Tromso, Norway: Way, Way Up North
Tromso: The Northernmost City in the World
By Jean Koo
Tromso, Norway located on the island of Tromsoya which bobs its oval shape from the Norwegian Sea, 350 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle.
The city’s ribbon of shoreline is scribbled with walkable paths and stories of Viking Sagas. The streets, hugged by two and three-story, wooden buildings dating to 1789, bring visitors back to Tromso’s rustic outpost past.
The humpy mountain range topped with old snow and far from city lights is the ideal place to view the Aurora Borealis.
When to Go:
May 20 to July 22 if you want to experience the polar day or midnight sun.
September 28 to April 14 if you want to experience the polar night, which darkness makes the Aurora vivid. The best time is between 18.00 and 2.00.
By Air: SAS has over a dozen flights a day from Oslo. The price for a round-trip ticket is around 2,000 NOK in summer and double that amount in winter.
By Sea: Hurtigruten, a Norwegian people and cargo ferry stops at Tromso daily. The Norwegian Sea, because of its depth and conditioned by the Gulf Stream, never freezes. However, ship voyages may be canceled in winter if the weather is severe.
By Train then Bus: By train from Oslo to Narvik. This route is hyphenated by coniferous forests, dotted by pocket lakes and the journey takes almost 12 hours. The cost is 609 NOK. By bus from Narvik to Tromso is a 4.5 hours ride and cost 400 NOK.
Bike: Both manual and electric bicycles can be rented. Bikes rent for about 475 NOK/day.
Bus: Bus pass is 110 NOK/24 hours or 50 NOK/trip.
Cross-country skiing: The city has over 71 kilometers of ski trails. Cross-country skis rent for about 280 NOK/24 hours.
Bus: The city has an extensive tunnel system, which keeps cars/buses moving in the heavy snow.
Walking – reflectors are a very good idea at any hour during the winter.
Tromso Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden. This garden is open 24-hours a day and 365 days a year. Among the blossoming plants in summer is the Angelica spice made famous by Viking Sagas written by Snorri Sturluson in 1230.
The Saga points out that Viking King Sverre gave this greenish-white flower to a woman he wanted to please. At this site, there are also many endangered specimens, including the ominous-looking horsetail – the oldest plant on earth. Cost: Free
The Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden is located on the Tromso University Campus grounds. Take the Bus 20 from town to the campus and get off at the Northern Lights Planetarium.
From there, follow the sign for a short walk. Or, you can do the hilly, 40-minute walk from town.
Phone Number: +47 909 41 714
Best Activity and Tour:
Fjellheisen. Tromso Cable Car system brings observers to a blowing, 421 meters above sea level for stunning views.
In summer, from this height, it is possible to see the edge of the polar frontier where Norwegian explorer S. A. Andree’s hydrogen balloon crashed trying to reach the North Pole in 1897.
In winter, this location is excellent for observing the Aurora. The snack bar is a cozy room that walks out to an observation deck. Warm/cold drinks and snacks are served year-round.
Cost for round trip: 170/NOK and the ride one way is about 4 minutes.
Cost for the one-way trip: 110/NOK. In June, I walked up and was wearing a skirt of mud when I reached the top.
Address: Sollivegen 12. Take Bus 26 to the town center. Or, you can do the hearty, 40-minute walk from city hall crossing the span bridge. Phone Number: +47 77 63 87 39
Tromso Polaria. The aquarium is famous for its bearded seals and architecture. The building resembles ice-floes pushed together by a salty sea to the north. From these waters, Viking Chieftain Ottar began his journey to Wessex in 890 where he declared to Alfred the Great that he “lived northernmost of all Northmen.” Cost: 120 NO Address: Hjalmar Johansensgate 12, about a 10-minute walk from city hall. : +47 77 75 01 00
Telegrafbukta Beach runs along the shore of the Norwegian Sea. There are many docks that jut out to the 2-mile deep water where Lord Alfred Tennyson envisions a sea-monster with “unnumbered and enormous polypi” is sleeping until “fire shall heat the deep” in the poem, “The Kraken.”
In summer, this is an amazing location for a picnic. In winter, this location is super for observing the Aurora Borealis because it is not affected by the lights of the city. Cost: Free Mellomvegen 142. Take Bus 37 from town. Or, it’s about a 30-minute walk from the city center.
Most Unusual Attractions:
The sun. In summer, at midnight, the sky is as bright as mid-afternoon on a fall day near the 49 th parallel. At 3 a.m., the sun rises higher and sun-rays streak brightly across the sky.
In winter, the days and nights are dark yet it is the city’s busiest tourist season. People are out at all hours walking the streets that made Tromso the “Paris of the North” in the nineteenth century and taking in the Borealis.
Tromso Arctic Reindeer Excursion. In winter, Sami guides share their culture, stories, and meals with visitors as you ride sledges pulled by reindeer in their winter sanctuary. Viking Chieftain Ottar had told the King of Wessex that reindeers were a measure of wealth in the North and that his herd amounted to more than 600.
Reindeers today still hold much esteem in Tromso. The emblem of the city is a mighty silver reindeer roaming before a wane blue sky. Cost: From 1,090 to 1,590 NOK and excursions are between 3-5 hours long.
Address: Pick up is from the Radisson Blu Hotel at Sjogata 7, about a 5-minute walk from city hall.
The trip to the lavuu (Sami tent) is about ½ hour.
This excursion is not available in the summer as the reindeer roam free during this season.
The Arctic Cathedral: In summer, the church hosts concerts beginning at 11 pm. The music is Sami and Nordic folk songs. In winter, the glowing building is beautiful to look at.
Address: Hans Nilsens veg 41. Take the Bus 26 from town. Or, you do the windy 30-minute walk from city hall crossing the span bridge.
Phone Number: +47 476 80 668
Tromso is not a shopping city, but there is a street market on the slopping public area in front of city hall. Sami jewelry and cravings, knitted sweaters, potted plants, flowers, brunost cheese or brown cheese, Norwegian bread and when I was there in June, really good blueberries can be found. $-$$
Knoo Og Tott: Wooden interior lined with long tables makes a cozy atmosphere in this order-at-the-counter and the server brings-it-to-you-style café. The salad of various greens – you choose, they gather – is topped with a heaping cupful of shrimps, mussels, egg and caviar. Best drink: Tap water, which everyone in Tromso insists is the best water, anywhere. $
Storgata 62, directly across from Tromso Cathedral.
Kaia Bar & Restaurant: Curtain glass seating area overlooking the sea, long wooden bar and chowder bouncing with chunks of whitefish and salmon. A second glass of wine is really generous. $$
Stortorget 2, Kai 11, off the pier where small sailboats dock.
Arctic-Alpine Coffee Shop: Minimalist Scandinavian room, bright space, and great smile serves made-to-order waffles shaped like a five-petal flower. Preserves made from berries grown on site is a yummy topper. $ Located at Tromso Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden.
In Town: Clarion, the Edge. The hotel room is bright and popping with primary colors, really good hot/cold breakfast buffet is included and there is free Wi-Fi.
Outside of Town: Tromso Camping. This hotel is a collection of individual cottages, is located on a camp ground, has ski-in/ski-out access and free Wi-Fi in public areas. Because it is above the city, it is an ideal location to view the Borealis.
Money and Communications:
The city only trades in NOK but shops prefer plastic or apps payments for any amount, no matter how small.
1USD = 7.92 NOK, as of 8/17
English is widely spoken all across Norway.
Jean Koo is a technical writer and editor living in Toronto, Canada.