Tromsø, Norway is the largest city located in the Northern chunk of Norway, and it’s becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination for international travelers who crave a once-in-a-lifestyle travel experience with great food, great people and gorgeous sights to behold.
It’s one of the best places to experience the ocean and its abundance of life; it’s also one of the world’s best undiscovered gems in the form of one of the only places you can go to get as close and personal with whales as you can.
Tromsø is one of the best places to go for whale watching, and yet there are a lot of people out there who might not have heard of this great Norwegian destination before.
If you’re planning a trip to Tromsø – especially a whale watching trip – there are a few essential things that you should know about the area and the sights:
What’s the best season to go whale watching in Tromsø?
How can you make sure you’re choosing an ethical and eco-friendly whale watching tour?
How can you prepare for the trip ?
How can you make sure that you get the best photos and videos of the action?
We have everything you might need to know about preparing for your trip, about Tromsø and about going there for a whale watching safari covered in one place.
Here’s your comprehensive and complete guide for how to plan a great whale watching trip in Tromsø.
Enjoy The Whale Watching Tour by Electric Catamaran
Our Pick: Eco-Friendly & Ethical Whale Watching Safari in Tromsø
Get a unique perspective on the majestic humpback and killer whales with an underwater drone and microphone. As they feed in the herring-rich fjords of the Arctic.
Departing Tromsø in the morning, the electric catamaran heads out to where the whales are in time to enjoy the short hours of daylight. On the way you can take in the breathtaking views of frozen landscapes in comfortable, panoramic lounges and multi-level decks.
You’ll find a selection of food and drinks for purchase on board. They use a hybrid engine to reach the whale’s feeding grounds, and as they come near to the whales, the silent electric engine is switched on that allows them to get close without disturbing them.
If the weather allows it, an underwater drone and hydrophone is launched that captures the images and sounds of the whales as they work together to hunt in the herring-rich fjords. The duration of this trip depends on the whales’ location and can therefore range from 6-7 hours.
There’s no guarantee, but they always do their best to see the whales!
Best Whale Watching & Wildlife Safari For The Money
Explore the Arctic landscapes and see beautiful fjords on a 5 hour cruise. Encounter puffins (in season), cormorants, seals and otters. See small pilot whales and dolphins playing in the water as your learn about the arctic’s ecosystem and culture.
Explore the beauty of the Kvaenangen Fjord by Skjervoy and see orcas and/or humpback whales chasing large amounts of herring fish. Hop into a rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) for a once in a lifetime experience in a small group of between 4-12 people.
Join one of the most popular whale watching tours in Tromsø and spot killer and humpback whales in their natural habitat. Jump in a rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) with jus a few people and go explore the beautiful nature that Norway has to offer.
Chase The Northern Lights in The Norwegian Wilderness
Tromsø is one of the best places in the world you can visit to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Just like whale watching, time is crucial, and it’s important that you book your stay during the right time of the year.
If you’ve ever wanted to meet reindeer, Tromsø is also one of the best places to visit to do it: With the right guide by your side, you can get close enough to feed them and go reindeer sledding: Who hasn’t ever wanted to do that?
Tromsø Self-Driven Husky Dog Sled Daytime Adventure
There’s also this self-driven husky dog sled daytime adventure for anyone who loves both adventure and nature. Be hands-on with the dogs, be in control of your own sled, and finish it all with a slice of chocolate cake.
There are great hotels to stay in within the area of Tromsø – and you can find a great place to stay for the duration of your trip no matter what your budget might be when you get here.
Some of the hotels are five-star (yet a lot more affordable than you might think), and some others might not have an official star-rating, but still be a great place to stay while you connect with the area, the locals and the culture.
Just to help you out, here’s a look at some of the top 4 hotels in Tromsø:
The Ishavshotel is one of the more luxurious options on the list, perfect for an exclusive stay in one of the leading Tromsø hotels: Luxury amenities are included in your stay, and their suites are suited to one or several with the option of room service and access to a balcony for most of the suites. Rooms have very comfortable bedding – and you can expect this option to feel akin to the Marriott anywhere else.
The Raddison Blu is a 4-star hotel that’s great for anyone visiting Tromsø whether for a few-day family vacation or for business with a whale watching stop-over. They really utilize the theme of blue (without it being over the top) and you can book either a suite or a room with truly incredible and spectacular local views. Any hotel that provides a photo opportunity right from the room is worth it.
Not everyone wants a luxury suite when they’re on vacation: Sometimes you just want a chance to connect with nature, get back to earth and get some rest inbetween activities – and of course, a lot of people just plainly prefer camping above hotel rooms. If any of this describes you or your group, consider Tromsø camping for a back-to-earth stay with a great atmosphere and included amenities.
