[Peek abroad] Inside the Arctic Circle

‘The Arctic Circle’.

Whisper it to yourself and you think of snow, polar bears and endless white. What might not immediately come to mind are beaches, hearty meals and the most wonderful, laid back vibe.

Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral
Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral, February 2019.

In February, I ventured into the Arctic Circle, to Tromsø in northern Norway. While this was my third time visiting Norway, it was the first time that I had been so far north, and the first time I had been inside the Arctic Circle.

Tromsø is a gateway to the Arctic. Located 69° north, the city has around 70,000 inhabitants and stretches across the island of Tromsøya. The city centre is a 15-minute bus ride from the airport and benefits from sea and mountain views.

Winter runs from December to March; during the ‘Polar Night’, which lasts from November to January, the sun doesn’t rise at all. However, from May to July, the sun never sets and the city enjoys the ‘Midnight Sun’.

Staying in an Airbnb apartment on the wonderfully-sited Petersborggata, I strolled around the city (carefully, as there was a lot of snow), witnessed the unreal Northern Lights and explored nearby fjords.

Northern Lights, Skibotn
Northern Lights, Skibotn.

During the winter, Tromsø is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights. Choosing to join a tour (with Polar Adventures) rather than trying to track down the elusive lights myself, I was fortunate to witness an incredible show that lasted around 90 minutes.

Leaving Tromsø via minibus and travelling south towards Finland, we pulled up next to a forest-sheltered field around 4.5 hours later. Our tour guides got a fire going and we waited, waited to see if the atmospheric conditions were right.

We didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes our cameras were able to confirm that the interestingly-shaped cloud ahead was in fact the Northern Lights. Just 30 minutes later and the whole sky was illuminated in the eerie green light that is synonymous with this natural light display.

Words don’t do the Northern Lights justice.

Arctic sand at Grøtfjord
Arctic sand at Grøtfjord.

Another highlight of the week was joining a tour to explore the fjords, taking in the beautiful Ersfjordbotn and Grotfjord.

Joining Enjoy the Arctic, we travelled by minibus with six other tourists. It was wonderful to see how much our guide enjoyed his job, taking photographs of the scenery himself and on more than one occasion saying ‘beautiful, beautiful, beautiful’.

We enjoyed a BBQ on the side of the road – pausing now and again to let snowploughs go by – and even enjoyed a stroll on an arctic beach, something that I wasn’t expecting! We waded through snow that came up to our calves and giggled when one of our Brazilian friends failed to roll a snowball, her husband explaining that this was the first time that they had experienced snow.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable week that gave a real flavour of life within the Arctic Circle. While a trip on the Fjellheisen cable car and the Northern Lights and fjords tours shared the natural beauty of the area, a visit to the Polar Museum and hearing ‘Sounds of the Arctic’ at Tromsø Cathedral gave a glimpse of the cultural heart of the area too.

  • I spent around £1,000 in total, which included flights (Norwegian), accommodation (Airbnb) and two tours
  • Self-catering is a great way to manage your spending, as Norway is quite expensive if you plan to eat/drink out
  • Don’t miss joining a Northern Lights tour, as your guides will take you to the locations with the greatest chance of seeing the phenomena

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