Up until a few years ago, Tromso was a little-known city (outside of Norway), where hotels would close down over the bleak midwinter months.
Then came the 2008 BBC TV show "Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights" -- and all that changed.
Tromso was featured heavily in the documentary and was thrust firmly into the spotlight. The city's fortunes changed overnight, with tourist numbers swelling at the very time of the year the hotels used to close -- deep midwinter -- searching for the aurora borealis.
New hotels opened, a brand-new cruise terminal -- which also houses Visit Tromso, the tourist information center -- and a number of new restaurants, shops and cultural attractions also opened to cater for this influx.
Tromso, also known as the Gateway to the Arctic and the Northern Lights Capital, is one of the largest city north of the Arctic Circle.
Spanning more than 965 square miles, this Norwegian city is nearly as large as the entire country of Luxembourg. Established in 1794, Tromso now has about 72,000 inhabitants, many of whom are students attending a handful of local institutions, including the Norwegian College of Fishery Science at the University of Tromso, one of only two colleges in the world dedicated solely to fishing as a livelihood, and the Centre for Peace Studies.
Although the locals refer to Tromso as an island, the city actually comprises the island of Tromsoya, Kvaloya and parts of the mainland to the east. (Tromsoya is connected to the mainland by the iconic Tromso Bridge, where you'll also find the iconic Arctic Cathedral.)
It's worth noting that if you think Oslo is pricy, prepare yourself for Tromso. Taxis start at 175 NOK (about $20); in the supermarket, burgers are also $20 -- and do not even think about purchasing alcohol (wine starts at around $50 a bottle). A meal for two in a restaurant can take you north of $300 with wine. This can be debilitating, particularly if you want to experience the town. Our tip is to budget accordingly.
Hurtigruten ships run year-round; other ships start calling from mid-February through December.
It's well worth spending a few days in this beautiful city and getting to know it and the surrounding area.
A purpose-built cruise terminal, which is ultramodern and designed to serve as Tromso's central transportation hub, opened in 2018. It primarily serves Hurtigruten ships, but small and midsized cruise ships from other lines, and ferries also dock here; to the south you'll find the central bus terminal. The passenger terminal has shops, restaurants and the tourist office, Visit Tromso.
There is another port, Breivka, a little further out of town. It's more of an industrial port, which serves the larger ships.
Tromso is deep in the Arctic Circle and has no sunlight from mid-November to mid-January. It can get bitterly cold during the winter months, so dress accordingly. The weather changes rapidly, and you can experience several seasons in one day.
By Bus: Tromso has an excellent bus network which will take you to all the main sights. You can pay as you go in NOK or buy a 24-hour pass card: 110 NOK (about $15) for adults and 55 NOK (about $10) for seniors or children ages 4 to 19.
On Foot: Most of Tromso's city center attractions can be easily reached on foot. From the port, you are not more than a few yards from the central square and the pedestrianized street, Storgata (see Don't Miss).
By Taxi: Taxis are easily available in Bergen. There is no Uber. Rates start at 175 NOK (about $20). A taxi from the airport (just 15 minutes away) will set you back up to 750 NOK (about $90).
Norway's official currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK). There are numerous ATMs around the town, which give the best rate.
Norwegian is the official language, but English is understood and spoken almost everywhere.
Tromso, like most places in Norway, is heavy on seafood given its proximity to the sea and access to fresh fish, shrimp and even whale (worth noting that Norway is just one of three countries where whaling continues and whale meat is still served, though it's not a staple). Reindeer is ubiquitous.
Mathallen: This is one of the best restaurants in Tromso, specializing in locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, fish and meats, cooked in a traditional Norwegian way but with a modern twist. It is open for lunch and dinner, and doubles as a delicatessen during the day, with local fish and meat. You can opt for a multicourse tasting menu, with wine pairing (there is a vast range of wine) or a la carte.
Food is presented in an inventive and modern way from the open kitchen. Note that some of it can be challenging -- Norwegians eat whale and this is on the menu. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; it's open for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The deli is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Gronnegata 58/60, Tromso 9008, Norway; +47-77-68-01-00.
Helmersen Delicatessen: Occupying a prime spot on the main street, this popular spot -- part deli, part cafe, part wine bar -- offers a stylish ambiance that's both hip and classic. Serving coffees and teas during the day, the deli also offers an excellent selection of reasonably priced (for Norway) sandwiches and salads.
In the evening, it transforms into a stylish wine bar (open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Storgata 66, Tromso 9008, Norway; + 47-77-65-40-50).
Storgata is the main shopping street in the town center, specializing in smaller, boutique-style shops selling local goods, sports goods and ski wear. There is a tiny shopping center with a supermarket partway down, called Rema 1000.
Souvenir-wise there are no bargains, but there is plenty to pick up -- from the omnipresent Norwegian troll (in various different styles and sizes) to cute fluffy seals, lambswool slippers and beautiful hand-knitted fleeces. Note that in many shops, you can get tax back -- ask the shop to include the tax form at the time of purchase and make sure you fill it in and post it at the airport when you leave. It will be automatically credited to your account.
There is a much bigger mall beside the Clarion Hotel The Edge, Nerstranda, with clothes stores and a supermarket. The biggest shopping mall is near the airport, Jekta Storsenter, which has cafes, restaurants, shoe stores, a toy store and a supermarket. It is served by multiple bus routes from the town center.