Trips to Tromsø

Known colloquially as either the 'Paris of the North' or 'the capital of the Arctic' Tromsø is Northern Norway's most populous city as well as its social and cultural capital. Here, visitors can expect lively nightlife, striking architecture and a stunning landscape of fjords and mountains just outside the city's borders.

The settlement of Tromsø dates back to the ice age and became an important trading centre from the Middle Ages onwards as seafarers made the most of the sheltered harbour and relatively ice-free port. The city flourished in the 19th Century, as explorers and hunters used it as a starting point for explorations and journeys to Svalbard and up towards the North Pole.

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Today the city has a population of around 69,000 and is seen to be an amiable and increasingly cosmopolitan city. Its compact city centre is the largest concentration of historic wooden houses in Norway, which co-exist with neo-classical and modern architecture, offering visitors much to admire and enjoy. The centre itself is located on the island of Tromsøya which is linked to the mainland via bridge and tunnel.

Adventurous visitors can enjoy the lively and varied nightlife as well as the strong café culture, particularly in the long and warm months of summer. Even in the winter, the temperature in the city is not as low as other places of the same latitude due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

As tourism has steadily increased there has also been an increase in ambitious and high quality restaurants which make the most of the unique raw ingredients of the Arctic, indeed the seas off of Tromsø are seen to be some of the most plentiful in the world. Tromsø's significant multiculturalism has also had an impact on this and guests can also expect to sample a wide range of cuisine and flavours.

There are a wide range of visitor attractions such as the Fjellheisen Cable Car, which offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the Polar Museum which is housed in an old wharf house dating back to 1830 and has fascinating displaying documenting the Arctic explorers who passed through the city. The city is also proudly home to a large number of the world's 'most northern' buildings including the university, botanical gardens and planetarium.

Just outside Tromsø, visitors can embrace real Arctic wilderness, with an endless landscape of fjords, mountains and valleys. One such fjord, Malangen, is a destination we often feature on our trips, due not only to the common occurrence of Northern Lights here, but also the distinctive and stunning fjord landscape and mountainous peaks. The fjord is regarded for its plentiful fishing stocks, and with a population of only around 500 households, it offers a wonderful retreat that is ideal to combine with a city break in Tromsø.

In winter, the big attraction in this region is the Aurora Borealis but it might well be argued that Tromsø's natural beauty is only seen at its absolute best during late-spring and summer.

There can be few places in the world with such a diversity of landscapes as Tromsø County. The coastline is rugged with inlets and coves carved out over the millennia by the Norwegian Sea and the mountainous islands which dot this stretch of water are a spectacular sight to behold.

Inland, glacial forces have carved out several fjords which stretch like fingers into the interior of the county. Lining the fjords are imposing mountains of which Jiekkevarre is the highest at 1833m. Throw in some small glaciers, rivers, lakes and waterfalls and you can easily understand why Tromsø is a popular destination in summertime.

Tromsø is situated some way north of the Arctic Circle but is classified as having a subarctic climate and, contrary to all expectations, it is far warmer than you might imagine. The coastal areas are especially pleasant thanks largely to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This makes winter surprisingly mild compared to other parts of Northern Scandinavia and by late-spring and summer the average daily temperatures are very comfortable indeed. The record high temperature in the county was recorded as recently as July 2014 when the mercury topped out at an impressive 32.7°C.

Autumn is the peak season for rainfall with October seeing the highest levels before the winter snows start to arrive in late-November or December.

Midnight Sun
During the darker days of winter, the Northern Lights are regularly visible from Tromsø but the long, long days of summer render them invisible as there is 24 hours of daylight. The variation in daylight hours and the speed at which they change is remarkable. In spring and autumn the days lengthen and shorten respectively by around ten minutes, something which is almost tangible and from 20 May until 22 July, the sun never sets below the horizon.

The Midnight Sun as it is known is as much an attraction as the Northern Lights and coupled with the natural and diverse beauty of the coastal landscapes, early summer is a compelling proposition here in Tromsø.

Humans and animals have to be pretty hardy to survive the Arctic winters so it is little surprise that they tend to gravitate towards the more temperate climes of coastal Tromsø. In fact, there is a tremendous array of sea and wildlife in this region.

Inland, it is sometimes possible to see brown bears but the more commonly sighted animals and mammals include wolverine, reindeer, moose, fox and the occasional lynx.

The seas, fjords, rivers and lakes are home to an abundance of marine and birdlife. Look down and you'll often see puffins, porpoise and otters, while above you the magnificent sea eagles are a remarkably commonplace sighting.

Economy and Industry
Surprisingly, agriculture plays an important role in the local economy especially in southern Tromsø (largely due to the long daylight hours in summer) but it is fishing that has been the economic mainstay of this region for many centuries. However, as such industries become increasingly mechanised and efficient, the drain of young people to larger cities in the south has gathered apace and communities outside of Tromsø City have experienced declining populations for some years.

Tourism has played an increasingly large role in the regional economy. Fortunately, Tromsø has been disinclined to embrace mass visitor numbers and the tourism growth has been very carefully managed. Tromsø is such a large area that it will be a long, long time before it begins to feel in the least bit claustrophobic.

Decades of experience with Arctic winters means that the local road maintenance people know exactly what they are doing and Tromsø's roads are generally in extremely good condition all year round. The nature of the terrain (coastline, islands, fjords etc) mean that there are some long and winding routes but, if anything, this makes them all the more beautiful.

Traffic is also pretty thin on the ground and with easy access to Senja (Norway's second largest island) and the Lofoten Archipelago this is an ideal destination for touring.

Rock carvings and other evidence suggest that hunter gatherers first populated Tromsø as long ago as the Stone Age but it is Sámi culture established at least 2000 years ago which endures today. The Sámi are a hardy people who still herd reindeer to this day although, very wisely perhaps, they have also embraced the trappings of modern day life. Nevertheless, their cultural identity remains strong and is an integral part of life in the Arctic.

Image credits: Bård Løken and, AnitaBrendeloekken and Northern Norway

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