Norway is an incredible country to visit no matter what time of year you go. However, there is something so special about the winter season up in the north, when the ground is covered in snow and the daylight is limited. Having traveled to this part of the world many times over the years, I’ve had my share of amazing experiences, excursions and animal encounters. Therefore I’ve rounded up the absolute top things to do in northern Norway during the winter months so that you can create your own trip of a lifetime.
So grab your thickest winter coat and book your flight to Norway!
Where to Go in Northern Norway
There are five main places to visit for the best winter activities in Northern Norway. These would be Tromsø, Alta, Andenes, Lofoten Islands and Svalbard.
The Best Things to Do in Northern Norway During Winter
1. Chase the Northern Lights
One thing on most people’s bucketlist is witnessing the northern lights dance in front of their own eyes. Luckily Tromsø is one of the best places in the world to watch the aurora borealis! Just a few hours outside the bright lights of the city center and hopefully you’ll see this natural phenomenon for yourself.
You can chase the northern lights on your own but it is definitely best to go with a tour compnay. The drivers and guides are experienced, know the routes and best locations and are in contact with each other to find the spots without cloud coverage.
They are also skilled northern lights photographers and will help you will the proper settings to take your best photos of the lights! Our favorite tour company is called Greenlander Tromsø and is owned by our friend Markus and his wife Kerttu!
If you want to exactly how to photograph the lights so you’ll be prepared before you go click here!
2. Mush Your Own Dog Sled Team
What better way to feel like an arctic adventurer than to be behind the sled of your own team of eager huskies! These pups fill with excitement at the mere thought of getting to run and you’ll be able to hear them barking and howling before even stepping foot near the sleds!
You’ll be taken to Kvaløya, or Whale Island, just outside of Tromsø where the landscape is completely untouched and absolutely stunning. Once you arrive you’ll be geared up in warm clothes and proper boots if you don’t already have some. As soon as you’re ready you’ll head outside to meet your team of well loved huskies and begin your journey through the wilderness!
To find out exactly how you can book this incredible excursion for yourself, click here!
3. Snorkel with Orcas in the Wild
Easily one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had was being face to face with one of the ocean’s most magnificent creatures. Migrating as a family in pods, the Orcas can be seen balling up and feeding on the herring in the Norwegian Fjords from November through February.
The snorkeling trip is offered from the middle to end of December through the beginning for February. Of course it also depends on the weather if the boat will head out for the day so make sure to schedule a few days of snorkeling just in case. Our first day was cancelled due to weather but we went out the second day and got extremely lucky!
If you are Andenes, give yourself an extra day where you’re not snorkeling with orcas to get out and explore the area. There are beautiful fjord views and if you’re extra lucky you might be able to spot orcas swimming close to shore!
I used a company called Lofoten Opplevelser AS and had an incredible experience. Their top priority is the safety of the Orcas and they do not chase the whales.
4. Stay Overnight in an Ice Hotel
Located in Alta, Norway is the famous Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel! This place offers one of the coolest (pun intended) hotel experiences and is a great place to spot the northern lights! The sizable igloo hotel melts in the spring and is rebuilt every winter with different sculptures and themes. That means you’ll get to stay in a brand new room with a unique design every year!
Construction takes approximately 6-8 weeks to complete and typically includes 28 regular rooms and 2 honeymoon suites. Each bed is made entirely out of ice and then slightly hollowed out where a mattress is placed and then covered in reindeer-hide to provide comfort and warmth.
5. Join a Whale Watching Adventure
If you’re not quite ready to jump into the water with the whales, don’t worry! You can easily watch them from the safety of a small RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and stay dry while doing it!
There are many tour companies that offer these boat trips out to see the whales in the fjords near Tromsø. We chose to do the tour with Arctic Adventure Tours which is the same company we use for dog sledding!
Within the fjords you will see many orcas and humpback whales that are migrating through and searching for food. I’ve done this tour twice and it was truly an incredible experience. Your driver will take you into the center of the action, turn of the engine and just allow the whales to freely swim all around you.
We saw hundreds of both humpbacks and orcas and even had a few humpbacks swim underneath our boat. If you’re an animal lover I would highly recommend this trip!
6. Go on a Fjord Tour by Van
Another great way to explore the island and see the fjords without getting out on the water is to take a fjord tour by van. You will be driven around to various picturesque spots on the island with a small group of other travelers.
The scenery is incredibly beautiful and its a great way to spend the day exploring after being up late chasing the northern lights!
Again, there are many tour companies that offer the excursion but we would choose Greenlander Tromsø.
7. Snowmobile and See Wild Polar Bears in Svalbard
If you’re looking for the ultimate thrill (besides snorkeling with orcas) then you’ll want to book an overnight snowmobile trip in Svalbard. Located almost in the North Pole, Svalbard is an archipelago of Norway with vast landscapes, unique wildlife and incredible outdoor adventures!
The best chance to see a wild polar bear is to head out on a 2-day snowmobile adventure. In 2 days you’ll cover more ground, visiting many iced over fjords and will increase your chances of spotting the snow white bear! We got extremely lucky and saw a polar bear on our first day!
On the overnight trip you’ll stay out in the middle of nowhere in a storage container like structure and spend 2 days exploring the terrain looking for wildlife. Most likely you’ll spot some super cute reindeer along the way as well!
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What to Pack for Your Winter Adventures
Packing for this kind of weather can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. For the most part you will just need to pack lots of layers. Also the majority of companies will provide large one piece suits that you can layer over your clothes and sometimes they will have thick boots to borrow. If you are in Tromsø you can head to Tromsø Outdoor where they offer rentals of many warm winter clothing items.
