Your two days in Tromsø itinerary could involve husky sledding, learning about Sami culture, visiting quirky museums or taking in views of the Arctic harbour from the top of a nearby mountain. Are you ready to learn all about this enchanting northern city?
“It’s not too bad”, Rebecca, our local guide, encouraged. She’d just jumped into the icy waters of Tromsø harbour after exiting from PUST, a floating sauna.
Telling myself not to think too much, I hastily climbed down the ladder.
My body lurched at the near-freezing temperatures, but after I’d taken a few deep breaths, I found myself surprisingly enjoying the refreshing chill.
For a few seconds, at least – then I hastily climbed back up the ladder and retreated back into PUST.
Although flinging myself into 2°C water was a daunting prospect, as I watched the sun rise over the city of Tromso on the walk back, I felt awake, refreshed and content.
I was just finishing two days in Tromsø, a city nestled well within the Arctic circle. I’d fed reindeer, cheers’d at the world’s northernmost brewery, hunted for northern lights and learned about Polar expeditions.
Here, I’ve put together my full Tromsø itinerary for any future jet setters to this unique city!
This blog post contains affiliate links. On this trip, I was a guest of Widerøe airlines and Visit Tromsø. All opinions are my own.
Two days in Tromsø itinerary: day one
Your first day in Tromsø includes exploring the museums and landmarks of the city by day and northern lights chasing by night!
Take a dip in PUST Sauna
Pust means breathe in Norwegian, and it’s a valuable thing to remember when you’re bracing the chilly Arctic waters.
However, the fact that you have a sauna next-door to warm up in means that taking a dip in Tromsø harbour isn’t too intimidating. We all survived at least!
Of course, if you don’t fancy taking the Arctic plunge, you can just relax in the floating sauna, taking in stunning vistas of Tromsø harbour around you.
I’d recommend heading to PUST first thing in the morning, perhaps for sunrise if it’s at a sensible time (it can be all hours of the day, depending on the time of year!).
We visited on our last morning in Tromsø, but it’s a novel way to be introduced to the city, so if possible I’d recommend heading here on your first day.
You can book a session at PUST on their website – tickets must be arranged in advance.
Explore the city
Once you’ve taken a dip in the polar waters and warmed up sufficiently in the sauna, head back to your hotel to refuel (the breakfast buffet at Thon Hotel Tromsø is exceptional – more on that below!) and then go back out to see Tromsø’s myriad of museums and attractions.
There’s plenty of appeal in just strolling around, taking in Northern Norway’s magical culture, but to learn a little more about the city’s history, mythology and people, I recommend popping into the following:
The Troll Museum
Yes, a museum all about trolls!
This kid-friendly establishment uses AR to bring images of trolls to life and has plenty of information about these local beasts.
They’re popular figures in Norwegian mythology and their origins, plus a few legendary troll stories, are displayed in the exhibit.
The Polar Museum
Learn about Arctic exploration in this conclusive museum, which stretches over three floors.
Its main focus is expeditions that left Tromsø for the North Pole and elsewhere in the Arctic, with information about how the explorers survived – and some gruesome details of times they didn’t.
You’ll also learn about Arctic animals and culture in and around Tromsø.
Part-museum part-aquarium, Polaria focuses on the diverse marine life around Arctic Tromsø and what can be done to protect it.
You’ll learn about the impacts of ice caps melting on Northern Norway (as my guidebook told me “today in Tromsø is tomorrow everywhere else”) and the tragic effects of plastic pollution on sea life in the Arctic.
Spend some time educating yourself at the exhibit, then head to the underwater tunnel to see the friendly seals.
They’ll glide over you, making for some fantastic photos. There’s also seal feeding at certain times of the day.
Head to the Arctic Cathedral
Probably Tromsø’s most famous landmark, the Arctic Cathedral is a triangular-shaped building made partially of glass.
It was designed to let maximum light in the winter months, but the priest soon discovered that it let far too much light in the bright summer months.
Subsequently, he ordered its stained glass window, which is one of the largest in Europe.
You’ll need to head over the Tromsø bridge to reach the Arctic Cathedral; we walked on the way there (to enjoy the gorgeous harbour vistas!) and took a bus back for convenience; regular buses leave from just outside of the cathedral.
