Welcome to the arctic city of Tromsø, the world’s most northern university town and the largest city in the Nordic countries north of the Arctic Circle. The city lies between the sharp craggy peaks of the Lyngen Alps, and combines wild scenery with urban life. Tromsø is often referred to as Paris of the North due to its lively atmosphere.
You’ll likely have to connect from a Scandinavian city like Oslo to get to Tromsø, Norway. Tromsø is roughly 2.5 hour flight from Oslo, the Capital city of Norway. When you reached be prepared that everything in there is expensive and for a budget traveller like me there’s a way to save cost. From the airport I took a local bus to the city centre of Tromsø. City bus routes 40 and 42 run between the airport and Tromsø city centre and the bus ride takes approximately 20 minutes. It is located outside the airport opposite the carpark about 3 minutes walk.
A single ticket for these city buses (purchased on board the bus) costs NOK 50 for adults and NOK 25 for children/seniors. It’s possible to buy tickets for city buses in advance at Point Kiosk at the airport. A pre-paid ticket costs NOK 30 for adults and NOK 16 for children and seniors.
You may also try The Flybussen (Airport Express Coach) runs between the airport and Tromsø city centre. It takes approximately 15 min by bus between the airport and the city centre. Note: Price is higher than local bus.
There are taxies located outside the arrival hall at the airport. It takes 10 minutes by taxi from the airport to the city centre and the price is between NOK 200-250 (at daytime; additional cost during the night and weekends). Some waiting time may happen.
I stayed 2 nights in Tromsø at Tromsø, Thon Hotel Tromsø, Centrally located. From the airport can get off the bus when you reach Scandic Grand Hotel. From there it is less than 100 metres walk to the hotel. The driver can point you in the right direction. Note: There are two Thon hotels in Tromsø; Thon Hotel Tromsø and Thon Hotel Polar (near each other though).
When in December at Tromsø you’ll have a little bit of daylight 9:30am to 2pm, so if you want to do any kind of outdoor activity where you’ll want light, try to schedule it within that window.
– Polaria- an Arctic Experience!
Five minutes walk from the centre of Tromsø. An interesting place to go, for sure, but not very big and not a huge amount to see. Their films on the northern lights, the happy seals and information on the decreasing icecap are worth it. I recommend staying for less than an hour.
– Mack Brewery- Relaxing Pub in Basement
The actual brewery has now moved but you can still do a short tour. A fascinating place filled with history, intertwined with Norwegian Culture. The pub itself is quite large, rustic and tasteful decoration with a huge selection of Mack beers.
Mack’s brewpub Ølhallen is the oldest pub in Tromsø. Currently the pub offer a menu of Norwegian quality beer from 67 taps. Ølhallen is one of the most iconic venues in Tromsø. It’s a place where townspeople of all ages meet and taste the best beers brewed by Mack – The world’s most northern brewery.
The beer in Norway is very expensive, but well worth trying a few while you are there – after all – its not every day you go to the world’s most northern brewery 🙂
– The Polar Museum (Polarmuseet)
The Polar Museum tells the exciting story of risky Arctic trapping and courageous polar expeditions. This museum is located in the Tromsø town centre. It is 10 minutes walk from my hotel. A cozy museum that I could learn about the Arctic and a good way to see the history of Tromsø and surrounds. There are plenty of information about the history of fishing and hunting in the Artic region. The museum focuses on hunting and the exploration of the North Pole. However, if you are interested and willing to read, you can spend about an hour inside.
Note: Guide book in English helps! (forgotten to take photos though)
-The Arctic Cathedral- a landmark in Tromsø
You can walk which probably take about 30 minutes from the centrum, as it is quite a walk from Tromso town across the bridge then you can catch a bus right from the centrum to this place (local bus 26) and make sure you have a prepaid travel card.
The Cathedral is beautiful but only requires a short visit to see everything. The church looks great from outside and the best views are at night when the lights are on. It is such a pity that this Cathedral had erratic opening times and charges an entrance fee. It costs NOK 50 per person to get inside the church.
– Tromsø Gondola lift (Fjellheisen)- Experience Tromsø’s best view!
From Arctic Cathedral head towards the cable car to enjoy the best views of Tromsø. If you do not prefer to walk catch the bus number 26. The best time to go there is just an hour before sunset. Take pictures in the light and after couple of hours take pictures of Tromsø with all its lights at night. On some days you can also see Northern lights from this view point.
The cable car runs from Solliveien in Tromsdalen up to the mountain ledge Storsteinen (421 m above sea level) in just four minutes. From the viewing platform at the upper station, you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Tromsø and the surrounding islands, mountains and fjords. At the fully licensed Fjellstua restaurant, you can enjoy a delicious dinner based on local produce or select light meals from the café menu, while you take pleasure in the view.
