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.

Northern Norway in winter

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

RELATED: Norway's Arctic North: Tromsø vs. Alta in Winter

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

Fellow blogger Marie 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.

RELATED: Chasing the Northern Lights in Arctic Norway

Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway
Northern Lights in Tromsø

Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway

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

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

Book a tour here: Northern Lights Chase from Tromsø (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 Holmen Husky Lodge is pretty amazing – you can even stay overnight there! (Read reviews here.)

Where to go in Tromsø: Tromsø Villmarkssenter 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. (Book a tour here)

RELATED: Glamping at the Holmen Husky Lodge in Norway

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 Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. 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: Sorrisniva, 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: GLØD Explorer 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 Tromsø Outdoor. Their 2-hour snowshoe tour has you climbing up and down snowy hills on Tromsøya island, which is really fun. (Book a tour here)

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 Lyngsfjord Adventure 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 GLØD Explorer 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: Tromsø Outdoor offers a great 3-hour intro tour that gets you on the trails with the locals. (Book a tour here)

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 Sorrisniva in Alta, and Lyngsfjord Adventure 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!

READ NEXT: What to Pack for a Trip to Northern Norway in Winter

Where to stay in Northern Norway

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

Alta hotels:

Thon Hotel Alta – 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. (Read reviews | Book here)

Scandic Alta – 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. (Read reviews | Book here)

 Tromsø hotels:

Scandic Ishavshotel – 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. (Read reviews | Book here)

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

Thon Hotel Polar – 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. (Read reviews | Book here)

If you're looking for a good guidebook to Northern Norway in winter, check out this guide, written by Kristin Repsher.

And don’t forget to pick up some travel insurance before you go – you never know when you might need it! My go-to is always World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.

Which of these adventures would YOU be most excited about?

 



Booking.com

 

*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.

 

"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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55 Comments on “10 Reasons Why Northern Norway in Winter is Awesome

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  1. YAY!! You got pictures of reindeer!!!! I love reindeer. Dog-sledding looked like fun. Although I think I will opt for riding instead of driving. LOL!!! Everything looks so majestic. I love it all.

      Haha, the first dogsled driving I did was super easy and fun. But the second time was HARD, and I definitely was wishing I was riding! But it was an adventure in the end. 🙂

    I’m totally sold on this trip! It looks freezing but so gorgeous!

      It actually wasn’t all that cold! The weather was similar to a normal Ohio winter, which is way warmer than I was expecting it to be in the Arctic!

    I love reading about your adventures to cold places in the winter, I love going places like that myself! I’ve been wanting to go to Tromso forever. Would you say you preferred Tromso or Alta?

      I’m going to write a post (eventually) comparing the two, because they are two very different destinations. Alta is a less touristy Tromso, basically. In Tromso, there are like 50 Northern Lights tours. In Alta, there are 5. Tromso gets a lot more cruise ship traffic, too.

      Tromso is a bigger city, but in Alta you get more of an intimate tour experience. So it totally depends on what you’re looking for! I personally loved them both.

    Uh, we love the idea of exploring frozen waterfalls! Dogsledding, too – but maybe just ride first, not drive. Our all time favorite winter activity is skiing and though there’s so many other things to do, we usually end up with skiing, skiing and skiing. And our well-deserved hot chocolate after an exhausting skiing day. 😀

      Skiing is great, but there are definitely plenty of other cold-weather activities to enjoy, too – especially in Norway! I loved it so much.

    I absolutely love Scandinavia, and I agree with you, northern Norway is not as cold as one would expect, and visiting in winter offers a unique experience in addition to stunning landscapes.
    Watching northern lights nearby Tromso is one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. After Tromso I went to Lofoten and it was raining all day and night, maybe Alta would have been a much better option!

      Alta and Tromso make a great pair to visit, especially if you´re on a shorter visit. The Lofotens are definitely on my list, though!

    Northern Norway looks amazing…what an awesome adventure. I love the Ice Hotel and the dog sledding. You did all of this is a week? Would this be a good place to take our kids (they’re 13 and 11)? Like always…your photos are so inspiring!

      Haha, yes, we packed all of this into just one week! Kinda crazy, but also fun. And yes, this is a great place for kids of that age, especially if they love being outdoors!

    These reasons are seriously cool! I am intrigued by the ice hotel and those aurora lights! They are spectacular!!

      The aurora really is magic!! Even though I´ve seen the lights a couple of times now, I don´t think I could ever get tired of them!

    Very nice! I was in Norway during the summer, but winter looks great there, in a country that obviously enjoys the cold weather.

      Yup, Norway is pretty great year-round!!

    Hold your horses… I thought Iceland had the prettiest landscape of the north in Europe. Norway looks equally impressive! Dogsledding is something on my bucket list so I guess I’ll have to make my way to Norway one day, which judging by your pictures certainly isn’t a punishment!

      Iceland is indeed incredible, but Norway certainly is a competitor for the most beautiful landscapes – especially in the winter!

    Northern lights, snowy landscapes and dogsledding! Sounds like a blast! Looking forward to hearing more about this trip 🙂

      I have plenty more posts planned – including one dedicated solely to the Northern Lights!

