Alta is situated far above the arctic circle and the area is commonly known as Norwegian Lapland. Alta is one of the best tourist destinations in Europe, it is off the beaten track and offer authentic adventures and experiences you will remember for a lifetime. It is also super easy to get to as there are direct flights from the capital Oslo in the south.

So what is there to do in Alta in winter? As one of the locals, I hope to give you inspiration and added insight to get the most out of your arctic visit. The list offers something for the adrenaline junkies as well as something for those wanting to experience the silence and sound of nature.

1. Northern Lights Hunting

Alta is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. Alta got the name The City of Northern Lights as it is in the middle of the aurora belt and the city has a rich history when it comes to northern lights research. The world’s first permanent northern lights observatory was built here in 1899. And in 2013 the Northern Lights Cathedral was opened in Alta. Your arctic experience will not be complete before you have done some Northern Lights hunting.

Most visitors have limited time and to have the best chance of success I recommend joining one of the local tour operators. They have gained local knowledge over years and have experience interpreting Northern Light predictions for the area. They also know where to find areas with as little light pollution as possible, which is a big advantage both for seeing and photographing the lights. Typically they will also offer warm clothing, something hot to drink during the trip and will help you with your camera settings to get that perfect picture. Two serious tour operators that can be recommended are Glød Explorer and Æventyr.

If you are interested in learning more about Northern Lights, including how to forecast it and how to take stunning Northern Light photography, you may want to consider ´The definite guide to Auroras´ by Tom Kerss. The guide is reasonable priced and is compact and easy to travel with.

If you are traveling on a low budget you still have the chance to see the northern lights on your own. When the light show is strong it can even be seen from the city center despite the light pollution, however renting a car is an advantage. I also recommend checking out one of the free apps that provide aurora forecasts. I use the one called Aurora Forecast, but there are several to choose from. It will help tell you what days you have the highest chances of seeing the northern lights, and at what time of the evening you need to be out looking for it. And remember that you need a clear sky to see it.

2. Husky snow sledding tour and puppy cuddles

Alta is the host city for Finnmarksløpet, the toughest and longest dog-sled race in Europe. There are several mushers in town and a visit to one of them to meet the dogs and join a dog sled experience is highly recommended. If you are lucky they have a new litter of puppies, and who doesn´t love puppy cuddles?

The two mushers in town that takes visitors are Holmen Husky and Trasti og Trine. They both offer accommodation as well. If you are into dining, Trasti and Trine has what is likely the best restaurant in town.

When you go on a dog sledding trip you typically get to prepare your own dog team for the ride, put on their harness etc. This is part of the fun. The dogs can be loud, but that is just because they are super excited. They understand what is about to happen and they love to run! Dogsledding is also an great way to experience the local nature.

3. Go snowmobiling like the locals

Snowmobiling is one of the most popular leisure activities in winter in Finnmark. The county has many slopes for snowmobiles, and Alta has the highest density of snowmobiles in the Norway. Every fourth person in Alta owns a snowmobile and getting out into the mountains during winter season is very common. A popular family activity is getting to a lake on the mountain, lit up a fire and do some ice fishing. When the fire is nice and warm fry some hot dogs and drink some ´bålkaffe´(coffee made on the fire). One of the first things I did returning to the north, after many years traveling with my job, was to buy a snowmobile. It is a lot of fun!

If you want to experience a snowmobile tour across the Finnmark plateau the easiest way is to go with a tour operator. They will take care of everything from warm clothing, guide, safety, insurance etc. The mountains this far north can be unpredicatable and weather can change rapid, so going with a local is recommended. Gargia Lodge and Sorrinsiva are two serious tour operators that both offer snowmobile tours.

4. Icefishing

Great activity to combine with snowshoeing, backcountry skiing or snowmobiling – you need to get to the lake somehow. Most of the good lakes are somewhere on the vast Finnmark plateau and the best way is snowmobile. There are however some closer to city that can be reached by snowshoeing. Glød Explorer is one of the tour operators that offers a combination of snowshoeing and ice fishing.

The most popular catch is trout or Arctic char. Ice fishing is a big thing up north and there are many ice fishing competitions through out the season. One of the local newspapers also runs a ice fishing competition and will publish your photo together the weight of the fish. The photo below is off course a bragging photo of my best catch last season.

