Have you ever been in a snow storm blowing so hard you can hardly open your eyes? In a place where the ice is so thick on the streets that you can’t even pull your suitcase up a hill?
If not, come spend a couple of days north of the Arctic Circle.
Tromsø is one of those places with a vibe all on its own. Esteemed as the “Paris of the North” the city centre is full of colorful buildings dotted with Christmas lights year-round to illuminate the Arctic. Locals are predominantly of a younger age, most even skiing around the foot-of-snow-covered-streets in high-heeled boots, pushing baby strollers and going about their day, smiling at one another, like this weather is absolutely nothing to them.
I had the pleasure of spending 48 hours up in the Arctic of Tromsø and I can only wish I could return again already, it is that incredible.
Here’s The Paris of the Arctic: Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø is located at the tippy top of Norway, just over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Unless you’re taking an Arctic cruise, Tromsø is pretty much only accessible by airline. The flight was one of the more memorable ones I’ve had; be sure to book by the window for a front row seat to views that belong on a Planet Earth episode!
Read More: 3 Days in Bergen: A Norwegian Fairytale
Although the island of Tromsøya that Tromsø sits on is only around the same size as Manhattan, it’s actually the second largest urban area in the Arctic Circle, even boasting the biggest northern University with 16,000 students.
That young vibe attributed to Tromsø from the University transcribes to its locals as well. Because of the Polar Night that happens from November to January, Tromsø’s residents have found ways to keep those wintry blues at bay by holding regular cultural festivals and exercising in one of the city’s 100 gyms.
Tromsø offers pretty much everything a person could need out of a small city with a mall, three streets full of shopping and even a few movie theaters, all the while being completely surrounded by mountains and fjords. Some of the urban area extends out to the mainland, just across the Tromsø Bridge, and to the western island of Kvaløya.
Surprisingly, Tromsø is much warmer than most other places here in the Arctic because of the Gulf Stream and its warming effects. Average temperatures stay around 35 degrees Fahrenheit year-round but the summer months can see warmth at 55F.
When to Visit Tromsø
The type of vacation you’re looking for out of Tromsø will determine when you should visit. Here’s a list of the various climate and ecological changes Tromsø goes through within a year so you’re able to see what exactly you should expect:
- Winter & Polar Night: Mid November to Mid January
- Blue Nights: Mid Winter
- Summer & Midnight Sun: Mid May– Mid July
- No real darkness: Late April – Mid August
- Northern Lights Viewing: October and March.
- While the Aurora is visible from October to April, Tromsø’s coastal location causes the city to experience many storms. Skies are clearest in Tromsø in October and March.
I visited Tromsø for a couple of days in the second week of March and have never experienced so much snow in my life! Even hailing from northern USA and visiting places like Switzerland, Bavaria and Lake Tahoe in the dead middle of winter, that doesn’t even compare to this Arctic snow. We even got 3 feet within 12 hours on our only full day in the city!
Activities in Tromsø
For a city of its size, so many activities exist in Tromsø and in every season. From snow shoeing to northern lights chasing, the Arctic is one of the most epic places to be any time of the year.
Feed & Sled with Reindeer
A visit to the Tromsø Arctic Reindeer camp is one of the coolest things you could do in Tromsø. Come learn about the Sami people, an indigenous population that have been practicing their traditions for thousands of years. They’ll welcome you into the camp with a smile, introduce you to their herd of reindeer and supply you with buckets of feed to share with them.
You’ll then have the opportunity to board a handmade sled pulled by Santa’s favorite pet. Warm up by the fire with a homemade lunch and then into a cozy atmosphere for some storytelling and history about the Sami culture.
Learn about Norwegian Culture at the Museums
Tromsø offers so many museums in the city and on the outskirts. A few noteworthy ones to visit are the Tromsø University Museum, the MS Polstjerna, the Polar Museum, the world’s most northern aquarium of Polaria, Northern Norway Art Museum, Perspectives Museum, the Tromsø War Museum and the Science Centre of Northern Norway.
Sledding with Dogs
Ever wanted to get up close and personal with some Huskies? Tromsø is definitely the place to do that as you can sled through mountains and magical fjords on one of Norway’s largest islands, Kvaløya. After the sledding, enjoy a traditional Norwegian meal with incredible views overlooking Tromsø. Learn more about that tour here or, if you’re wanting to learn how to actually drive the dog sled yourself, check out that tour here.
Visit the Arctic Cathedral
Possibly Tromsø’s most photographed landmark and the staple of the city is the Tromsdalen Church or the Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen) as it’s best known as. The triangle-shaped Church was built in 1965 and is visible from many different places in Tromsø like from the fjords, on the bridge and even when flying in by plane.
Walk Across the Tromsø Bridge
Tromsø’s city expands from the Tromsøya island to the mainland via the Tromsø Bridge. This 3400 foot stretch of roadway and pedestrian walk spans directly over the fjords of Tromsø Sound with stunning views of the snowy mountains in the distance. There are even some love locks along the way!
Visit the Magic Ice Bar
Tromsø boasts a magical ice bar that displays a number of ice sculptures in their gallery of historic and famous explorers. Pop in here any day of the week, dress in the supplied poncho and gloves and drink a signature cocktail from your ice glass.
Ride the Fjellheisen to the Top of Tromsø
The Fjellheisen is an aerial tramway over on the mainland side of the city. The mountain ledge of Storesteinen is about 1400 feet above sea level and the perfect place to view all of Tromsø from above.
Tickets can be purchased at the booth upon arrival but, if you’re wanting a little more of an adventure, try climbing the 1300 steps which are the Sherpa Stairs (Sherpatrappa). You can also snowshoe or hike to a number of mountain peaks from the Fjellheisen such as Fløya, Bønntuva, Sollidalsaksla and Tromsø’s highest mountain, Tromsdalstindenmore. Learn about those hikes here.
Go Whale Watching with Wild Seas
Wild Seas embarks on tours daily to Skjervøy to collect data and research on the whales who have migrated north of Tromsø. This tour is more than just a whale watch: help them in their research by collecting underwater footage and vocal recordings of the whales. Learn more about the tour here.
Sail Along the Arctic Fjords
It’s hard to come to Norway without seeing those majestic fjords, especially up here in the Arctic where the glaciers are more prominent than the mountains. The tour here includes a 3 hour sail and you’ll even gain some knowledge about the Arctic’s marine life.
Hike the Lyngen Alps
While this is definitely more of a summer activity beginning in June, there aren’t many more beautiful views from Tromsø than at the top of a mountain. Embark on a half day hike with an experienced guide to the Lyngen Alps, supplying views of Tromsø’s mountains and glaciers from the top of the world.
Chase the Northern Lights
And, for the most epic thing you could do in Tromsø, go chase the Northern Lights. As mentioned above, the best months to see the Lights are in October and March when skies are clearest. Multiple tour companies throughout Tromsø offer Northern Lights chases so finding a way to see them isn’t difficult, it’s just a matter of how lucky you can get. I’d say I was one of the luckiest people on the tour I went on, with my guide even saying that these were some of the best Lights she’s seen, even after chasing them for 20 years.
For other fun activities in Tromsø check out Tromsø Eco Tours here which gives 10% of all bookings to nature & environmental charities!
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