    I’m definitely not a fan of winter, but Northern Norway really does look quite gorgeous. I noticed from your pictures that it seems to get a bit sunny there, too. I’m sure that helps, especially since other places in Europe tend to have pretty gray and dark winters (like here in Germany).

      It IS really gorgeous! It can have poor weather, too, but I got lucky with some sun! (Though this part of Norway is far enough north that it doesn´t see the sun at all for nearly two months every winter.)

    This is really a dream trip I would love to make one day… From seeing the Northern Lights to dogsledding and snowshoeing, it all seems so totally awesome! One day…

      It WAS totally awesome – definitely worthy of being a bucket list trip!

    Such a great post, Amanda, and fun activities! I really love your photos of the Northern Lights so I’m excited to read your post about it.

      Thanks Miriam! I´m excited to write more about the Northern Lights, too, so there will be plenty more photos!

    Amanda, seems you really had a wonderful trip out there in Norway, Northern lights! well have looked only in the pics, seriously have to experience it, those are really stunning.
    keep posting…

      The Northern Lights are even better if you can see them dance in person – but the photos are special, too. 🙂 I definitely had a great trip!

    Northern Norway does sound fun during winter! Ice fishing is something I’d like to try.

      I used to fish more when I was younger, so I wasn’t too too excited about the ice fishing. But it turned out to be really fun!!

    Awesome experience! Question: where did you fly into when you went? Did you rent a car at all?

      Nope, did not rent a car on this trip! I flew into Alta, took a flight from Alta to Tromso, and flew home from Tromso (via Oslo).

    […] a good story. Whether it’s swimming with seals or doing the world’s longest zip line or going to the Arctic in the dead of winter, I rarely will say no to a new adventure these […]

    Seriously all the 10 things are superb…
    but do we really find a fish in that frezzzzing cold water….?

      Yes! Plenty of fish live in really cold water! We didn’t actually catch any that day, but ice fishing is a real thing!

    Beautiful landscapes, particularly with the snow, and I would love to see the northern lights. Does it really get as cold as it looks?

      It depends on your definition of cold! It doesn’t get as cold as people assume when they think “Arctic.” In fact, for most of the winter the temperature hovers around freezing (which is warmer than winter where I’m from in Ohio!).

    YOU’RE CRAZY, there someone had to call you it. But I will say Norway looks pretty darn amazing in the middle of winter.

      It IS pretty darn amazing, even when it’s cold. 😉

    Great post! I am thinking of doing a Tromso and Alta trip in Jan 2017, do you have a more detailed, day by day itinerary of your trip? Also what would you recommend the best way to travel between the 2 destinations is? We will be flying from London and have noticed that the flights are not cheap!

      Hey Sandy! I don’t have an itinerary on my site, but I will be writing more about Tromso and Alta soon (in time for winter)! As for getting between the two, flying really is the best option. If you drive or take a bus (which, I’m not even sure if there is one!) it would literally take all day because you have to drive around all the fjords.

    Hi Amanda

    May I know which month in winter did you visit? I can only travel in December, will it be a good month?

    Where did you base yourself in Tromso & Alta to do these activities? Are there resorts that provide these at their doorstep, or we have to book with different operators? Do they pick up from your hotel/cabin? Thanks!

      Hi Patricia! I visited in February. December would still be fine to visit, though you would be visiting during the time when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon in that part of Norway – so you would just have to be prepared for very, very little daylight. As for where to stay, check out this post I wrote specifically about Tromso and Alta, which has hotel suggestions and links to most of the tour companies I used: https://www.dangerous-business.com/2016/11/tromso-vs-alta-norway/ (Your hotel can probably book some tours for you, or you can book the tour yourself and have them pick you up at or near your hotel.)

    What a beautiful trip! I’m planning a trip for April and have heard that many of the roads closed over the winter may still be closed. Did you rent a car while there? If so, did you have any trouble getting around due to road closures? Thanks!

      Hey Rachel! I did not rent a car when I went last February (mostly because I didn’t want to deal with driving in the snow!). My first trip to Norway was in May (2014), and all the roads were open by then, though there definitely was still snow up in some of the mountain passes. So I guess it really depends on where you’ll be driving!

    Oh how absolutely stunning <3 It's taking a lot for me not to book a flight right now! The farthest north I have been is Harstad and only in the summertime – I would love to catch the Northern lights this year, fingers crossed!!

      Northern Norway is stunning any time of year, but especially in the winter!

    Hi Amanda,

    You might have just solved my search for a holiday in late January. This looks brilliant.

    In this part of Norway, is there any ice climbing or snow hole making going on? A great blog, thank you.

      I am sure there is ice climbing in Northern Norway in winter, but I don’t personally know of any good spots, or any companies that offer tours. Sorry!

    Hey Amanda,

    Thanks for the excellent guide! Would you recommend booking all the tours in advance or is it something you can do once you get to Alta or Tromso?

    Thanks for your help!
    Jen

      Good question, Jen! I think most things you could probably book once you get there – though if there’s something you’re set on doing on a particular day, then I would go ahead and book in advance just to be safe! (Neither city is super crowded in winter, but cruise ships do come through from time to time and take up lots of spots on tours.)

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