In the land of the midnight sun
It is well past midnight and we are standing atop the Fjellheisen aerial tramway, the No 1 tourist spot in Tromso, admiring a spectacular view. In this far-flung Norwegian island city, 400km north of the arctic circle, popular attractions don’t close until very late because for many months there is no nightfall.
While we have experienced endless days in Norway’s more prominent southern cities of Oslo and Bergen, with only an extended twilight at midnight, it’s the northern city of Tromso that has beckoned.
Interest in Tromso has surged, apparently, since news broke earlier this year of Prince Harry taking girlfriend Meghan Markle to the city on their first holiday together for New Year’s Eve. The royal getaway has not been a factor in our planning; we simply want an authentic slice of Norway and chatting to friendly baristas at Tromso kaffebar Riso, which serves among the best coffee anywhere, confirms our choice. “Welcome to the real Norway,” the manager smiles.
Given there are 24 hours of sun here from May to August, Fjellheisen opens in summer daily until after 1am. Two cable car gondolas whisk passengers to a mountain ledge 420m above sea level in just four minutes for stunning panoramic views of Tromso and the surrounding islands, arctic ice-capped mountains and fjords. The lower station of the tramway is conveniently located near a suburb on the mainland, its upper station at Storsteinen, with an outdoor viewing deck and a handy point to launch off on mountain hikes.
As any Norwegian will tell you, the most important tourist sights are free — the fjords, islands, coastline, forest, lakes, mountains and waterfalls. They are in abundance here. And while there are endless days in midsummer, the opposite occurs in midwinter, when there is no sun at all. Even with restricted winter hours, Fjellheisen is a perfect spot to hunt the northern lights.
Most visitors trek this far north for the aurora polaris, or northern lights, but experiencing the midnight sun is worth ticking off the bucket list too. The effect during our visit is felt mostly by our body clocks being thrown out of whack. It is with good reason the city, which has more than 16,000 students at the University of Tromso, hosts an annual Insomnia Festival. Too old for thundering electronic beats, my wife and I are content to chase the midnight sun, although rain and overcast skies thwart our initial plans and a pre-booked midnight kayaking expedition is abandoned.
Weather permitting, there is a range of such adventures from Tromso’s idyllic town centre, set by a small harbour, including a high-performance, rigid-inflatable boat trip that departs at 11pm and travels to the small uninhabited island of Gasvaer in the open sea. If you don’t have sea legs, there are “night-time” hiking tours along the rugged coastline.
For us it’s a quick internet search for a bargain at the local car rental outlet, which turns into a free upgrade, and we are off on the open roads, happy to be driving in summer with no concerns about icy roads or navigating in darkness. We start with a scenic drive around the southern coast of Kvaloya island, stopping for photos with reindeer lolling about in a local’s front yard.
But if there truly is a “miniature of Norway” then we find it off the beaten track on the island of Senja, where we drive along a spectacular coastal road, after squeezing on a ferry from Brensholmen. By late afternoon the heavy clouds have lifted and the midnight sun, hovering just above the horizon, bathes the rolling landscape in a burning orange light. Mission accomplished. • visitnorway.com
Tromso landscape during the midnight sun of northern summer