Bottoms up at Mack’s brewery
Cheers! Tromsø is home to the northernmost Burger King and the northernmost Hard Rock Cafe, and potentially the northernmost brewery in the world (several sources claim so, although it depends if the brewery in Svalbard is counted as one…).
However, if it’s not the northernmost it’s at least one of the northernmost, and inside you’ll find cosy tables, a buzzing atmosphere and 67 beer taps (it’s Europe’s strongest draught bridge – another superlative for you!).
Despite visiting a brewery, I’m not actually a fan of standard beer, so I opted for a delicious alcoholic ginger beer with chilli.
My beer-drinking companions highly rated the actual stuff though!
Dinner at Bardus Bistro
Tromsø’s dining scene is casual; there are some excellent restaurants, but unlike Bergen (where we spent two days in previously), there isn’t a huge emphasis on visiting as a gastronomical destination.
If you’re visiting in winter, it’s perfectly fine (and expected) to dress in multiple layers, Michelin-man style, and then disrobe your many coats when you walk into a restaurant.
Thanks to the diverse population in Tromsø, there’s a range of international options, with everything from sushi and ramen to hand-made pizza.
Visit Bardus Bistro, a chilled-out eatery, for a range of dishes, with something to suit all palates. I opted for the vegan mushroom ramen and others had more traditional seafood or reindeer dishes.
Northern lights chase (in the winter)
Tromsø is widely regarded as one of the world’s best places to see the northern lights, and throughout the winter season (from late October to April) tour buses depart the harbour, driving into the countryside to see the spectacle of lights dance across the sky.
Our northern lights tour in February held a lot of promise; but unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky with spotting the northern lights, just making out a glimmer of green on the horizon.
Our expert guide took some decent photos, but they were nothing like the phenomenal display of northern lights that I experienced in Reykjavik one month prior.
However, many tour groups have had much more exhilarating displays of the northern lights in Tromsø (and many have left Reykjavik feeling disappointed with what they saw!).
It’s nature, and it’s luck of the draw, but it’s definitely worth at least trying to see them if you’re in Tromsø in the right season!
Weekend in Tromsø itinerary: day two
Explore Tromsø’s surroundings on day two: experience the fjords, go husky sledding and visit Sami camps!
Bergen, which is much further south in Norway, is generally thought of as the destination to sail through the country’s majestic fjords.
However, there are fjords around Tromsø, and tour boats depart the city every day to see them!
These tours operate in both summer and winter; in the summer you might sail to a nearby island and enjoy some time on the beach, whereas in the winter you could have the chance to see whales!
And whatever season you visit Tromsø in, you’ll enjoy jagged fjord views with blue water snaking through.
We enjoyed a cruise on board the Arctic Eagle with Northern Yachting, where we learned about local history and took in some immense views of the city’s surroundings.
You can book a fjord experience via Get Your Guide – click here for rates and availability.
Husky sledding experience
In the summer months, island tours tend to last for a full day. But if you’re visiting Tromsø in the winter, you might have the chance to squeeze in an extra tour – husky sledding!
One of the best things to do in Tromsø in the snow, this tour involves meeting a pack of excitable huskies, clambering into a sled, and whizzing around the landscape.
It’s two people per sled, with one person driving and one as a passenger (you can swap halfway through).
This tour, bookable on Get Your Guide, includes a full briefing and a warm drink around the campfire after the excursion!
Take the Fjellheisen cable car
Enjoy some of the north’s best views by taking the scenic Fjellheisen cable car to Mount Storsteinen.
As you ascend, you’ll witness far-reaching vistas both of the city’s landmarks and its surrounding fjords and mountains; but of course, the best view is from the very top.
At the top, there is a restaurant and hiking trails; some may be closed or access may be limited in the winter.
Sami camp experience
One of the most valuable things that you can do in Tromsø is to learn about Sami culture.
Sami people are indigenous to the northern part of Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Finland) and part of Russia.
They have a rich culture, much of which involves reindeer; they have historically used the creature for livelihood, food, clothes and transport.
