Most people who tell you they’re going to Norway have probably booked a trip to Oslo, or are even planning a cruise around the fjords in Bergen. Tromsø, however, isn’t your average holiday destination.
At nearly 70 degrees north, it’s easy to see why this freezing European city, the most northerly in the world, is dubbed the ‘Gateway to the Arctic’. But while the temperatures are chilly, Tromsø’s climate is kept relatively temperate by the Gulf Stream – the same one that keeps our weather here in the UK so mild. Expect 10 below in the winter (sometimes colder) compared to nearly 30 degrees in the summer, both temperatures similar to locations 200+ miles south.
With the Polar Night and Midnight Sun to contend with (depending on when you visit), it’s certainly a city of great contrasts, one like I’ve never experienced before. If you’re planning to experience it this winter too, here’s how I recommend you spend your time:
Play with huskies
Excursions with huskies are an absolute must in Tromsø, not least because it’s a great way to keep warm and active when the weather turns. When the snow arrives you can mush of course – driving your or own sled or being driven by a guide – and if you visit before the powder arrives (usually October or November), there’s opportunities to go hiking with the huskies too. You’ll walk them, or rather, they’ll walk you, through icy fjord-fringed landscapes before you head back to the yard and meet 150+ other huskies, all vying for your attention. Even if you’re not a dog lover, they are particularly sweet and friendly, despite their distinctive canine aroma.
With more than 10,000 reindeer in Northern Norway, it’d be rude to visit Tromsø and not say hello to at least one. Join the region’s indigenous Sami people, known for their reindeer herding among other things, in feeding the herd, learning about local culture and even sledding through the Norwegian wilderness.
If you’re going to eat fish anywhere, let it be Tromsø. Here, the coastline and rivers are brimming with a range of fish and shellfish – from sea trout to mackerel. And in the winter, when the cod reaches the coast, it simply doesn’t get any fresher. The waters here are crisp and clean, and any fresh catch is lovingly prepared. For a particular delicacy, ask for lutefisk – it’ll be on the menu of any restaurant worth its salt. This traditional dried white fish, pre-soaked in water for nearly two weeks before being cooked, is typically served with boiled potatoes and sometimes even bacon. YUM.
Chase the aurora
The elusive aurora borealis evaded me when I went to Iceland a couple of years ago. We went out for three consecutive nights, and barely saw a glimmer. But there was no such disappointment in Tromsø. Despite being cloudy, our guide Sam was confident as he took us out of the city – away from the sleet and light pollution – and headed north. Two hours later, we saw the most magnificent Northern Lights show, more beautiful than I could ever have hoped for. Ribbons of emerald chased each other across the sky, racing and dancing as if their life depended on it. Seconds later, the inky blackness above us exploded with colour, bursting with greens and pinks ahead and all around my periphery. It takes perseverance at times, and plenty of waiting in the cold, but when you’re finally rewarded with a display it’s hard not to feel humbled by nature at its finest.
Spot whales in the fjords
November to February signals whale-watching season in Tromsø. Humpbacks, fins and orcas head for the waters around Northern Norway in search of fresh feed: specifically herring. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, but the success rate is pretty high. This is because the whales are here to hunt and feed, making them very active.
Embrace the Polar Night
From the end of November to the middle of January, the sun never rises above the horizon in Tromsø. This Polar Night poses an unusual experience – especially for your body clock – but it does mean you get to see the city in a whole different light. It’s not completely dark, but instead bathed in a twilight during the usual daylight hours. At Christmastime, the streets are awash with fairy lights and, even when it’s not the holidays, shops and homes illuminate their doorways with candles. This charming waterside metropolis has a real cosy feel, verging on magical, this time of year, and, despite what the critics say, is anything but gloomy.
When in Norway, the law allows access to, and passage through, uncultivated countryside land. This makes Tromsø a great location for wild camping. As long as you’re not visiting in the depths of winter when the temperatures can be harsh, there are few better places to pitch a tent. You can spot wild deer, glimpse the Northern Lights and, most importantly, build a campfire and toast marshmallows – just like we did.
Want to chase the aurora or sled with huskies in Norway? Make an appointment with one of our Travel Experts to start planning your European city break to Tromsø.