IT’S the perfect winter wonderland – all around are ice mountains, fjords and tiny outcrops of snowy white islands puncturing the surface of the water. It literally takes your breath away.
Welcome to your Arctic getaway. Welcome to Tromso.
The city is known as the capital of the Arctic and is the last outpost of northern Norway before with the vast icy Arctic Ocean beyond the Barents Sea. You feel like you’re staying at the edge of the world.
But Tromso, for all its historical and strategic importance, is a vibrant, go-ahead place with all mod cons for the modern traveller.
Sitting on its own vast island – called Tromsoya – in the mouth of one of Norway’s great fjords, this is a city where you’ll not want for anything – except maybe an extra layer of clothing. But hey, just pack another sweater. What did you expect? Hours on the beach?
Of course, you’ll get a lovely tan. The Arctic sun is as bright as the Med one and the days are long in the summer. The Midnight Sun occurs from May until late July. The flipside is that during the winter northern Norway is in a state of perpetual night from mid November to mid-January. This is known as the Polar Night season and if you are not a resident, it can be hard to get used to.
Because of its northern location, Tromso is one of the best places from which to view the famous Aurora Borealis – or Northern Lights as they are known. This spectacular show with nature’s ballet of huge dancing coloured ribbons of light dancing across the sky is one of the most awesome sights. The show starts soon after 6pm when Tromso passes into what is known as the Aurora Zone and it lasts until around midnight.
STAR ATTRACTIONS IN TROMSO
The Arctic Cathedral
Built in 1965, the distinctive pointed cathedral is the city’s most recognisable landmark. Its design was inspired by Northern Norway’s landscapes, and features an original glass mosaic. In summer, the cathedral’s Midnight Sun Concerts are an excellent prelude to viewing the spectacular natural phenomenon.
The Fjellheisen Cable Car
By far the best way to see the city is by taking the cable car up Storsteinen Mountain. It provides spectacular views across the whole island and bay and is a stunning way of viewing the Northern Lights or the Midnight Sun.
This is the only Arctic aquarium in Europe, vast tanks reflecting the masses of species of marine life and fish in the seas around Tromso. The star turns are the bearded seals. These comical characters are a real hit with children and are highly intelligent. They know how to keep you entertained. There are interactive displays and 360-degree film presentations making it a great day out for the family.
The Botanical Gardens
There’s no place in the world like Tromso’s Botanical Gardens – they are the most northern collection of plants on the planet. And the alpine species come from all over the globe too – there are blue poppies from the Himalayas, lewisias from The Rockies as well as local Arctic and medicinal plants.
Take a walk on the wild side at the Tromso Villmarkssenter
HALF an hour from Tromso is the city’s Wilderness Centre, with the chance to take part in some real Arctic adventures.
There’s something for everyone, whatever your age or fitness level. The main activities involve the centre’s 300 Alaskan huskies. There are dog sledding classes and special trips into the wilderness to view the Northern Lights.
In the summer the focus is on the Midnight Sun with special kayaking trips, mountain hikes, and glacier hikes.
There are two exciting new ventures for 2013 – the Midnight Sun Camp With Kayak and Puppy Training at the Husky Home.
On the Midnight Sun kayak trip you will spend the night on an unforgettable kayaking and overnight tour on Kvaløya, the whale island.
After paddling for about five hours you will set camp for the night and sleep under an open sky or in an lavvo – the Norwegian version of an American tepee but less pointed and more stable in high winds – depending on the weather. An experienced guide will be with you at all times. After breakfast the next morning you will paddle back to where the tour started.
For the puppy training day, you will join the experienced handlers and train the youngest sled dogs who are all less than six months old.
You will take the puppies out for an hour-or-so’s hike close to the husky farm and put them through their paces in the wilderness. Then it’s back to the centre where lunch will be served.