We’ve all seen images of beautiful rural landscapes illuminated with green skies known as The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, and it has a spot in many of our bucket list. I originally wanted to visit Iceland, but I was drawn to one of the northernmost city (above the Article Circle) in the world: Tromsø. I don’t recall how I came across it – perhaps it was mentioned by one of my Norwegian friends - but I immediately fell in love with it. My itinerary was planned just one month before with a focus on getting to know the city, visiting the Fjords and Fjellheisen, going Dog-Sledding, and seeing the Northern Lights in three days.
Deciding when the best time to visit Tromsø took some time as I only had the beginning or end of January open. I scoured through web forums to read other travelers’ experiences and most suggested visiting towards the end of January due to more daylight compared to early January. After attending Milan menswear in January 2017, I flew to Tromsø, with a connection in Oslo, via Norwegian Air. The flight went smoothly and it was great that complimentary WIFI was offered.
I arrived to Tromsø Lufthavn Airport (TOS) at night and took the Flybussen bus towards my hotel. You can easily purchase bus tickets online or on the bus. It’s inexpensive and travel time to the city center is quick – there are only three stops, all close to hotels, and it takes 10-15 minutes.
It was still pitch dark at 9AM on my first morning. At the end of January, the sun rise around 10AM and sets around 2PM and 3PM. The morning started off leisurely with breakfast, a SIM card purchase (Telia), and once it was brighter, exploring the city and walking to Fjellheisen. I recommend bringing a good pair of boots and Crampons with you because the roads can be slippery, especially just outside the city. I used STABILicer Cleats and they were perfect but just remember to take them off when you’re indoors!
After a short time in Tromsø, I realized how popular it is as a tourist destination. I’ve met people from all over the world and of all ages, simply to see this magical city. I’ve also been asked many times about polar bears in Tromsø and the answer is no, there aren't any. You may see Reindeers outside the city though (Ok, I embarrassingly thought they were mythical creatures at first!). But, speaking with a few locals, many have expressed interest about Svalbard. It’s an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, known for beautiful Arctic landscapes, polar bears, Svalbard reindeer, and Arctic foxes. It’s also now added to my next Arctic destination.
Fjellheisen is an aerial tramway located in Tromsdalen that takes you up to Mount Storsteinen. It’s a destination well worth the admission fee and can be reached by foot or bus. I walked over the Bruvegen Bridge and past the Artic Cathedral to the tram station. There was some wait for the aerial tramway, but the view is simply majestic and photos speak better than words. I tried venturing away from the complex and further up the mountain, but it was difficult as snow gets very deep midway through.
Address: Sollivegen 12, 9020 Tromsdalen, Norway
Address: Sollivegen 12, 9020 Tromsdalen, Norway
I joined several tour-guided trips in Tromsø to get the best possible experience. After much research, I went with Wandering Owl for their “Aurora Hunt” expedition. There are no guarantees seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø, but there is a higher chance on clear nights away from artificial lights and between 8PM and 2AM. Our small group, led by an extremely knowledgeable guide, Delphin, left from the Tourist Information Office around 9PM and drove away from the city to our stop located by the water in Kaldfjord. Then we went off further by foot with thermal bodysuits, gloves, and boots provided. Tripods were also available for nighttime photography.
Now it was camping out and waiting. We were fortunate for clear skies that night and it didn’t take long for the Northern Lights to emerge, slowly shifting (or dancing), while it intensified over a period of two to three hours. I even had time to create a short time-lapse video. The remainder of the night was spent next to a campfire while we gazed over the skies while eating and drinking hot chocolate. The guide also had a camera ready to take our photos!
There is one caveat about the Northern Lights that most many not know. In real life, the Northern Lights are not as green compared to how a camera perceives it, but appear almost like a cloud with faint glows of green depending on its intensity. Nonethless, it was an amazing experience and would do it again!
I enjoyed Wandering Owl so much that I decided to join their Artic Landscape tour. Tom from Wandering Owl drove us to different locations on the island of Kvaløya, to explore fjords, mountains, beaches, lakes, forests and small villages in the Norwegian countryside - spotting Reindeers and Whales (from a distance) at times. It's a great trip if you're looking to take landscape photos. What I love about Wandering Owl tours are the small family-like experience guided by such friendly and knowledgeable staffs. We also took a group photo at the end. I definitely recommend checking them out!
See map below for stops we made from Tromso.
Other Places Visited:
- Comfort Hotel Xpress
- I initially looked at AirBnB options but the price difference wasn’t much compared to Comfort Hotel Xpress’s nightly rates. What I love about this modern hotel is its location, comfort, and simplicity. If you’re taking the Flybussen Airport Bus, just get off at the Scandic Grand Hotel stop and walk a few meters. There’s no front desk and check in is processed via a kiosk machine, but there is someone available if you need assistance. Coming from NYC, I’m used to small spaces and simple living, so I thought it was perfect.
- Website: Comfort Hotel Xpress Tromsø
- Address: Grønnegata 35, Tromsø, 9008, Norway
- Risø mat & kaffebar
- My daily spot for breakfast and coffee. Only a few blocks from Comport Hotel Xpress.
- Website: http://www.risoe-mk.no
- Address: 32 Strandgata, Tromsø, 9008, Norway
- Aurora Alps Dog Sledding
- I went dog sledding with Aurora Alps (a.k.a. Tour In Lyngenalps AS) and although it was an experience, I did not like how they handled the experience. A lot of what was offered on the website was not promised on the trip. Also, you’ll have the “pleasure” of a grumpy instructor screaming her lungs out at you. For NOK 1,895, I would avoid Aurora Alps and consider something else.