Most visitors head to the small Norwegian city of Tromso, sitting a chilly 350km above the Arctic Circle, for the Northern Lights that streak across the night sky.
But shift your gaze downwards and there’s plenty going on at eye level here, too.
From its centuries-old townhouses, to its fantastic waterside restaurants (not to mention the cinematic fjords that hug the city) there is a lot on offer in this lively snow-cloaked hub.
Natural beauty: The small Norwegian city of Tromso sits a chilly 350km above the Arctic Circle. Pictured is Tromso harbour
Where to stay
This waterfront hotel — certainly one of the best in Tromso – has magnificent views of the port (and the mountains that loom like armoured ogres behind it). Rooms are warm and spacious, with comfy beds, robes and slippers, and there’s a glass-encased corridor for aurora spotting. The breakfast buffet (which comes at an additional cost) is nothing short of a bonanza, with pancakes, pastries, eggs, meats, gluten free stations and even sweets. Doubles from £78; radissonhotels.com.
Comfort Hotel Xpress
This centrally-located stopover is smart and fuss-free (no room service or minibars). Rooms are on the small side and — to keep things affordable — aren’t cleaned every day, but they are nicely furnished and there’s a 24-hour lobby shop for snacks. Doubles from £94; nordicchoicehotels.no.
With Nordic interiors and natty slogans on the walls, this slick little hotel might have teeny tiny rooms, but it’s still worth a stay. Hot soup is served every day in the lobby, and there’s a bar, gym and ‘smart shop’ on site, as well as free rental bikes for guests. Doubles from £85; smarthotel.no.
You’ll find 152 neat yet cosy rooms at Thon, as well as cheerful splashes of paint and eye-catching foliage-print wallpaper in the communal areas. There’s complimentary coffee and newspapers in the lobby and 24-hour front desk service. Breakfast is included and comes in the form of a sizeable buffet, for stocking up before a day of exploring the city. Doubles from £88; thonhotels.com. Prices may vary especially in winter.
What to see and do
Visit The Arctic Cathedral
You can see this eye-catching triangular structure from many parts of Tromso (even from the air as you land). In winter it is spectacularly lit, glowing like a candle in the snow. Entry is £4, or stroll round the back to see the afternoon light hit the beautiful stained glass windows for free. Opening hours vary so check online first. ishavskatedralen.no.
Try the Fjellheisen Cable Car
Most visitors head here for the Northern Lights that streak across the night sky. Pictured is an Aurora arc over the city
Hop on the city’s cable car (£12 return), which stretches 420m up the side of the craggy Storsteinen mountain, for views of the whole city, and the surrounding inky fjords. At night it’s a fantastic spot to ‘hunt’ the Northern lights. Wrap up, the cold wind can bite. fjellheisen.no/en.
Hit the shops
Storgata, the main pedestrian street in Tromso, is flanked by pretty shops (beware inflated prices at ‘tourist shops’). Ting has beautiful homewares and scented candles, while Chasing Lights sells intriguing glacier salt.
Visit the library for beautiful views across the town and mountains beyond.
Stroll around the Polar museum
In previous centuries, Tromso was a centre for seal hunting, trapping and ice fishing, and was the launch spot for several notable Arctic expeditions. You’ll find all of this at the waterfront Polar Museum (£6). uit.no/tmu.
Visit the northernmost brewery
Tromso has more pubs per capita than any other Norwegian town, and Olhallen (pictured) is its oldest
Tromso has more pubs per capita than any other Norwegian town, and Olhallen, as the name would suggest, is its oldest. Established in 1928 it once teemed with fisherman, farmers and townspeople. Enjoy beers, from blueberry stout to ‘dead cat’ IPA. mack.no/en/olhallen.
Where to eat
Food can be costly in Tromso, but Asian-focused East does a great job without paying through the nose. Think low lights and a menu of sushi rolls, bbq pork buns and firecracker pad thai (mains from £10.50). restauranteast.no.
A favourite of tourists and young locals, this burger joint is lofty and lantern-lit, with a wide selection of burgers, barbequed meats and veggie options (the frozen pasjonsfruit margaritas are splendid). graffigrill.no.
This cute vintage shop sells retro furniture, clothes and books as well as decently priced breakfast and lunch options (try quesadillas and salads). It’s also a great people-watching spot — locals may sledge past. Frederik Langes gate 9; +4791670620.
Townsfolk flock to Riso for the intricate latte art and comfy seating. Meals, mainly soups and sandwiches, are affordable but it can get busy around lunch, so visit before 12pm or later in the afternoon. risoe-mk.no.
Wizz Air flies to Tromso from £60 return, wizzair.com. A Tromso Pass gives you access to museums and attractions, as well as its easy-to-use network of buses, from £30 for half a day; visittromso.no.