Tromso is one my wish list destinations that I want to visit the most. Tromso in Norway, also called the Paris of the north in the Arctic Circle, is the Arctic gateway for watching/chasing the Northern Light ( also called Aurora Borealis, or just Aurora ). I could enjoy the Norway Arctic nature around Tromso like Lyngen fjord, Sommaroy, Kvaloya, Rystraumen where you can do dog sledging, reindeer sledging, snowshoeing, chasing the northern light and fishing, etc. I stayed at Thon Hotel Polar in the city center which was very convenient and budget and very clean. The breakfast was served at the Egon restaurant next to the hotel. Smoked salmon, ham, salad were all served and I totally satisfied with it at the budget rate.
Chase the Northern Light
I visited Tromso in 2014 December for 10 days to get the greatest chances of chasing the northern light. Luckily the first day that I arrived I saw it right in the city at night. It was green in which is the most common colour. However northern light does not happen in the city that often. Out of the 10 days I was there, I only saw it once in the city. The Northern light in the city lasted from around 7 pm to midnight at least I remembered. I went up to Mount Storsteinen by the Fjellheisen Cable Car in the city to see it, where it was much more darker and a good spot to see it. Beside, you can also enjoy the city night view from there and is a must go attraction. I took the Fjellheisen Cable Car up there which can be reached by buses within the city. It was very very cold up there, I could not stand outside for long. Check out the night view from the mountain top in my gallery.
The best way to chase the northern light is to join a local northern light adventure tour. You will find many tours in the city. The visitor center (www.visittromso.com) is the best way to book the tour online. Even I saw it once in the city, I still joined 2 other tours since my main goal was to see the northern light in Tromso. One of the tours was not too good and that was why I joined another one, which I was very satisfied. I would highly recommend the tour from Radisson Blu hotel. They have several stations which they have staff there to monitor the weather that night and the likeliness of northern light happens or not. For Auoura to happen, the temperature must be low and clear sky, no cloud. You can join the tour same day as you can verify the weather first with the tour. Most tours will cancel the tour if the weather condition is not favour for northern light to happen, and you get your money back or change to another date. That night they took us to a spot near the Finland border which was about a 2 hours drive from Tromso. I stayed there for about 2 hours and came back around 1 am in Tromso. Be sure to bring your own tripod. The tour only have limited tripod to rent out for free. You need tripod as you must set your camera to manual mode and adjust your shutter speed to get as much light as it needs. Be sure to research about how to take northern light pictures in advance as it is totally different from taking normal pic. And compact camera will not be able to take any northern light pictures. You will need the SLR to take good pictures. Although I have a SLR, I did not realize the setting need to be changed and failed to take good pictures the first time. I learned the hard way, so research and practice in advance. Don’t miss any chances. The tour will also take pictures for you and you can download it later. That night I could see the northern light for 2nd time and it was dancing up and down, left and right. I lost my words and just stared at it and ignored the cold. I did not regret for the money I paid for just the 6 hour tour. It is worth to see it once in your life experience.
The other fun activity I did was dog sledging. However, the snow was too much in the forest and I had hard time to keep my balance while driving it. I would suggest join a simple tour which someone will drive the sledge for you and you sit in the front to enjoy. I kept falling and falling when driving the sledge at the back. When you fall, the dogs will continue to run with your parner sitting in front and you will be left behind, although the tour will help you to stop the dogs. I did not fall even once in Finland Lapland, the snow was just right for the ride, but not in Tromso. The husky doggies ran pretty fast, do not underscore their speed and power. The snow was too much that several groups had given up in the middle. Just like me, they kept falling and falling when driving the sledge because of too much deep snow, not good if you are a beginner. If you are good in balance sport like ski or roller blade, you may be OK. I suck in those sports.
I also did reindeer sledging and is much safer than dog sledging. You will not need to drive the reindeer and only sit back and relax. The reindeer still ran pretty fast and I could feel the speed. Reindeer sledging is the oldest form of transport in the north region and is part of the Sami culture, the ancient local residence like the Indians in America. I took the tour in the day time, and if you take the night tour, you may be able to see the northern light too. I got to experience the life of the Sami culture, like lasso-throwing which is the way to catch the reindeer, and staying at the Sami tent (herdsmen’s tent) and have their home-made tea/reindeer soup as my meal, and see the wild mountain and nature. The Sami guide also showed us the tools they used in their daily life, and you can buy them in any souvenir shops but quite expensive.
Then I also did snow shoeing on 1 day. I took a medium difficulty tour which was a bit exhausting for me but I was able to finish it. I also used Tromso visit center to book this activity. The guide was a local university student who loved winter sport and knew the area pretty well. It was just about 30 min ride from the city center and you will reach the rural area where there are no houses around. We hiked in snow shoe ( like a mini ski rack ) for about 1.5 hour and I was sweating even under the temperature of -15C. I took off my down jacket and just have my sweater on. Although the hike was a bit tough but when you reach the top, you will see a magnificent view from the top, oversee the fjord and towns along the fjord. You will feel you achieve the ultimate goal when you see the view on top.
Tromso Private Tour
There is no hop on hop off bus in Tromso like in Brussel or Oslo or Stockholm. Either you drive or use the public transportation system or join a private tour from the vister center website. I found a good tour which lasted about 8 hours which took us as far as to the Sommaroy island area, outskirt of Tromso. The lady picked us up at the hotel and she was a German who moved to Tromso. She gave us a good tour and took us to some spots that only the local would know. She prepared us cookies, local snacks and tea during the tour, and stopped by a cafe for break/toilet and pancake for a late lunch. She explained to us about every places regarding its history, local favorite, industry, etc. We left at 8 am from the hotel and back in the city around 5 pm. On the way back, she stopped at a good shop for us to get souvenir like salmon and local food/snack. If you want to know, I can give you her contact.
Tromso Fjord Cruise
The other way to see Tromso and the fjords is to take a cruise/ferry round trip. First, take the fast ferry to Finnsnes and then get off to take the cruise ship Hurtigruten back to Tromso. On the way back, you will enjoy a 4 hour ride to see the Tromso fjords. Right getting off from the ferry, I had to get on the Hurtigruten cruise right away as the cruise ship scheduled to leave in 30 minutes. There is only 1 ride per day, so don’t miss it. Be sure to check the schedule and check with the Tromso Tourist Center or at the ferry. You can buy the Hurtigruten ticket on the cruise, no need to buy it in advance. It costs about US$60 round trip if I remembered correctly, for both the ferry and cruise.
The famous Arctic Cathedral ( Ishavskatedralen ) is the landmark in Tromso for its triangular rooftop design. I did not take the bus to get there but walked from the city center and crossed the bridge. The cathedral is just on the other side of the bridge when you get down. The walk takes only about 30 minutes and you will enjoy a good view from the bridge. From the cathedral, you can take the bus back or continue on other destinations on the same side after crossing the bridge, like the Fjellheisen Cable Car station for Mount Storsteinen. Other popular spots like the Polar Museum ( Polarmuseet ), Tromso Library, Polar Aquarium (Polaria ), Tromso Museum, wooden church built in 1861 were the places I visited during the 10 days.
I would recommend checking the site http://www.visittromso.no/en before you go and plan your activities. I visited there during winter and you can do more activities in summer but for the northern light I chose to go in December, which is my purpose.