Just a cute little house on a cute little plot in a cute little city
If there is one thing I will remember about Tromsø it’ll be the sound of seagulls. In part because our hotel was right in the port area every time we would walk out we’d hear the haunting, lonely sound of dozens – though it seemed like hundreds – of seagulls.
Tromsø is an interesting place, though for us at least two days was plenty. A city of some 65,000 people, it’s the third largest city in the world above the Arctic Circle and the northernmost city in the world with more than 20,000 people. Yet because of the Gulf Stream it is warmer than cities hundreds of miles further south. Of course, that’s relative: the photos we saw of winter in Tromsø look plenty snowy and cold. And dark. From mid-November until mid-January, you can’t see the sun in Tromsø. I’m not sure I could handle that.
One day I walked maybe two miles north of the city center to the world’s northern-most botanical garden. Lots of pretty flowers and stuff, but this path through a birch forest sure made me feel like I was back in Northern Minnesota. I wonder if that’s why there are so many Norwegians there?
And yet there was lots to enjoy about the city. First – and to our enormous pleasure – it’s a great city for food. We had simply the best food we had anywhere in Norway here. Perhaps because it’s a university town it had a real lively vibe to it with lots of activity in the evening. (I was going to say there was activity “after nightfall” but in mid-August nightfall is late and brief.) There was way more ethnic food here than I’d expected. I was just assuming that way up here it would be all bland Scandinavian food but there is a surprising number of immigrants – perhaps war refugees? – from North Africa and the Middle East. And so there I am walking around town and I stumble on an Ethiopian restaurant. Above the Arctic Circle!
In fact, back in the 19th century Tromsø was known as the Paris of the North. While it’s not known exactly how or why it got that nickname (trust me, it’s not Paris), one theory is just that the people of Tromsø even back then were simply more sophisticated than southern Norwegians ever would have imagined. That was pretty much my reaction, too.
We had stopped here on the way north during our “coast of Norway” cruise but really didn’t see anything that intrigued us. That, of course, is why we’re not cruise people: seeing a town over a couple days and nights is a very different (and better) experience than seeing it for a few hours when there are hundreds of other day trippers there, too.
As Norway’s major city north of the Arctic Circle, it is and historically has always been the jumping off spot for Arctic adventures. The Polar Museum here does a really good job of introducing you to what polar exploration in the 19th and early 20th century was like. But that’s not what we were looking for during our brief stay so instead we enjoyed the food, the historic collection of 19th and even 18th century wooden buildings, and the cool vibe. I managed a hike north to the botanical garden and south to a “beach.” Both were … OK. Then it was off to Trondheim for two final days in Norway.
The center of Tromsø is on an island, but part of the city is on the mainland. So we hiked across that big bridge you see and rode a cable car up for great views of the city.
Before we leave Tromsø though one last oddity. From the airport a nice highway takes you through a long tunnel into the city. But in the tunnel was something we’ve never seen anywhere in the world: a roundabout. Yup, apparently there’s a north-south tunnel and an east-west tunnel and there you are, god knows how many feet below the surface, in a roundabout at the intersection.
Who says you can’t still find new and unusual things in the world?
Here we are way up above Tromsø
Our meals were the highlight of Tromsø and Mathallen was the highlight of the meals. Fantastic food, great decor, good service… If you’re ever in Tromsø it’s the place to go.
This halibut was to die for
Not everything in Tromsø was perfect. This is the city’s Lutheran cathedral, the only wooden cathedral in the country. And while it has a prominent place in the city center it is seriously dull inside. I’m not a big fan of Catholicism but at least they know how to build cathedrals.
And speaking of cathedrals… That white building is a 1960s-era parish church known as the Arctic Cathedral (though it’s not actually a cathedral). The architecture is pretty striking even without the rainbow, so off we went to tour it. Two things stood out: it cost almost $6 each to get in, and it was wildly unimpressive. Sad!
Just walking through town
Some of the old buildings on the harbor
Mark on the big bridge connecting the city center with the mainland. It’s a long bridge and we were both surprised at how many people walked over it. Then we noticed that we never saw a bus – neither city bus nor tour bus – crossing it. It must be that they’re not allowed on it (load limit?) so people walk across.
Another view of the botanical garden
Tromsø’s south “beach.” It’s actually a nice little park, though the beach was modest. I swear that I really wanted to swim here – how often do you get a chance to swim above the Arctic Circle? – but with a light rain and temperature in the low 50s the whole time we were here that just wasn’t in the cards.
There’s a major construction zone going on along the harbor where they’re building a new housing and entertainment district. It looks as though it will significantly expand the city’s already buzzy restaurant and bar scene. So the next time we come to Tromsø it will be even cooler!
And one last food picture. On arriving in Tromsø we went looking for a place to have lunch and stumbled on Fiskekompaniet, a nice little fish restaurant right on the harbor. It was amazing and an auspicious start to our stay.