A RIB boat nature tour with Tromsø Friluftsenter offers a great introduction. A five-hour morning trip (including transfers) rewards with sightings of Arctic reindeer, white-tailed eagles and, between November and January, orcas and humpbacks.
Back in town, discover Norway’s epic expedition past at The Polar Museum, part of a larger complex that also includes the world’s most northerly botanical garden.
Next, grab a beer at Olhallen, attached to the city’s famed Mack brewery – now ‘formerly’ the northernmost in the world after Longyearbyen took that title. This authentic pub opened in 1928 and has 67 taps of craft brews.
In the evening, settle in for a slick dinner fjord cruise on the Vulkana, a 1957 whaling vessel that has since been converted into a rustic spa boat, with hot tub, sauna and hammam. Steam it up below decks as fjords drift by, then follow with a locavore three-course meal cooked on board and, hopefully, a perfect view of the northern lights.
Start your day reindeer trekking with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, led by a Sami herding family. Sled, feed the herd, learn about Sami culture and slurp down bidos (reindeer soup), then travel back to town to ride the Fjellheisen cable car. You’ll get views across the city both as it rises and from Storsteinen mountain ledge at the top, 421m above sea level.
Next, embrace the wild at Green Gold of Norway, in the shadow of the Lyngen Alps. Take an aurora photography class, then head to a glass-roofed lavvu (tent) to stargaze from your bed. Or instead head south of the city to Tromsø Ice Domes for guided snow-shoeing and dinner in the wilderness, before a night in the area’s first ice hotel.
Hire a car and drive the beautiful Lyngenfjord to the Aurora Spirit distillery, right on the fjord, where you can also take RIB boat tours, try axe-throwing or tour a Cold War-era bunker. Its award-winning gin, made from 23 Arctic botanicals, is worth the trip, and the aquavit and vodka are good, too, though make sure you’re not the one driving back.
Return to the city via the little Svensby-Breivikeidet ferry, which takes around two hours. Before you cross the arched Bruvegen bridge, stop to take a look at the triangular Arctic Cathedral, Tromsø’s answer to the Sydney Opera House, built in 1965. Finish with a five-or-six-course meal at the excellent Restaurant Smak, with local fish, berries and in-house cured meats to the fore of the menu, then slip down the road for a cocktail at the elegant Hildr to toast a great trip to the Arctic.