JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH IRIS LINNEA SCHAATHUN FROM TROMSØ, NORWAY!
Iris, a Norwegian, was born in Oslo, but currently lives above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø. After taking her bachelor’s degree in musicology in Trondheim, she moved to Tromsø two years ago to study psychology. In addition to playing viola, she loves hiking, climbing and skiing. She also loves to capture moments in the outdoor with her camera, in order to inspire others to get out in the nature.
Located far in the north of Norway is the city of Tromsø often addressed as “Gateway to the Arctic”. This city of mountains, fjords and fauna, experiences long winters and brief summer. It is also among the most favourable places on earth to view spectacular Northern Lights. Situated on a small island of Tromsøya, this city is home to the world’s northernmost university (University of Tromsø), northernmost brewery (Mack Brewery), northernmost botanic garden (The Arctic Alpine Botanic garden), northernmost marathons (Midnight Sun/Polar Night half), museums, cathedrals and much more.
When is the best time to visit Tromsø?
I think every season has its own charm, and the best time to visit Tromsø depends on what you want to do. Tromsø is known as the capital of the Midnight Sun, with 24 hours of sunlight from 18th May to 25th July. The summer is a great time for hiking, climbing and camping under the Midnight Sun. The winter season is the busiest time in Tromsø, and you will find a lot of activities to engage in during the winter. The Polar Nights reigns from November to January with beautiful blue light during daytime and Aurora Borealis during night.
What according to you is the best way to reach Tromsø considering most travellers land in Oslo (by road, water and air)?
The most sufficient way to reach Tromsø is by air. The flight from Oslo to Tromsø takes approximately two hours. Or, if you have more time, you might want to combine your trip to Tromsø with the magical fishing villages of Lofoten. In that case fly to Bodø instead. Check out this route of reaching Tromsø from Bodø via Lofoten.
You can also reach Tromsø by the sea, by travelling with the Norwegian cruise Hurtigruten (literally The fast route) from Bergen or Trondheim. Hurtigruten travels along the coast of Norway and offers a stunning scenery. The journey takes three days from Trondheim to Tromsø.
You can also drive from Oslo to Tromsø if you are not in a hurry but is it worth it? Check out this guide to know about all the ways you can work your way up from Oslo to Tromsø.
Is it necessary to rent a car in Tromsø to explore it fully or public transport does the job? Can you recommend some companies for such hire?
Whether you should rent a car or not depends on your plans while staying in Tromsø. Tromsø is a small city, and you can easily walk from one side of the city centre to the other. If you plan on spending most of your time in the city centre of Tromsø and on Tromsø island, it will be sufficient to use public transport.
There is also a lot of activity companies that can drive you to different kinds of activities in all kinds of weather. If you plan on go hiking, skiing or explore the nature around Tromsø by yourself, I would recommend renting a car. There is so many beautiful places to see on Kvaløya and Senja, and there is not much public transport going out to these places. Also the road from Tromsø via Senja to Å in Lofoten is rated as one of the most scenic summer drives in all of Norway. If you travel to Tromsø in the wintertime, make sure to rent a car that is safe to drive in icy and snowy conditions. I would recommend Avis rental car or Hertz rental car.
How many days are enough to see Tromsø?
The length of your stay depends on you plans while staying in Tromsø. If you want to go skiing, hiking or just explore the city, 4-7 days would be fine. If you want to be sure to see the northern lights, you might want to spend a week. Normally you see some northern lights during a five day stay in Tromsø in September to April, but this is not guaranteed. Some nights there is no northern lights activity, and other nights the sky is too cloudy.
What are the top three must visit places for stunning landscape views in Tromsø?
