Winter In Northern Norway:
Enchanted Sights & Northern Lights
I had always wanted to go to Norway, specifically the Northern part, and I wanted to go during the winter. Apparently, my home country of Canada isn’t quite cold or dark enough for me! 😉
I decided to look into possibilities and what I wanted to do while up there. It lead me to Tromso, a city in Northern Norway some 350km or so north of the arctic circle. For some reason, knowing I’d be so far North was really exciting to me (even though I can go north of the arctic circle in my own country!)… but Norway sounded much more fun!
I ventured off to Tromso and stayed there for a week, before heading even more north to the most northernly town and the closest I could get to the North Pole: Svalbard! That’ll be in my next post, so stay tuned for that one! Here, I’ll talk about my experience in the Troms area: a majestic, magical, and an incredibly beautiful place on our planet!
Tromso: The Gateway to the Arctic
The first sighting of the area was upon landing: the scenery was incredible! The view of all the fjords that make up the area suddenly came into view as we descended and the clouds broke apart. A white covered scenery of a winter wonderland unveiled itself, as the sun was setting on the horizon… at 2pm! 🙂
Polar night had just ended 2 weeks prior to my arrival, so needless to say, the days were short. The one good thing about short winter days is the magnificent light that comes along with it. The days may be short, but they are bathed in a beautiful golden light the entire time (unless it is overcast of course!).
Tromso is an island in the Troms fjords, and a very good base for most activities to be found in the area. It’s a nice Nordic and Scandinavian city with a homey feel to it.
A little bit about Tromso and some useful tips:
- It is located about 350km above the Arctic circle!
- It is the largest city in Northern Norway, with about 70,000 residents in the area
- Peak season is from September to March, coinciding with the season of the Northern Lights.
- From the end of November to mid-January, Polar night occurs, meaning the sun doesn’t rise for that period!
- Alternatively, from May 20-July 20th, the midnight sun is present, meaning there is 24 h of daylight and the sun never sets!
- Drinking water is safe anywhere in Norway and is some of the cleanest and purest water in the world!
- Currency is the Norwegian kroner, and credit cards are accepted pretty much anywhere.
- Tromso has a fairly good transport system, with buses getting to all parts of the island and beyond. Troms Mobillett is the official bus app for the area. It has many options such as a single ride ticket, 24h, 7 days and 30 days passes. I chose the 7-days pass which was kr240. Since I didn’t have a car, this was my best option!
- The island of Tromso is 10km long by 3km wide.
- Drones are prohibited anywhere on the island of Tromso itself due to the close proximity to the airport.
- Many sidewalks in the city are heated, meaning there is no ice or snow… HOWEVER, the streets are very icy and slippery! This coming from a Canadian! My suggestion: bring ice cleats or crampons for your boots and wear them anytime you’re walking outside. Thank me later!
- Even though Tromso is very north, the weather is particularly mild on the coast. 1 hour inland, and it’s a different world altogether.
- The coast of Norway boasts over 1000 fjords to explore, formed millions of years ago by glaciers.
- A 1 hour drive and you can find the Lyngen Alps, a known area for skiing and beautiful mountains!
- A 2 hour drive away brings you to Finland!
- Northern Norway borders three countries: Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
- Even though the temperatures dip to well below zero at some times, the ford waters never freeze over due to the golf stream.
- Tromso geographical coordinates: 69.6492° N, 18.9553° E
- A variety of whales visit the area from November to January, including humpbacks and orcas to name a few.
- Other animals in the area include reindeer, arctic foxes, many bird species, and so on. No, there are no polar bears!
For those of you who don’t know what Polar night is, here’s a condensed explanation: Polar night is when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, creating darkness for 24 hours a day. This only happens inside the polar circles, both North and South, and differs depending how close the location is to the poles. The closer to the poles, the more extreme it will be. This is due to the axis of the earth, as it rotates around the sun, and will in turn create the polar night and, in the summer, the polar day. This happens both in the Arctic circle and the Antarctic circle, although both will occur at opposite times of the year in relation to each other. The opposite also occurs during the summer months, where polar day, or more commonly known as the midnight sun, occurs with 24 hours of daylight.
