Kvaløya, or “Whale Island”, is the large island just to the west of Tromsø island. The two islands are connected by a bridge and many of the activities organised in Tromsø take place on Kvaløya. There are plenty of things to do all year-round, from hiking and snowshoeing to relaxing on white, sandy beaches and chasing the northern lights. Kvaløya’s mountainous terrain offers spectacular scenery with wide views of the surrounding islands, coastline, and the Lyngen Alps.
Kvaløya is oddly shaped, but ranks as Norway’s fifth largest island. In the north the island is split by two long fjords, the Kaldfjord from the north and the Ersfjord from the west. Most of the action is found in the larger, southern section of the island which has its own fjord, the Kattfjord.
9 things to do on Kvaløya
- Hike the mountains
- Chase the northern lights
- Find warmth on Sommarøya
- Go dog sledding
- Take a fjord cruise
- Explore sandy beaches
- Fish in the ocean
- Try snowshoeing
- Shop at Eide Handel
1. Hike the mountains
Locals flock to Kvaløya in the summertime to hike the mountain trails. With views across Kvaløya and the surrounding coastline, the rewards are tremendous. If you see cars parked randomly on the side of the road it’s usually a good indication a hiking trail starts nearby.
Nordtinden is a 10 kilometre return trail in the northern part of the island, with wonderful views. Store Blåmannen, in the middle of Kvaløya, is the island’s highest peak and not for the faint of heart. Finnkollen, in the south, is another peak worth visiting. For views of Sommarøya and Senja islands, take the short hike up Hillesøytoppen.
2. Chase the northern lights
Kvaløya is an excellent location to enjoy the northern lights. It has far less light pollution than Tromsø and is a common destination on the northern lights tours out of the city.
If you’re out looking for the lights on your own, consider stopping at Ersfjordbotn. The viewpoint is located in the innermost point of the Ersfjord, with steep mountains on both sides framing the view out to the ocean. For a relaxed northern lights experience, consider staying at Ersfjordbotn Brygge where you can wait for the lights in the comfort of your apartment and pop out to see them on the terrace.
3. Find warmth on Sommarøya (Summer Island)
Sommarøya is known for its brilliant white beaches and clear blue water. The area is the warmest part of the whole Tromsø municipality, hence the name “summer” (it’s all relative this far north).
The island is about an hour’s drive from Tromsø, and is connected to the south-west corner of Kvaløya by a bridge. It’s a must visit on a journey to or from Senja, located close to the Brensholmen ferry terminal.
There is a grocery store and some nice places to camp by the beaches. A little further along the road is Hillesøya island with more beaches and a peak worth hiking up for a coastal panorama. Also on Hillesøya is the Sommarøy Arctic Hotel which offers a sauna and indoor and outdoor hot tubs. It’s just a short walk from a nice beach with views towards Senja.
4. Go dog sledding
Dog sledding with a team of huskies through a winter wonderland is on many people’s bucket list. A day on the sled can quickly become the experience of a lifetime as you race across the snow. Two people are on each sled, with one sitting while the other stands and steers. If you don’t wish to steer make sure you state that in advance so the company is prepared.
Tromsø Wilderness Center is one of the closest dog-sledding operators to Tromsø, just 30 minutes from the city, on the eastern side of Kvaløya. A full-day sledding adventure through the island wilderness is one of their most popular activities. No experience is required but good physical fitness is important for steering the sled.
They also offer a shorter evening trip with dinner where you might have the chance to see the northern lights. See our guide to the seasons to find the best time to Visit Tromsø for dog sledding.
5. Take a fjord cruise
Cruises and boat trips through the fjords are available year-round. They provide a new perspective on the mountainous landscape and get you closer to the smaller islands around Kvaløya. The tours usually involve some wildlife spotting as well.
Explore the Arctic is a locally-run adventure company based on the south-western side of the island. They offer small group experiences (4–10 people) and loads of local knowledge about Kvaløya and its surroundings. The tours can be joined from Tromsø or Lauklines.
6. Brave the sea at the sandy arctic beaches
It’s kind of hard to believe but there are beautiful, white sandy beaches on Kvaløya. Only the bravest dare to dive into the cold ocean, but everyone can enjoy the feeling of the fine sand between their toes.
The idyllic beaches are popular with locals on warm summer days, so expect a crowd. Some of the most popular beaches are:
- Grøtfjord was voted Tromsø’s best beach
- Sandvika near Brensholmen, has views towards Tussøya island
- Otervika is a small gem facing Sommarøya (park on the roadside)
- “Hotel beach” by Sommarøy Arctic Hotel, has views towards Senja
7. Fish in the ocean at Hella
Around 30 kilometers from Tromsø on Kvaløya’s south-eastern coast is a popular recreation area called Hella. The area is considered the best spot to go fishing around Tromsø due to the strong ocean current. The scenery is wonderful and old, wooden houses have been moved from Tromsø and restored.
8. Try snowshoeing
If you’ve never tried snowshoeing before, the trails around Kvaløya are a great place to start. Join one of the tours out of Tromsø which includes snowshoes, poles, transport, and a guided hike.
Tromsø Wilderness Centre run a 4 hour tour perfect for beginners (kids too). A hot meal is included and you can borrow an insulated suit to stay warm.
Find more snowshoeing tours in the area in our guide to snowshoeing in Norway.
9. Shop at Eide Handel
Norway isn’t exactly known for its great supermarkets but Eide Handel in Kvaløysletta is an exception. There’s a great selection, including a wide variety of Norwegian produce. Pop in and pick up some smoked salmon, award-winning cheeses, and local beers.
How to get to Kvaløya from Tromsø
Kvaløya is just a short drive from Tromsø over the Sandnessund Bridge, next to Tromsø airport. The island is best explored by car and rental cars are available from both Tromsø airport and the city center.
Watch out for reindeer and other wildlife when driving around Kvaløya as they tend to wander along the roads. If you do not have experience driving on snowy and icy roads consider joining one of the many winter tours from Tromsø that explore Kvaløya.
Local buses travel over Kvaløya but departures are few and far between. Buy tickets from convenience stores as it’s much cheaper than onboard. Use en-tur.no to find bus stops and schedules. Here are some examples:
Kvaløya is also a gateway to Senja Island during the summer months. Between April and August there is a car ferry from Brensholmen to Botnhamn. The ferry takes 35 minutes and runs 5–7 times per day. Try to be at the terminal at least an hour early to get in line.
Do you have any questions about planning an adventure on Kvaløya? Let us know in the comments below!