Having just returned from Tromso, this is my best advice on travel to Norway’s Arctic playground. It’s your chance to find out when to visit, what to do and what mistakes to avoid. This being Norway, there’s also a section on how to keep costs down.
1. Take the cable car
The Fjellheisen, as it’s termed, is an absolute must do. Found just behind the Arctic Cathedral, it will bring you right up into the city’s mountainous frame to offer you sweeping views over the island and down the fjord. It really gives a sense of Tromso’s magnificent isolation. Be sure to stand at the back on the way up – and the front on the way down – for the best views and head up in the late afternoon. This means you’ll see the city in daylight before the sunset brings out the pretty night lights. You should also budget longer than you think; there’s a series of delightful walks at the summit, bringing you along the ridge and up to a series of peaks.
Tromsø in the evening, as seen from the cable car
2. Try the waterfront to see the Northern Lights
The absolute best way to see the Northern Lights is on a tour, with expert guides able to make the most of aurora forecasts and their regional know-how. Ranging from fireside campouts to small-group chases and snowmobile expeditions, speak to your consultant to find out which one suits you. That said, it is often possible to see the show from within the city limits. For the best chance, head along the waterfront to minimise the light pollution and, as is always the case, be sure to follow the locals. This spot is a particular favourite for its quiet – if slightly uninspiring –position, sheltered from lights and Arctic winds. Set your focus to infinite, boost the ISO and slow the shutter speed.
3. Pre-book, pre-book, pre-book
Tourism has only just taken off here in the past few years, which has meant that there’s sorely limited spaces in hotels and on activities. That’s not to say that the city feels overcrowded – this is Norway, after all – it just means that you will need to book in advance to avoid disappointment, especially for popular travel dates.
4. Pick the right season for you
Tromso is a year-round destination, with each season offering its own highlights. As one of the world’s premier destinations for catching the Northern Lights, winter is a definite favourite, with the aurora making a regular appearance up above and snowy activities ranging from dogsledding to snowshoeing. What’s more, given the city’s sheltered, mountain-ringed position, it’s surprisingly temperate with daily averages just a few degrees below zero. However, while Christmas offers its festive appeal, you might want to look either side of the holiday season when there isn’t complete darkness and the mercury rises just a touch. In turn, summer presents its own delights, with the Midnight Sun casting its ever-present ethereal glow over green-dappled hiking trails and the spectacular fjord scenery.
The view between Tromsø and Sommaroy in summertime
5. Opt for some budget-friendly activities
There’s no getting around it – Norway is expensive. However, there are a few things you can do to make your trip to Tromso a little friendlier on the wallet:
• Catch the bus to get in and out. The city is just a 15 minutes’ drive from the airport and the Flybussen matches up with arrivals. Better still, walk across the road and catch the number 40 or 42 for the most cost-effective transfer.
• On the ground, dining out is likely to be your largest expense. With that in mind, consider booking into a hotel that offers a complimentary dinner with both the Clarion Collection Hotel With and Hotel Aurora offering light evening meals included in your nightly tariff. The latter even hosts complimentary make-your-own waffle afternoons each day.
• Tromsø’s centre is delightfully compact; you can walk across it in around 10 minutes. As such, you might want to look at some of the accommodation options set back from the harbour. They’re cheaper but still just a short stroll walk from all the central amenities.
• There’s no shame in raiding duty free so you can return from a long day in the snow to a glass of something nice. After all, there’s a reason you might have noticed the ‘Travelling to Norway?’ tags springing up in departure lounge shops.