Tromsø: One of the world's best cities to experience the magical northern lights

For those hunting the northern lights, Tromsø is one of the safest bets. And while you are waiting for the magical light, you can enjoy pulsating nightlife, restaurants with Arctic food on the menu, and spectacular nature experiences.


Adrian Møller Haugan

Tromsø has in recent years become one of Norway's most popular tourist destinations. Visitors from all over the world flock to the city in the north of Norway. The dream for many is to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis - the northern lights - during their trip in winter.

Also known as aurora borealis, this is a light phenomenon that arises when energy-rich particles hurtle towards the earth from the sun. You may not realise that there are actually northern lights year-round, however the bright summer months make it impossible to observe these colourful fireworks.

The best time for northern lights is from the end of September until the end of March or beginning of April. During this period, it's dark enough that one can see the northern lights if the conditions are right. The northern lights are most active around the equinoxes in March and September. There are numerous tours one can join.

Find exclusive deals with our partners: In Tromsø, known as Paris of the north, you encounter a great combination of nature and city life

imageFredrik Ahslen / Maverix

See Northern lights in Tromsø

Visitors from all over the world flock to the Tromsø in the north of Norway. The dream for many is to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis - the northern lights - during their trip in winter.

Tromsø, also known as the "Paris of the North'', offers wonderful experiences year-round: unique Arctic nature experiences, fantastic food from Northern Norway, and a vibrant nightlife.

It's easy to get to Tromsø, and SAS, Norwegian, Lufthansa and Finnair all have direct flights from a number of cities in Europe.

Where to stay in Tromsø

With an increasing influx of tourists in recent years, the hotel selection in the city has also improved. Today, all the largest Nordic hotel chains are represented in Tromsø: Radisson, Thon, and Nordic Choice, to name a few.

Several of the hotels offer fantastic views of the harbour area, the Arctic Cathedral and Tromsdalen - which is located opposite the bay.

Scandic Ishavshotell has won Tripadvisor's "traveler's choice" award several times, and "the county's best breakfast" no less than seven times in a row.

Clarion The Edge offers exciting architecture, a good breakfast, and Tromsø's only sky bar on the 11th floor. It's the perfect place to enjoy the view.

If hotels aren't your thing, there's been a big rise in Airbnb rentals in the city in recent years. There are also a number of hotels and cabins on the outskirts of the city.

Book your stay in Tromsø.

imageCourtesy / The Edge Clarion Tromsø

Where to stay in Tromsø

Today, all the largest Nordic hotel chains are represented in Tromsø: Radisson, Thon, and Nordic Choice, to name a few. Here is a picture of Clarion The Edge.

Tromsø's best restaurants

As in the rest of Norway, there has been an explosion in good culinary experiences in the Paris of the North in recent years.

In addition to local dishes such as reindeer meat, seafood, and whale, you will find more international favourites like hamburgers and pizzas. Blårock cafe and its hamburger is an institution that has been buzzing for over 30 years, while Burgr is the city's coolest burger joint. The same people behind Burgr also offer an expanded menu across the street at the gastropub Hildr. If the weather is nice, they also open their beer garden.

Casa Inferno offers authentic Italian pizza, while Huken Brygg offers delicious beer and an international menu

imageJay Wennington / Unsplash

Eat well in Tromsø

As in the rest of Norway, there has been an explosion in good culinary experiences in the Paris of the North in recent years.

Norway is "coffee crazy" and Tromsø is no exception. While the Kaffebønna chain will help you meet your daily caffeine needs, Risø offers food and coffee with an extra touch. Besides lunch dishes, including sandwiches and soups, they have what may be the city's best cinnamon rolls. Make sure to arrive early as they sell out quickly!

The Helmersen delicatessen specialises in international cheeses, oils, and hams, but also serves as a wine bar. In addition, they have home-brewed beer on the menu.

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The pinnacle is probably the fine dining restaurant Smak Restaurant. Run by married couple Eva-Linda and Espen Ramnestedt, and with only 18 seats, the restaurant has had an excellent reputation ever since it opened in 2017. The menu changes several times a month and is based on local ingredients in season. It is recommended to book a table early.

Activities in Tromsø

Beyond the northern lights, Tromsø is a mecca for mountain hikes of all difficulty levels. The Sherpa stairs up to Fjellheisen are among the more popular and easy trips you can do. If you don't fancy a hike, you can ride the gondola to 421 metres above sea level. You'll get a spectacular view across the Arctic city at the top.

In recent years, the trend of conquering mountain peaks has also arrived in Tromsø. The range of hikes is huge and there is something for every level. To get the most out of your trip in a safe environment, a good tip is to hire a guide or join an organised tour. There are several operators that offer packages.

imageFredrik Ahlsen / Maverix

Beautiful Tromsø

For large parts of the winter, it is dark in Tromsø, but when the sun comes out, all you have to do is enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Go fishing

Fishing has been a key part of Northern Norway and Tromsø for hundreds of years. For those who want to try their luck fishing, there are a number of companies that arrange fishing trips out into the Norwegian Sea. If you would rather have a historical approach to fishing and learn more about how much the fishing industry has had an impact on the region, check out the Polar Museum.

If you want to learn more about plant and animal life in the north, a visit to Polaria is a must. The aquarium contains a variety of fish species, shellfish, and flora from the sea in the north. The highlight is no doubt the feeding and training of Polaria's four seals. This happens at certain set times a day, so don't forget to check your timetable beforehand!

Tromsø also boasts one of the world's northernmost breweries, Mack Ølbryggeri. Since 1877, this family-owned brewery has been serving dewy pints to thirsty locals and visitors alike. In 1928, they also started their own pub, Ølhallen. The pub is still in operation and is a must-visit for those who want to experience a piece of the city's history in liquid form.

