Experience the Northern Lights (and other winter activities) in Norway's Tromsø

The town is among the best places to spot the aurora borealis, with myriad excursions on land and fjord.

Harper's Bazaar India

Tromsø—on the island of Tromsøya in northern Norway—is among the most spectacular places on Earth to catch the northern lights. Just over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and right in the heart of the aurora oval, the small city boasts some of the brightest and most frequent displays of the otherworldly phenomenon—which, thanks to the region’s stunning fjords and dramatic mountains, can be experienced in a range of different ways. Although a sighting is never guaranteed, plan your trip to Tromsø between late September and mid-April, when days are shorter, for your best shot. (During polar night season, from late November to mid-January, there is faint twilight from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; otherwise, it’s dark.) Clear skies are crucial, no matter when you visit.

With a bustling downtown filled with charming restaurants and shops, a unique sauna experience, and plenty of adventurous land and sea tours all available nearby, Tromsø promises ample activities to enjoy besides the aurora borealis. For an unforgettable encounter with nature, visit between November and January and book a whale watching cruise. During that period, the region’s fjords become a haven for humpback whales, orcas, and harbour porpoises.

Where to Stay in Tromsø

For sleek, affordable digs and extreme convenience, consider Moxy Tromsø, a stone’s throw from Tromsø Airport and a ten minute drive from the more bustling downtown. More toned-down than other Moxy hotels, this location still provides a welcome cocktail and playful touches of pink, but the decor of its 208 rooms—which are both sizable and comfortable—embraces a more minimalist, Scandi aesthetic. The best part of the hotel is undoubtedly its lobby, bar, and dining area, on the top (11th) floor, which boasts ample seating and floor-to-ceiling windows to enjoy unobstructed views of the Tromsøysundet strait. On especially clear nights, lucky travelers can play a game of pool inside the lounge and pop out onto its conjoined deck to watch the northern lights dance overhead.

Where to See the Northern Lights

The best way to see the aurora borealis is undoubtedly on an outdoor excursion, and Tromsø offers many options.

If staying on land is more your style, consider going to the top of Mount Storsteinen, which sits nearly 1,400 feet above sea level and boasts panoramic views of Tromsø and the surrounding fjords below. Reach the peak via a rewarding hike that takes you up 1,200 stone steps, or take it easy on the Fjellheisen aerial tramway and enjoy the scenery on the four-minute ride up. Once at the summit, take a load off at Fjellstua, which offers everything from coffee and cakes to reindeer burgers and wine, and then head outside onto the restaurant’s viewing deck to wait for the greatest light show on the planet.

A more relaxed yet equally gratifying way to chase the aurorae is on a dinner cruise—Brim Explorer’s ships run on electric engines and therefore provide an especially peaceful experience. Float along the inky fjords while enjoying a meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, and look out of the boat’s 360 degree windows or from the outdoor deck. On the water and far away from light pollution, the polar lights can appear especially clear.

For some, one night of light chasing might not be enough. Legendary Adventure, a travel company run by Tromsø native Espen Minde, offers two multi-day Northern Lights tours for more intrepid seekers. Go dog sledding and snowshoeing, camp underneath a blanket of shimmering stars, and visit local Sámi people (the Indigenous people of the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and large parts of the Kola Peninsula) to learn about their traditions, lifestyle, and history, all while in hot pursuit of the aurora borealis.

Other Activities to Enjoy

Invigorate your body and mind with a trip to Pust, a reservable floating sauna on the Tromsø harbor. Change into your swimsuit when you arrive and heat up in the windowed steam room looking out onto the water before heading outside and down a ladder for a quick plunge into its frigid waters. Cycling through this routine a few times will help clear your head, energise your skin, and revitalise your spirit.

To see more of the area’s fjords and striking islands, hop aboard the Hermes II, a gorgeous restored wooden boat from 1917. Choose from a one-hour tour of the Tromsø sound, an informative history tour lasting just over two hours, or an extended fishing cruise where you’ll get to enjoy all the natural beauty the area has to offer—and maybe catch (and then eat) a giant cod.

Pet and play with pups at the Tromsø Wildnerness Centre, home to around 200 Alaskan huskies. Founded in 1988 by dog sledder Tove Sørensen, the family run business is more tour—than competition-based, providing hours and days long dog-sledding trips throughout the winter. During the summer, the dogs enjoy mountain and glacier hikes with staff members and public volunteers alike.