Comfort Hotel is another unstarred option that offers you the option of suites or rooms and amenities like wi-fi throughout the hotel: It’s great because it’s classier than your average motel of stop-over, and what you’ll get on the inside is well-described by the word “comfortable.” Great for groups, great for families: Great for anyone who is planning their stay on a budget.
One of the first questions most people have about whale watching in Norway is what time of the year to go if you want to see it. Too early or too late in the year means that you are less likely to see the whales passing through – and it’s generally pretty easy to establish their cycle every year, so you just have to make sure that you’re going to the right area at the right time.
Specially for Tromsø, the ideal time to visit the area for whale watching is during November to February every year.
November through to the middle of February make for the best times of the year to visit Tromsø for whale watching safaris: It’s just the time they naturally pass through their route, much like the great bird or butterfly migration that happens every year in some other parts of the world.
And just like bird or butterfly migrations, you can show up to see it!
If you go in March, you’re likely too late, and any further outside of this time, you might have to catch the whales during the rest of their path if you missed them in Tromsø.
Visitors to Tromsø should also know that the whale safari isn’t the only thing to see: Many people also visit the area of Tromsø to experience the food and the incredible sight of the Northern Lights, which can be seen during around September to April every year.
For seeing the Northern Lights, the best is to link up with a reputable tour company who can tell you exactly when the best time might be to go on an organized group tour of the best areas to spot Northern Lights.
It’s an occasionally unpredictable phenomenon of nature: That’s why it’s always better to seek out an expert guide if that’s what you’re coming to Tromsø to see.
How to find an ethical and eco-friendly tour?
Whale watching is an environmental activity: This means that there are responsible ways to enjoy it – and that’s the right way to do it if we all want to continue watching the whales on their trek through the area.
Whale watching also makes for a much safer, better and more environmentally responsible alternative to any other way we have to observe these creatures: Why see them captive at aquariums when you can see them in their natural habitats instead?
It’s a pretty big reason to pick whale watching as your next vacation activity!
Always remember that you have a personal responsibility to the environment (and the ocean) when visiting it: Responsible and ethical tour guides are aware of this, and they are there to answer any questions that you might have about the area.
If you’re planning to go whale watching in Tromsø, one of the first things you’ll need to do is find a tour company or guide to take you through:
The tour company is in charge of a responsible, safe route – and usually owns a relevant sea vessel that can take you out on the ocean for a tour.
When it’s time to choose a guide or tour, make sure you choose an ethically responsible, reputable and eco-friendly tour.
There are many companies in Norway who offer whale watching safaris, but not all of them are on the same level – and yes, there are some companies who aren’t registered, aren’t trained and shouldn’t be out on the water at all.
How can you be sure that the whale watching safari company, tour or tour guide that you choose ends up being an ethical, eco-friendly and responsible one?
Let me show you how:
Whale watching tour guides and companies have to be registered and licensed to do it. This is the first thing you should look for when going out to find a company that can help you to go whale watching.
Ask for their registration details – and if they’re not licensed to be out on the water (or they can’t account for the registration papers of their boat), don’t let them take you out on the water.
Responsible, eco-friendly and ethical tour guides are there to answer questions and, well, guide your tour. Anywhere you find a tour guide that doesn’t quite feel like a tour guide (or isn’t happy to answer the questions you have, or might not seem to know as much as they should) might not be a registered tour guide – and it’s a definite red flag.
Look for tour guides and companies who have a good reputation: Ask around, ask locals if they know the company or the people and check out their online reviews before you make your final choice of the whale watching company you pick to take you out on the water.
If you’ve found a whale watching company for your tour, be sure to get in touch with them and ask a few of the right questions:
How long have they been around?
How often do they do this?
Ask to see their registration – and ask any other questions that you might have in order to feel comfortable.
How to prepare for a whale watching safari?
Any kind of safari requires a little bit of preparation to make sure that you enjoy your experience as much as possible: This is true for a real African safari in the Kruger park, and it’s true for any whale watching you might want to do in Tromsø, Norway.
How do you prepare for a whale watching experience?
Here are a few tips to make sure you have a great time.
Listen to your guide!
Assuming that you picked a reputable, registered and experienced tour company to guide you through your first whale watching experience, one of the most important things you can do is to listen to your guide (and pay attention to the water).
Tour guides will almost always know the environment better, and they know what to watch out for as well as what not to do: Rely on their expertise if you want to have your whale watching experience go off without a hitch.
Keep a healthy distance.
Always keep a healthy distance between you and the whales you’re trying to watch. Going too close is risky, dangerous and rude to everyone there – including the whales! This includes touching, feeding and anything more than being allowed to take pictures of the whales from far enough away.
Don’t go overboard.
Including a healthy distance from the whales, it’s also a good idea to keep a healthy distance away from the side of the boat at the same time. While waters are calm most of the time, be prepared for the occasional sway or bump and don’t go overboard when this happens.
