The northern lights framed against a backdrop of mountains and rocky coastline: a simple picture is all that is needed to convince you to make the journey north to Tromsø, one of Norway’s northernmost cities. Whether you’re chasing the aurora or basking in the midnight sun, adventure awaits at the top of the world!
Known as the “Paris of the North”, Tromsø is the third-largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and the stopping-off point for any adventure trip to the north of Norway, including the famed Lappmark region. While many refer to Tromsø as the gateway to the Arctic, that doesn’t do justice the many attractions that the city itself holds: sights you wouldn’t see outside the far north, a vibrant, unique nightlife and a wealth of outdoor activities.
Tromsø is located at 69° north latitude, well above the Arctic Circle. This means that the city sees almost complete darkness from late November to late January, and the midnight sun from late May to late July. Winter visitors can partake in snowshoeing, skiing and chasing the northern lights, while summer excursions are ideal for whale watching, mountain climbing and long drives through the incomparable landscape. Norway’s far north is just a flight away: Book a flight from Zurich to Tromsø and explore the mountains and fjords of this northern paradise!
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How do I get around the Tromsø and its surroundings?
Getting around Tromsø on foot is no problem at all: the town of 70,000 inhabitants is quite pedestrian-friendly, and most attractions are an easy walk away – even those across the bridge on neighbouring Kvaløya Island. Taking a taxi in from the airport is the best option and will likely take you through the city’s network of underground tunnels, which includes subterranean roundabouts and even car parks. Rental cars are a common option for getting around the surroundings, and the car-friendly Hurtigruten ferry makes island-hopping a breeze. Public transit this far north is limited, though buses can take you further south or onwards into the Finnmark region.
When should I visit Tromsø to see the northern lights?
Tromsø is one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis, but your chances are far from guaranteed. The best time to see the lights is in September-October or February-March, since the cloud cover is too intense in the depths of winter and the midnight sun of the summer months overpowers the dancing lights. Check the aurora forecasts one to three nights ahead and be prepared to make alternate plans or to travel at a moment’s notice. Inside the town, head to Prestvannet Lake for unobstructed views, though the best plan is to head further away to observe the aurora in pitch-black conditions.
What should my budget be on a visit to Tromsø?
Norway is well-known as an expensive destination, and there is some truth to that: its northern location and the country’s oil wealth both push prices skyward. Visitors planning on eating out and staying in hotels should budget around CHF 150-200 per day. However, accommodation with a self-catering option is a great way to cut costs, saving nights out for special occasions.
Attractions of Tromsø
Tromsø’s status as the main city of Norway’s northern region means that it is home to a treasure trove of northern culture. From the university to the many museums and galleries, a stay in Tromsø is an ideal way to learn about the northern way of life and see what awaits you on your further travels. Some of its main attractions include:
- Arctic cathedral
- Tromsø cable car
- Polaria aquarium
Tour through Tromsø
Begin your visit at the Ishavskathedralen, Tromsø’s iconic cathedral, which evokes mountain peaks and glaciers in a modern creation built to reflect the city’s northern character. The exterior is comprised of sheer white sloping walls and an east-facing stained-glass window, Europe’s largest.
Then, continue your arctic wanderings at the Polaria aquarium, which houses a panoramic theatre and a series of exhibitions on Arctic wildlife and exploration. Feeding time for the aquarium’s bearded seals is a highlight for young and old. Finally, take in views of the city and its mountainous backdrop by heading up the Fjellheisen funicular. It will take you to an observation deck 420 metres above the city, atop Mount Storsteinen. In midsummer, you’ll be able to see the sun set (and rise!) at midnight over the mountains to the west.
Outdoor activities around Tromsø
While in Tromsø, you will want to partake in some of the outdoor activities the city has to offer as well. Local outfits like the Friluftsenter are your best guides to catching a glimpse of the northern lights while in town; they also organise whale-watching tours with the mountains of Kvaløya, or Whale Island, as a backdrop. Mountain biking is also an option – many rentals also offer bikes with fat snow tires for winter biking, though this is not for the faint of heart!
Dine above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø
Tromsø’s large student population and tourist appeal are just some of the reasons behind its excellent café and restaurant scene. Highlights include a wealth of seafood options, some of the world’s northernmost breweries, and a smattering of international options. The town’s restaurants take advantage of the meat and seafood offerings unique to the north while adding a certain something all their own. You might find Arctic char dripping in gorgonzola sauce or sashimi made from fresh-caught salmon. The seafood restaurants are not to be missed—enjoy seasonal fish or king crab while taking in views of the harbour.
Having a drink in Tromsø
The bars of this northern getaway cater to an active student population as well as the visitors who flock to Norway’s Arctic. Try a craft brew from some of the world’s northernmost breweries or head to the student haunts and take in the city’s vibrant atmosphere. During the winter, some bars will even deck themselves out with ice sculptures and other wintry decorations that will make you feel at home in the far north.
Shop in the land of explorers
A trip to the far north is such a unique experience that you’ll want something to remember it by. Luckily, Tromsø has plenty of shopping options, whether you’re looking for apparel, artwork or gear for your outdoor adventures. The Nerstranda shopping centre is the town’s main mall, with 46 stores offering daily necessities and fashion offerings. Local artisans offer a variety of curios to remember your trip by, including blown-glass sculptures. Or head to one of the gift shops and galleries that offers artwork made by the indigenous Sami people.