Fun Times in the World’s Most Northern Major City
Backpacking and Norway may not go together price wise, but in terms of epic experiences they match like South East Asia travellers and harem pants, like beards and hipsters, like guitars and gap year douche bags… you get the idea. I’ve just got back from a few days in Tromso and the incredible vistas on the way to the awesome activities will stick in my mind for a long time to come. As will the tasty food, the wild reindeers and that glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Chances are, if you do decide to visit Tromso, it’ll only be for a few days so I thought I’d use my four-day Tromso experience to show you what you can expect from the world’s most northerly major city, and how much you’re likely to spend.
Reindeers, Northern Lights, Samis and snowmobiles
On my first day, after visiting the tourist information office, I ended up on a reindeer and snowmobiling adventure up in the mountains of Norway, where there was plenty of snow to accommodate us.
Six hours, £100 and an incredible experience later, I’d mastered driving a snowmobile, hung out with reindeers and learned all about culture of the indigenous people of Norway, the Sami. They lead a uniquely fascinating life. One that involves weddings for 4000 people when they finally tie the knot (a rare occurrence, apparently) a life revolving around reindeers and layers upon layers of special clothes to survive the cold.
Meeting the reindeer in their natural habitat was actually a lot cooler than I imagined. Apparently they’re super expensive to keep, thanks to their food requirements to keep that coat glossy. It’s the reason why there aren’t many reindeer-keeping Samis around now; it’s an expensive life. I got to hold one of the heavy antlers, and was fascinated to learn that the female reindeer only have them when they’re pregnant, and for a short while after they give birth in order to protect their young, but then they just fall off.
Of course, when you’re in such a Northern Lights hotspot like Tromso, you have to book in for the chase. Our pick up was 5:30pm, and our guide Andreas warned us we might not see anything until midnight, and we’d be back at 4am. No problem, we thought. It’ll be fun, we thought. Top tip for you, if your guide says at the start you probably won’t see anything and do you want your money back, you should think about taking them up on the offer. If you’re boring that is.
Instead, we said yes and found ourselves on what became an 11-hour adventure traversing the land between Tromso and northernmost Finland, even crossing the border.
Our guide Andreas set up a camp fire on a frozen lake where we toasted marshmallows, ate reindeer soup and created a slip-n-slide in the ice, where we proceeded to hold our version of the Winter Olympics for an hour. We made a few stops along the way back, and made out the dancing green lights, but by that point it didn’t matter as much as we’d thought. It had been a brilliant night of adventure as it was. At another £100 it was initially expensive, but a trip and tale like that is worth the money.
On another note, cross country skiing is one of the cheapest things you can do in Tromso at £15 for 24 hours – it’s a lot of fun, and a definite work out. And as the national sport of Norway you should give it a go!
Free things to do in Tromso
If you’re after a free adventure or two in Tromso, walk to the Arctic Cathedral along the bridge – it wasso windy I thought we’d get blown off, but a lot of fun. At some points I actually worried about how I was going to make it. And then when we got to the other side, the Cathedral was closed – still worth the journey though. We got some incredible views off the bridge over the water and over the city. It opens at 3pm, if you’re interested.
Just walking around Tromso is entertainment enough. There’s some interesting architecture – the Polaris Museum, the colourful houses, downtown, and the Bibliotek are all incredible buildings just to look at. The bars here all have their own personality, and if you can bear to spend £7 a pint, take yourself on a little bar crawl.
Food and drink
I recommend Huken Pub for both its local Mack Brewery beer and the homemade burgers.
If it’s coffee you’re after, head to Riso. We accidentally stumbled upon it, but realised after it’s the number one rated thing to do in Tromso thanks to its special brews, tasty smorebrods and hipster vibe.
Top five money saving tips for Tromso
1. Drink water out of the tap, it’s fresh as fresh can be. Fill up your bottle for the day too.
2. Buy alcohol at the airport, people were going nuts with filling their suitcases with booze at duty free in Oslo. Alcohol is so expensive in Norway to buy in the shops, and you can’t actually do it after a certain time. Best to keep some supplies with you.
3. Buy your foods for breakfast from a supermarket.
4. Stay in an apartment.
5. Walk: our trip across the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral was great fun, and free. We also saved a few pounds by walking back from the cross country skiing trails. Technically it was only a 20-minute walk but took us quite a bit longer thanks to the ice, all fun though!