Winter in the Norwegian Arctic is a very special time, and there's nowhere better to experience it than Tromsø.
You could be forgiven for thinking city life in Norway shuts down during the winter. City streets are quieter because Norwegians flock to their cabins in the mountains or to the Spanish costas. Even big cities can appear like ghost towns.
A surprising exception to the rule can be found in the very north of Norway in Tromsø, Norway's arctic capital and undisputed centre of cultural life in the region. For when the sun sets, the fun starts…
Polar Night Half Marathon
Don't fancy taking to the streets in sub-zero temperatures for a 21km run along icy streets and paths, in the darkness? Can't say I blame you! Yet an incredible number of people take part in the Polar Night Half Marathon each year.
The sister event of the popular Midnight Sun Marathon has this year attracted a record 1,245 registrants, over two-thirds of those from abroad. This year's race, which also includes 5k and 10k distances, takes place on 9 January.
Tromsø International Film Festival
The 26th edition of TIFF once again brings the world's best independent cinema, along with tens of thousands of people, to the Norwegian arctic from 18-24 January. Chinese independent films, video games and a focus on Québec are some of the highlights of TIFF 2016. The opening film Doing Good comes from one of Norway's most respected and original directors, Margreth Olin.
Several venues will be used throughout the festival, but perhaps the most intriguing is also the smallest. An old newsstand in Skippergata will be used to screen one film a day with a capacity of just two people!
Back in 2014 I spoke to festival director Marthe Otte for Finnair's Blue Wings magazine about the Films from the North initiative, a key part of the festival:
“The regional program is one of the most important parts of our work. A lot of film-making happens in places where there are hardly any people living, so we have launched initiatives to bring these creative people to the festival to meet other filmmakers.”
Northern Lights Festival
Experience international music and culture in the High North from 29 January to 7 February, featuring Bo Kaspers Orkester, Mike Stern, Charlie Siem, Mari Boine and Arctic International Ballet Gala.
For more than twenty-five years, the Northern Lights Festival has presented top artists from a wide variety of genres ranging from early music to modern, from opera to jazz, from chamber music to symphonic orchestras. Great international ensembles and artists, like the Bolshoi, visit the festival every year, combined with the best of Norwegian and regional artists.
Running concurrently with the Northern Lights festival is this celebration of the unique lifestyle of the indigenous nomadic people of northern Norway (and Finland, Sweden and Russia.)
Sami Week brings Sami culture to the city centre of Tromsø to mark the National Sami Day on 6 February. The culmination of the week sees the Norwegian Championship in Lasso Throwing followed by the Reindeer Race Championship come to the market square.
The Northern Lights
Of course, it's impossible to write a post about Tromsø without mentioning the number one tourist attraction by a country mile: the northern lights. Tromsø is the perfect base to start your aurora borealis hunt and February and March are great times to see them. Find out more about how to see the northern lights in Norway.
The winter is a superb time to visit Tromsø and see the best of what arctic Norway has to offer. The city is easy to reach from most of Norway with direct flights from Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Bodø. A direct flight also links Tromsø with London Gatwick a couple of times per week.
The city has a range of hotels and guesthouses to suit all budgets. Search for hotels in Tromsø.