Are you willing to potentially be VERY cold, really freezing, to see the Northern Lights and have crazy winter adventures along the way? I was. I hate being cold; I’m a hot > cold type. But it was completely worth enduring the cold of northern Norway in December for the experiences I had.
I work full-time in the US and have limited vacation days. I mean 15 days is pretty reasonable by US standards, but not so much compared to other places (looking at you, Europe). I’m pretty greedy with my vacation days; I don’t want to use them for just anything. This trip was completely worth the time.
The trip to Norway was actually a trip within a trip. I spent 18 months in Luxembourg (love!) completing my Masters degree. I scheduled my Norway trip to coincide with my graduation in Luxembourg. In total, I spent 10 days between the two places, with 3 nights and 2 days in Norway.
Two days was sufficient, though if I could do it again I would do three or four days. I really wanted to do a snowmobiling day trip, but just couldn’t fit it in. If you’re planning a trip to northern Norway or seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, go for it! It’s phenomenal. And the winter activities in Tromso come with gorgeous views.
I went with two of my girlfriends who are still living in Luxembourg. We flew Frankfurt –> Oslo –> Tromso. We rented a car from Tromso Airport which made it a lot easier to our own exploring and to make our way from Tromso to Lyngen North.
Pro tip: If you think you might want a glass of wine, buy it at the airport! Alcohol can only be purchased in certain stores, which are closed on Sundays.
If you’re not into freezing, check out how I spent 10 amazing days in Norway during the summer and
Tromso mini-bus tour
We arrived in Tromso at around 4pm, got our car, and went to Tromso Lodge & Camping to check in. I definitely recommend staying here, especially if you’re on a budget, but would say a car is needed as its not in the city center. We stayed here our first and third nights an both were lovely.
After checking in, we very quickly made out way into the city center for the first of our Tromso winter activities: chasing the Northern Lights. For our first attempt at catching a glimpse of the Norhern Lights in Tromso, we went with a minibus tour. I do NOT recommend this. These tours all leave from the same place, around the same time, it’s hard to figure out which group you’re looking for, and just all around not well organized. Also, the bus is incredibly cramped and uncomfortable, especially if you’re tall.
Our tour advertised that it would go into Finland if the conditions to see the lights weren’t good around Tromso. This didn’t happen. We spent 7 hours with this tour, initially making camp and having a bonfire that didn’t include enough chairs for everyone to sit. The guides eventually decided the conditions weren’t good in this spot, so we loaded back into the bus and proceeded to drive around for several more hours.
We didn’t see the lights. Now, I don’t blame the guides for this; they don’t control the weather, but it was an all around disappointing tour.
Reindeer Sledding Tromso
When we arrived at our accommodation Friday night we booked a reindeer sledding excursion for Saturday morning. I wasn’t sold on this activity, but on of my friends really wanted to go and I’m glad we did.
Reindeer sledding Tromso is just so freaking cool! We went to Tromso Arctic Reindeer and opted for the short reindeer sledding, feeding, and Sami culture option. Reindeer are much smaller that I thought they were and I enjoyed feeding and getting close to them.
With this, we also got some knowledge about reindeer herding and Sami culture. After feeding and sledding, we went into a traditional-style tent for some food. Guess what was for dinner? Reindeer stew.
Yeah, I couldn’t eat it. My friends did, but after feeding the reindeer and getting up close with them, I just couldn’t do it. If you’re in the same boat as me, a vegetarian option is available.
Tromso to Lyngen North
Staying in a glass igloo has been on my bucket list for years. While there isn’t a Tromso igloo hotel, I found the Lyngen North igloo hotel.
Staying at the Lyngen North Glass Igloo Hotel was definitely a highlight of this trip.
We drove from Tromso to Lyngen North, which ins’t a bad drive, about 3 hours, and provides stunning views of the fjords. However, if you do this, don’t make the same mistake that we did. Check the route and make sure you don’t follow the route that includes a ferry.
When I made the reservation for Lyngen North Glass Igloo hotel I made sure to confirm that three people in one room was doable. They confirmed it was and the owner kindly brought the cot down for us.
The restaurant at the hotel has delicious food, including desert! While we ate, the owner spotted the Northern Lights and we were almost embarrassingly excited. We ran outside and started jumping up and down like crazy people.
We finished dinner and made our way back to our igloo. I grabbed my SLR, camera gear, bundled up in my winter gear, and went outside. The Northern Lights were visible and dancing for us! The view of the northern lights in Lyngen North was stunning.
The view the next morning, in the pale light, was just as beautiful. Our Lyngen North glass igloo was situated on the water, surrounded by snowy mountains.
If I make this trip again in the future, I would be sure to spend more time here.
To reach the best Tromso viewpoint, make your way to the Fjellheisen cable car. The day we went up the weather was questionable and we weren’t sure how the view was going to be, but it was beautiful! The cable car will deposit you at the lodge on top of the mountain and from there you can head towards the front deck for a stunning view of Tromso and the surrounding landscape.
When you’re ready to leave that view, make your way towards the back of the lodge and out the doors to the mountain. Here, we opted to play in the snow and take more, sometimes funny, pictures with the city view below or the mountain view behind.
We almost missed this activity due to time, but ended up being thrilled that we had the experience! When you go to Tromso, don’t miss this!
Northern Lights Tour with Greenlander
After the disappointing northern lights minibus tour when we first arrived, we were excited to try a small group tour with a different company. As for winter activities in Tromso, the northern lights are what most people go for, us included. For our last attempt at chasing the northern lights in Tromso, we went with a smaller company, Greenlander, and had a fabulous time. Bonus: Greenlander actually provided warm suits for us! The other tour said they would, but didn’t.
Due to bad weather in Tromso, we drove into Finland where we setup camp in a secluded area off the road. The spot was enchanting; surrounded by snow covered tress and our cozy campfire. We ate homemade soup, roasted marshmallows, took pictures (which cam with the tour), and waited for the lights to make their appearance.
I had taken a night photography course prior to the trip in the hope that I could take my own photos, and I did okay for the most part. However, the photos provided by our guide were much better.
Eventually the lights showed themselves and we were, once again, amazed. The lights brighter and more active. They danced more and changed color a bit. Seeing the northern lights is like seeing the heavens dance and its magical to behold.
When you go to Tromso, don’t book the minibus tours but spend the few extra dollars (or Euros or whatever) to take the smaller tours. I doubt you’ll regret it and, if nothing else, at least you’ll be more comfortable along the ride.
I highly recommend Greenlander; the owner is an amazing guide and I can’t say enough good things about this experience. Also, they pick you up at your accommodation, which makes everything much easier.