5. Reindeer sledding and Samí culture

Finnmark county is commonly known as Norwegian Lapland. Finnmark is home to 185.000 reindeer. They are all owned by samí reindeer herders keeping the traditional way of nomadic life alive. They are still herding the reindeer to the coast in the summer and the inland in the winter like their ancestors have done for hundreds of year.

Photo courtesy: Sami Siida

If you want to experience Samí culture and meet the reindeer up close you should visit Sami Siida located just outside Alta. You can book a reindeer sledding tour, experience the colorful Samí clothing and traditional singing called ´joik´. You can also have a traditional Samí dinner in their restaurant. The Samí are also good storytellers and who wouldn’t enjoy a good story around the bon fire in a traditional samí Lavvu ?

6. Sleep in a snow igloo hotel

The world northernmost snow igloo hotel is located in Alta. Every year Sorrisniva builds their snow igloo hotels from scratch. And every year the igloo hotel has a different theme so you can visit year after year and always experience something new.

Experienced artist put their best work into the hotel creating unique shapes and sculptures from snow and ice. In addition to the suites, where you sleep on top of reindeer skin in a bed of snow, the hotel has an Ice bar and a ice chapel. And off course the glasses in the bar are also made of ice.

If you don´t feel like sleeping in a ice hotel you can still book a guided tour of the hotel and get a drink in the ice bar.

7. Whale watching in Alta Fjord

During winter whales migrate to the herring rich fjords in Northern Norway and October to January is consider whale season. Experiencing whales in their natural environment when they are chasing herring in the fjords is just an amazing experience to be remembered for life. The whales that migrate north are humpbacks and killer whales. Humpbacks are the big ones you have seen coming up from the deep dark with their enormous mouth open trying to catch as many herring as possible. Often a group of humpbacks will come up together – and it is just WOW.

Øksfjord Alta Finnmark Norway

The only tour operator that offers whale watching from Alta is Æventyr. A few years ago I went on a whale watching tour with them and was blown away. I had no idea we had such an amazing experience possible on our own backyard.

You may also be interested in: Whalewatching in arctic Norway´s Alta

Øksfjord Alta Finnmark Norway

8. Ski touring the Finnmark Alps

The Finnmark Alps is the northernmost area for ski touring in Norway. The area is still a well kept secret and you can likely spend a week skiing without meeting anyone. The Finnmark Alps are culminating at 1191 meters on the glacier of Øksfjord. The alpine peaks are surrounding the fjords Oksfjord and Landfjord. It offers summit to sea descents.

Most visitors will likely end up in neighboring and well known Lyngen Alps. But if you prefer a quieter venue Finnmark Alps is the destination for you. The snow season is long and reliable, so this is also a good late season destination. The area is located about an hour drive south from Alta.

Photo courtesy: Upguides

If ski touring is on your bucket list and you want a guide with you, you may want to try a specialist ski touring operator like Alpine Guides or Upguides.

9. Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta city

In 2013 the The Northern Lights Cathedral was opened in Alta. The church is inspired by the northern lights and is built like a spiral that swings its way up. During special occasion it is lit up and you can get some wonderful pictures. The church also hosts an interactive northern lights exhibition.

The photo below was taken during a wild northern light show in the city center and we were lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

10. Finnmarksløpet and Borealis Winter Festival

Every year early March the city is filled up with dogs, mushers and handlers. Finnmarksløpet is the toughest and longest dog-sled race in Europe, even for experienced mushers this is a challenge. For Alta this means a city bustling with life. Both the start and the finish takes place downtown Alta and this is a big event for everyone.

There are three race classes, Junior, FL600 and FL1200 and normally more than 150 mushers take part in the race. In 2023 the start is March 10th and this is the first year the race is also a World Championship. The starts takes place Friday. The mushers are announced one by one and passes through the pedestrian street in city center to a cheering audience.

At the same time Borealis Winter Festival is arranged and the festival is all about decorating the city center with snow and ice art. The festivals starts with an opening show Thursday evening before the Friday´s dogs race start. The show is arranged by local youth and children and always attracts a huge crowd. All the mushers are brought on stage to wish them good luck. Typically the festival arranges an ice sculpture competition and has a ice sculpture park put together by professional artists and local youth. Markets tents are put up where you can buy local produce or samí handicraft.

There will also be many other smaller events taking place during the race. My favorite was when they arranged snowmobile cross in the city center with the Northern Lights Cathedral as a backdrop, but that has only happened one time. Wonder what they will come up with this year? Check out the program on their webside if you are planning on visiting during this event.