Recently my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the town of Tromso, Norway. Tromso is the largest town inside the Arctic Circle, sitting at 69 degrees North. It has a population of around 70,000, of which 17,000 are students at the University of Tromso. It sits on an island between towering mountain ranges. It is often rainy and cold there, even in the summer.
Because of its latitude, Tromso gets 100 days in the summer with no darkness at all, thus the nickname “land of the midnight sun”. The trade-off is it also gets 60 days in the winter with no sunlight at all. The other 205 days are a mix, depending on the season. In winter, it is brutally cold with lots of snow, and in summer, it feels like winter does for much of the rest of the world (around 8 degrees C/45 degrees F, and rainy). The positive of the 60 days of darkness is the fantastic views of the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights. Winter is actually their high season for tourism because of this.
We were there during the summer, and therefore, the sun never set the entire 7 days we were there. Fortunately the hotel had black-out curtains so we could get the room dark enough to sleep. It was easy to find yourself awake and out doing things at 11pm or midnight, forgetting what time it was. It was rainy and windy and cold 6 of the 7 days we had there, but one day was absolutely glorious. It was about 50 degrees F with crystal blue skies and was thankfully the day we had chosen for an 8-mile hike into the tundra above town. That night we made sure to be outside around midnight to see the sun at its lowest point of the day. It never went below the horizon, and by 10 or 15 minutes after midnight was clearly on its way back up. It was quite a sight to see.
If you look at tourism websites or Trip Advisor, you will find that there are more winter activities than summer ones suggested for the area, yet we found plenty to do. There is a lovely botanical garden, showcasing local and alpine plant life. There are several museums for art, local history, and even climate change. Being the largest town in Northern Norway, there is shopping and there are plenty of restaurants, many of them featuring the local seafood, reindeer, and even whale steaks. Cruise ships stopped in daily, and often there were Norwegian military vessels at the harbor front. There are harbor cruises, dog sled companies that host visitors winter and summer (for sledding or hiking, respectively), and hiking. Because Norway and all of Scandinavia are aligned with continental Europe, they drive on the right hand side of the road, so it’s easy and comfortable for Americans to rent a car and drive. There is a decent sized airport in Tromso with daily flights to Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki as well as to smaller villages, making it easy to get to. We have traveled to many mountainous regions around the world, and have often said that the Canadian Rockies were the most beautiful we had seen….until now. This area rivals western Canada for jaw-dropping natural beauty, and is worth a visit if you ever get the chance.
We enjoyed our time in the far north, and in the future hope to make a return visit in the winter to “see the lights.”