Aside from its beautiful natural setting, the most iconic image of Tromsø must surely be the Arctic Cathedral. The striking white triangular structure is visible from most of Tromsøya island thanks to its fantastic location right on the end of the bridge linking the island (and town) with the mainland.
A few things to say first. When is a cathedral not a cathedral? When it’s a church! Yes, the Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen) is actually Tromsdalen Parish Church, not a cathedral at all. For me though it’s a fitting name for such a striking building. I’m also not in any way religious, so my visit to the church was purely to admire its aesthetics and to see inside rather than to worship 🙂
Night and Day
By day the bright white sides contrast with the brilliant blue sky and the snow-covered mountains to create a real arctic monument. By night the church is lit up against the darkness creating a more imposing sight. I visited the church at night but also passed by in the short daylight hours on my way up to the cable car, so I have pictures from both. Look!
The church is easily reached by bus (any that cross the bridge to the mainland stop right outside) but if it’s not too cold I’d highly recommend walking. Crossing the bridge is not what I’d call a quiet or stable experience… but you get some great views back to the island and of the church itself.
Inside The Church
All the tourist photos are of the outside, so I was keen to see inside the building. Despite being such a major tourist attraction it still functions perfectly well as an everyday parish church, conducting services, weddings and funerals along with concerts and other functions for the local community of Tromsdalen. When I called in on Saturday evening a local group were practising for a Christmas Bach concert just a few days later.
The interior is very modest and smaller than I expected. There are a number of interesting features though, including the organ and impressive stained glass back window – it’s worth walking around to the back of the church to see this from the outside too. There’s a small gift shop stocked with postcards and brochures about the church, but that’s about it for the interior, it is after all a place for worship first and a tourist attraction second.
I highly recommend a trip over the bridge to see the church up close, especially if you’re a photographer as the arctic light provides many interesting snapping opportunities. If you visit in the winter as I did, bear in mind the church is only open to visitors for a couple of hours in the early evening. In the summer, concerts are hosted most nights from 11.30pm, ending just in time for you to emerge and walk back across to the city bathed in the midnight sun. I’ve penciled that in for a future visit!