As much as I think that the Northern Lights are one of the most incredible natural phenomena, I find it a pity that Tromsø is known for simply that – a gateway to see the Northern Lights. There seems to be very little else known about the city – most people out of the Nordic countries have never even heard of its name before, when in fact this place has so much to offer and is absolutely gorgeous.
I was guilty of exactly that – I came here aiming and caring for nothing but seeing the coveted aurora borealis. And knowing my tendency to not do any proper research before visiting a city (in a bid to be pleasantly surprised), I almost had no idea what was waiting for me at the largest town in Northern Norway.
Not only did Tromsø pleasantly surprise me, but it also took my breath away with its Arctic city charm. There is no earth-shatteringly famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, or the Buckingham Palace in London. Instead, what Tromsø boasts is its own existence: a cold place in the Arctic with 24-hour darkness for a few weeks in the winter, the midnight sun in the summer, and of course the occasional visits of the Northern Lights. It is also nestled on a beautiful landscape with both mountains and the sea decorating its view – together with the city lights emanating from the houses, it makes for an absolutely breathtaking sight.
Despite not visiting any museums nor tourist attractions when I was there, I left the city being charmed endlessly. Tromsø showered us with many little things that made every moment so precious.
And it started the moment we landed at the Tromsø Airport.
Being greeted by Father Christmas.
My trip started rather horribly with me losing my luggage at the Oslo airport (due to my supreme idiocy). But it was instantly cured the moment I stepped into the airport building as we were welcome by the sight of this familiar guy waving at us.
It was a much needed warm welcome to our coldest destination; naturally, we couldn’t leave without taking a picture with him.
The gorgeous walk around the city.
This was the general view that accompanied us when we were just taking a casual stroll at the city centre.
And then we discovered this best-looking bus stop at the city.
Tromsø’s waterfront landscape made me a little obsessed over capturing reflections of city lights on water (to the point that I would scold any boats that arrived and disturbed the natural liquid mirror when I was taking pictures). Wherever we walked, we would always be drawn to the edge of the land and then spend a long time admiring the view in front of us.
Learning how to fish from a local.
This came completely unexpected. We were just being extremely touristy and snapping pictures by the water when one guy with a fishing rod approached us and started talking to us.
If there is one thing about the Scandinavian countries that I need to get used to, it’s the fact that strangers do come to you simply to have a chat with no hidden agenda. Throughout the whole time he was explaining to us about the fish, how to catch them and the types of fish that you could find in the area, I was just waiting for him to reveal his true intentions (like perhaps asking us to pay for the time he spent talking to us). But nothing of that sort came, and he was simply happy sharing his knowledge in fishing in exchange for having some company who admired his skills. He even offered us to bring home some of the fish that he caught and have them for dinner that night (which we politely refused since we did not know what to do with them and didn’t want to stink up our Airbnb flat with fish smell).
I had never gone fishing previously and certainly had never thought I would catch myself doing it for the first time somewhere in the Arctic.
(Although I have to say by the end of it, I was not sure if fishing was my thing. I found the whole process immoral – I felt terrible for tricking the fish with the bait and it must be painful for them when the hook tore open their mouths).
Being part of the 150,000th visitor in Tromso for 2015.
We walked in to the tourism centre randomly to seek some warmth (and to find out more about what to do in the city), not knowing that we were part of the lucky 150,000th visitor. The reward for that? Free cake and hot tea, very much needed on a freezing winter day.
Going up to the roof of Clarion Hotel The Edge
After devouring the yummy cake at the Visitor’s Centre, we received the bad news that the Fjellheisen, a cable car that would bring us to Storsteinen, a mountain ledge with a spectacular view of the city, was closed for a few months. (Of course I would have known about this had I bothered to do a little bit of research before coming, but hey it’s me.)
As a consolation, the lady at the centre advised us to go up to the Skybar at the rooftop of Clarion Hotel The Edge. I was not expecting much out of it since the bar was located on the 11th floor (I’m used to Singapore’s One Altitude which is on level 61 at 282 metres above sea level).
But the moment we stepped out to the balcony, I was lost for words.
A sea of city lights spread out right in front of me. It was very intense because of the proximity of the other buildings to where I was standing, and almost intimidating but in a good way. It left me completely breathless (although I was not entirely sure if that was because of the view or the cold air).
We stood there for an hour or so (which was impressive considering how cold it was), taking lots of pictures and never growing tired of the view. I have never seen anything quite so magical in a long time, and I decided then that it was my favourite spot in the whole city of Tromsø.
This will warrant another post altogether, but I will write something here nevertheless as a sneak preview. If you are looking for another winter adventure, this is one that I would highly recommend. Apparently the whales have started coming to the waters of Tromsø around 4 years ago because of the upsurge in the number of herring. They made the sea just off the Whale Island (what an apt name) their playground and treated us with a spectacular sight. The only thing you had to do is sit on a boat in a freezing weather and wait until the whales to appear.
And when they do…
Beautiful window seat view when taking off
Tromsø wouldn’t let us go without impressing us once last time. As our flight took off from the runway, I took one last look at the city through the plane window and saw this.
I snapped a picture and just stared out at the mountain, the sea, the bridge and the twinkle of the city lights, trying to etch all the details in my memories.
And then I remember my worries at the start of the trip: what if I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights? What if the city is horrible and I have dragged my sister and her friend all the way this north and it is not worth it in the end?
And I realised that I should not have worried at all. In fact, I might have just dragged them all the way to the Arctic to one of the most beautiful cities in the world.