Here’s a list of the top things to make sure you pack for your winter adventures in northern Norway:
- A large parka that can keep you exceptionally warm. I personally have the Canada Goose Trillium Parka and that was perfect for all of my Norwegian winter adventures.
- Long wool underwear, top and bottoms. I personally use either SmartWool or Icebreaker and make sure that it is 100% wool. The wool will keep you nice and warm while chasing the northern lights, out on the boat for whale watching, in your dry suit for snorkeling with orcas and on the snowmobile. I would recommend silk long underwear for activities such as dog sledding or hiking to keep you warm.
- Thick rubber soled boots. I use the Sorel Women’s Caribou Boot (they also have the men’s version). These boots are rated for -40 degrees Celsius and I promise you will want that!
- All of the winter accessories: wool socks, mittens, a buff to wear around your neck or over your mouth, a beanie and hand & foot warmers. My favorite beanies are from Rein Love in Tromsø. The have a store front in the center of town so pick one up if you want a souvenir from Norway!
- For camera gear be sure to bring a sturdy tripod, remote shutter release (to reduce shake) and a flashlight with a red light. The red light won’t interfere with your shot!
When is the Best Time To Go
The winter months will typically go from September through March, sometimes even April.
Winter in Northern Norway starts fairly early, usually seeing the first snowfall around early September. Of course, this depends on how north you go. Svalbard for instance will be significantly colder and there will be snow year round.
There are also better times to go for the various activities. You can see the northern lights from September until March but during December through February the weather can be more temperamental. Meaning you decrease your chance of seeing them. I’ve seen them in November, January, February and March. So it really can be variable during the entire season.
For whale watching you will want to go from the end of November through the beginning of February. That is when the whales will migrate through the Fjords and it’s almost a guarantee you will see them. Same goes for snorkeling with the Orcas although the best month for that is January. Even then it is not always a guarantee you will swim with them due to weather or other factors.
To see the polar bear in Svalbard it is also best to go between November and February as that will hopefully give you the highest chance of an encounter. You can also visit Svalbard year round and see the polar bears but you will need to join one of the boat tours instead of snowmobiling.
How to Get to Northern Norway
The main airport that will give the best access to all the other destinations will be Tromsø (TOS). This is an international airport and has flights that will regularly go to each of the above destinations. The main airlines in Norway are Norwegian Airlines, SAS Airlines (Scandinavian Airlines) and Widerøe The majority of these flights will be direct from either Oslo, Bergen or Tromsø. If you are located within Europe already, Lufthansa is an airline that will also frequently fly to many of the main hubs where you can make a connection.
Below is the list of the airport codes for each of the airports you’ll want to fly into.
- Tromsø- TOS
- Alta- ALF
- Andenes (Andøya Airport)- ANX
- Svolvær (Lofoten Islands)- SVJ
- Longyearbyen (Svalbard)- LYR
Also note that to get to Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands you will need to make a connection through Bodø. The airport code is BOO.
Where to Stay in Each Location
› For Tromsø
Having visited Tromsø many times over the years I have stayed in many different places. If you are looking for an apartment where you can cook your own food and have more space then you’ll want to check out Enter Tromsø Apartments or Airbnb.
If you are more of the hotel type then check out Scandic Ishavshotel or Enter Amalie Hotel!
› For Alta
It’s no surprise that my recommendation for where to stay is at the Sorrisniva Ice Hotel! However, if you are like me and only want to spend one night in an icy igloo then you’ll want to stay somewhere closer to town. There are plenty of options in town and close to the small airport.
› For the Lofoten Islands
If you’re heading to the Lofoten Islands there is no doubt that you’ll want to spend your nights in one of the cozy and iconic fisherman huts. Mostly red, and sometimes yellow, these cute huts are available all over the islands for visitors to stay.
We spent most of our time on the islands of Moskenesøy, Flakstadøya, and Vestvågøy visiting the small towns, hiking, kayaking and horse back riding. While I visited here in the summertime, the small villages of the Lofoten Islands make the perfect backdrop for your northern lights photos!
If you are wanting to base yourself on the island of Moskenesøy then I highly recommend staying at Eliassen Rorbuer! You’ll get the entire fisherman hut to yourself and there is kitchen where you can cook your own meals. Plus the view is pretty spectacular with large cliffs and fjords all around you!
› For Svalbard
A cozy and affordable place to stay in Svalbard is Gjestehuset 102. Located in town, there is a convenient shuttle bust that will take you right to the guesthouse. Just be aware that they drop you at the end of the street and if you have heavy luggage you’ll have to lug it through mounds of snow to reach the guesthouse.
However, this seemed to be the same deal for most of them anyways. The rooms here are small with a shared bathroom and shared kitchen but very clean and the staff is wonderful! We even booked our overnight snowmobiling excursion with their company.
› For Andenes
The town of Andenes is quite small making it fairly easy to move around. We stayed at the lovely Kristina Apartment & Alma House during our time up north. This place was easily walkable to the meeting point for our Orca Snorkeling trip and a short taxi ride away from the airport.
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WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO I USE?
- Main Camera: Sony A7III
- Wide angle lens: Sony G Master 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom lens: Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
- Secondary Camera: Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon wide angle lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Underwater camera: Leica X-U
- Camera with gimbal: DJI Osmo Pocket & Underwater Housing
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro
- Camera Bag: Polar Pro Drone Trekker
- External Hard Drive: LaCie 1 TB rugged mini external hard drive