To me, the contrast between seasons is fascinating. It is so extreme, but I love it!
Things To do In The Area
See Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis
The most sought-after phenomenon that people want to see are the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Tromso is fairly new to tourism, having a big boom in recent years with people flocking from all over the world, mainly in search of the elusive lights! Needless to say, these are natural phenomenons that occur, and there are no guarantees that one will see them during their visit! The best time to see them is between October-April, when darkness hovers the area. The peak would be December to February as those are the shortest days of the year and offering a lot of dark skies for most part of the day. When I was there at the end of January, there was about 4 hours of daylight total. I was also extremely lucky to be there when a massive solar storm hit the earth’s atmosphere, and was blessed with 2 nights of intense light shows where the sky lit up from one horizon to the next! It was like someone put a match to the sky and it just burst into dances of blue, purple, green and white explosions of light!
Thanks to iTravelKvaloya for helping me find a great company to join on an aurora tour: Tromso Friluftsenter, I had an incredible Northern Lights tour! Trine, my guide, was absolutely amazing and so much fun to be around! I think she was just as excited to see the sky light up as the group was, which was such a testament to her love of her home! She runs the company with her family, and is one of the only “family-run” aurora companies in Tromso! I like to support locals and their businesses, and you really can’t go wrong with them! They are incredible! I was so lucky to have my tour scheduled on the night of a massive solar storm, so we were literally outside for hours despite the cold! I couldn’t feel my feet and fingers at times, and had to warm up at different intervals in the lavvu: a traditional Sami hut with a fire pit and benches all around – to stay nice and toasty and unfreeze those limbs! I stayed out the longest, despite the pain from the cold – simply because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the action going on up above! It was such a delight to lay on the snow and stare at the sky… things we photographers forget to do at times! It was divine!
Trine prepared hot drinks and snacks for everyone in the lavvu! The tours typically run until about midnight, with return transport to/from Tromso center. They also provide very warm and bulky overalls for those who don’t have their own snow suits – it gets reallllyyyy cold standing outside for extended periods! Tripods were also available for those who wanted to use them for their cameras: an absolute necessity for photographing the northern lights. Trine was also very knowledgeable about the settings to use for those not-so photo-savvy! She even provides the images she takes with her one camera (and even portraits of guests too!) within a week of the tour through a Flickr link! All in all, a wonderful evening! 🙂
They also offer other activities in both summer and winter, so I highly suggest checking them out if you’re looking for a local company that has been around for a few generations and know the area better than anyone else!
I also took a Northern Lights cruise with Arctic Expeditions. We had a fabulous time out on the water and, although very cold, it was so peaceful! We were about 8 people onboard, so it was intimate and relaxing!
Here are some images! You can read a more comprehensive review of Arctic Expeditions further below!
Definitely not the best way to take photos of the lights since there’s always movement on the boat and requires long exposures, but it was well worth it to just relax and watch the show above! It was another great night for aurora activity, lucky indeed! 🙂
Do A Fjord Cruise & Whale Safari
Arctic Expeditions did an absolutely fantastic job at getting me out on the water to see some wildlife! Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a HUGE animal person, and anytime I can get “close” to animals and photograph them in their natural habitat is a huge WIN for me!
Setting sail on the Arctic Explorer that day was exactly what I had hoped for – and more! The weather and light were both exquisite – see the photos below to see what I mean! No explanations needed!
It was a full day out on the water – and the last official day of whale season, so I was crossing my fingers I was going to see some whales! My highest wish was to see Orcas since I’d never seen them nor had the chance to photograph them either! Well, my wish came true when we spotted some way up North (about 3 hours away from Tromso in turbulent seas!) – and it was well worth the freezing temps out on the deck of the boat! The light was just perfection: and we hung around with 2 Orcas for at least 90 minutes or so – if not more! It was priceless!
If you’re in the Tromso area during whale season, definitely put this activity on your list! The scenery is breathtaking and it’s so worth the bumpy ride! The crew do a fantastic job at explaining the different types of whales and wildlife in the area, with a visual presentation to go along with it! There’s also a mini cafe where snacks and basic food can be purchased. Cookies, coffee and tea are complimentary! I brought my own snacks, and I would encourage you to do the same! It’s a long day! Get a good breakfast in before boarding – getting on a boat in rocky seas is not fun on an empty stomach. You’ll thank me later!
