Enter the Arctic Circle and experience the natural world's most stunning sights in Tromso, the 'Capital of the Arctic' and the best place to see the Northern Lights.
What you need to know about Tromso
Language: In Norway the national language is Norwegian but a lot of the population in larger towns and cities will be able to speak English to the extent where you could get by. There is no harm in learning a few basic Norwegian phrases so you can say “Takk” and so on when dealing with locals.
Currency: The currency in Norway is the Norwegian Krona. Prices are high locally when you convert the cost of food and drink into British Pounds or Euros and then compare relative to prices in London and Paris for example.
Banking: Like the rest of the Nordic region, convenient banking facilities like ATMs and tellers, as well as the acceptance of all major bank cards can be expected in Tromso.
Weather: You are in the arctic circle so in the colder months of the year it is so cold that it can be lethal. The wind chill will bring the temperature down even further so when you travel to Tromso, especially in peak winter, you need to invest in significant winter clothes so that you can enjoy the sights and things to do without worrying too much about your trip being ruined by the elements. It is the same as when visiting any other extreme climate on earth…. Be sensible, be careful and you can have a really fun and unique experience.
Aurora on my mind
Are there multiple reasons to visit Tromso? Sure there are. No mater when you visit you are bound to have an excellent trip. With that being said, the most popular time to visit Tromso is between the months of October and March when the Aurora Borealis (or “Northern Lights” to most) are visible. Given that you are literally in the Arctic Circle, there are few places on earth that provide a better chance of seeing the lights; the theory being that the closer you are to the magnetic pole, the better the chance of seeing the lights.
Generally you will need to get out away from under the main city lights to see Aurora clearly. This is not a trip that is recommended to be attempted alone unless you are skilled and experienced in winter driving on snow & ice, and know both the landscape and roads. You could book on a cruise that will sail away from the city’s harbour into the black of night and allow an uninterrupted view of the Northern Lights as they dance across the sky. These cruises can be extremely good fun and value for money. The downsides being that, well, you are on a boat that will be rocking (not to everyone’s taste), and also because of that rocking motion caused by the waves you are surfing the chance of getting the perfect Instagram photo of Aurora is marginal at best. The cruise option is one to take if you are happy to sit back wrapped in a warm blanket and just soak up the sight - not a bad memory to take home with you from your travels!
The other option is to book on to one of the many Northern Lights Tours in Tromso who will drive out of the city and into the remote, dark expanse that surrounds it. There you will similarly have an unencumbered view of any Aurora that appear, but you will also be able to set up a tripod an take the sort of travel photos that you see from arctic exhibitions that have flooded social media in recent years, making you the envy of your online network of friends. Remember that you will also need an SLR camera to be able to take any photos of substance. Pointing your iPhone at the sky is not going to cut it unless you are party to the most insanely powerful Northern Lights display that even a handheld camera could capture - this is highly unlikely so plan ahead to make sure you get the most out of your Tromso trip. Some tours do supply equipment such as tripods and shutter releases but check before you travel to avoid any issues.
Photos aside, just seeing the Aurora on any lucky evening is a real bucket list moment. Even if armed with a camera please, please, please take some time to put it down and stare at sky so you can make a memory that will last a lifetime.
The highest cathedral in the world (and other very high things)
Ok so it not that high in terms of its size. It is actually quite understated and contemporary in its design. Regardless, the Arctic Cathedral is the most Northern Cathedral in the world. A lot of things in Tromso are the ‘most northern’ instance of their kind - the Mack Brewery for example is the most northern Brewer of beer - but that makes none of them any less legitimate or impressive in their own right. Visit the cathedral and have a little quiet, solitary moment knowing that you will be doing so higher than most people on the planet will ever do.
Mack Brewery beer is delicious!
Fancy a drink? Look no further than local-based brewer, Mack. You can tour the facilities, see the processes they go through to make their beer and of course sit and sample some of their finest drinks. You can also skip the other options and just go straight to the sampling part if you are super keen to try some Nordic lager and ale. Be prepared to pay a high price for your tipple because Norway is an expensive plosive relative to the parts of Europe. A beer will easily set you back €10 each as an indication of the price. The high price does come with the certain satisfaction of being able to kick back and toast your travel pals with a beer while sat IN the arctic circle. That’s a pretty cool - or absolutely freezing in winter - thing to do.
Whales at sea and on land in Tromso
Jump aboard a specialised tour boat and set off in search of incredible pods of whales that can be seen in the fjords that surround Tromso. Scientists and guides have been struck by how frequently the giants of the deep blue sea in large numbers in recent years so your chances of seeing them are very high. There are specific whale watching guidelines that should be adhered to but any reputable tour vessel will be well versed and you will be in capable hands. Get your camera at the ready to snap these beautiful creatures as they breach the surface of the water.
On land there is also an opportunity to see a whale of a different kind. A sculpture known as Tavaha is seven foot long, made of plastics recovered from the sea and serves to educate people that there is an impact to how we look after the seas & oceans an what lies within them. Less spectacular than seeing the real thing up close admittedly but a subtle, poignant reminder of human impact on the natural world.