01 of 08
Tromsø, Norway Overview
Tromsø (also spelled Tromso in English) is the third largest city in the world north of the Arctic Circle. The city is spread over two islands and spills onto mainland Norway. Tromsø has an international airport connecting it to many cities in Europe and is a university town with the world's northernmost university. The city is also home to Ølhallen's pub, which has 67 different types of Norwegian craft beers on tap. (It's not 99 bottles of beer on the wall, but close enough!) Tromsø is also one of the best places to see the Northern Lights (also called the Aurora Borealis) in the winter.
Tromsø is surrounded by mountains and fjords, and visitors can find many things to do and see year-round in the city and nearby areas. Many cruise ships on northern European or Norwegian fjord cruises in the summertime stopover for the day in Tromsø and the Hurtigruten Group ships visit the city on both northbound and southbound coastal routes year-round since the Gulfstream keeps the sea from freezing. Passengers on the Hurtigruten ships northbound have a whole afternoon in Tromsø, but those on the southbound route are only in town for less than two hours in the evening, just enough time to go to the midnight concert at the famous Arctic Cathedral.
I've visited Tromsø twice, both times with Hurtigruten. The first time I did the southbound voyage from Kirkenes to Bergen in early August on the ms Midnatsol and only saw Tromsø from the bus that took us from the port to the Arctic Cathedral concert, about a 10-minute ride.
The second trip to Tromsø, I flew from Oslo to the city, spent an afternoon exploring the downtown on foot, and spent the night at the Tromsø Radisson Blue Hotel.
Check guest reviews and prices for the Tromsø Radisson Blu Hotel
The next afternoon, we did one of the Hurtigruten shore excursion options available on the northbound Hurtigruten voyage--a kayaking tour of a fjord near Håkøya. Since Hurtigruten has a ship in Tromsø every day of the year, the company has several Tromsø shore excursions available for its guests. Other summertime shore excursions include hiking on Mount Fløya; cable car ride up Mount Fløya and tour of Tromsø; a visit to the Tromsø Wilderness Centre on Kvaløya Island, which includes interacting with 250 huskies and an introduction to dog sledding; and a tour of Tromsø. Other cruise lines visiting Tromsø in the summer have similar shore excursions.
Cruise travelers who visit Tromsø with Hurtigruten in the winter on the northbound route can enjoy half-day active winter adventures like dog sledding or snowmobiling. Guests who embark or disembark in Tromsø can extend their cruise vacation by spending a night in a Sami camp. While there, they get to ride on a reindeer sled (just like Santa), have a hot Sami meal, and watch for the Northern Lights. Accommodations are in a traditional Sámi lavvo (tent), covered with reindeer skins and winter-insulated sleeping bags. Sounds warm and cozy, doesn't it?
Let's take a look at some of the things to see in Tromsø.
02 of 08
Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø, Norway
Built in 1965, the Tromsdalen Church is usually called the Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen in Norwegian). After its construction, the church quickly became an iconic structure of northern Norway. It's not technically a cathedral, but the nickname has stuck. The church sits at one end of the Tromsø bridge over Tromsø Sound and is visible from downtown, where the photo above was taken. The mountain behind the church is the 4,062-foot Mount Tromsdalstind.
Those spending the night in Tromsø or arriving on a Hurtigruten ship's southbound journey should definitely visit the Arctic Cathedral for a midnight concert. Under the midnight sun of the summer, the church is bathed in daylight, and the rest of the year the Arctic Cathedral is outlined in lights.
The church is simple and severe in its design, which seems fitting for a Nordic church. The eastern wall behind the altar has one of Europe's largest glass mosaics and was designed by artist Victor Sparre. Hanging over the pews are chandeliers made of Czech crystal that look like icicles. The Cathedral's organ was built in 2005 and has 2,949 pipes. Much of its woodwork is in solid pine, and the bellows are made from the hide of reindeer. The acoustics in the Cathedral are excellent, adding to the musical experience.
Most of the hour-long midnight concert is Norwegian folk songs, with a few pieces of classical music and Sami music (joik). The musicians and their instruments vary, as do the vocalists. When I attended the concert in August 2013, we enjoyed a baritone, pianist, and a fluglehorn/trumpet player. In July 2016, we were entertained by a soprano, pianist/organist, and flutist who played several haunting joik (also spelled yoik) on a traditional Sami flute.
After a busy day, this excellent midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral is a perfect ending to the day.
03 of 08
The Tromsø Cathedral sits in the middle of downtown, and just a short walk from the cruise ship terminal. It is on the opposite side of the Tromsø Bridge from the Arctic Cathedral discussed on the previous page. This wooden cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Nord-Hålogaland in the Lutheran Church of Norway. The cathedral, which was completed in 1861, is significant because it is the only wooden cathedral in Norway.
