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1. Only plan a night or two in the area
Chances are you’re planning to visit Tromsø to see the Northern Lights, right? In that case, a night or two just won’t be enough. Yes, Tromsø is a great place to spot the Northern Lights as it’s far enough north to be able to see the Northern Lights even if the KP index (the aurora activity index) is rather low. However, that doesn’t mean that the weather will be great during your visit.
In fact, it’s more than likely that you’ll encounter overcast skies, which make it impossible to see the Northern Lights.
In order for you to (almost - there’s never a 100% guarantee) make sure you’ll spot the Northern Lights, you should plan in at least 4 nights above the Arctic Circle - the more the better, though, especially if you’re visiting during November/December when the weather is at its worst!
2. Go on a northern lights tour even though you’re on a budget and the weather is great
Here’s the thing about Northern Lights tours: You don’t always need them!
If the weather is great and you have clear skies during your visit and if the KP index is high, there really is no need for a tour as you’ll most likely be able to see the lights from the city centre.
Since that’s not always the case, though, I recommend people to book a Northern Lights tour only if they have the budget for it and when the weather forecast and KP index don’t look too promising. The good thing about the tours is that they’ll drive you to where the chance for clear skies is at its best - and that’s something you won’t be able to do on your own.
However, if the skies are clear, there really is no need for a tour as you can easily head somewhere dark to see the lights on your own. If you rely on public transport, lake Prestvannet and the beach Telegrafbukta are great spots - otherwise, you can rent a car and head to the island Kvaløya, where you’ll find many dark bays and beaches that are perfect to spot the lights.
If the KP index is very low, however, there really isn’t anything you can do. After all, tour companies can’t magically let the Northern Lights appear either. If they’re not active, they’re not active. That’s just the way it is, sadly.
3. not bring/rent proper winter clothing
Granted, Tromsø with its location in coastal Northern Norway really doesn’t get too cold in winter thanks to the Gulf Stream. However, you need proper winter clothing even if it’s “only” -5 minus degrees Celsius, as you’re probably going to be outside for the majority of your days/nights during your trip, either watching the Northern Lights or going on a whale safari.
If you’re inactive outside, even 0 degrees will make you freeze quite quickly - let alone -20 degrees that you might encounter when heading inland on a Northern Lights safari.
Make sure to bring proper winter clothing: thermal underwear, a high quality down jacket, ski pants, good winter/snow boots and woollen gloves, a hat and a scarf. If you can’t buy these kinds of clothes where you live (or if you would simply never need them at home again), you can easily rent all kinds of winter clothing at Tromsø Outdoor.
Lastly, you should also make sure to bring/buy crampons as the streets of Tromsø are an ice-skating rink for the majority of winter and you probably don’t want to risk a broken leg on your holiday!
4. rent a car even though you’ve never driven on snow and ice before
Renting a car when visiting Tromsø gives you the chance to hunt the Northern Lights on your own, as well as truly getting to know Northern Norway and its scenic landscapes. However, if you’ve never previously driven on snow and ice before, renting a car in the middle of winter might not be the best idea!
So, if you’re already feeling nervous about the idea of driving on ice, don’t do it! If you think you’re an experienced enough driver who can handle all sorts of road conditions - fine, but make sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast in order not to drive into a snowstorm, and bring proper clothing, as well as plenty of water and snacks, in case you get stuck on the road in freezing temperatures.
5. ignore weather reports and local warnings
Winter in Northern Norway sadly also means avalanche danger. The local weather reports at that time of year are often also followed by the risk of avalanches. If there’s a high avalanche risk during your visit, going for a hike or going skiing in the mountains is the dumbest idea ever.
The local authorities often have to close roads and/or hiking trails due to an increased avalanche risk and if that is the case, you shouldn’t ignore their warnings and climb the barrier to embark on the hike/ski tour anyway.
I wish this would go without saying but sadly, there are plenty of tourists in Northern Norway who do just that each winter, thus, potentially bringing themselves and others in unnecessary danger. So to keep it short: The warnings you might encounter are there for a good reason, so don’t be an idiot!
6. not go on a winter stroll outside the city
That being said, you should absolutely enjoy the nature of Northern Norway and make your way outside the city centre. You don’t need a car to do so, though, and you don’t need to bring yourself in danger either.
There are plenty of easy and safe walking trails close to the city centre that can also be used during winter. My personal favourite is the beach at Telegrafbukta, but the lake Prestvannet on top of Tromsø Island is stunning in winter as well! And of course, nothing beats the view of Tromsø from above at the top of the cable car station (you’ll have to take the cable car, though - the hike to get up the mountain is only safe in the summer).
7. Not splurge on norway’s excellent seafood
Last but not least, you can’t visit Northern Norway without tasting what the region and the local ocean have to offer. Nothing beats a plate of Halibut at Fiskekompaniet in downtown Tromsø, but then again, there’s plenty of other amazing restaurants in Tromsø that serve authentic Northern Norwegian cuisine.
Apart from Fiskekompaniet (which truly is the best seafood restaurant I’ve encountered so far in the almost 5 years I’ve been living in Norway), Mathallen and Hildr also won’t disappoint. Whether you’d like to try king crab fresh from the Barents Sea, or aren’t a fan of seafood at all and would rather try some reindeer meat, Tromsø has a lot to offer when it comes to Norwegian cuisine!
More articles about Tromsø:
The Insider’s Guidebook to Tromsø / My e-guide with all hidden gems and local tips I’ve gathered during my 3 years of living in the city
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