Yes, it’s a possible danger to fall off the boat: While it’s unlikely that you’ll be hurt by whales, you might knock your head against the side of the boat or any number of other things. Stay safe.
Never lose personal effects over the side.
Other than going straight over the side of the boat yourself, some people have also lost (very expensive) personal effects like their wedding rings, phones, car keys and cameras over the side of the boat during a whale watching excursion.
Always be careful, and keep in mind that there are some things you want to lock away (and other things you want to leave home) when heading to whale watching.
Don’t put phones and other items in back pockets.
Back pockets make a very bad place to keep phones and other items when heading out on a boat, and there are many people who still do it. Just don’t. Putting phones and other things in your pockets increases the chances that something will fall out of them.
Some things you want to leave at home and other things you might want to secure while you’re on the boat. Just choose any place that’s more secure than your back pocket.
Don’t try to touch or feed the whales.
Other than standing too close or losing your important effects over the side, don’t try to touch or feed the whales: You’d be surprised at what people attending whale watching tours have done in the past – and don’t be the next visitor or tourist that does something stupid. Respect the whales, respect your guide and remember that you’re here for whale watching only.
Seasick? Try medication – or other whale watching alternatives.
Seasickness is a real thing, and a lot of people who have never been on a boat might experience it for the first time going whale watching. It’s painful, unpleasant and everything is usually spinning for a while, but there are measures you can take before you get on the boat to counter seasickness.
If these measures don’t do the trick for you, there are other alternatives to whale watching on a boat, including the option of doing it from a deck through the tour companies in Tromsø that offer this.
What do you need to go on a trip?
There’s an old expression that says, “You don’t show up empty-handed to a whale watching trip.” Well, actually there isn’t – but it’s still true if you’re visiting an area like Tromsø for whale watching. There are a few things you might want to think about or bring along for the trip – and as part of your ultimate guide on enjoying whale watching, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s what you might need.
One of the first things that you should keep in mind for your visit to Tromsø is what clothing to pack – and what you’re going to wear on your day out. A lot of tourists accidentally plan for colder weather during moderate seasons, or the other way around. A simple check of the weather report for the time you’re going to Tromsø can save you all of this time and effort.
Seasickness medicine is available over-the-counter, and if you aren’t sure whether or not you need it, the answer is probably going to be that you might. You don’t have to let something like seasickness take away from your whale watching experience when you can take preventative measures for it: Just don’t forget them at home, and take them just before you intend on going. Check with your doctor if you have any type of medical condition, or if you’re taking other medications with it.
Always remember your camera when you’ve booked a whale watching trip, and always remember accessories like your charger: Again, you would be surprised at just how many people book a trip and forget essentials like this. Sure, you can use your smartphone to take pictures, but yes, there’s a risk of dropping it into the water.
Most of the things you plan on taking along for your whale watching trip should ideally be waterproof – including at least one good waterproof jacket. (If you’re not familiar with the water, then it might be a better idea to wear a lifejacket instead.)
Backup battery life
If you plan on going anywhere (and not just Tromsø in Norway!) it’s a great idea to keep backup battery life with you at all times: Emergencies happen, and you want to be prepared for anything even if it might not happen. Keep a few fully-charged power banks with you – although ideally, not out on the water.
Protection against the sun is important: This is true for the body and true for the eyes. To prepare properly for a trip, make sure you’re guarded against the worst UV rays with the use of a decent skin cream together with wearing sunglasses. Especially while you’re out on the water, the sun can sometimes get to be harsh.
Whale watching photography & video tips
If you’re planning on going to Tromsø for whale watching, it’s almost certain that you’re going to take photographs of the experience, too.
Everyone on holiday wants to make sure that the ones they take are good photographs: But not everyone is a professional photographer, and not everyone has more than a smartphone to do it.
Use these tips to make sure you’re still getting good snaps of your vacation.
Don’t get too close.
Yes, this has already been said, but it’s even more true when you’re holding a camera: Don’t get in too close, and you won’t lose your camera, phone or fall off the boat.
Remove the flash, please.
How would you feel if someone stopped your taxi to work just to shove a camera through the window and flash photograph of your face? Turn the flash off when taking pictures of your whale watching experience: It’s just nice.
Multiple-photo mode – it’s there, use it!
Your phone or camera likely has multiple-photo mode. It’s a good idea to use it when taking pictures of the whales: If not, then you might very well miss a great photo opportunity just because you were waiting for the device to wake up between images.
Backup memory cards and/or backing up to cloud
Technology allows for the luxury of being able to backup all of your images straight to the cloud: Where not, backup memory cards can be essential. Many holiday photos have been lost because they weren’t backed up somewhere else: Don’t make that mistake yourself!