Learn something new about Tromsø, a popular tourist destination in northern Norway with a fascinating history.
A dynamic city surrounded by arctic nature with the northern lights dancing above. Welcome to Tromsø, the capital of northern Norway.
I’ve been to Tromsø many times over the years, sometimes to see the Northern Lights, once to look for a guide, and once to even watch a football match. It’s a place I love to visit and always recommend to travelers.
But what do you know about the city that even many Norwegians haven’t visited? Here are 14 fun facts about Tromsø.
Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway
With a population of 77,738, the municipality of Tromsø is the largest in northern Norway. The city is also one of the largest north of the Arctic Circle in the world. Only Murmansk and Norilsk in Russia are larger.
The population is surprisingly international, with over 100 nationalities represented. Statistics Norway estimates that the population will reach around 80,500 by 2030 and up to 84,000 by 2050.
Tromsø is located mainly on an island
The majority of the city of Tromsø, including the city centre, the university and the airport, is located on the island of Tromsøya.
The residential parts of Tromsø are located on the mainland in Tromsdalen, connected to the city center by the Tromsø Bridge and a tunnel. Another suburb, Kvaløysletta on the island of Kvaløya, is connected to the rest of the city by the Sandnessund Bridge.
Tromsø experiences the polar night and the midnight sun
From May 18 to July 26, Tromsø experiences the midnight sun. This is when the sun does not dip below the horizon at night. Although due to the mountains to the north, the sun is actually visible a few days less on either side of the period.
For a month on either side of the Midnight Sun period, the city is bathed in a long twilight period during which it does not get dark, even though the sun has set.
From November 26 to January 15, the sun does not rise. This is called the polar night. Contrary to popular belief, the city does not experience total darkness during this time. For a few hours in the early afternoon there is dusk light, often with a nice blue or purple tint.
Tromsø is a surprising cultural center
Because it is the largest city for miles around, the city serves as a cultural center for much of northern Norway. There are some excellent museums in Tromsø.
Despite its relatively small population, the city hosts many music, cultural and film festivals throughout the year. Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge from Röyksopp and singer-songwriter Lene Marlin grew up and started their musical career in Tromsø.
Tromsø even hosts marathons in both summer and winter. Established in 1990, the Tromsø Midnight Sun Marathon is the northernmost marathon length race certified by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races.
People lived in Tromsø during the Viking Age
At the end of the 9th century, the Norse chieftain Ohthere is said to have inhabited the southernmost part of what is today the municipality of Tromsø. He described himself as living “the most northerly of all Norwegians”, although there are also Sami people living further north.
Remains have been found in the southern part of the island of Kvaløya from both Sámi settlements and Norse Iron Age settlements. Archaeological excavations at Tønsvika, outside Tromsø, show evidence of settlements estimated to be 10,000 years old.
The northernmost brewery in the world opened in 1877
Several breweries have recently claimed the title of the most northern brewery in the world. Definitions aside, Mack has certainly been the northernmost brewery for over a century.
Founded in 1877 by the son of a German immigrant, Mack beers have always had German characteristics. Mack pilsner is now commonly drunk in bars and restaurants in Tromsø, while their brand Isbjørn (polar bear) is available in supermarkets across the country.
Tromsø is home to the northernmost university in the world
Opened in 1972, the University of Tromsø (UiT) is also known by its modern name, Arctic University of Norway. Specializing in Arctic science, economics and health sciences, the mid-sized research university attracts a student base from around the world.
Some engineering subjects are taught in Narvik, while there is a strong collaboration with the University Center of Svalbard (UNIS). Some students spend a semester or two doing hands-on fieldwork in Svalbard.
There is a botanical garden in Tromsø
The northernmost botanical garden in the world is within walking distance of the university. Unsurprisingly, this is an arctic-alpine botanical garden with arctic and alpine plants from all over the northern hemisphere.
The walk in the gardens in summer is very pleasant and gives a view of the mountains which surround the city. There is no entrance fee and the gardens are open year-round, although winter viewing is somewhat limited due to snow cover.
Temperatures in Tromsø are milder than they should be
Tromsø has a subarctic climate, characterized by long, cold winters and short, warm to cool summers. Snow is common from October to mid-May, with January usually being the snowiest month.
However, the city is warmer than most other places at the same latitude due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, the absence of permafrost, and the ice-free Norwegian Sea. Over the past 12 months, the temperature in Tromsø has ranged from -12.1°C to 29.9°C.
The Arctic Cathedral is not actually a cathedral
Since its opening in 1965, the Arctic Cathedral has become an icon of Tromsø and northern Norway.
It hosts regular church services and midnight sun concerts for tourists during the endless summer days. However, the Arctic Cathedral is actually a local parish church known as the Church of Tromsdalen.
Tromsø indeed has a real cathedral. The elegant wooden building is located in the city center, surrounded by a park.
The Arctic Council has its headquarters in Tromsø
The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues facing Arctic governments and Arctic Indigenous peoples.
Since 2012, Tromsø has served as the headquarters, although the presidency rotates every two years and meetings are held throughout the Arctic region.
Council member states are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. However, of the roughly 4 million inhabitants of the Arctic region, about half a million are indigenous.
To better reflect Indigenous issues, six organizations are also permanent participants: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Sami Council.
Tromsø is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights
Tourism in Tromsø outside of the summer months is mainly focused on the chance to see the Northern Lights. The odds are generally high, especially if you’re willing to travel an hour or more out of town.
Northern Lights tours are big business in and around the region. If you visit in September-November or February-April, you will find many tour guides competing for your business.
That being said, the lights can often be seen from the city itself. Lake Prestvannet at the top of the island of Tromsø is a popular choice. It’s higher than the rest of the city and there’s a little less light pollution here.
But seeing an exhibition from the city center is also more than possible. Once I saw a nice display behind Tromsdalen when arriving on the Hurtigruten. Of course, if you’re traveling all the way to Tromsø, it’s a good idea to get out of town to give yourself the best chance.
Tromsø IL is the northernmost top-flight football club in the world
This might be out of date by the time you read this, as Tromsø Football Club have a reputation for yo-yoing between Norway’s top two divisions. But when playing in the Norwegian Premier League, Tromsø IL is the northernmost premier football club in the world.
At the start and end of the season, games in the small Alfheim stadium can often only take place after snow clearing.
In fact, the snow provided one of the most memorable moments ever seen at the stadium. In 1997, English Premier League side Chelsea played in Tromsø in a snowstorm and the locals, more accustomed to the conditions, recorded a famous 3-1 victory.
The images of the famous game have since become famous on YouTube. You will have to wait a few minutes to see the weather deteriorate!
Despite the embarrassing defeat, Chelsea had the last laugh. They won the return match in London 7-1.
Tromsø has another official name
Tromsø is the official name of the city in the Norwegian language, and Tromso is widely used in English. However, the indigenous Sami people have another name for the town.
In the Sami language, the town is known as Romsa, with Tromsa sometimes being used informally. In Finnish and in the minority Kven language, the city is known as Tromssa.
So here we are! I hope you have learned something new about Tromsø and that this article has given you some insight into this fascinating part of northern Scandinavia. If you liked this story, check out our related articles about Norway and the capital, Oslo.