Everyday Life in Arctic Norway

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What's it like to live in Northern Norway? We speak to a local to understand the realities of everyday life in Arctic Norway.

Vanessa is a 25 year old German who decided to move to the Arctic in 2014. She lived in Tromsø for many years and also travelled to Iceland and Greenland. You can also hear more from Vanessa on this episode of the Life in Norway Show.

Tromsø in winter

With this article I aim to give newcomers to Tromsø a more realistic picture of what everyday life here in Arctic Norway is really like.

Let’s bust some stereotypes!

Surviving the polar night

Whenever I hear people talk about the total darkness of a Tromsø winter, I cringe a little. It’s true that between the end of November and the end of January, the town experiences the polar night. But although the sun doesn’t rise, we still have daylight from around 10am to 1pm.

A beach outside Tromsø

It’s such a special time! On a clear day, the skies turn a brilliant pink-orange just before it gets light outside and before it gets dark again. In between these times, the skies are mostly blue and the locals call this the ‘blue hour’.

As lovely as it is, if you’re not used to the polar night it can be difficult to adjust. It’s important to keep up your usual sleeping routine and not sleep in until midday just because it’s dark outside!

In the absence of real sunlight, many Norwegians drink fish oil to keep up their vitamin D levels while I personally enjoy going to the solarium to pretend…

Seeing the northern lights

If you’re planning a trip to Tromsø at the darkest time of year with the hope of seeing the northern lights, chances are you’ll be disappointed.

A full sky of green northern lights

In order to see the lights, the skies must be clear. November & December are known for being rather wet and cloudy. Even if you visit in October or March when the statistics are in your favour, there’s still no guarantee if you only stay for a couple of nights.

All you really need is patience, because on a clear night you can see them from downtown Tromsø. An organized tour is only really worthwhile on cloudy nights, as the tour guides will drive as far as Finland in search of clear skies.

How cold is winter in Arctic Norway?

Incredibly cold, right? Well the good news is, winter in Northern Norway is surprisingly mild, at least on the coast which benefits from the warming factor of the Gulf Stream.

While temperatures from November to March can plunge well below -20C inland, they usually stay between -5 and +5C in and around Tromsø. And yes, we do get a lot of snow. A word of warning though: The wind can make it feel so much colder, so come prepared regardless!

Bathe in the midnight sun

The most misleading term about life in Tromsø!

I really pity the thousands of tourists who visit Arctic Norway each summer to see the famous midnight sun, only to be greeted with cloudy skies and rain.

What the midnight sun actually means is the period of time from late May to late July when the sun doesn’t set. If you’re lucky enough to visit on one of those few days with clear skies, then yes, you can see the sun at midnight. Otherwise you have the pleasure of looking at grey, albeit light, skies for 24 hours a day!

Expect an average temperature of around +10C. It does get warmer but even though it’s summer, pack a fleece and some sweaters. You won’t regret it.

Summer in Arctic Norway

The great outdoors

Many new arrivals plan to experience the Northern Norwegian nature by going hiking or mountain climbing every day. While that’s not impossible, you will need a car if you don’t want to hike the same trails day after day.

Most of the city’s 70,000 inhabitants live on a tiny island in the middle of a fjord. It’s really frustrating if you’ve just arrived and can’t yet afford a car as everyone around you tells tales of their exciting hiking tours. We do have beautiful nature in and around Tromsø, but most of it is unfortunately only accessible by car.

Culture and events

If you want to go to the theatre, dine at hip new restaurants and go clubbing every weekend, life in the Arctic might not be right for you.

The modern Tromsø library

Having said that, Tromsø is by no means a boring place! We have the Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromsø International Film Festival, Sami Week and many more, so unless you’re used to going out every night of the week, you shouldn’t get bored here.

What do the locals eat?

Search for Norwegian food online and you’ll find images of reindeer stew or dried fish. While restaurants in the north do offer that, you’re much more likely to stumble across the likes of ‘taco Friday’ and Grandiosa frozen pizzas.

Despite the massive fishing industry, Norwegians generally eat far unhealthier food than you’d expect. Don’t be surprised to find bread with sugar, and pizzas with taco topping. How rates of diabetes aren’t far higher here is beyond me.

Pizza served on Hovedøya

Finding a job in Arctic Norway

It’s a common misconception that there are no jobs available in Tromsø outside the fishing and tourism industries.