The Sami people have suffered grossly unfair discrimination throughout history.
The situation has improved – nowadays there’s a Sami National Parliament and many of their traditions are protected – but it’s important to learn about the injustices they have faced, along with the tales of their culture and folklore.
On a tour of a Sami ranch, you’ll be greeted by a Sami guide who will take you to a reindeer pen filled with around 300 hungry creatures.
You can take a bucket and edge into the pen, feeding reindeer as you go; or stand on the sidelines and watch the spectacle!
If the weather conditions permit, you’ll also have the chance to go on a reindeer sledding ride around the camp. Keep an eye on the sky while you do this; the northern lights can often be spotted here!
After reindeer feeding or sledding, you’ll venture into a Sami tent where you’ll enjoy a reindeer or veggie stew and hear about everything from family traditions to facts about reindeer to customary clothes.
Reindeer-herding Sami (which there are fewer of these days) typically migrate away from Tromsø in the summer months, so this experience is usually only available in winter.
How to get to Tromsø
I was a guest of Widerøe, a Norwegian airline that connects eight European cities, including London and Aberdeen, to Bergen and then on to other Norwegian destinations, including Tromsø and Sogndal.
Fairly small planes with a 2×2 seat configuration make the two-hour journey into the Arctic; free tea and coffee is served and you can enjoy entertainment by connecting your smartphone to the free WiFi.
Generally, I enjoyed flying with Widerøe; and my flight anxiety was assured by the fact that the airline has some of the best pilots in the world.
On the way back, our plane was substantially delayed; this happens quite frequently due to the Arctic weather, so I’d recommend spending a night in Bergen on the way back to ensure that you make your connection.
How to get around Tromsø
Tromsø is a walkable city; we generally used our own two feet to get around!
However, bus routes ply the centre, connecting it to destinations like the Arctic cathedral and Tromsø Museum, and taxis are also available.
Where to stay in Tromsø
We stayed at Thon Hotel Tromsø.
It’s a contemporary, unpretentious hotel right in the city centre.
Rooms have comfortable beds, coffee machines, space for storage and a work area, and the modern en-suite bathrooms boast power showers with hot water.
The breakfast buffet is the best I had in Norway, with fresh smoothies, enough cheese for a whole board, cooked options and plenty of fruit.
Best time to visit Tromsø
I absolutely loved the charm of visiting Tromsø in winter. Sure, the weather’s cold, but it’s warmer than you’d perceive, thanks to the jet stream surrounding the city with mild water.
From husky sledding to reindeer races to northern lights chasing to enjoying the magical glow over the whole city, there’s so much on offer in Tromsø in winter.
However, you could also visit in midsummer (around June 21st) for midnight sun and warmer weather – which will give you the chance to explore Tromso’s surroundings a little more.
Rebecca from Visit Tromsø told us her favourite time was autumn, she told us: “the colours are surreal, there’s a gorgeous glow about the city. Plus, there’s a chance of seeing the northern lights, and you don’t have to freeze when you do!’.
Whatever the season, there’s always something to love about Tromsø!
What to pack for Tromsø
Your Tromsø packing list will vary wildly depending on when you are visiting.
If you’re exploring the Arctic city in the winter, as we did, I recommend packing the following:
- waterproof ski jacket
- waterproof salopettes
- thermal leggings and a long-sleeve t-shirt
- thick tracksuit bottoms
- wooly warm jumper
- thick socks
- waterproof boots
If you’re visiting in any other season, your packing list will vary depending on the temperature. It can reach highs of 30°C in the summer season (although this is very rare – 15°C is more common), so check the forecast before you head out.
Are you ready to visit Tromsø?
Tromso’s been called “north of normal”, the “capital of the Arctic” and “the coolest city in the north (with the exception of perhaps Reykjavik)”.
When you step off the plane and drive into this remote city, which will be either carpeted with a blanket of snow or bathed in midnight sunshine, you’ll understand why it deserves all its nicknames.
Enchanting and alluring, Tromsø sucks you in – and, while it’s relatively easy to tick off the highlights in two days, I have no doubt that when you’re leaving, you’ll already be plotting your next trip north of the Arctic circle.