Tromsø: The Arctic City, Dog Sledding, and Chasing the Northern Lights (Norway, Part 2)
Past the freezing Arctic Circle, far into the northeastern part of Norway is the city of Tromsø — and the second leg of our Arctic Adventure.
We booked our stay at the Scandic Ishavshotel, located at the far end of the Tromsø pier. Its restaurant has a panoramic view of the harbor, the Arctic Cathedral, and Trømsdalen. It was gorgeous at night!
And in the mornings… this was my view while having breakfast. Beautiful, isn’t it? (Take note this is the same restaurant as the photo above.)
Speaking of breakfasts, which is my favorite meal of the day, these were just some of the delicious breakfasts I’ve had while in this city. All of them were made of fresh and healthy ingredients. It was power breakfast for me everyday!
Enjoying Norwegian cuisine
We also had an elegant and lovely meal at Emma’s Drømmekjøkken, a restaurant that has welcomed all sorts of travellers — including world leaders! It gave us a good taste of Norwegian cuisine and its amazing seafood. The restaurant itself is actually situated on a fishing harbor.
The dishes were well-presented and everything was so delicious!
Chasing the Aurora Borealis
We went to Tromsø, admittedly to seek the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis.
Chasing the Aurora Borealis is a waiting game. It’s a test of physical endurance and a test of patience. Plus, there’s no guarantee that waiting it out on any given night will be fruitful.
To help us in our chase, we booked the services of Tromso Frilufsenter and chose their “Ultimate Northern Lights Chase” package. They provide a range of services for anyone who’d like to engage in one of many Nordic experiences.
For our first attempt to catch the Northern Lights, we left our hotel at 7pm and drove through little sleepy towns, dark roads, swirly highways until we ended up in a snow-capped mountain side at almost 10pm. In this dark, icy, cold mountain, we waited for the Northern Lights to come out.
According to our guide, Trina, they don’t really come out every night. Actually — technically — the Northern Lights are present all year around, but they’re only visible when the evenings are dark and the skies are very clear (which happens during the winter months only). She explained that their appearance in the sky is dependent on a lot of factors namely: weather, sky visibility, sun activity, and “the interplanetary and polar magnetic field variations” as well.
Well, that night, we were out of luck. Instead of a Northern Lights sighting, we were caught in a snowstorm instead! We went home amidst a blizzard and the hope that one of the remaining nights of our trip will still allow us to catch the Aurora Borealis.
The next day… we woke up with a snow-covered front!
The kids thoroughly enjoyed playing snowball fights! (And I did too!)
Arctic exploration and heritage
There’s more to Tromsø than the elusive Northern Lights of course; the city is worth exploring and enjoying for its culture and history. The city of Tromsø is also known as the “capital of the Arctic,” surrounded by mountains, fjords, and islands, and it is home to some must-see landmarks and destinations.
The most famous landmark in Tromsø is the Tromsdalen Church (Tromsøysund Kirke), also known as Ishavskatedralen or the The Cathedral of the Arctic Sea — or simply the Arctic Cathedral. It serves as the parish church for mainland Tromsø actually, with a striking architecture in the shape of triangular prism and made even more distinctive with its glass mosaics.
This is a must-see, I think, and a must-climb! It is one of the highest, northernmost churches in the world. It is also referred to as the “opera house of Norway” because of its imposing structure on top of a snow-capped hill. This church is visible even when landing in Tromsø by aircraft.
The Arctic Cathedral is the site of many midnight concerts. Can you just imagine how beautiful this church looks like when it’s basked in the golden light of the midnight sun, in the midst of stark darkness, with heavenly voices singing all around?
To get to know this Arctic capital more, we took the kids to the city’s Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) where they learned much about Norwegian history and heritage.
It is one of Norway’s top ten museums, with exhibits featuring fascinating information about Arctic hunting and Polar explorers — and polar bears!
Another place where the kids enjoyed is the Polaria, the world’s most northerly aquarium. They have a huge, panoramic cinema where we watched a highly informative video about the Northern Lights. We went on the “Arctic Walkway” where we saw displays of polar exploration and simulated permafrost; and, at an open pool, we were entertained by a group of arctic seals and their tricks!
At the end of our second full day in Tromsø, we were eager to get back to our Aurora Borealis chase.
Our tour guide, Trina, shared with us some facts and myths surrounding the Northern Lights — she’s the lady at the end, with the rest of our group.
