Traveling north of the Arctic circle may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday but the city of Tromsø in the far north of Norway might change your mind about that. In the winter it is probably one of the best places to see the aurora borealis (the northern lights) and in the short summer, the sun never even completely goes down. It is hard to wonder though, how anyone ever gets used to living in these conditions.
I arrived in late March, the best time I was told, as the temperatures would be getting just above freezing and one could still catch the famous northern lights that completely disappear by May. The sunlight plays weird tricks here, reflecting off of the snow creating some very intense light conditions. You will often need sunglasses, even when it is freezing outside. There are dramatically different light conditions in winter, Norwegians even have a name for it: Mørketid (Polar Night) and Seinvinter (late winter).
By March the sun is up from early morning until about 4:30 in the afternoon, but the days get longer very quickly this far north. In the space of a week, one day is almost 1 hour longer. But it is not the days you come here to see, it is the magic lights in the sky. Tromsø moves into the aurora zone around 6 pm every evening, and moves out again around midnight so you don’t have to stay up late to see it. When you get a crisp clear night, you will be presented with a light show that is almost impossible to describe. Green, red and blue supercharged atoms dancing around by the trillions, creating a phantom wall of light. Or perhaps streaks or wisps or any combination of those. It looks as if it is very close, but at the same time very far off. You have to see it to believe it and fully understand it.
Of course, Tromsø is also a beautiful city in its own right, with an old quarter of typical wooden Norwegian houses, some built over 200 years ago. The city is compact and accessible and there are many pubs, clubs and bars to frequent. The people are very friendly and there is a special northern culture that you won’t find in other places in Norway. Everyone I met told me that I should really try to come back in the summer, when the sun never sets and the city is alive with festivals and a party atmosphere.
I can understand why; summer lasts only a couple of months and after a very long winter, I am sure that people want to party until the sun goes down.
Parts of this story were included in the Top Holiday Destinations blog
I spent quite a bit of time wandering around Nordic countries, learning the language, sampling the food and checking out the weird Nordic traditions. Norway in particular is absolutely magical, with its majestic fjords, northern lights and old wooden churches that date back to the time of the Saxons. It takes a bit of time and effort to explore some of te more off the beaten track places, but it is well worth getting out of the big cites to really experience the culture.