Visit Norway’s Reindeer
Tromso Arctic Reindeer was my go-to company to see the absolutely adorable reindeer of the area!
Little fun fact: only Sami people can legally own Reindeer in Norway, it’s sort of a birth right.
A little about the Sami people and reindeers:
- The Sami people are indigenous to northern Norway, as well as to Sweden, Finland and the far northern reaches of Russia.
- The Sami language is comprised of a mix of Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian
- More than half of the 80,000 Sami people live in Norway
- Reindeer farming and herding is what the Sami people are known for
- The Sami culture is still very alive in Norway
- Reindeer are not kept in pens or farms; they are free to roam the land
- To survive the harsh winter months, the Sami people highly depended on reindeer. They were used as transport, clothing, meat, and so on.
- Each Sami family owns their herd of reindeer, varying in size
I visited Tromso Arctic Reindeer during an evening tour. I did the Reindeer Camp Dinner with Chance of Northern Lights tour and it was so great! I only wish I would have visited again during the daytime since it was completely dark when I was there, which meant photographing the reindeer really tough! Once I go back, I’ll definitely visit in daylight! They are the cutest ever!
The evening starts with a dinner at the camp, in a traditional Sami hut with a fire to keep us warm! Then we went outside to feed and visit the herd, which was so fun! Those who wanted to participate in a traditional sleigh ride took part in that, which I did as well! It was on traditional wooden sleighs with big blankets to stay warm, and the reindeer did a loop around the land! Again, it was dark so it was fun although it would have been better with some light! It was great, nonetheless!
Where To Stay
I stayed in 2 locations while in Tromso: in an Airbnb place near Folkeparken called Bjorn & Bibbis, and one onboard the MV Quest by the same owners as Arctic Expeditions. You’ll have to get in touch with them through email if you want to book your stay onboard! I loved staying on a docked boat; it was definitely a unique stay! Their boat also ventures out to Svalbard in the summer months, so check that out too for their expeditions!
Bjorn & Bibbis
A beautiful one-bedroom apartment in a cozy and quiet neighbourhood, steps away from the bus stop into downtown, and a short walk away to Folkeparken and Telegrafbukta by the water for some stunning views!
Bjorn and Bibbi make your stay a breeze, with little add-ons and helpful hints to get around and what to visit! They are also always very helpful and available to help if you need anything!
I’d stay here again in a heartbeat! It was such a lovely place! You can get in touch directly with them if you’d like to book a stay with them, especially if it’s for long term. Keep in mind though that it’s on the other side of the island, so getting around is better either by car or bus as its in a residential area! The buses stop after 11pm I believe, so keep that in mind as well. They offer a ton of information in a very detailed booklet that includes maps, bus timetables, do’s and don’t’s, etc! Just Splendid!
As mentioned above, staying on a boat in winter was a fun and different experience! The staff of MV Quest were exceptionally wonderful, always so helpful with everything!
The boat has everything you can need and more for a vacation stay! It was docked right across the bridge facing the downtown area, right down the hill from the bus stops and the Arctic cathedral! There were several levels, with a lounge (with tea, coffee and cookies always at our disposal), and a restaurant onboard where a buffet breakfast was served every morning, and a la carte dinner in the evening.
If you want a different kind of experience, definitely keep this in mind for your stay! I loved the gentle rocking of the boat which lulled me to sleep every night! The staff are wonderful and I would highly recommend this as a unique experience!
Tromso is definitely a beautiful place to be, especially with the golden light that the winter months can bring! I want to return to the area and explore more outside of Tromso, such as the Lyngen Alps and the North Cape! If you have a chance, I highly suggest putting Northern Norway on your bucket list!!! A definite MUST!
Check out my next post about wintertime in SVALBARD!! To be posted soon! I’ll drop the link here when it’s ready!
Thanks for stopping by and I hope this info has been useful to you! 🙂
Love & Light,