The Cable Car is Tromsø’s most popular tourist destination. The viewing platform is very accessible and has lift access to it. I walked around the edge of the front of the mountain down to the lower viewing area – crunching through the snow as I gingerly went!
In summer, the panorama deck at the upper station provides excellent opportunities of seeing the Midnight Sun, while in winter it’s an ideal place for hunting the magical Northern Lights.
It is open till late 23:00 hours so enjoy your Tromsø evening seeing one of the most amazing views in the world.
Note: You can also hike the mountain
-Chasing the Northern Lights
Tromsø is situated right in the centre of the Northern Lights zone and is therefore among the best places on earth to observe this phenomenon. Northern Lights dancing above Tromsø is a pretty regular occurrence, since the city is situated almost perfectly in the center of the Northern Lights oval. And when that green curtain shimmers across the sky, it’s nothing short of spectacular.
There is a wide variety of activities and excursions to see the Northern Lights. Half of the tourist brochure is dedicated to the assorted aurora chasing activities going on every day in the winter season. I’m not generally a fan of organised trips. I pride myself on being an independent traveller, hunting out interesting hotels, local restaurants, and interesting sights beyond the usual tourist trail.
Now, In Tromsø there are opportunities to see the northern lights yourself, by hiking to Prestvannet (40 minutes), a lake in the middle of the island offering good views to the north and a certain level of protection from the city lights. Or a local bus will take you to the north of the island.
I hike for three times and only in the third attempt I manage to see the Northern Lights. It was a stunning display, lasting for 10 minutes at varying degrees of intensity. The lights shot across the sky, dancing and twirling like ribbons all around, a party in the sky. I saw white, green, yellow, and even the lesser-spotted pink/purple colour edging one of the ribbons. It was magnificent!
I feel privileged to have seen it.
Note: Took photos using my iPhone without filter by the way
Additional ideas to see Northern Lights of what you can do at a low cost:
– Take bus 37 to Tromsø Museum and take a long stroll along Tromsø Island’s dark western side. Use a couple of hours strolling to the bus terminal at Giæverbukta, from where there are frequent departures to the city centre right up until 11:30pm.
– If there is snow, hire cross-country skis at Tromsø Outdoor (address: Sjøgata 14, right in the centre). Go on a long ski trip in the floodlit ski tracks above the city. Good exercise, fresh air, great views and maybe the appearance of the Northern Lights as well. There are also good floodlit ski tracks across the bridge in Tromsdalen.
-Get tour! The advantage of a tour is straightforward. Firstly, you have the ability to change location. Some tours will drive all the way to find clear skies. Secondly, you have knowledgable guides, skilled at reading the forecasts and knowing the best locations around Troms county. Note: No refund can be made for northern lights activities booked if you do not see the northern lights.
Northern Lights Facts
Above the Arctic Circle you will enter the Land of the Northern Lights, where you have the possibility to experience nature’s own firework. The Northern Lights are particles that are hurled into space after storms on the sun’s surface. They are attracted by the magnetic North Pole (and South Pole) and enter the atmosphere in a ring-like zone around the poles. Most of the Northern Lights outbursts visible are green, but large outbursts can also include other colors.
In order to see the Northern Lights it must be dark and clear (easier to spot away from the lights of the city centres). The greatest frequency is between 6 pm and 2 am. Patience and dedication will pay off. The Northern Lights might be visible for a couple of minutes or most of the evening. Kindly note however that northern lights observations are never guaranteed (depending on solar activity and a clear sky).
- Step 1: Set to Manual.
- Step 2: ISO setting. ISO 1600 is a good start.
- Step 3: Aperture = f-stop. f-2.8.
- Step 4: Shutter speed. 20 sec.
- Step 5: Use a Tripod
- Step 6: Zoom & Focus.
- Step 7: Remotely release the shutter.
Or you can download a Northern Lights photo taker app.
Other Activities in Winter:
-Reindeer Sledding with the Sami
1.) Clothing- good idea to have several layers with the woollen layers as close to your skin as possible. With several layers, it makes it easier to regulate your temperature if it’s warm or cold.
2.) Power Outlets- take a C or F European standard plug with two round pins.
3.) Drinking Water- tap water in Tromsø is very pure and clean and is often better than bottled water. It is safe to drink, but in the larger hotels they recommend letting the tap run a bit first so you get cold water.
4.) ATM machines are widely available in downtown Tromsø and at Tromsø airport. Please note that owing to bank fees it may be cheaper to use your credit card instead of exchanging money. There are currently no money exchange agencies such as Forex or Western Union in Tromsø, so better exchange currency at Oslo Airport on arrival in Norway
You’ve almost reached the end of this article! I appreciate your interest in Tromsø and I hope you will love it there as much as I did! Tromsø is so much more than just chasing the Northern Lights.
Thank you for reading!
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