Judging by the amount of questions I receive about visiting Tromsø during polar night daily, it seems that now is the time where many of you are preparing for your trip to the Paris of the North this winter. A lot of the questions I get, I've heard before: "How much snow is there?", "What do I need to pack?", "What can I do in Tromsø on New Year's Eve?", and the list goes on and on.
So I thought I'd make it easier for all of us and provide you with everything you need to know about visiting Tromsø between November and January in this post - after all, surviving 3 polar nights as a Tromsø resident should make me somewhat of an expert?!
If you're visiting in late winter (between February and April), check out this post instead!
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What you need to know about polar night
The polar night season officially starts in Tromsø on November 27 and lasts until January 15 but technically, the sun already disappears on Nov 21 and doesn't come back to the city until Jan 21 due to the city being surrounded by high mountain ranges.
In this period, there won't be any daylight but it isn't pitch black either. There is a twilight and a form of weak daylight between roughly 9am and 2pm. Because of this, exploring the city and the outdoors is more or less limited to daylight hours which means you simply get less time in the day to do so.
What many people falsely believe is that you have a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø during polar night as it's dark anyway, however this isn't true. Tromsø experiences the nighttime aurora which means that you can typically see the Northern Lights in the evenings. While it is true that you can sometimes spot the aurora from as early as 4 or 5pm, it certainly isn't always a given.
To experience the real daytime aurora, you have to travel as far north as Svalbard where you can see the auroa literally at any time of the day - weather permitting! The weather is actually one more mythbuster when it comes to people believing that polar night is the best time to see the aurora in Tromsø.
The city statistically experiences more precipitation between November and January than in spring or autumn. Blizzards in December and January are more the norm than a rarity, thus severely diminishing your chances of seeing the lights.
What the weather's like during polar night
Like I said, polar night doesn't just come with darkness but also with pretty bad weather. The first snowfall of the season usually comes between September and October, though in recent years, the weather has changed quite drastically. In 2016, the first snowfall of the season didn't reach Tromsø until late November.
In general though, the snow doesn't last very long on the streets until around December. Temperatures aren't cold enough in November and range between -5 and +5 degrees Celsius so that the streets turn into a several centimetre thick ice sheet every now and again.
Here's what the different months are like in-depth:
November in Tromsø - Quick Facts
Average temperature: 0,1° Celsius (in 2016)
Coldest day of 2016: -6,2° Celsius
Warmest day of 2016: 7,0° Celsius
Average precipitation: 108,0 mm
Sunrise 1st of November: 08:11 am
Sunset 1st of November: 14:42 pm
Sunrise 30th of November: No sunrise - twilight from 08:46 am
Sunset 30th of November: No sunset - end of twilight at 2:18 pm
Good to know:
Many people book dog-sledding trips in November only to be disappointed that the tour gets cancelled because there isn't enough snow on the ground yet. As these tours are really popular, you can't wait until the last minute to book them either so if it's your dream to go dog-sledding and you don't want to visit Tromsø without a trip on the dog-sled, I'd recommend you not to visit the city in November altogether and rather choose a month in the late winter period between January/February and March.
December in Tromsø - Quick Facts
Average temperature: 0,5° Celsius (in 2016)
Coldest day of 2016: -6,2° Celsius
Warmest day of 2016: 9,5° Celsius
Average precipitation: 106,0 mm
Sunrise 1st of December: No sunrise - twilight from 08:50 am
Sunset 1st of December: No sunset - end of twilight at 14:15 pm
Sunrise 31st of December: No sunrise - twilight from 09:28 am
Sunset 31st of December: No sunset - end of twilight at 2:06 pm
Good to know:
At Christmas (24th-26th December), pretty much everything shuts down in Tromsø as it's a public holiday and many busses stop running too. The same goes for the 1st of January. In the period between Christmas and New Year's Eve, many Norwegians take what they have left of vacation days, which means that a lot of the restaurants and shops are either closed or have reduced opening hours.
On New Year's Eve there's a big fireworks show at the cable car station Fjellheisen (if it doesn't get cancelled because of a blizzard like it did in 2016) and there are different parties in the city's night clubs. The biggest party takes place at the fancy "The Edge" hotel close to the harbour.
January in Tromsø - Quick Facts
Average temperature: -1,5° Celsius (in 2017)
Coldest day of 2017: -13,4° Celsius
Warmest day of 2017: 6,3° Celsius
Average precipitation: 95,0 mm
Sunrise 1st of January: No sunrise - twilight from 09:27 am
Sunset 1st of January: No sunset - end of twilight at 14:08 pm
Sunrise 31st of January: 09:29 am
Sunset 31st of January: 2:26 pm
Good to know:
There's lots going on in the city to celebrate the return of the sun and the end of winter, for example:
Soldagen - Jan 21 every year - the day the sun returns. Typically celebrated with "sun buns" that you can get in all the supermarkets and bakeries.
Tromsø International Film Festival - 3rd week of January - don't miss the outdoor movie screening at the market square (but wrap up, it's going to be cold).
The Northern Lights Festival - Jan 27 till Feb 4, 2018 - a classical music and jazz festival.
What to do in Tromsø during polar night
Just because it's dark, doesn't mean that there's nothing to do in Tromsø during polar night. While I personally wouldn't recommend a visit to the city at this time as I'm not a fan of polar night, here's what you can do if you'd like to visit anyway:
- Go Northern Lights hunting - that's why you come here in the first place, right?
See Tromsø from above. If you want to take in some stunning views of Tromsø, take the cable car up the mountain on the mainland. If you take the trip during polar night, you will have a fantastic view of the city itself, illuminated in all its glory.
Go whale watching. Orcas and humpback whales come to the fjords close to Tromsø in late October and leave again in January and it’s definitely worth paying for a tour and enduring the cold. Just make sure to choose a sustainable tour operator who knows how to act close to the whales.
Go and visit one of Tromsø’s many different cafes. When you get tired of walking all around Tromsø to see what the city has to offer, go and enjoy a hot beverage at a café and just relax.
Go and visit the museums. Tromsø has a variety of museums to offer and they focus on various topics such as the Arctic, the Sámi people and even polar history and how the early explorers visited the North Pole.
- Visit the spa. If you're fed up with the cold, visit MS Vulkana - the spa boat, where you can relax in the sauna or the hot tub with a view on Arctic landscapes. You can, for example, book a spa boat fjord cruise with lunch or a fjord cruise with a 3 course dinner on MS Vulkana!
- Go for a hike. Now obviously, you can't exactly hike in the mountains if there's 2 metres of snow and you don't know how to ski. But there are several trails you can easily do even if there's snow around - find them all here.
What to pack for Tromsø at polar night
The key to staying warm in the Arctic in winter is wool! Bring long johns, woolen shirts and sweaters, as well as warm scarfs, hats and gloves. Wind- and waterproof outdoor clothing is important too, especially if you plan on being outside for longer periods of time.
The following products give you some inspiration as to what you should bring yourself:
Last but not least, you need warm boots with a good grip and crampons so that you don't slip and fall on the ice. Reflective armbands are also really useful to be seen in traffic but you can buy those upon arrival in all kiosks and souvenir shops if you don't know where to get them where you live.
More information on visiting Tromsø
You can also join our "Scandinavia and Nordics Travel" group on Facebook!
What would you most like to do in Tromsø during polar night besides watching the Northern Lights?
Leave a comment below!
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