Tramping ‘Round Tromsø
Tromsø surprised visitors in the 1800s: They thought it very sophisticated and cultured for being so close to the North Pole.
It looks the way a polar town should — with ice-capped mountain ridges and a jagged architecture that is an echo of the peaks. The midnight sun shines from May 21 to July 21, and it is said that the northern lights decorate the night skies over Tromsø more than over any other city in Norway.
The so-called “Capital of the North” (the city was once the capital of Norway — but for only 38 days!) is about the same size as Luxembourg, but home to only 68,000 people.
The city’s total area — 2,558 square km (987 square mi) — is actually the most expansive in Norway. The downtown area is on a small, hilly island connected to the mainland by a slender bridge. The thousands of students at the world’s northernmost university are one reason the nightlife here is uncommonly lively for a northern city.
Best Shore Excursions & Diversions
- Tromsø City Tour and Cable Car to Mt. Storsteinen. Tour historic Tromsø, stopping at Tromsø Museum, Northern Norway’s largest, before crossing the Tromsø Bridge, which links the island the mainland. Directly across the bridge is the Arctic Cathedral, which features Europe’s largest stained-glass window. Norwegian nature, culture and faith inspired this cathedral built in 1965, with its architecture resembling ice and snow, the iconic symbol of Tromsø. The tour concludes with a cable car ride to the summit of Mt. Storsteinen, 420 meters above sea level and offering panoramic views of Tromsø.
- The Arctic Expeditions. Known as the “Gateway to the Arctic,” Tromsø was the starting point for many Arctic explorations, a fact depicted in detail at the Polar Museum. Opened in 1978, 50 years to the day after Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen left the city on his last expedition (to search for Umberto Nobile and his airship Italia), the museum is situated in an old customs warehouse at Skansen Pier.
- Sip a pint at Mack Brewery, the world’s northernmost brewery. The brewery was established in 1877 by Ludvig Mack, who was seeking a healthier alternative to hard liquor, the only alcoholic drink available in Tromsø up until Mack came along. During your tour, learn about the light and dark beers brewed at Mack’s before proceeding to the beer hall, which was one of the first establishments to sell beer in Tromsø.
- Golf at the World’s Northernmost Golf Course. Tee up at the Tromsø Golf Park, the world’s northernmost 18-hole golf course, a 35-minute drive from the city center. With the Lyngen alpine mountain range as a backdrop and adjacent to one of the region’s best salmon rivers, the golf park is situated on former grounds inhabited by the Sami culture.
- The Ishavskatedralen Arctic Cathedral is the city’s signature structure. Designed by Jan Inge Hovig, it’s meant to evoke the shape of a Sami tent as well as the iciness of a glacier. Opened in 1964, it represents northern Norwegian nature, culture, and faith. The immense stained-glass window depicts the Second Coming.
- The Tromsø Museum, northern Norway’s largest museum, is dedicated to the nature and culture of the region. Learn about the northern lights, wildlife, fossils and dinosaurs, minerals and rocks, and church art from 1300 to 1800. Outdoors you can visit a Sami gamme (turf hut), and a replica of a Viking longhouse.
- In an 1830s former customs warehouse, the Polar Museum documents the history of the polar region, focusing on Norway’s explorers and hunters.
- Ludvik Mack founded Mack’s Brewery in 1877 and it is still family-owned. You can take a guided tour, at the end of which you’re given a beer stein, pin, and a pint of your choice in the pub.
- The adventure center Polaria examines life in and around the polar and Barents regions with exhibits on polar travel and arctic research, and a panoramic film from Svalbard. The aquarium has sea mammals, including seals.
- Tromsø Botanic Garden has plants from the Antarctic and Arctic as well as mountain plants from all over the world. Encompassing four acres, the garden has been designed as a natural landscape, with terraces, slopes, a stream, and a pond.
- To get a sense of Tromsø’s immensity and solitude, take the Fjellheisen cable car from behind the cathedral up to the mountains, just a few minutes out of the city center. Storsteinen (Big Rock), 1,386 feet above sea level, has a great city view. In summer a restaurant is open at the top of the lift.
- With wilderness at its doorstep, Tromsø has more than 100 km (62 mi) of walking and hiking trails in the mountains above the city. They’re reachable by funicular.
One of Norway’s leading regions for handmade arts and crafts, Tromsø is a treasure trove of shops, particularly along the main pedestrian street Storgata, selling regional and international products. Pick up art from the city’s many galleries or craft shops (such as glass-blowing and candle-making studios) or score such Arctic delicacies as reindeer sausages.
- Husfliden. Traditional handicrafts and souvenirs as well as traditional folk dress and bunads.
- Arppa Sami Duodje Gallery. Gifts based on traditional Sami culture, including works in leather, wood, silver, pewter and more as well as arts and handicrafts from Sami artisans.
Cruise ships dock either in the city center at Prostneset or 4 kilometers north of the city center at Breivika. Step off the ship in Prostneset, and you’re in the city center.
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