I’m going to get this out of the way first. Norway is EXPENSIVE. We were warned, many times, and I just thought “it can’t be that bad, surely we can do it cheap somehow”. Let me tell you now, you can’t really. However, that shouldn’t put anyone off visiting this insanely beautiful and friendly place.
My fiancé and I wanted to see the Northern Lights; it had always been a dream, and so we looked around for the best places in the world to see them. Tromsø came recommended higher than Iceland, which is where people typically go to see the famous aurora, however Tromsø is even further north in the arctic circle so you can even see the lights from the city. Not on our trip though – the snow was insane for the entire time, but we’ll get to that!
When to visit
We visited the first weekend of November for 4 nights, which is right when all the major activities start up again (such as sledding, whale watching, etc) so we were lucky we didn’t book any earlier. It’s not typically very snowy that time of year, but as all the locals kept telling us with much surprise, the intense snowfall was very unusual for that early in the year. It did make for some beautiful scenery and certainly didn’t hamper our enjoyment of the holiday.
One thing as a Brit that I couldn’t get used to was how short the days were. And they don’t just get gradually shorter either, you lose about 20 minutes per day in November. Sunrise was about 8:30am and sunset around 2pm, so if you want to do any activities by daylight you have to plan well!
On our trip we squeezed an awful lot in, from visiting the husky farm, to whale watching, northern lights hunting and driving around the fjords.
Where to stay
I was extremely grateful to have read a blog a few weeks before we went that recommended some hotels that were half board. In Norway, this is a dream come true because food and drink are incredibly expensive! We stayed at the Hotel Aurora which is right on the harbour with beautiful views of the mountains across the water, and only 2 minutes walk from all the restaurants, bars and shops.
We definitely saved ourselves a ton of dosh by staying here as it included breakfast, afternoon waffles (with brown cheese!) and a buffet style dinner. If you’re vegetarian or have particular needs they are more than happy to cook something up for you too.
Food, drink and nightlife
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Norway’s culinary scene – the most unexpected surprise was how GOOD all the food was. I’m talking insanely good. The first place we went was Bardus – the food was incredible and I still haven’t stopped thinking about that pearl barley risotto.
This was also our first introduction to the Norway prices – two lunch mains, and two bottles of local beer each = £90. Ouch. You never quite get used to £20+ popping up in your Monzo app every time you buy a round for two people.
We’re social people and like to talk to other travellers and locals when we go abroad so we sought out the local nightlife. We discovered Fun Pub, which was directly across from Bardus. It didn’t look like much from the outside, in fact it reminded me of those British style pubs you find everywhere abroad, but we went in and ended up finding our favourite watering hole for the rest of the holiday. Best of all, we were introduced to shuffle board and ended up playing games with the locals.
Shuffleboard tournaments became a bit of an obsession, so much so we looked into buying one when we got home, turns out they’re ridiculously expensive so we’ll just stick to pool until we can convince our local to invest in a shuffle board 😉
The nightlife in Tromsø is exactly that – at night, like… really at night. Us Brits in our thirties are used to clocking off after work at 5-6pm, heading straight to the pub for a bit and being in bed by 10pm. In Norway, time is very confusing. It gets dark at like 2:30pm so the it’s easy to feel like it’s the end of the day and time to go out. Don’t fall into that trap, you’ll be dead by 6pm and have no money.
The Norwegians tend to stay at home until quite late, so pubs and bars won’t get busy until 10-11pm. We were quite often the only people in the place, it only getting busy once we were ready to go back to the hotel 😂 We still had an amazing time, and managed to socialise with a few locals, just pick your timings and where you want to spent you money wisely!
Where to see the lights
We were very hopeful because of all the Tromsø reviews that we would be able to see the Northern lights without having to book an excursion, but by day three it wasn’t looking great as the snow just kept coming. So we wandered into town to a place called Chasing Lights, which is a shop you can just walk in to and book a variety of activities. As well as booking a Northern lights excursion, we also booked a whale watching trip here too. We went with a large group Northern lights tour, and we were a bit sceptical as all the travel blogs said ‘don’t do large group trips’ but we were pleasantly surprised.
It wasn’t a completely full coach, probably around 40 people, and the tour guides were very friendly and kept you informed as to what was happening. The solar activity wasn’t particularly strong so they had their work cut out to find the lights – we spent about 8-9 hours on the coach in the end, driving all around Norway, and possibly into Finland and Sweden (sometimes they go that far) and we got to spot them twice!