Unfortunately, that night, the forecast changed. By the time we were out in the middle of nowhere, there was low to zero chance of visibility. This means there was no way we would see the Aurora Borealis again. We all felt bad, disappointed and upset. It was our second night, our second attempt and still no sighting! We have one more night left in the city… and what if… what if we don’t see it again tomorrow night?!
Since we all felt bad, the group decided to make ourselves feel a little bit better by roasting our marshmallows in the open fire instead! 🙁
Two tries down. One more night to go… Maybe the third night’s the charm?
Dog sledding in a winter wonderland
If you look Tromsø up, you’ll see that one of the recommended things to experience is dog sledding (during the winter months), through the snow-covered mountains.
We headed to Tromso Wilderness Centre for this, via the services of Tromso Villmarkssenter. At the dog yard, we met the barking Alaskan huskies, the dogs trained to take us on this Arctic adventure. The layout is like an obstacle course, through which I walked and skipped around the dogs (they were chained at this point) on the way to our sled.
It was the season’s first day of dog sledding, which meant that our dogs were very excited to run! I was told that the weather does not always cooperate and sometimes there’s too much snow for the dogs which would not allow them to pull the sleds.
Ten Alaskan huskies were assigned to me and my partner, my favorite 12-year-old boy! 🙂
And off we went! I had a quick chat with my guide as we began and was able to capture the first moments of this amazing activity. Here’s a short video clip of our exciting adventure![iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/_8z0OHCanA8″]
It was an incredible winter wonderland: majestic snow-capped mountains, dark forests, long tranquil fjords, pure as white fluffy snow, and the great blue sky in our horizon!
It was an experience that requires a full immersion in the moment — the few photos I took were in the beginning of the ride, when we had just slowly started out. Eventually, I had my eyes closed as my heart began pounding fast! As unforgettable as it was, I was surely glad to check out alive and well, ha ha! Dog sledding is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure! But all three kids of mine (aged 4, 8, and 12) managed pretty well I must say — and way, better than their mother! 🙂
Back at the dog yard, the kids met some Alaskan huskies at a closer range. These are the puppies who will grow up to be trained for dog sledding!
After dog sledding, we were led to the dog yard’s caretakers’ Sami Tent.
This is part of the whole experience. Here, we had a bonfire inside the tent while waiting for our food to arrive.
The warmth the fire provided was all we actually needed after that cold, exhilarating ride through the mountains!
We ate traditional Sami dishes like creamy potato vegetable soup…
And yes… reindeer meat!
I know that it’s commonplace in Norway to eat reindeer, but I didn’t have the heart or stomach to eat it (just thinking of Rudolph made me shy away from this!). I tried only one spoonful, just enough for a taste. It had the “gamey” smell of lamb, the taste of beef, and the tenderness of chicken. Still, one bite was more than enough for me, so thank you very much. 🙂
The Northern Lights still a no-show
On our third and last night in Tromsø, the skies looked clear, weather seemed good, and we thought (we hoped) this would be the night to see the Northern Lights as we were already down to our last chance.
But we were wrong! Alas, there was no sighting of the Aurora Borealis again. None. Zero. Nothing came out in the sky. The reports during the day showed a low chance of seeing the Aurora so the group decided not to go out anymore and chase. The Northern Lights were shrouded in a dark and empty sky. Once again, we missed the magic we have been wishing and hoping to see. This was our third attempt and this was already our last booked night in Tromsø, and we were just DEVASTATED!
It was time to move on… and accept our fate!
We were sad, and mad even! We went all the way to the northern tip of Norway to see nothing! After getting very upset about our zero luck, a feeling of confusion started to seep in and we began to ask ourselves, “What if we extend for another night and give it one last shot?!” To stay for another night though is not as easy as it sounds… This meant we would have to move and adjust everything — every single thing in our itinerary and hope there’s availability — like our hotel, airline tickets, and all other bookings both in our current city of Tromsø and in our next destination, Oslo.
And even if we extend for another night… what if the conditions weren’t good again?! No one can really tell, that’s for sure! What if after all the adjustments and payments made, the Aurora Borealis decides not show up again?! Then all our efforts and expenses would only mean nothing!
To cut the story short, yes we decided to take that risk. We called all necessary agencies to cancel our bookings and adjusted everything again for another night… hoping and praying that this time, the next night would be THE NIGHT.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of our Arctic Adventure!
Read about the first part of our Norway trip here: