Directly beneath the Northern Lights oval is Tromsø, a small city with an exciting history, lively atmosphere and a huge variety of snow and winter activities.
It’s when the snow is a metre thick, the ice makes you do involuntary pirouettes, and night falls in the early afternoon that you should come to Tromsø. That’s when the locals are at their most sociable, cultural activities and festivals are at their most varied, and above all, the Northern Lights are at their most frequent. Tromsø is an exciting and varied Northern Lights and winter city that is easy to get to.
Tromsø lies directly under the auroral oval
Like much of Northern Norway, Tromsø lies directly underneath the Northern Lights Oval, which makes it one of the most optimal places on the planet for seeing the Northern Lights. You can often see the Northern Lights in the city centre, but most people prefer to leave the centre and find some better night darkness. However, in Tromsø’s unstable coastal climate, there are often snow clouds hanging over the mountaintops. For this reason, most Northern Lights hunters go further out into the winter night. Sometimes their hunt takes them to the driest place in Northern Europe, behind the Lyngen Alps, while at other times they head to the outer coast; it all depends on weather and wind direction. High mountains, fjords and islands create a large number of microclimates, and somewhere in the area, there will almost always be a place with clear skies.
Storgata is the heart of culture in Tromsø
The centre of Tromsø is a colourful, composite and multi-layered mixture of colourful, pretty wooden houses from the 1800s, some pearls of Art Nouveau and Functionalism, practical 1970s concrete, and architectural statement buildings from the oil era. Shops with good-quality merchandise, crowded, sociable cafes, restaurants serving fish, and a noisy, good-humoured night-life means that Storgata is always full of people, more or less at any time of the day or night. During the winter there tends to be a festival every weekend in Storgata, from the Film Festival via the Northern Lights Festival to the Reindeer Racing Championship.
Learn more about Tromsø’s history in walking distance from your hotel
You can learn about the history of polar bear trapping and the great explorers in the Polar Museum. The seals and aquariums of the Polaria visitor centre are suitable for everyone, while tours of Mack, the northernmost brewery in the world, are only for adults. There are two wooden cathedrals in the city centre, which are more intimate than impressive, while the more architecturally airy Arctic Cathedral looks down on Tromsø Bridge. The University Museum has extensive exhibitions about the history, culture and nature of Northern Norway. From the Fjellheisen cable car you can see far and wide across the sea and mountains. The Northern Lights Planetarium in the Science Centre of Northern Norway presents a scientific explanation of the heavenly phenomenon.
Humpbacks and killer whales follow the herring to Northern Troms
Over the last few years, about 5 billion herrings have come to the coast of Troms and Vesterålen in the middle of October to spawn. Humpback whales, fin whales and killer whales operate on herring time, and can be seen in the narrow fjords and between the islands to the north of the city. Sometime in January, they head south, and from February onward they are back out in open water. During the short day of the twilight months, you can go on a boat trip to get close to the whales.
In Tromsø snow is plentiful, sometimes too plentiful
When a north-westerly is blowing, it can snow for days on end in Tromsø. In 1997, the snow in the city was measured at 240 cm, something which we hope won’t be repeated this winter. However, the huge volumes of snow make it a perfect place for cross-country skiing, off-piste downhill skiing, as well as dog sledding, snowmobile or snowshoe excursions, and ice fishing. Some people choose to go on day trips, to see the snow-clad winter landscapes. For others, the fun and games start in the evenings, because that’s the time to see the Northern Lights when they appear in the sky. There is an impressive range of excursions, which you can pre-book online or buy when you get here at the tourist organisation Visit Tromsø.
The winter is dark and snowy, but not cold
At 350 km (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle and barely 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) from the North Pole itself, you would think that Tromsø would be cold and unpleasant. But in reality, the average temperature in the deepest depths of winter is only about -4C, and with good footwear, spikes, woollen thermal underwear, hat and gloves, you don’t feel cold at all. Most activities also include the use of a thermal suit. From Tromsø, there are 10–12 flights a day to Oslo, and in the winter, there are also direct flights to Stockholm, Helsinki and London. Hotel capacity has increased immensely over the last few years, so it isn’t usually difficult to find a hotel room. Winter destinations in Northern Norway, like Bodø, Narvik, Lofoten and Vesterålen in the south, and Svalbard, Alta, Hammerfest and the North Cape in the north are easy to get to by plane, express boat and bus.