The 600-seat church is in the Gothic Revival style and is probably the northernmost Protestant cathedral in the world.
04 of 08
Tromsø Harbor and Mountains
Tromsø is surrounded by mountains, many of which are snow-covered all year long. This photo was taken in early July.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Mack's Brewery in Tromsø, Norway
Mack's Brewery is located in downtown Tromsø, just a short distance from the Tromsø Cathedral. It was founded in 1877, but the actual brewery was moved outside of Tromsø in 2012. The old building still has a tour that includes a movie about how beer is made and a look at the microbrewery that makes beers named for famous rock musicians, some of whom are well-known by their first names like Ringo, Elvis, Iggy, and Patti. The owners of Mack's claim that rock music is the fifth ingredient in their beer.
The real treat at Mack's is the connecting Ølhallen, which is Tromsø's oldest pub and opened in 1928. It was originally for men only and didn't even have a separate ladies' toilet until 1973. Today, it welcomes tourists from around the world, many of whom come to sample the 67 Norwegian craft beers on tap.
06 of 08
Ølhallen - Beer Hall in Tromsø, Norway
Many North Americans remember the old drinking song, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". Ølhallen's doesn't have 99 different beers on the wall, but it does have an impressive 67 different Norwegian craft beers on tap. They have more craft beers on tap than any other pub/beer hall in Europe. It's fun to get a sampler, but difficult to pick which ones to try. Tell your waiter what type of beer you like, and they will suggest some that match your palate.
07 of 08
Kayaking in a Norwegian Fjord near Tromsø
Passengers on northbound Hurtigruten coastal voyages and other cruise ships have an optional afternoon kayaking adventure from Tromsø. Participants ride in a van for about 10 minutes to a lovely fjord near Håkøya. This area is popular for kayaking because the waters are often calm, there's not much current, and the area is the site of the sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz by British bombers in World War II. Over 1,000 German sailors died when the ship sank only 11 minutes after it was bombed.
Much of the remains of the battleship were removed after the war, but some of the hull remains, as does the platform built to scrap the Tirpitz. Time didn't allow us to get up close to the site, but we could see the shadow of the platform in the water.
After the Germans invaded Norway in 1940, and eventually had control over the entire country. Unlike towns near Russia like Kirkenes, Tromsø escaped the war unscathed. Those who are fascinated with World War II might want to visit the Tromsø War Museum, which has a permanent exhibition on the Tirpitz.
The tour company provided the two-person kayaks used in the shore excursion. These kayaks had a rudder that was easily controlled with foot pedals by the kayaker in the rear seat. Having this rudder helps beginners a lot since going in a straight line is one of the biggest challenges for tandem kayaks. The company also provided pants, jacket, boots, and a kayak "skirt" to keep the water off. The kayaks had a dry compartment to put our cameras in to keep them dry. Although it rained, it wasn't miserable since the wind wasn't blowing.
After our kayaking adventure, we all enjoyed hot coffee, tea, and a piece of homemade chocolate cake. Decadent foods always taste better when you feel like you've burned off the calories in advance.
This kayaking trip hugged the coastline, and we went out and back the same way. The only difficult part was navigating some bridge pilings as we paddled under the road. It's an excellent tour for beginners or experienced kayakers since those who paddled faster just got to have more time eating cake. As we paddled, our guides told us the story of the battleship Tirpitz and pointed out some starfish in the clear water. It was a fun time in Tromsø.
08 of 08
Places to Dine in Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø is located right on the water, so it's not surprising that many restaurants have excellent fish dishes. However, the city is one of the largest in northern Norway, a university town, and a major tourism center, so it's not surprising that visitors and locals can find a variety of cuisines and prices in Tromsø.
While in Tromsø for 36 hours before boarding the Hurtigruten ms Richard With coastal liner, I had two excellent fish dinners and a memorable reindeer burger for lunch.
The reindeer burger seen in the photo above was from Skirri Restaurant, which is on the waterfront not far from the Radisson Blue Hotel where we were staying. Others in our group raved about the delicious fish burger, but it seemed appropriate to eat reindeer in Norway.
The first night in Tromsø, we ate at the Aurora Restaurant at the Radisson Blu Hotel. I had an enjoyable dinner of a mixed green salad topped with smoked salmon); stockfish (dried codfish) that had been reconstituted, covered with bacon and onions, and baked; and a fruit salad. The cod was delicious and isn't everything better with bacon?
The second night in Tromsø, we ate at Fiskekompaniet, one of Tromsø's best fine dining and seafood restaurants. Our group had a fixed course dinner that started with a nice green salad topped with smoked salmon; a main course of baked redfish in a vinaigrette of crab and lobster, accompanied by boiled potatoes and carrots. Dessert was a very rich and tasty chocolate thingy.
These three restaurants are all a good choice, but the city is filled with many good places to dine.