10 Reasons Why Northern Norway in Winter is Awesome

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Call me crazy, but I seem to have developed a love of traveling to very cold places in the winter. Manitoba. Iceland. Minnesota. Ottawa. And now Norway.

My first trip to Norway had me exploring the fjords and some of Norway's coolest roads to drive. My second trip, though, was all about winter adventures.

And Norway – especially Northern Norway, up above the Arctic Circle – has no shortage of winter adventures.

First, let me dispel a few of the myths of traveling to Northern Norway in the winter. For one, it's not actually as cold as many people assume. When I went to northern Manitoba to chase the Northern Lights back in 2013, nighttime temperatures were dipping down to -40 degrees. In Northern Norway, though, thanks to the Gulf Stream bringing warmer air up Norway's coast, temperatures barely dropped below +20 Fahrenheit.

The days also weren't as short as you might expect. While it's true that this part of Norway experiences permanent twilight for part of the winter, this only lasts for a handful of weeks. In fact, by the end of February, there were easily 8 hours of daylight or more to enjoy each day.

I spent a week split between Alta and Tromsø in late February, and would recommend this part of Norway to anyone looking for a great winter adventure.

Here are 10 reasons why this part of Norway is awesome in the winter:

1. Snowy landscapes

Alta, Northern Norway
Landscape in Alta, Norway

Norway's coast doesn't *always* get a lot of snow. In fact, locals in both Alta and Tromsø told us that they had a lot more snow this year than was usual. In both these Arctic cities, it's usually ice that's the main concern (Tromsø even has heated sidewalks to try and make it easier for people to walk around).

Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø, Norway

But we were lucky to see both cities under a blanket of fresh powder, which definitely made everything feel more wintery and beautiful.

Frozen water in Alta, Norway
Ice “waterfalls” in Alta.
Tromsø, Norway
Just outside of Tromsø.

Best places to see them: Anywhere around Alta and Tromsø!

2. The Northern Lights

Let's face it: most people travel to the far northern reaches of the world with one thing in mind: seeing the Northern Lights. And it's no different in Northern Norway.

Holmen Husky Lodge in Alta, Norway
Northern Lights at the Holmen Husky Lodge

and I went out on four different tours (once in Alta and three times in Tromsø), and were able to see the aurora three times (four if you count a quick unexpected showing at the Holmen Husky Lodge in Alta).

The first, second, and last night were very weak showings, barely visible to the naked eye. But the third time – on a windy, blizzard-like night in Tromsø – we were greeted with the most incredible lights show I've ever seen. The aurora danced over our heads for at least 15 minutes, shifting and falling in shades of greens and purples that you could easily see with your eyes.

I almost cried, it was so incredible.

Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway
Northern Lights in Tromsø

Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway

How to see them in Alta: Book with for a great chance of seeing the lights with a very enthusiastic guide.

How to see them in Tromsø: My pick would be either  or for a small-group chase.

Book a tour here:  (includes possible bonfire, warm clothing to borrow, and a souvenir photo)

3. Dogsledding

Sled dogs at Tromsø Villmarkssenter in Norway

Another highlight of visiting Norway at this time of year is the opportunity to go dogsledding in the snow. Many local mushers have teams that they race in the Finnmarksløpet, the longest dogsled race in Europe that begins and ends in Alta each March.

Which means that, during the rest of the winter, you can visit and possibly even drive a sled of your own.

Holmen Husky Lodge in Alta, Norway
Holmen Husky Lodge

Sled dog at Holmen Husky Lodge

One word of caution, though: driving a team of sled dogs can be hard work! Especially if the track is not flat and there's been fresh snow – this usually means you'll have to help push the sled up hills, which isn't as easy as it looks! (I found this out the hard way in Tromsø and got much more of a workout than I was expecting.)

Thankfully, you can always opt to just ride instead of drive, which is the best way to appreciate both the stunning scenery and the enthusiasm and quirks of the dogs.

Dogsledding with Tromsø Villmarkssenter in Norway
Dogsledding with Tromsø Villmarkssenter

Where to go in Alta: The is pretty amazing – you can even stay overnight there! (Read reviews here.)

Where to go in Tromsø:  would be my choice, because they care so well for their dogs and run a really efficient operation, despite the large number of people visiting each day. ()

4. An ice hotel

We can't talk about winter in the North without talking about ICE! Along with plenty of it on the streets, you'll also find a very unique hotel in Alta: the .

The hotel is built over a span of about 6 weeks and opens each year just before Christmas. It remains open… well, basically until it melts, because the entire hotel – walls, beds, and even the bar – is made entirely from ice and snow. (It usually stays open until early April.)

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Alta, Norway

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Alta, Norway

You can book an ice bed (padded with a mattress and reindeer hides), or you can just go and visit to admire the intricate details and ice carvings.

Where to go: , which also offers outdoor adventures like snowmobiling, ice fishing, and reindeer sledding.

5. Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing in Norway

One of my favorite outdoor activities in winter has to be snowshoeing. It's fairly easy, and yet still allows you to get out into nature and enjoy the snowy scenery. In fact, I'm tempted to get a pair of snowshoes of my own to use in some of the parks in Ohio!

Snowshoeing in Northern Norway

Where to do it in Alta:  offers an easy snowshoe + ice fishing combo tour that includes lunch in a cozy Sami lavvo (tent/teepee).

