The Norwegian capital of the Arctic with rocket hot dogs.
The last stop on my 2019 solo Scandinavian journey was Tromsø, way up north within the Arctic circle on the top of Norway. Most of us probably know Tromsø for its major tourist attraction, the Arctic cathedral, a beautiful modern church located a bit outside the city. It was built in 1965 by architect Jan Inge Hovig and it is a prominent site in the city landscape, because it is larger than you’d think from the photos and it is visible from most of the main spots around the city. Also, the mosaic over the whole back wall is amazing, so definitely don’t skip having a look inside.
You can do all the usual northern touristy things in Tromsø, like reindeer or dog sledding or a fjord boat tour and even whale watching, as well as the midnight sun or the Northern lights experience during the right season, which is why it is sometimes known as “the capital of the Arctic”. There are lots of different tours available and since it is Norway, everything is quite expensive, so you’ll probably need to budget and shop around a bit. Luckily I had already seen the Northern lights when I lived in Sweden, so I primarily focused on exploring the city, but I did try to hunt for the Aurora at a local lake called Prestvannet and you can also read that particular travel story here.
THE Arctic cathedral
The centre of Tromsø consists of the main square called Torget and the Harbour with the famous Tromsø bridge that connects the islands of Tromsøya and Kvaløya to the mainland. The bridge was built in the 60s to replace the ferry service and it was the first cantilever bridge in Norway, as well as the longest in Europe for a while. You can walk across the bridge to the Arctic cathedral and I’d say that the whole city centre can be easily explored on foot, if you aren’t against walking some longer distances.
There’s a small yellow kiosk right in the centre called Raketten (the rocket), which is actually a bar that serves very nice reindeer hotdogs and beer and is probably the most iconic sight in Tromsø, besides the Arctic cathedral, of course. The Tromsø cathedral and the massive white public library building from 2005 are pretty cool too and there are a lot of interesting sculptures all around Tromsø, including a random naval mine. I stayed in a shared room at the Tromsø activities hostel near the centre for my couple of days in the city, which was reasonably affordable with a young, funky vibe and a nice terrace, so if you aren’t very picky about hostels, I’d recommend it.
Impressions of Tromsø
There are several unique museums in Tromsø, such as the Troll museum, the Polar museum, the MS Polstjerna museum inside a historical seal hunting ship, the northern Norwegian science centre and the Folkeparken open air museum with traditional buildings. The nice thing about Folkeparken is that it is freely accessible even outside its opening hours and you can even download a self-guide for free.
One of the attractions that deserves a special gallery section is the Polaria aquarium and Arctic experience centre. The building itself is already interesting, because it is shaped like a bunch of falling ice blocks and it is one of the two places in Europe where you can see bearded seals. They have this epic seal tunnel below their pool and the seals are just swimming around over your head like lazy fat torpedoes. The rest of the aquarium is really cool as well and you can learn all about the Arctic flora and fauna and have a snack in the small cafe. While there, you can also visit the Telegrafbukta beach located a bit further out at the end of the peninsula.
POLaria and THE Telegrafbukta beach
There are hundreds of islands scattered around the coast and the area around Tromsø is absolutely gorgeous, so I made myself hike up Mt. Fløya around sunset for the views. Fløya is located east of the city and is a popular lookout 671 meters above the sea level, which makes it just the right kind of moderate hike for (almost) everyone. The trail is so popular that stone steps were put in by Nepalese sherpas to protect the slopes from wear and tear and it is kind of funny, because parts of the way feel like you are suddenly on the wrong continent.
The Sherpatrappa trail starts close behind the Arctic cathedral and is not particularly difficult. It takes about 2-3 hours, although the shallow steps are a bit of a pain on the knees though, so you can also take the cable car up to the cafe. The area is popular for mountain biking as well and if you want more of a challenge, you can extend your hike towards Bønntuva for ~ 6 hours more. As always, bring proper hiking boots and keep in mind that the area is exposed and can be very windy. I was there in September and it was already quite dark and cold so far up north and on that particular day I almost got blown off the mountain, but it was worth it. I also really wanted to go hiking around Senja, the nearby wild, fairytale island, but it is not really accessible with public transport, so you’d definitely need to rent a car for that.