In Tromsø, Norway, the phrase world’s northernmost gets quite a workout.
There’s the world’s northernmost brewery (Mack Brewery), world’s northernmost university (Arctic University of Norway), world’s northernmost Protestant cathedral (Tromsø Cathedral) and the world’s northernmost botanical garden (Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden). Add to that Tromsø’s designation as the “world’s northernmost city of more than 50,000 people,” and you get the idea that this is a place known for its northernness.
Sitting at a latitude of 66 degrees north, Tromsø also been called the “Gateway to the Arctic.” And in the late 1800s, the city became known as the “Paris of the North.” It is unclear how the title originated, but most likely Tromsø appeared more sophisticated to visitors when compared with other areas of rugged northern Norway.
Our mid-June arrival in Tromsø – pronounced Trom’suh – had fallen during the sweet spot of the “midnight sun” – between May 28th and July 14th – when the sun remains above the horizon all day and night. Overcast skies had prevented us from experiencing the phenomenon in Lofoten, and we were hoping the weather gods would cooperate in Tromsø. As it turned out, the midnight sun decided to spin some magic before we arrived, breaking through the clouds around 10 p.m as our ship was making its way north from Lofoten. Herb captured the moment from the top deck.
Crossing Tromsø Bridge
Banks of moody clouds were blanketing the skies over Tromsø, but with a rain-free forecast, Herb and I kept our plan of touring the city on foot. Tromsø’s port and city center are located on Tromsøya Island, which is connected to the mainland by the Tromsø Bridge and the Tromsøysund Tunnel.
Our first destination was the Fjellheisen Cable Car that takes visitors to a lookout spot on Mount Storsteinen. We headed out early, passing shops and cafés not yet open for business. This was clearly the first city we had visited in Norway, and with a population of about 77,000, it’s twice the size of Ålesund and many times larger than the hamlets of Svolvaer and Henningsvaer.
The Tromsø Bridge was the first cantilever bridge built in Norway. When it opened in 1960, it was the longest bridge in Northern Europe. The bridge is 3,399 feet long with 58 spans and features a pedestrian path on the south side and a bike path on the north. The Arctic Cathedral sits just beyond the mainland side of the bridge. With a 30-minute walk ahead of us to Fjellheisen, we opted to visit the cathedral on the way back to the city center.
Fjellheisen Cable Car to Mount Storsteinen
Our walk to the Fjellheisen Cable Car took us through winding streets of residential neighborhoods. We made a couple of wrong turns, but quickly found our way, eventually arriving at a signpost directing us to our destination. We purchased tickets at the lower station and boarded a cable car for the four-minute ride to the top.
The upper station on Mount Storsteinen sits at 1,381 feet above sea level. An outdoor viewing platform offers a panoramic look over Tromsø, a stunning sight even on a cloudy day, with snow-capped mountains and ice-blue waters surrounding this city in the far north. Looking down on Tromsø bridge provides a clear understanding of how the island and mainland fit together and how challenging travel between the two must have been before 1960.
Back from Mount Storsteinen, we retraced our route to Tromsø Bridge, stopping at the Arctic Cathedral before returning to the city center. Designed by architect Jan Inge Hovig and completed in 1965, the Arctic Cathedral was constructed with 11 aluminum-coated concrete panels on each side of the roof that provide its distinctive form. In 1972, the glass mosaic was added on the eastern side and is considered the largest stained glass window in Europe.
The name Arctic Cathedral is actually a misnomer; the building is a parish church of the Church of Norway rather than a cathedral.
A Walk Around Tromsø
We spent the rest of the day wandering around Tromsø. It’s a lively city, full of interesting architecture, sculptures and shopping that veers from the typical souvenir fare – although to be sure, there are plenty of those as well. Cold weather clothing shops are also plentiful, a nod to the area’s popularity for winter activities and its reputation as a destination for viewing the northern lights. The Tourist Information office by the cruise ship terminal is worth a visit, with a helpful staff and locally crafted items for sale.
After seeing a display of children’s books in the window, we stopped in a bookshop called Norli Bokhuset. We had no idea whether they carried any English titles, but figured we’d ask just in case. “Oh, yes,” the shopkeeper told us, “the Troll Olav series is one of the most popular in Norway. We definitely have an English version!” After deliberating over the various titles, we selected the book about children who discover a troll on board a Norwegian cruise ship, carrying it home with us to deliver in person to our little grandsons.
And although they’re still too young to understand the significance of where the book came from, one day they will know that their grandparents picked out a special book just for them all the way above the Arctic Circle.