Where to do it in Tromsø: My pick in Tromsø would be . Their 2-hour snowshoe tour has you climbing up and down snowy hills on Tromsøya island, which is really fun. ()

6. Reindeer and Sami culture

Reindeer at Lyngsfjord Adventures in Northern Norway

Finnmark is the most northerly region of Norway, and it's also where you'll find the Sami people. Sami culture can be found all across northern Scandinavia and Russia, and it's a culture that's actually experiencing a bit of a resurgence, especially in Norway where the government has apologized for marginalizing the Sami and now encourages them to celebrate their culture.

In Norway (and elsewhere in Scandinavia), the Sami are the only people allowed to own herds of reindeer, so Sami people and reindeer usually go hand-in-hand.

Reindeer sledding is a popular tourist activity in Northern Norway, and it's a much more relaxing experience than dogsledding since the reindeer just kind of plod along through the snow.

Reindeer sledding in Northern Norway

Where to do it: You can have a Sami experience in Alta at the Boazo Sami Siida, but if you want to go reindeer sledding, I highly recommend doing it with  outside of Tromsø. Not only are the Sami guides super friendly here, but the landscapes at Camp Tamok up in the Lyngen Alps are stunning – perfect for a sleigh ride.

7. Ice fishing

Growing up as a country girl in rural Ohio with a dad who loves fishing (and who made sure to create a pond on our property when he built our house), I'm no stranger to ice fishing. But a childhood incident where I fell up to my hip into an ice fishing hole kind of turned me off the activity.

I therefore wasn't super excited about ice fishing in Norway – but the experience ended up turning out great!

Ice fishing in Alta, Norway
Marie and I at our fishing spot.

We snowshoed out to a lake, made our own fishing holes, and then sat on warm reindeer hides as we fished with the tiniest fishing rods in history. We didn't catch a thing, but we still had fish for lunch in a nearby lavvo.

How to do it in Alta: I went with  on a snowshoe + ice fishing combo tour.

8. Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing in Norway

You can't really go to Norway without trying cross-country skiing. It's possibly the most Norwegian of all winter activities, and even on a weekday afternoon in February there were tons of people out on the cross-country ski trails in Tromsø.

It's not exactly a natural sport to pick up if you've never done it before (expect a few falls, at least), but I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I expected to!

Where to do it:  offers a great 3-hour intro tour that gets you on the trails with the locals. ()

9. Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling in Norway

No list of snow sports would be complete without some snowmobiling. These “snow machines” are popular just about everywhere that gets lots of snow in the winter (friends in Ohio even have them), and while I've ridden on them before, this was my first time driving a snowmobile myself. And I HATED it.

I found the machine kind of tough to turn, and I didn't like how it felt on anything but perfectly flat ground (i.e. like it was going to tip over at any second). Marie and I disliked driving a snowmobile so much that we actually skipped a second planned tour! I'll stick to riding from now on.

Snowmobiling in Norway

Where to do it: Don't let me scare you off, though! Plenty of people LOVE snowmobiles. We went with in Alta, and also offers tours from Tromsø.

10. The tour operators

Lastly, I have to say a word about the tour operators in Northern Norway: They. Are. Awesome.

I haven't been anywhere else in the world that takes such good care of guests. Every company we traveled with provided warm winter clothing (snow suits, thermal boots, and sometimes even hats and gloves), along with hot drinks and snacks along the way. This is great for travelers who don't live in cold parts of the world, because it means you don't have to go out and spend a fortune on winter clothing before going to Norway!

Where to stay in Northern Norway

Here are some of my hotel suggestions for both Alta and  Tromsø:

Alta hotels:

 – Located in central Alta, the Thon is a good choice both budget-wise and because Peppes Pizza Restaurant downstairs is open even on Sunday nights.  ?   The rooms include free wifi, and some even overlook the Northern Lights Cathedral. ( | )

 – Located just around the corner from Thon, Scandic Alta would be my second pick. It also has an in-house restaurant (though it's a little more upscale than Peppes), and many of the tours you book around Alta will offer free pickup from here. ( | )

 Tromsø hotels:

 – This hotel right on the Tromsø Sound offers some great views, free wifi, and an on-site restaurant. And it's also one of two main hotels where most of the tour companies do free pickups from. ( | )

 – The Radisson Blu is the other hotel near the harbor where tours pick up from, and is another nice option in Tromsø. ( | )

 – This is where I stayed in Tromsø. It's further up from the harbor, but close to the city's main shopping street. I loved the sleek and well-designed rooms, and the Egon Restaurant downstairs was nice, too. ( | )





More essential info

  • Looking for packing suggestions for Norway? Head over to my Northern Norway packing list to see all my favorite travel gear for winter in Norway!
  • Pick up a before you go.
  • Don't leave home without a good travel insurance plan – because you never know what might happen! I recommend World Nomads for affordable basic travel insurance.

Which of these adventures would YOU be most excited about?

 

Pin it for later:

Things to do in Northern Norway in winter

 

*Note: I was a guest of Innovation Norway and Northern Norway on this trip, and also have to thank all the local tour operators we worked with. As always, though, all opinions are 100% my own.

 

Things to do in Northern Norway in winter

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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