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Tromsø is a city in the very northernmost part of Norway. It is almost 350 km north of the Arctic Circle and is one of the best places to view the spectacular Northern Lights in winter.
Tromsø is a surprise to most visitors: Here you find art, history, sophistication, good food and an infamous nightlife in a bustling, tiny city. All of it, though, is surrounded by spectacular scenery that is visible from everywhere in town. The city is home to the world's northernmost university, as well as research institutes and satellite based industry. The population is therefore highly skilled, but retains the straightforwardness and sense of humour that the North is known for.
Average January temperatures hover around -4. The coldest temperature record of Tromsø is -18C. Rain and temperatures up to +6 are not unusual, even in mid winter. Usually, there are large quantities of snow between December and May.
The summer temperatures are highly variable. Overcast, chilly and drizzly days are interspersed with beautiful, warm, sunny days.
Light and darkness
The city enjoys midnight sun from May 18 to July 26. During this period, the sun is always above the horizon. Popular viewpoints include the Tromsø Bridge, the front of the Arctic Cathedral and most prominently the Upper Station of the Cable Car, but it can be seen at most points in the city area. Due to the topography, you cannot see the Midnight Sun in large parts of the east side of the Tromsø Island, including the upper reaches of the city centre. Recent construction has also blocked off the Midnight Sun from most of the main street.
In winter, the sun is below the horizon between November 26 and January 15. Because the city is surrounded by mountains, the period is prolonged a few days. In the city centre, the sun is not visible between November 21 and January 21. However, there is some daylight for a few hours, and often there are beautiful colours at midday.
Despite the location, it is fairly easy to reach Tromsø. Most people get to Tromsø by plane, but one can also go by bus or boat. Driving up is also an option, but take the 1700 km distance from Oslo into consideration. Considering the low speed limits on Norwegian convoluted roads along fjords, allow several days (a week is not too much) for the journey. There is also one ferry crossing, Skarberget-Bognes, unless you drive through Sweden. That said, you do not encounter any particular dangers on the way, and the distances between petrol stations, accommodation and shops are not frightening. The scenery is unforgettable.
All international and domestic flights land at the small, modern Langnes Airport (TOS). There are about 10 daily departures to Oslo, by SAS and the low cost Norwegian.
From the airport into town
The distance into town is very short.
The cheapest public transport option to the city centre is public bus 40 and 42, from across the airport parking lot. The bus ride is about 15 minutes, and costs NOK 50. You will need to buy your ticket with cash, no credit cards accepted on city buses.
There is no train all the way to Tromsø. Take a bus from the railheads in Fauske, Narvik and Rovaniemi.
The Swedish railway network has a branch line to Narvik, some 4 hours by bus south of Tromsø. There are 2-4 buses a day to Narvik, depending on the day of the week. The train from Stocholm to Narvik may be both good and cheap, while the bus from Narvik to Tromsø may be rather expensive.
Generally, most things in Tromsø's compact centre are within walking distance. However, there is also a good network of buses. In summer, you can rent bikes, and in winter you can rent cross country skis, both allowing you to roam the built-up areas of Tromsø.
Buses are plentiful and very reliable. You currently pay NOK 49 for a 1.5 hour ticket.
Note that many routes has the city centre in the middle of their route, therefore it is essential to catch a route in the right direction. E.g. 42(Stakkevollan) is driving to a residential area on the Tromsø island, 42(Storelv)is driving to Kvaløya. The ride from Storelva to Stakkevollan takes 45 minutes.
Townhouse from 1832
There are plenty of taxis all over town, however, you will probably have to wait in line if you plan on taking a taxi home after a long night out. This especially goes for Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as these days are particularly busy.
There is no train, although there is a pub called Jernbanen (the train station), 3,48 metres above sea level. The project planned in 1872 has never been built.
What to see
Tromsø's most visited attractions include Polaria, The Arctic Cathedral, The Cable Car, The Tromsø Museum, the Polar Museum and the Botanic Garden.
The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights is a natural light phenomenon in the night sky.
Tromsø is very favorably located for viewing the Northern Lights, but you cannot see the aurora at all times.
Tromsø is within the aurora belt mostly between 6pm and midnight, occasionally between 4pm and 2am.
It has to be dark for you to see it. Between late September and late March, it is dark after six, and you have maximum chances of seeing the lights.
Clouds obstruct the view of the Northern Lights. October and November are humid autumn months, and often you don't see the lights. From December onwards, the weather is drier. March is THE driest month in this six-month period of good chances.
The extent and quality of parks in Tromsø is no reason to come to Tromsø. There are only a few parks in Tromsø, and they are not very large.
Kongeparken, the Royal Park, a couple of blocks up from the main street, is curiously empty on warm days. There is also a patch of park down below the Art Society, just south of the city centre. But don't let the kids run wild there, this park is surrounded by heavy traffic.
A much larger park is Folkeparken, surrounding the Tromsø Museum. This, though, seems like a patch of wild forest saved from development by its park status. When you visit the University Museum, take a stroll down to the Folk Museum, with a few old houses moved here from various parts of the county of Troms.
The nature surrounding Tromsø is spectacular. Mountains, fjords and fauna in an arctic perspective. Just outside Tromsø you can find various birds (Sea Eagles, Puffins, Fulmars), Muskoxen and the worlds largest mammals - the whales. For whale watching in Tromsø - Whale watching in Norway.
Most activities take place in the sheltered waters around the city area, or in the mountains surrounding the city. Check out the website of the Tourist Information for all the details. The Tourist Information also has a number of organised tours on offer.
Some activities are easy to do without assistance, whereas others require the guidance of a trained guide. Make sure you know what you're doing before setting off on your own.
The reason people go to Tromsø in the winter, is to experience the Northern Lights and the spectacular winter landscapes. It's good to come for the Northern Lights between December and March, yet they can be seen from end of August to middle April as long as the sky is clear. March and April are great for cross country treks and off-piste skiing.
Seasoned mountaineers should seek out the Lyngen Alps as well as the Keel range close to the Finnish/Swedish border. This requires membership in the Troms Turlag.
Go fishing! You can try from the shore or even better from a boat. Fewer species are fished than in Southern Norway, but the amount and the size is far better. Common fish are coalfish, cod, halibut and seawolf. Fishing trips are organized by the Tourist Information in summer, but you can just as well go to Hella, next to an ocean current half an hour's drive out of the city.
Glacier walks in the Lyngen Alps are on offer from Tromsø Villmarkssenter and Lyngsfjord Adventure. Do NOT go glacier walking without a guide, you might fall into a crack.
Kayaking is a good idea between the islands off Tromsø, and trips are offered by Arctic Experience, Tromsø Villmarkssenter and Arctic Adventure.
Hiking is safe and beautiful, although strenuous due to the topography. For instance Fløya, and for the more experienced Tromsdalstind can be reached by foot from the city center.
A number of good seafood restaurants are worth the extra kroner, and especially in the winter, when the cod reaches the coast, there is a lot of good eating. It all comes at a price, though.