The Norwegian University of the Arctic (my alma mater) is situated in town and attracts thousands of students and researchers each year. Many biologists but also people who are studying law and medicine find that Tromsø offers excellent academic opportunities.

I work in digital marketing, which I could do anywhere in the world.

Cost of living in Tromsø

If you think that life in the Arctic is expensive, you’re unfortunately right!

Rental prices are insane and the housing market is tough. Food and other everyday items can cost more than in the rest of Norway because of the high shipping costs. This also means the selection of food can be limited, although I live near a giant Europris where they do sell some German chocolate and candy!

Surprisingly, fruits and vegetables are available all year round although the quality and price are not always what you might expect.

I hope this gave you some insight into what everyday life in Tromsø and Arctic Norway is really like. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions!

About Vanessa Brune

Originally from Germany, Vanessa decided to move to Arctic Norway in 2014. She lived in Tromsø for several years but now calls Stavanger her home. She is fascinated by the High North, and shares her experiences on her blog, Nordic Wanders.

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16 thoughts on “Everyday Life in Arctic Norway”

  1. Hei Vanessa,
    Great blog post. I would like to visit Tromsø some day soon. I see you have also visited Iceland and Greenland. Did you blog about your time in Greenland? And if so, do you have the link to it? 🙂

  2. Great update on life in Tromso thank you.
    I spent a day there on my way back to the UK . This is unforgettable.
    Definitely agree anout the need for a car. Ate they any car sharings?
    Ready for a much longer stay!
    Enjoy whatever this part of the world has to offer

  3. I’m an American, married to a German and we lived in Trondheim for three years. While living there, we were always told that the people of the North are, surprisingly, more open and friendlier. Have you noticed this? We’re looking for other places in Norway to move to. Tromso proves really interesting. How realistic is it to think (if I was living there), “Maybe we go whale watching this weekend?” or “Maybe next month we can see what dog-sledding is like?” Are these accessible activities? If not, what would your weekend (with children, if possible) look like? Outside, trudging the snow?

  4. Loved your blog. Visited Scotland last August and met a couple. She from Glasgow and he from Norway. We have remained friends on FB. He really shared his love of Norway. Though he lives in Scotland he does some 12 weeks of work in Norway having to do with sheep.

  5. Hi Vanessa,
    I liked your informative article depicting life in Tromsø. I will be staying (for long term) in Tromsø possibly from June, 2018. I work in the marketing department of an advertising agency. As you mentioned that you work in digital marketing, I was wondering if you will share your experiences of searching for jobs in Tromsø. In particular, some links to possible websites where the jobs are listed will be really helpful.

    • Hi! I actually found my job through the university as I started out as a student before becoming a full-time employee. When it comes to links, though, check out finn.no and jobbnorge.no. One thing to note, however, is that I would never have gotten the job if it weren’t for my knowledge of Norwegian, so if you haven’t yet, start learning the language asap. Hope that helps! 🙂

    • Yes, but Tromsø is exactly what a northern lover wants to find: nostalgic, cold city with lovable people, above midnightsun line, a perfect airport and everything more you may think… We are sure we’ll return, not sure too when (argh)

  6. Hi Vanessa,
    Thanks for your post, I found it really helpful and informative. I’m looking at The Arctic University for post-graduate education, and I see that the curriculum is mostly accessible to uniquely English speakers, or folks who don’t speak Norwegian specifically. Now you mentioned in an above inquiry that speaking in the vernacular was critical for getting a job there, how would you say it impacted university life?

    • Hi Adam,

      I had a few Norwegians on my Masters program as well, so the English programs aren’t specifically geared toward international students only. However, speaking Norwegian is critical in every aspect of life in Norway – not just for the job hunt. I experienced that our class was mostly divided into international students vs. Norwegian students in the first days, so speaking Norwegian will definitely make it easier for you to get to know people and make friends.

      Also, after living in Norway for 4 years now, I can only say that you won’t fully understand Norwegian culture and habits until you understand and speak the language. It might appear from the outside that Norwegians all speak English very well and although that is the case for the most part, you’ll find that Norwegians will open up to you a lot more if you speak Norwegian.

      Hope that helps!

  7. I’m planning on moving to Norway when I grow up but I know absolutely nothing about international travel any helpful tips, if wouldn’t mind sharing them of course.

  8. Hi! Talking about the Norwegian language, do you have any recommendations for Norwegian language courses for beginners & newcomers in Tromso?
    Thanks in advance 🙂


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