Many people dream of exploring the unknown. Antarctica, Alaska, and Siberia – these destinations all have that frozen, romantic allure. Sadly, for most, they’re out of budget or the average ability.
But an adventure to the gateway of the Arctic? That’s an incredible, feasible trip for the average traveller. Meet Tromso, the gateway city to the Arctic and one of the most accessible destinations for expedition-style adventures.
Roald Amundsen himself said, 'Adventure is just bad planning', and Tromso’s a city with wiggle room. While bad planning for Roald Amundsen led to wrestling with polar bears and capsized canoes, bad planning in Tromso just leaves more room to spontaneously embark on organised adventures. The city has skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, and boating excursions setting off in every direction. Orcas have even been known to pass by the harbour sauna window.
Not everyone will explore Antarctica in their lifetime, but Tromso should be top of the list for any expedition-loving traveller. Tromso’s the sort of place where adventures fall into your lap.
Expedition activities in Tromso
Can't wait to get involved in the action? These activities were used in early expeditions and some still facilitate Arctic living. All are prime opportunities in Tromso to connect with nature and raw adventure.
Every original Arctic expedition began with dog sledding. Sled dogs are the alpha and omega of Arctic living. Not only did dogs aid early inhabitation, they’re now also to thank for preserving expeditionary culture in Tromso. Many Arctic communities still rely on dog sledding for transport, and sled dogs also attract tourists.
Dog sledding is the most traditional expedition activity to try in Tromso. You can embark on multi-day expeditions, overnight sledding trips to hunt down the Northern Lights, and hour-long taster sessions. You can attend puppy training camps in summer, experiencing where sled dog training begins.
It's no secret that whale hunting was prolific in the Arctic. In some areas, it’s still practiced today, although whaling for profit was officially banned in 1986. Whales are, and were, an essential part of Arctic livelihood and were primarily used for oil and meat. However, nowadays, whales are more valuable for tourism, and whale-watching is one of the most popular activities in Tromso. Besides, nothing says 'adventure' like a 40-ton animal leaping out of the water beside you.
From November to January, whale sightings are almost 99% guaranteed on whale-watching cruises from Tromso. The most common whale spotted is the humpback, and you can usually disembark onto smaller RIBs to get as close as possible. Orcas, the biggest dolphin species, are also popularly sighted on cruises. Tromso’s one of the best destinations in the world for reliable orca sightings.
Cross country skiing
When early explorers weren't zipping around on dog sleds, you'd have found them with a pair of weathered skis. Skiing was much safer over areas of thin ice and crevasses, and cross-country skiing became a symbol of expeditions in Tromso and the wider Arctic.
To try cross-country skiing for yourself, you can rent skis or take a guided tour. If you have the time, you can complete multi-day cross-country skiing trips across the Nordic borders. These multi-day trips have extreme conditions and are definitely not for the faint-hearted. But for an insight into the trials of early explorers, there isn't a better experience.
The snowmobile was a bit late to Tromso's expeditions. First designed by Joseph Armand Bombardier in 1922, the first snowmobile was launched and patented in Canada in 1935. Over the next decade, though, snowmobiling in Norway quickly caught on. In some areas of the Arctic, snowmobiles are still relied upon to get around. Certain families even use snowmobiles to herd reindeer.
Adrenaline lovers, listen up, as the average snowmobile reaches speeds up to 120 mph. Experiencing snowmobiling from Tromso is easy too, as city tour companies provide transfer services to suitable snowmobiling sites.
Popular areas include the Lyngen Alps and the Three Border Cairn – a cairn in the middle of a lake marking the borders of Norway, Finland, and Sweden. If you can, book an experience to snowmobile around the Three Border Cairn. In winter, the lake freezes, and you'll be zipping over solid ice.
Not much can recreate the reality of the Arctic's early explorers. But the adrenaline of travelling at high speed over a dramatically frozen lake comes extremely close.
Tromso's expeditionary culture
Nobody can be go, go, go at all times. At some point, you'll need downtime from adrenaline. Luckily, Tromso has plenty of culture to appreciate, and you can spend your days discovering past adventurers and their achievements.
The Polar Museum sits windswept and snow-dusted on Tromso Harbour. A red building of panelled wood, its arctic exterior is more consistent with its exhibits than any other museum you will come across.
From seal hunting displays to Roald Amundsen's original compass (used to navigate to the North Pole), the museum has a fascinating collection. It tells the story of adventure and survival – following the trials and tribulations of early expeditions right up until modern-day Tromso.
Experiencing Sami culture is essential to understanding the Arctic lifestyle. The Sami people are indigenous to Lapland, also referred to as Sapmi. Sami people have lived nomadic lifestyles as reindeer herders for centuries, although traditional occupations are now shifting.
There are many ways to experience Sami culture. You can organise visits to family-owned reindeer farms to help feed the herds and dine in a traditional Sami tent. You can also visit Tromso during one of the Sami festivals and join in the festivities. Sami Week is the most famous, with reindeer racing and lasso throwing contests.
Yes, the unknown is not always readily available. However, in Tromso, expedition and adventure still fuel the heart and soul of the city.
Our advice? Step over the threshold and into the Arctic. The best way to appreciate the unknown is to sample all the methods and excitement it took to get there. And this, Tromso provides tenfold.