Tromsø in autumn are colourful landscapes, hikes in crisp air, fun excursions, good food and talkative bar flies. And the Northern Lights start with a bang.
Some 350 km inside the Arctic Circle, surrounded by a mountain landscape crisscrossed by waterways, you find Tromsø, the biggest city in Arctic Scandinavia. Here, autumn is a beautiful time with colorful forests, the first northern lights, fresh food from this year’s harvest, and a lively vibe with food, nightlife, and festivals in town. If you ask the locals, they will tell you ‘this is the best time of the year.’ A few autumn days with hiking in majestic scenery, some fun activities on the water, good food, and the odd glass in a rowdy Tromsø bar could be the highlight of your autumn. Maybe the Aurora Borealis shows up too.
Hiking in the autumn forest is a remarkable experience.
By late August, blueberry leaves turn red, while the dwarf birch above the forest line adds a touch of crimson. In September, the mountainsides are adorned with ochre birch foliage, mingled with lemony yellow and red from aspen and rowan trees. Sooner or later, on a stormy night, the foliage gets blown away, revealing black branches against the autumn sky. Crystal-clear streams and lakes, crisp air, and far-reaching views await. If rain clouds appear, opt for shorter hikes and witness foliage dripping with wetness.
Tromsø is surrounded by mountains
Mountains are all around, visible wherever you look. Some are so close that you can walk to them from town. City buses provide easy access to many more. With a rental car, you can explore the Alpine peaks and rounded hills on Kvaløya Island or discover the diverse trails on the mainland side of Tromsø. For an impressive experience, the Lyngen Alps rise 1800 meters from the fjord. Hiking trails come in various sizes, offering options for full-day adventures or enjoyable walks to nearby viewpoints
A guide can enhance your tour experience.
Autumn is a great time for hiking on a blue glacier, but for safety reasons, it’s advisable to organize it with a guide. You can also enjoy a ride on a sturdy Lyngen horse or go on a hike with husky dogs who can carry your lunch. Huskies are in training for the upcoming winter season and would be thrilled to pull you on a wheeled sled. A more comfortable option would be a guided minivan tour around the area. A knowledgeable guide will provide insights into the local culture and history.
Head out onto the fjord
You can explore the waterscape surrounding Tromsø in many ways. Enjoy kayaking on the calm fjord, suitable for both beginners and experienced paddlers. Take a RiB tour—a boat like a zodiac with a keel—for a thrilling experience and immerse yourself in the ever-changing scenery. Fishing enthusiasts can try their luck, opting for a modern vessel for speed or choosing one of the traditional boats for a more leisurely pace. Sailboat tours are also available for a serene and scenic adventure
Kvaløya is an easy drive out of Tromsø
The island of Kvaløya protects the city from the fury of the Atlantic. The mid section of the island is filled with alpine peaks and small glaciers, a mere half an hour out of town. Further out, the island of Sommarøy is a lively fishing village with lovely beaches. The ocean current of Rystraumen and the rock carvings at Skavberg are interesting points on the way. A drive around Southern Kvaløya takes are mere 2 hours, but you can make many stops on the way.
Explore the fjords inland – and stay all evening
Inland from Tromsø, you find an impressive fjord and mountain area. In autumn, the high mountains might have a sugar coating of snow, wheareas the lush forest further down is ablaze with colours. Take the ferry across to the Lyngen Alps, drive the small country road to sleepy hamlets and stop at local cafes to eat and watch people. Inland areas tend to be drier than the coastal areas, so if you stay until after dark, you have good chances of spotting the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights season in Tromsø begins with a bang
Located under the Northern Lights oval, the area with the highest solar activity, Tromsø offers an excellent opportunity to witness the Aurora Borealis. In winter, it’s a popular destination for those seeking this mesmerizing natural phenomenon. However, many are unaware that the Northern Lights can appear as early as mid-August. By mid-September, darkness sets in after 7 pm, providing optimal viewing conditions. During autumn and spring equinox, there is significant solar activity, making your chances of spotting the lights just as good as in the middle of winter.
How do you best see the Northern Lights?
Tromsø is one of the best-organized northern lights destinations in the north. Knowledgeable Northern Lights guides offer organized tours to various locations, such as the islands or areas the rain shadow of the Lyngen Alps. These guides not only compete to capture the best snapshots but also share tips on where to go. In case of uncertain weather, they excel at finding areas with clear skies and optimal Northern Lights viewing opportunities. They can also assist with your camera settings, as capturing Northern Lights photos requires some expertise. With their help, your chances of spotting the lights increase significantly.
You can also look for Aurora on your own
On clear autumn nights, you can witness the Northern Lights on your own. Simply grab a headlamp and hike the sherpa steps to Tromsø’s city mountain, Storsteinen, for a front-row seat to the show. Additionally, easy walks on Tromsø island offer great viewing spots. For more independence, some people choose to rent cars and venture into the autumn night on their own.
