Hello, winter: Northern Norway travel itinerary
It comes to a surprise to NO ONE that I’m particularly smitten when it comes to all things Nordic; in fact, my profound affection for Norway is well-documented on this blog. But I truly dived in when I decided to spend a full week in Norway in winter, high up in the Arctic Circle earlier this year. It was my first time that far up north and it was everything I’d imagined it to be.
Are you interested in experiencing this ultimate winter adventure, too? Look no further. I’ve put together an itinerary that takes place in both Alta and Tromsø, the region’s main “cities”. Welcome to Northern Norway!
Winter daylight in Norway
Generally speaking, Norway experiences very little daylight in the winter. That is particularly noticeable in December. The sun rises at around 10:00am and sets at 3:00pm, leaving only a short period of twilight in between.
I visited Northern Norway in February and found it much easier to manage then.
Because it sits right in the Arctic Circle, Tromsø experiences Polar Night—when the sun simply doesn’t rise over the horizon— all throughout December. By mid-February, however, days are finally start to get longer again (about 10 minutes per day), the sun is up at 8 a.m. and doesn’t set until 4:00 p.m. That’s an 8-hour activity window right here!
While in other parts of the world where sightseeing is synonymous with daylight, it’s quite the contrary here in Lapland where Northern lights are often the main attraction. And for good Northern lights, well, you need all the dark sky you can get.
The perfect 6-day Northern Norway itinerary
It would be easy to add a few days to this itinerary, especially if you plan on adding several outdoor activities that require time and distance. But for an introduction to Lapland or if you are on a budget, 6 days is a good amount of time to for this Norway itinerary.
- Day 1: fly into Oslo and fly onwards to Alta
- Day 2: Alta
- Day 3: Alta
- Day 4: fly to Tromsø
- Day 5: Tromsø
- Day 6: Tromsø and fly back to Oslo
Days 1-2-3 in Alta
Snowshoeing and ice fishing trek
So quintessentially wintry! This 4.5-hour trek, led by Glod Explorer, was a lot of fun and taught me a few things about Norwegian nature… including that arctic char is not easily fished!
The activity includes a warm lunch served inside a lavvu (Sami herdsmen’s tent) and a trusty husky dog to transport the equipment.
Visit an ice hotel
It truly doesn’t get more “Norway in winter” than that. Whether or not you plan on staying overnight, I strongly encourage you to pay a visit to the unique Sorrisniva igloo hotel, Norway’s largest and the world’s northernmost ice hotel. This is also where the snowmobile expedition (see below) depart.
Experience the snowy landscape of northern Norway, driving a snowmobile through some of its most pristine areas. Sorrisniva pioneered snowmobiling in this part of the world and continues to be among the largest operators in Norway. The guides ensure a safe and exhilarating experience, whether it’s for an afternoon jaunt or a longer trip with lunch in the mountains.
I booked directly at the Sorrisniva ice hotel.
Northern lights safari
For my first night in Northern Norway I booked with Alta-based Peskatun, and I can wholeheartedly recommend them.
The guide took me to the base camp up in the mountains around Alta in order to get as little light pollution as possible, which, in and of itself, dramatically improves the chance of seeing and photographing northern lights. I wasn’t very lucky that night as they were very faint but it still was a fun experience.
* A note on northern lights safaris
I’m well aware there are four different nights out on that itinerary, which might seem a little redundant at first, but trust me when I say that this fickle gift from Mother Nature is everything but predictable. Be prepared to pay for multiple tours as there simply are no guarantees that the lights will put on a show.
Luxury glamping at Holmen Husky Lodge
Easily one of my favourite travel experiences EVER. Not only did I get to spend the night in a luxury tipi, I also caught glimpse of the northern lights, went on an epic sleigh ride and hung out with more dogs than I could count. Lifegoals, much?
If there’s only one thing you can afford to splurge on for this trip, make it the Holmen Husky Lodge.
Days 4-5-6 in Tromsø
Sightseeing in Tromsø
The capital of Arctic Norway and to some Scandinavians, their quirkiest town—has quite a reputation to live up. This is where Nordic adventures begin: a mix of history meets Scandinavian art de vivre with thrills every step you take. The city has a lot to offer and the best way to experience it is on foot. From museums and exhibitions to restaurants and street art, there’s plenty of culture to be found in this little town.
- Visit the Polaria Museum
- Shop for Norwegian food at Mathallen
- Explore the traditional architecture of the Old Town
- Take the Fjellheisen cable car
- Experience a Norwegian sauna at Pust
- Book a cruise in the Arctic fjords
- Go on a whale watching expedition
- Get coffee at Smørtorget or Kaffebønna
Northern Lights safari
Although you can’t judge a Northern Lights-oriented tour operator by the show you’re getting (these displays are notoriously difficult to predict, as they require a very precise combination of both clear skies and strong solar winds), I did end up sitting in the snow crying out of sheer amazement during my outing with Tromsø Friluftsenter.
This expedition to one of their base camps included warm beverages and cake, as well as a sheltered lavvo tent with a roaring fire.
If you think dog sledding is cruel, watch this video and reconsider. These dogs are obviously the embodiment of eagerness and excitement—if not then what? They love to ride, and they are so excited when it’s time for a new adventure.
And Tromsø Villmarkssenter take such good care of them! They are a family-run business with over 30 years of experience in dog sledding tours.
It should be noted that self-driven sleighs can be hard work, particularly with a fresh layer of snow. These dogs can only get you so far on their own—you’ll have to help them up inclines if they start struggling. My experience was quite an exercise!
Also: post ride cuddles >>> sleigh rides.
On my cross-country skiing adventure with Tromsø Outdoor, they took us straight to the backyard of the city—a spot where locals went on daily ski outings. The snow was crunchy, and the sun was shining. There were hardly any people around. It’s hard to describe how peaceful it felt out there, with nothing but nature and the quiet of Lapland winter.
We were surrounded by mountains and blue skies, with only trees as our companions. It felt like being in a fairy tale—one that I didn’t want to end.
Lyngsfjord Adventure’s basecamp is a full hour and a half drive from the main road—but it’s definitely worth making that detour. Once you arrive, you’ll see why: on its own terms this place is spectacular with or without comparison to other nearby attractions!
The camp is located in the Lyngsfjord Valley, formed by glacial activity over thousands of years, this valley is one of Norway’s most picturesque regions.
At Camp Tamok you will meet the indigenous Sami people and their reindeer herds, who will take you on a 4-kilometre long ride around some of Finnmark’s most beautiful scenery. You can stay even longer—and get your adrenaline pumping by roaring at high speeds across a vast snowscape in one of the snowmobiles!
Northern Norway travel in winter: helpful tips
What to pack for winter travel
Of course, you’ll need good quality thermal layers. Merino is expensive but it’s the best investment you can make to stay warm in cold conditions. Plus, with proper care, it lasts a lifetime! You’ll want to get 250-grade merino wool base layers and socks to wear under your clothes. You’ll also need a waterproof winter coat and snow pants as well as a hat, a gaiter and lined gloves.
If this truly an issue, however, know that most local tour operators happily lend warm clothing to visitors, including boots and one-piece snow suits.
As the Norwegians say: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor outfits.
How to set up a camera for northern lights
Guides leading northern lights expeditions know how to set up cameras for the best possible shots. Don’t hesitate to ask them for tips! There truly is a science in photographing northern lights properly.