Polar Nights – My Winter Weekend In Tromsø

Storgata in Tromsø with Christmas lights

Ah the weekend. After a hectic few weeks at work, I chose to get away and continue my travels around this fine Kingdom of Norway. With several visits to Trondheim and a trip on the Oslo to Bergen railway already in the bank, I chose to head north.

But not just north. Further north than I’ve ever been before, 69 degrees north and 350 km inside the arctic circle, to the city of Tromsø. Tromsø is somewhere I’ve longed to visit for quite some time, for two reasons.

Firstly, to experience the light conditions (midnight sun in summer or polar nights in winter) and secondly to check out the music and cultural scene which is renowned across northern Europe.

As it was December and just a few days before the winter solstice, the polar nights (Mørketid – where the sun never rises throughout the day) were guaranteed.

Much of the city including the city centre and the airport is set on the island of Tromsøya, with the mountainous Kvaløya to the west and the mainland to the east. It's a truly spectacular setting.

Check out these photos taken at midday on Sunday:

Tromsø polar nights

Tromsøya in winter

Winter wonderland

Tromsø glistening in the winter light

These pictures were taken from the top of the cable car on Storsteinen, 421m above sea level. It’s one of Tromsø’s best known tourist attractions but like the funicular in Bergen, it’s well worth making the effort. It costs 105kr for the return trip, although the more adventurous of you might consider starting a hiking/skiing expedition from the top and making your own way back!

Aside from the breathtaking views from Storsteinen, I spent most of the weekend wandering around the city. The city centre is compact and most places of interest are set around just a handful of streets, so even with the very icy conditions it was easily walkable.

Having said that, I managed to end up flat on my back once thanks to my complacency… clearly I am still to master the “Tromsø shuffle” which keeps the locals steady and upright. I didn’t see a single person slip all weekend, spot the tourist?

As you can see from the photos above there is not total darkness even in December. For a few hours the city is bathed in a deep blue light. Combine this with the snow and Christmas decorations and the result is truly magical:

Harbour in Tromsø

The city centre is made up of many traditional wooden houses built in the 1800s, alongside more modern developments.

It's very low-rise and all of this combines to create a friendly, modern, accessible feel, more than matched by the locals warm and welcoming attitude to visitors. I chatted to several locals and all were fiercely proud of their town, particularly when I told them I lived in Oslo!

Sweet shop on Storgata, Tromsø

The modern Tromsø library

A square in Tromsø city in December

Tromsdalen

Sadly I didn't get to meet my long-held ambition to see the northern lights. Despite clear skies, the tricky lady chose not to come out and play.

I could have joined one of the minibus tours chasing the lights, but I'm a patient man, the aurora will come and find me when they're ready! Plus it gives me a great excuse to come back to Tromsø.

I'm going to write more about my visit including my search for the heartbeat of Tromsø and my visit to Tromsdalen Church, otherwise known as the Arctic Cathedral. Watch this space…

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

9 Comments

  1. I visited Tromsø myself at the beginning of January, it was nice to re-live the experience through your eyes.
    I didn’t quite manage to see the northern lights properly either, a pain shared is a pain halved? 😉

  2. I’m going to Tromso to study a PhD programme. I thing I’ll be able to see the Northern Lights during a couple of years staying there. 🙂

  3. Coming from Alaska, I can’t wait to make my way North for a trip sometime in the (hopefully) near future! Maybe for summer solstice in the warmer months…it seems Norway celebrates many of the things common in Alaska : )….must have to do with the extremely cold climates they share!

    1. They do, but summer solstice (Midsummer) is celebrated more vigorously in Sweden and Finland. Still, I did sit in an Oslo park last midsummer with a whole bunch of people and had a really lovely evening 🙂

  4. Thanks for the article!.. I’ve been living in Tromso for quite some time now, and it is nice to see it again “from your eyes”. Just as they say, it is so easy take things for granted.

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