Since its inception, Mack has expanded its range and today brews dozens of varieties. Although most Mack beer today is produced outside the city, you can experience guided tours and beer tastings at Mack's own microbrewery in Storgata.

For those who want a quick, refreshing Arctic dip, Pust offers saunas in Tromsø harbour. Here, you can jump right out into Tromsøysundet. The sauna's architecture has gained international attention, and if you are lucky a visit there might include an incredible view of the northern lights. You can also rent the entire sauna for yourself if you like.

Day trips from Tromsø

If the city of Tromsø doesn't give you enough to fill your day, there are plenty of day trips that can give you a cultural boost. A modest hour's drive from Tromsø city centre lies idyllic Sommarøy. The old fishing village is famous for its white sandy beaches and azure water. It's the ideal place to spend a few hours, eat some fish soup, and have a Mack beer in the sun (if it appears, that is).

It's also possible to stay overnight at Sommarøy. Arctic Hotell is a perfect place to explore the island, and offers guided tours, as well as rental of both bike and kayak. In addition, there is a sauna and swimming facilities, although the temperatures aren't that high.

A visit to Sommarøy can easily be combined with a stop at Tromsø Wilderness Centre. In winter, it's one of the Tromsø area's most popular places for dog sledding. In the summer, the Husky Café is a big draw. Here, you and the children can stroll around and say hello to the approximately 200 dogs that live there.

imageAbhishek Umrao/Unsplash

Go on an amazing hike in Tromsø

Tromsæ is a mecca for mountain hikes of all difficulty levels. The Sherpa stairs up to Fjellheisen are among the more popular and easy trips you can do. The top offers beautiful views of the city.

About a two-hour drive from Tromsø lies Lyngen. The area is perhaps best known for summit hikes in the Lyngen Alps in the winter, but there are fantastic hiking trails in summer and autumn too. One of the more popular hikes is to Blåisvatnet lake. The trip itself is eight kilometres long and you should expect to spend around three hours round trip.

If fresh air and nature is not your thing, you will also find the world's northernmost whisky distillery in Lyngen, Bivrost. The distillery offers tours that include tastings. Besides whiskey, Bivrost also produces aquavit, gin, and vodka.

Tromsø - city of culture

Tromsø has for many years been one of Norway's most famous and vibrant cultural cities. There are lots of cultural events there throughout the year. The largest and most famous is probably the film festival Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF) which is held in January each year, as well as the music festival Buktafestivalen, held in July. Major international stars like Iggy Pop, Franz Ferdinand, and The War on Drugs are just some of the artists who have entertained audiences under the midnight sun over the years.

If the Bukta rock festival is not really your bag, Rocket Night will be held in Tromsø city centre in August. The festival has a more pop-oriented line-up and features a number of Norwegian and international artists.

For electronica fans, a visit to Röyksopp's hometown is almost mandatory. If you schedule the pilgrimage for October, it's a golden opportunity to combine this with the Insomnia festival. The festival is a pure electronica and techno festival featuring both established names and young talents.

The Northern Lights Festival has been going strong for 35 years. The festival is held in the latter half of January each year and has gone from being a festival exclusively for classical music to containing elements of jazz and contemporary music. Local is the key word, with about half of the approximately 400 artists participating having a connection to the region.

imageCourtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Bukta Festival

A regular summer feature in Tromsø is the rock festival Buktafestivalen. It is held in Telegrafbukta. Here is a picture of Kvelertak from their concert in 2013.

Nightlife in Tromsø

Since the happy 1970s, Tromsø has been known as one of Norway's best cities for nightlife. With around 12,000 students, it is perhaps not surprising that this reputation remains alive and well today.

The students themselves can currently be found at the club Driv in Storgata. The bar and café hosts a number of concerts, quizzes, and other events all year round. There is no requirement to be a student to hang out here, but feel free to check its website to see if it's open during your visit.

In addition to its famous burgers, mentioned above, Blårock is widely known for its concerts. The list of Norwegian and international artists who have played here is longer than a hard year. When not hosting live music, there's usually a DJ dishing up immortal rock classics on the turntables.

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One of Tromsø's best cocktail bars is called Bardus and is located on a side street to the city's high street, Storgata. Besides good cocktails, you will also find one of the city's finest eateries right next door. Bardus Bistro offers delicious food based on local ingredients.


Great cocktails at Bardus

Bardus bar & bistro in Tromsø has one of the best cocktail bars in Norway, as well as a very good bistro restaurant next door.

Locally brewed beer

While Bardus serves up the most delicious drinks, Amtmandenes bar around the corner is a good option if you want a cultural refill. The bar has a good selection of wine and beer, a variety of snacks, and quizzes, author events, and concerts are held regularly.

Huken Brygg was for many years best known for its impeccable atmosphere and food service until the late hours of the night. The only minus was that the venue was tiny, and you almost had to start a fight to get a seat. Fortunately, the owners eventually noticed the great demand too, and moved to a larger venue. Today, it is characterised by home-brewed and local beers, as well as a good selection of cocktails and wine. Food is still served, and the board games are plentiful.

If you want some activity while sipping your drink, there are several options in Tromsø. In the Mack brewery's old premises, Storgata Camping offers mini golf and karaoke. In the evening, concerts are often held, and DJs provide the beats.

ByBowling was for many years a relatively modest and sad bowling alley, but in 2021 the premises went through a soul-altering renovation. Today they offer not only bowling, but billiards and shuffleboard, too. It's also fine to simply enjoy a beer or two without playing anything.

Prelaten refers to itself as one of Tromsø's biggest nightclubs, and they are not wrong. In the basement of an alley by Storgata, you will find this combination pub, nightclub and concert venue. People flock there, whether for some board games and a cold beer, or a full evening on the dance floor.