Do not fall asleep on this flight. This morning, you may have been at the airport before you’re usually awake, but now is not the time for a nap. The sky is bright blue, the sun is intense, and your forehead is pressed against the airplane window as you fly above the Arctic Circle. Snow-capped fjords and sparkling water are below you. The pilot just announced your descent into Tromsø. And that’s just the beginning.
Tromsø is the largest city in Northern Norway. It sits 350 kilometers above the Arctic Circle and spreads across two islands—Tromsøya and Kvaløya—and onto the mainland. The area has been inhabited since the ice age, and the Norse and Sami people thrived here during the Middle Ages. The city was eventually established in 1794, when Norway was part of Denmark. The Norwegian government even moved here when Germany invaded the country in 1940. But it was only after the airport opened in 1964 that Tromsø started to become a tourist destination. Nature lovers and adventure-sport enthusiasts have been flocking to the “capital of the Arctic” ever since.
As soon as you heard “above the Arctic Circle,” you envisioned a cold, unwelcoming place. Tromsø is neither of those things. Due to the Gulf Stream, the city is warmer than most places that are located on the same latitude; temperatures are in the low 60s right now. Most of the snow has melted. While the midnight sun, when the sun never sets, lasts until the end of July. Add music and film festivals, late-night marathons, and stunning views for a surprisingly cosmopolitan little city.
Start by exploring the center of Tromsø. See the old wooden buildings. The oldest wooden house dates back to 1789, and the Tromsø Cathedral—Norway’s only wooden cathedral—was built in 1861. Wander through Polaria, an aquarium in a striking building, to see bearded seals. Learn about Arctic expeditions at the Polar Museum, located in an old warehouse along the waterfront. Walk through the world’s northernmost botanical gardens at the Tromsø Museum. Take photos of the ski jump, where the Olympics Games could one day be held. Cross the Tromsø Bridge to see the modern Arctic Cathedral. Then ride the cable car to the top of Mount Storsteinen for a panoramic view of the Lyngen Alps, the deep fjords, the little islands, the busy harbor, and the still-sparkling water.
In most cities, your day would be nearly over by now. Sip a Mack beer as you decide what to do tomorrow, return to your hotel for a quick shower, and find a seafood restaurant for dinner along the waterfront. But instead of heading to bed, you then join Active Tromsø for a midnight sun kayaking trip.
Wiggle into a protective suit, complete with booties and gloves, that will save your life if you fall into the frigid water. Get the feel for the sea kayak, which is longer and narrower than the kayaks you’ve used on lakes. Paddle around fjords, mountains, and small waterfront villages. Look for eagles in the sky and whales in the water. And stop at a golden-sand beach for a break and a hot drink. Despite waking up incredibly early this morning, you’re still full of energy out in the kayak. The sun isn’t the only thing that refuses to settle down above the Arctic Circle right now.