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How does a few days in freezing temperatures 350km inside the Arctic Circle grab you?

Timing and cost are two things to consider when visiting northern Norway but the sheer quality of the experience makes a trip to Tromsø well worth it

And now for something completely different. You’ve done the west of Ireland trip, the city break, the sunshine holiday. This is not your average trip abroad – a few days near the north tip of Norway, especially during the winter months, is not everyone’s idea of a holiday, but it can be rewarding, memorable and special.

There are a few crucial decisions to make during the planning stages for a trip to somewhere such as Tromsø in Norway, one of the largest urban areas in the Arctic Circle. The biggest is simply when to go. It’s a decision far more important than choosing a date for a break in Lanzarote or London or Lahinch.

The hours of sunlight fluctuate greatly in north Norway – from zero during December to 24 hours of daylight during the summer months (known as the “Midnight sun”). Even, say, in the first week of February, sunset in Tromsø is around 2.30pm. While tourists generally want at least a few hours of daylight, some of the best reasons to go to north Norway require darkness.

Number one on the list of attractions is, of course, the Northern Lights.


The area around Tromsø is one of the most beautiful and interesting places to see aurora borealis, which is caused by – well, it’s something to do with the interaction of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere. Honestly, we tuned out during the explanation – we were there for the beauty of the natural light display.

There are no guarantees, of course; you could spend a week looking at nothing in the dark sky but the moon. Though we were surprised by the success rate claimed by Gunnar Hildonen – of Guide Gunnar – one of many tour operators working in the area.

“About 95-98 per cent,” said Gunnar, when asked what the success rate is for tourists going out in the evening on one of the many daily bus journeys “chasing” the Northern Lights. The tours (costing around €140 per adult) usually take between five and eight hours, though they can be longer – and generally involve travelling up to 100km from Tromsø late in the evening to remote, dark, isolated spots.

Have we mentioned the cost of absolutely everything in Norway yet? It is eye-watering. Nothing is cheap. There are no bargains in Tromsø. Or, at least, we didn’t find any. We also didn’t find anything of poor quality.

Which brings us to the second most important decision. What to bring.

The answer is simple – layers. Norway is cold (breaking news) – especially in the months when the Northern Lights are visible (September-April). However, you do not need special clothes. You just need lots of warm clothes – underwear, socks, boots, tops, gloves, a woolly hat, a warm jacket, etc. You will then spend your days constantly taking on and off the outer layers as you move between hotel and street, cafe and street, shop and street, and on and on. But you’ll be thankful for the second pair of gloves. Trust me.

Although chasing the Northern Lights is the big draw, there are other attractions. Whale watching in the region is becoming more and more popular – which is complicated and controversial, as the humpback whales and orcas are not exactly on-board with the growing attention. It requires some responsible travel operators.

Brim Explorer operates boats out of several Norwegian ports, including Tromsø. They offer “Silent Whale Watching”, using hybrid-electric boats, which apparently minimises the disturbance to the whales and dolphins.

The cost is approximately €145 for an adult, though it’s worth pointing out that this is not a one-hour boat ride – this is a eight or nine-hour trip on a comfortable ship, with viewing levels, which crosses Arctic fiords offering breathtaking views of the region – like everything in Norway, apparently, costly but quality. Other attractions worth considering include dog sledding, fishing, reindeer feeding, snowmobiling and kayaking. (A good place to start is

No matter where you go, though, it is about the stunning scenery. A particularly easy-on-the-legs way to gain a spectacular view is by using the Fjellheisen cable car in Tromsø, which in a few minutes brings you up Storsteinen Mountain, 421 metres above sea level. (One adult return ticket is €34.)

While the tours are long, Tromsø boosts several relatively small museums that could – with some planning – be almost all completed in one day. They range from the Polar Museum – which charts the many expeditions to the Arctic that originated in Tromsø (they’re particularly proud of explorer Roald Amundsen in these parts) – to the Troll Museum, which is a fun way for children and adults to spend a couple of hours.

Surprisingly, getting to northern Norway was more straightforward than expected. There are no direct flights between Ireland and Tromsø but there are several reasonable, one-stop options – including Scandinavian Airlines, who fly from Dublin to Tromsø via Oslo. Other options include flying via London or Berlin (Norwegian Airlines and Wizz Air both fly to Tromsø regularly). From April, 2024, Norwegian airline Widerøe extend their direct flights between Dublin and Bergen from two days to three days each week (Bergen, in south-west Norway, has direct connections to Tromsø). And, very conveniently, Tromsø Airport is no more than a 10-15 minute drive from the centre of town (there are regular buses and taxis).

The city has a population of around 64,000 (and, from what we witnessed, every one of them is fluent in the English language). Around 17,000 of that number live at the other side of the long bridge that separates the main part of Tromsø from the mainland. Another island suburb has a population of around 7,000, which leaves the island of Tromsøya (which houses the main part of Tromsø) with around 40,000 residents – a little less than the population of Dundalk. And about as cold.

And because most hotels, museums, bars and restaurants are located within a very small part of the city, it feels even smaller.

Like everything else, accommodation isn’t cheap, but hotels are generally good quality – and many of the tour companies have pickup points with a short walk of the front doors of hotels.

Nowhere does the cost of Norway hit you in the face as quickly and as hard as it does when you sit down to eat or drink.

Norwegians have something against wine. They can’t stand to see people drinking wine in a restaurant with their meal. So they’ve taxed it to hell and back. Although we found some bottles in a shop for prices similar to Ireland, in a cafe, restaurant or bar, wine is one government budget away from being sold in dark alleys by the eggcup.

To give you some idea, in the restaurant Fiskekompaniet (The fishing company) – which offers tasty four- and six-course meals (they are more than simply tasting menus) for fish-lovers – a glass of house white or red was around €13. A glass.

Even in a little cafe, such as the appropriately-named Art Café, where they boast of not being “a fancy restaurant”, a regular, bottle of wine was between €57 and €68.

The quality in both places, and every cafe and restaurant visited, was high. Just try not to stare at the prices. And perhaps we are being too hard on the prices in Norway – a glass of very ordinary wine in Dublin Airport on the way was €10.

After carefully researching the top-rated cafes and restaurants in the area, our favourite turned out to be Bardus, a beautiful little hideaway chosen on a whim to get out of the cold for an hour.

Tourism, coupled with hosting the world’s northernmost university, means Tromsø is full of trendy bars. “Just put in whatever you want to pay,” said the bar person in Bastard Bar – yes, that’s what it is really called – on the evening we arrived in Norway. It was around €10 for a glass (it’s not a pint) of beer in a plastic cup. Tipping the bar person was not the first thing that sprang to mind.

A few minutes later, we were informed a cover charge was soon to be applied to everyone who wanted to stay. We excused ourselves, but soon found the beer prices in the tiny bar were fairly typical for Tromsø.

There are some lovely bars in Tromsø, some filled with old-world memorabilia, others trying to appear modern and chic. All, though, are expensive for an Irish traveller.

Have we mentioned the cost of everything already? Okay, we’ve harped on about it but, in truth, it should not be a deal-breaker.

The views, the tours, the people, the adventures, the experience, the quality. The gateway to the Arctic for explorers for hundreds of years is more recently an amazing location for tourists looking to do some (much easier) exploring of their own.

A chilly paradise.

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