One of the most popular places to visit in Tromsø is Fjellheisen. This is a cable car that runs from Tromsdalen to the mountain ledge Storsteinen (421 m above sea level). From the top of the cable car you can enjoy a panoramic view of Tromsø and the surrounding mountains and fjords. On the edge of the cliff lies Fjellstua restaurant where you can eat dinner or drink a beer while you enjoy the view. Fjellheisen is a great place for watching the Northern Lights in the winter and enjoying the midnight sun in the summer time. Fjellheisen is also a good starting point for various hikes in the mountains, including the summit of Tromsdalstinden (1238 m above sea level).
I would also recommend taking a trip to Ersfjordbotn on Kvaløya. Ersfjordbotn is located on Kvaløya, only 30 minutes with car or bus from Tromsø. The viewpoint is right by the parking lot and offers a great view of the beautiful mountains on both side of the fjord. Ersfjordbotn is a popular place to watch and take photos of the Northern Lights. Close to Ersfjordbotn you can find “Bryggejentene”, a cozy café where you can buy lunch and coffee.
If you want to do an easy hike rewarded with spectacular views over the mountains and fjords, you should hike Brosmetinden. Located about one hour with car from Tromsø on the northwest side of Kvaløya, this is one of my favourite hikes. The trail starts out in easy terrain and you can follow the trail all the way to the top. From the top you will have a great view of the surrounding mountains Sessøya, Bjørnholmen, and Russholmen.
Which are the best beaches in Tromsø?
With white sand and clear blue water, the beaches in Northern Norway looks almost tropical. But don’t be fooled, the water is ice cold and the locals seldom go for a swim. Close to the city centre, at the south of the island lies Telegrafbukta. The beach has a nice view to the surrounding mountains and is a great place for walking or eating lunch on a sunny day.
Every year in July, the music festival Bukta Open Air Festival is being arranged in Telegrafbukta. This is one of the most popular music festivals in Northern Norway.
Another beautiful beach is Sandvika beach on Sommarøy (meaning “summer island”), a one-hour drive from Tromsø. This beach is a great place to bring a tent and spend the night in the midnight sun. On the north side of Kvaløya lies Grøtfjord beach. This is a popular spot for the locals to go surfing and camping. If you want, you can rent a hot tub or sauna right by the beach.
What adventure activities can one indulge in when visiting Tromsø? What to pack for a trip to Tromsø?
Tromsø is a great place for outdoor adventure sports, it is known for perfect granite rock and is a mecca for climbers. Kvaløya located about an hour from Tromsø is a great place for hiking in the mountains. Sommarøy on the southwest side of Kvaløya is a great place for kayaking with a lot of small islands, white beaches and crystal-clear water. From late October to mid-February, pods of orcas and humpback whales migrate to the fjords around Tromsø. Whale watching in Tromsø is a unique opportunity to observe whales in their natural surroundings.
Dog sledding is a popular activity in the winter, taking you to the snow-covered wilderness of Kvaløya. If you go dog sledding in the evening chances are you can spot the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above. The spring is the best time to ski in the North, as the sun comes back, and the days become longer. Tromsø is a great place for both cross-country skiing and backcountry skiing. The Lyngen Alps, a couple of hours drive from Tromsø, are considered one of the best skiing destinations in Norway.
The weather in Northern Norway can be unpleasant, so be sure to pack appropriate clothing when traveling to Tromsø. If you are visiting Tromsø in the winter, you should bring clothes that will keep you warm while you are out experiencing Tromsø or waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. Summer in Northern Norway can be wet and cold too, so pack warm clothing and make sure you have shoes and jacket that is water resistant.
Which is the best time of the year to spot Aurora Borealis from Tromsø considering the unpredictable weather there?
The northern lights are present throughout the year, but due to the bright summer nights, I would say the best period for spotting Aurora Borealis is from early September to late March. The Northern Lights are most active during the night, so visiting Tromsø in December and January when it’s dark all day won’t necessarily increase your chances to see the Northern Lights as you probably won’t see it until the evening anyway. The weather in Northern Norway is unpredictable all year around, with rain in the autumn and snow in the winter. During the winter months it can be bitterly cold in Tromsø and waiting for Aurora to appear on the sky could be freezing. In September and October, the temperatures are more pleasant, and being able to stay outside for a longer period does maximise the chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
Which guided Northern Lights and photography tours do you recommend for people coming to Tromsø?