One thing they tell you is that the lights don’t look how you expect them to look – the colours are greatly exaggerated by cameras and so they kind of look like pale green clouds so it was a little disappointing from that perspective. They took some professional shots which we were really grateful for as shooting Northern lights on an iPhone just doesn’t work. I had the iPhone 11 Pro with the night setting, using an app that opened the shutter for 8 seconds or more, but without a tripod it just looks terrible (annoyingly I left mine at home!).
Would we do it again? Not a planned excursion, no. Whilst we’re glad we did it, it’s not something we’d go out of our way to do again. Maybe it just wasn’t particularly strong that night, but if we could see the lights by accident on a trip some time I’m sure that would be much more magical!
Whale watching in Tromsø
This was the activity I was most excited about. The boat set off around 9am so plenty of time for breakfast and for the sun to catch up with you, then we set off on a 6 hour round trip to find the elusive whales. It was still very early in the season (the 4th November) so it was risky to go as the whales may not have migrated that far north yet (they come to feed on the herring). The tour guides said that pods of Orca and a couple of humpbacks had been spotted over the last couple of days so we decided to risk it as we had come all this way. We booked our trip through Chasing Lights.
The boat itself was lovely, warm and comfortable, with about 30 people on board so not too busy. There was a bar selling snacks, amazing hot soup and drinks, and the staff were amazing, keeping us entertained with stories and showing us places to visit on the map.
I can tell you now, this is not the trip to do when you’re hungover. Because the closer to open sea you get, the rougher it gets. The staff were very amused by our green faces at the very least 😅
Three hours into the cruise, there was some hustle and excitement, and the boat came to a stop so we could shuffle outside. There wasn’t a huge amount of people so visibility was good, but by god I’ve never felt cold like that in my life – gloves are essential.
To my amazement, we spotted a pod of Orcas not far from the boat. Not only were there about 10 of them, there were a couple of calves, which was absolutely magical to see. It was honestly one of the best moments of my life to see those beautiful giants out in the wild. I didn’t get any photos only some videos, but it was far too cold to keep your hands out of your pockets!
I did however manage to capture some of the insanely beautiful views that you get to enjoy on the trip out and back.
Driving around the fjords
We started the day by digging out our hire car from a relentless snowstorm and nervously making our way through the town. Turns out we had nothing to worry about as the cars drive perfectly well even in terrible snowy conditions.
As recommended by the lovely staff on the whale watching boat we headed to Sommarøy island. This is a small island just over an hours drive from Tromsø. We wanted somewhere close because there wasn’t much daylight and also we weren’t sure about the road conditions.
First stop on our way was Bryggejentene, which we heard was a lovely cafe to stop for amazing views across a deep fjord. Unfortunately as you can see the weather conditions were a little bit hairy so we decided to move on.
We carried on, all the while witnessing some really stunning views that I simply had to stop and take photos of. Stepping out of the car there was complete silence, not something you experience very often.
As we approached Sommarøy the views just got more and more spectacular, real jaw dropping stuff that a camera simply can’t capture. The island itself is tiny, with I think 1 hotel and 1 restaurant, but simply some of the best views.
There are so many fjords you can drive through and just enjoy the scenery, it’s something I’d highly recommend doing!
This was my favourite day. Not just because beautiful scenery will never get boring, but because whilst driving around the fjords we stopped at a beautiful little beach and my fiancé decided to propose whilst the sun graced us with its presence for half an hour ☺️ A day doesn’t get much better than that!
Sight seeing in Tromsø
There’s not a tremendous amount to do in the city of Tromsø itself but there’s enough to fill a day or two. On a sunny Sunday morning we walked over the bridge (takes about 30 minutes) to the Arctic cathedral where you could hear the bells ringing out over the whole city.
On the last day we decided to head up the cable car to get the full view of the city. There’s a restaurant at the top which is of good quality and you can enjoy a bit of lunch. There’s also plenty of snow to play in!
I believe this is also a great spot for Northern lights viewing as there’s much less light pollution and it’s open until late.
Norway, and Tromsø in particular is genuinely one of the most magical, out of this world places I’ve visited so far. We can’t wait to go back again and explore more of the fjords. Perhaps next time we’ll go for the midnight sun!