Tromsø – Paris of the North

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Tromsø – Paris of the North

When English actor Joanna Lumbley came to Tromsø in 2009 to make a BBC documentary about the Eurora Borealis, she burst into a tearful monologue upon seeing the phenomenon. However, the Northern Lights are beautiful, and few places are better for seeing them, but Tromsø and its surrounding area are even better. The city has been dubbed Paris of the North.

“I have been waiting all my life to see the Northern Lights,” said Lumbley. “This is the most astonishing thing I have ever, ever seen,” she added.

Tromsø – Paris of the North
Northern Lights, Tromsø

But it would be worth coming here just to go ski-touring on the sensationally beautiful Lyngen Alps too. The Lyngen peninsula, with its 1,833m high peaks, blue glaciers, hushing glacial rivers and deep ravines, is one of Norway’s most dramatic landscapes. Tackling the peaks and glaciers is perhaps best left to the most experienced hikers and climbers, but at both Svensby and the valleys of Furuflaten there are plenty of opportunities for the less experienced. And a sightseeing tour of Lyngen by car us something we can all enjoy.

Related: Norway – the Kingdom of Whales

Whale safaris
Or what about watching humpback whales and orcas frolicking in the steel-blue sea off the coast of Kvaløya (Whale Island), half an hour from Tromsø’s harbor? From late October to mid-February some of the world’s biggest mammals visit the coast outside Tromsø to feed on herrings. Whale watching in Tromsø has been world known because of the number of killer whales and humpback whales that have visited the fjords there for the last years.

Tromsø – Paris of the North
Midday on Kvaløy

You can also take a boat trip on the old Arctic Spa and Adventure Boat Vulkana, with its sauna and on-deck Jacuzzi. It’s a traditional Norwegian fishing boat transferred to a first-class vessel for wellness and exploration.

Related: Ski Touring in Northern Norway

Tromsø – Paris of the North
However, Tromsø is interesting because it’s a real, thriving city. Nineteenth-century visitors, blown away by the women’s fashion and the sophisticated food, dubbed it the “Paris of the North”, and the Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote to his wife in the early 20th century that the city is “all Champagne and spectacle”.

Tromsø – Paris of the North
The spectacular face of Store Lenangstinden, 1625m in the northern Lyngen Alps showing clearly layered gabbrothrust to an 80 degree incline

Tromsø is indeed a cooler, livelier city than you might have expected. There are elegantly roughshod bars for great burgers and rock ’n’ roll, more restaurants per head than any other Norwegian city, and more than 50 cultural festivals. From an international film festival to a Sami festival, a handful of music-festivals, even a Latin American Festival.

Related: World’s Largest Sauna – in Norway

Tromsø – Paris of the North
Ølhallen, Tromsø. Phito: Susanne Pedersen

A certain amount of history
Tromsø is also a place where you can feel a certain amount of history. Mack Brewery’s Ølhallen opened in 1928 but didn’t have a women’s toilet until 1973, after reluctantly allowing a few bold women from the university to drink here.

Tromsø has certainly changed since then. The founding of the university in 1968 helped see its population boom, from 12,283 in 1960 to nearly 80,000 today, with 120,000 predicted by 2044.

Tromsø – Paris of the North
Polar Museum, Tromsø

Business in Tromsø
Then there’s business, which is going as well as you’d expect from a place that has started calling itself the capital of the Arctic, which testifies to its hospitality and international orientation. Tromsø is proud of its reputation as the gateway to the High North. In fact, the economy of the region was truly international centuries before the word “globalization” was invented.

Tromsø – Paris of the North, written by Tor Kjolberg

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