Most hotels in Tromsø has an arrangement with a northern lights tour company. Any of these arrangements would give you a good chance to see the northern lights, though no one operates with a northern lights guaranty. If you want to use a guide, you should look for a guided tour with good rating. Be sure to get a guide that will do their best to help you see the northern lights. In case of bad weather, you want a guide that will drive you somewhere the sky is clear.
As a local, I haven’t tried any of the northern lights guides in Tromsø myself. If the weather and aurora forecast is good you don’t really have to go on a guided tour to see the Northern lights. If the aurora is dancing on the sky you would be able to see it even from the city centre. If you rent a car during your stay in Tromsø, Ersfjordbotn on Kvaløya island or Senjahopen on Senja island is great places for seeing the northern lights. Remember to bring warm clothes when you’re out chasing the northern lights. Standing still waiting for the northern lights to appear can be a cold experience.
What is the most celebrated holiday/event of the year in Tromsø?
The most celebrated event of the year is the Norwegian National Day – “Syttende Mai”, on the 17th of may. This day marks the day Norway’s Constitution was signed in 1814, declaring Norway as an independent kingdom. On Syttende Mai, people dress up in traditional costumes and celebrates with parades and marching bands in the streets.
The 6th of February we celebrate The Sámi National Day, marking the first Sámi congress that was held in 1917 in Trondheim. This congress was the first time Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together to find solutions for common problems. In Tromsø, this has become an annual celebration of Sami culture that extends over a whole week, including reindeer race in the city centre, concerts and lasso competitions.
The Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF) is held in Tromsø in the third week of January every year. This is Norway’s biggest film festival, with a total of 60501 visitors in 2019. TIFF is the highlight of the year for the locals in Tromsø, with the streets and cafés filled with people. TIFF is held during the dark polar nights, which give’s TIFF the unique possibility to screen films outdoor during day and evening.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Tromsø?
Being a coastal town situated on an island close to the open sea, traditional cuisine in Tromsø is largely based on fish and sea creatures. Norwegian food is characterized by our marginal agriculture and the harsh climate. The raw materials have been available only for short periods of time, and often in large quantities, such as during the seasonal cod fishing. As a result of this, the traditional Norwegian cuisine is largely based on using conserved materials. Stochfish is unsalted fish, usually cod, dried on wooden racks by cold air along the foreshore. A traditional dish from Northern Norway is “Boknafisk”. This is a “half dry” variant of stockfish that’s been dried by the sun and wind. It is typically served with potatoes, carrots and bacon.
Can you recommend a place to try local cuisine?
For being a small city, Tromsø is known for having a wide selection of restaurants, combining traditional local dishes with modern international cuisine. Bardus Bistro serves local food with a modern touch for a reasonable price. Fiskekompaniet serves dishes almost exclusively based on fish and seafood. I you want to go out for a fancy dinner, I would recommend Emmas Drømmekjøkken (Emma’s Dream Kitchen). The à la carte menu consists of local ingrediencies and the menu changes from season to season. Risø Mat og Kaffebar is known for having the best coffee in Tromsø, and serves sandwiches as well. Verdensteatret is a beautiful old cinema, and also a great place for having a beer or a glass of wine.
Any suggestion from a local to tourists visiting Tromsø?
Norway is an expensive destination, and Tromsø might be one of the most expensive cities in Norway. To make the stay less expensive it can be a good idea to eat breakfast at the hotel or buying lunch in the food store. There is a lot of tourism in Tromsø. Hotels and activity tours tend to be full during the popular season. To avoid being disappointed, it is advisable to book activities well in advance of your trip.