kilometres away as the crow flies – but the borders with Sweden, Finland and Russia are closer.

Tromsø’s sights & activities

Arctic Ocean Cathedral

Tromsø Arctic Ocean Cathedral
The Arctic Ocean Cathedral at Christmas time

The Arctic Cathedral or Arctic Sea Cathedral is Tromsø’s most popular landmark. The Evangelical Lutheran church has stood on a small hill on the mainland side of the city since 1965.

The interior has been modelled on the exterior: It is supposed to be reminiscent of aurora borealis and ice. The highlight of the church is the large window made of colourful glass mosaic. Midnight sun concerts are organised here in summer and northern lights concerts in winter.


The Polaria adventure museum includes exhibitions on the subject of the Arctic and polar research. There are several large aquariums and tanks with marine mammals and various species of fish to familiarise visitors with the wildlife of the Arctic. The Polaria also has a panorama cinema. The design of the museum is reminiscent of ice floes.

Polar Museum

The Polar Museum is another place to find out about Tromsø and the Arctic Circle. The exhibitions focus on Norwegian polar expeditions and their history. The city has been the starting point for numerous Arctic expeditions in the past – it is not called the “Gateway to the Arctic Ocean” for nothing. The museum is housed in a wooden pier house.

Storsteinen mountain

From Mount Storsteinen, you have an excellent view of the city and its islands as well as the Arctic Ocean Cathedral and Tromsøbrua Bridge. You can either take the comfortable cable car up to the top or climb the Sherpa staircase with its more than 1000 steps – the view is worthwhile in any case, whether in the light or in the dark of the illuminated scenery.

Whale watching and winter activities

Tromsø Whale watching

All adventure enthusiasts should go on a whale watching tour or whale safari in winter (approximately November to January). This can also be combined with a seabird safari.

From Tromsø, you can travel by boat or catamaran to Kvaløya, also known as Whale Island. With a little luck and patience, the fjords around Tromsø offer the opportunity to observe humpback whales, killer whales and harbour porpoises in their natural environment, as the whales follow the herring.

The whole of Tromsø offers a wide range of tours in winter. Other exciting adventures include reindeer and dog sledding, snowmobile tours, ice fishing and snowshoeing. These become a special highlight when the Northern Lights light up the sky.

Northern Lights Tour

Travellers should not miss out on a Northern Lights tour in winter – if they are not visiting Tromsø to observe the natural spectacle anyway. The city is located in the centre of the Northern Lights oval. Whether it’s a night-time Northern Lights hunt in a group or an expedition lasting several days, also known as an “Aurora Safari”: Take advantage of this unique opportunity to see the colourful lights. All kinds of tours are offered on site, which you can easily book online.

Tromsø Northern Lights
Northern lights over Tromsø

You can find tips on the best time and location to see the Northern Lights in our article on auroratravel in Scandinavia.

Flights to Tromsø

A flight to Tromsø is recommended for your journey. Tromsø Langnes Airport is only around 3 kilometres from the city centre and shuttles run from here directly to the hotels.

Flights from London to Tromsø are direct and without stopovers. Alternatively, you can fly on to Tromsø from Oslo. The domestic flight takes around 2 hours.

Hotels in Tromsø

There are various hotels in the centre of Tromsø, ranging from affordable to particularly comfortable. However, there are also unique accommodation options outside the city centre, such as igloo tents or a farm hotel. If you want to explore the city first, choose a centrally located hotel.

Camping in Tromsø

Camping is also possible in Tromsø. At the “Tromsø Lodge & Camping” campsite, there are not only pitches but also wooden cabins, which are particularly cosy in the snowy winter. Overnight stays in a caravan or motorhome are more recommended in Tromsø in summer.

Rental cars in Tromsø

If you want to explore the city and its surroundings on your own, you can book a hire car online. The model, rental period and pick-up location can be customised according to your wishes.

Weather and climate in Tromsø

Tromsø is located north of the Arctic Circle, almost at 70 degrees north latitude and in the Trans-Siberian climate zone. Although it is quite cool all year round, it is still pleasantly temperate compared to the polar region. In July, the warmest month, it can reach up to 15 degrees. In winter, on the other hand, you can expect sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow.

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