Stroll around Tromsø’s historic centre
Tromsø’s city centre is home to the largest collection of historic wooden houses in the northern region. Preserved from major fires and war destruction, the streets are adorned with beautiful empire-style doorways, quaint working-class houses, and charming kiosks. Take a self-guided tour or join an informal city walk to discover the architectural gems. Visit the Polar Museum to learn about the brave men and women who organised daring expeditions and hunted in the far north. Other notable stops on your walk include the Northern Norwegian Art Museum, the wooden Tromsø Cathedral, and the local museum Perspektivet
There is more out of the city centre
Just a short walk or bus ride from the historic centre, you’ll find several noteworthy sights. The Polaria experience centre offers a unique Arctic experience, while the Arctic Cathedral, strategically positioned at the end of the Tromsø Bridge, impresses with its monumental modern architecture and a stunning glass mosaic. Take a ride on the cable car up Mount Storsteinen for breathtaking views of Tromsø, its surrounding waterways, and mountains. The University Museum provides insight into Sami culture, archaeology, geology, and the Northern Lights. Don’t miss the world’s northernmost botanic garden, which continues to bloom surprisingly late into autumn and showcases rare beauties. Nearby, the Science Centre gives your Northern Lights film and info in their planetarium.
Eating out in Tromsø harbours many surprises
Traditional cooking in the north is simple, with exquisite fresh fish from a cold ocean. Chefs in Tromsø have added tricks from the grand French cuisine as well as spices from around the world. They also excel in shrimps and shells, traditionally considered bait, and the new kid on the block, the king crab. Carnivores look for this year’s fresh mutton in the autumn, served as rustic fårikål or with more sophistication. Reindeer is an unusual, yet tasty delight. There is no lack of comfort food, shared food, and international cuisine either.
Ski the “Floodlit Track” at night: Tromsø’s social slopes
In Tromsø, the bars and pubs along Storgata are humorously dubbed the “floodlit ski track.” Start your ski night at Ølhallen, the city’s oldest watering hole since 1928. This lively tradition welcomes all ages, as mature travelers join the fun. The locals effortlessly switch from Tromsø dialect to English, creating a jovial and sociable atmosphere. Get ready for a night of laughter and connections along Tromsø’s “floodlit ski track.”
Autumn in Tromsø is festivals galore
Tromsø embraces autumn with a flurry of festivals lining the vibrant Storgata. Kick off the season with Rakettnatt, a rock and pop festival that sets the stage for darkened nights. Savour the flavours of the harvest at Smak, a food festival that tempts your taste buds. Explore a cultural smorgasbord at Kulturnatt, where concerts, theatre performances, and themed walks await. Electronic music enthusiasts flock to Insomnia festival, while literature takes the spotlight at Ordkalotten. And don’t miss the colourful celebration of Arctic Pride in late November. If your Tromsø visit is a spontaneous one, there is usually a concert you can drop into.
Explore beyond Tromsø’s borders
Don’t confine your northern adventure to Tromsø alone. Just an hour to the east lies the awe-inspiring Lyngen Alps, offering a range of challenging hikes and glacier excursions around the Lyngenfjord and breathtaking river boat rides to majestic waterfalls. Discover the enchanting island of Senja, where the Atlantic Ocean meets a rugged, mountainous coastline, inviting you to embark on scenic hikes and memorable fishing trips. Venture to Harstad, Tromsø’s neighbouring city, known for its delectable dining options, rich historical landmarks, and beautiful, easily accessible hiking trails. In the North, beautiful destinations await your exploration.
Practical about Tromsø in autumn
You already have an autumn feel around late August. In September, you have the brightest autumn colours, they are mostly gone in October. November feels like a transition from autumn to winter, dubbed “seinhøst” – late Autumn in Tromsø.
With a bit of luck, you might get mild daytime temperatures, perfect for city strolling. Mild, clear days means the nights might be cold (but not always!), frost may occur in early September. If the rain weathers come in, it can rain considerably as the sea temperatures have risen during summer. Snow can happen in September, but then it usually melts away the same day. In October, it might linger for a few days.
The “Tromsø uniform” in autumn is a good, waterproof jacket, jeans, a t-shirt and trainers. This is good enough for city strolling most days and all autumn. Have a hat, gloves and a scarf as well as more layers on the ready. For outdoor activities bring long johns, a woollen undershirt, a good woollen or fleece sweater and rainproof outer layers. Solid hiking shoes are also a good idea.
You should definitely book tables well ahead at all the good places in town. This is especially important on Fridays and Saturdays. Consult Visit Tromsø’s restaurant overview.
There is a large number of first class and mid range hotels in the city centre, as well as some budget options. A campsite is found at the edge of the built up area, with cabins of good standard. You can also stay out of town. In Sommarøy, there is a comfortable hotel, but there are also bungalows for self-catering spread around, all very suitable for seeing the Northern Lights away from the city lights. Check out Visit Tromsø’s overview.
In good weather, you shouldn’t miss the Cable Car, and it’s also good in the evening. The Arctic Cathedral is Tromsø’s architectural landmark. Polaria is an Arctic experience centre, with seals and fish from the area. The University Museum is a classical museum with exhibits from the culture, history and natural sciences in the north. The Polar Museum deals with Tromsø’s history of discoveries and Arctic hunting. The Botanic Garden has a surprising array of flowers from around the world, blossoming well into the autumn. The Science Centre runs Northern Lights shows. For opening hours, locations and additional info, look no further than the Visit Tromsø.