300 km above the Arctic Circle in Norway: Tromso & Senja
Tromso is considered as the capital of north and also the northern lights capital. Statistics say that if you stay there for 4 days, there is a chance to see the aurora. Tromso is directly in the aurora oval, so even with low KP there is a big chance to see it. If you have no clue how to hunt for the lights, have a look at my tips from a trip in Iceland.
It was not very easy to plan the trip around Tromso, many people just go there, stay in the city and do super duper expensive tours. For example a 15 min ride with reindeer, a bit of Sami culture is 120 euros per person. Or if you want to go sledging with huskies count 240 per person. We really wanted to explore the area ourselves, so all the itinerary had to be carefully planned. As the weather can be quite unpredictable, this also needs to be considered as many roads are in beautiful mountains and in the wrong weather it can be quite dangerous.
The Tromso airport is actually quite big. Don't be fooled by the ads that invite you to take the flybus to go to the centre. Instead use the local busses - the ticket will be 4 euros only, you can buy it at the machine at the bus stop. The stop itself is not immediately visible when you get out of the terminal, so walk straight for a few meters and you will see a stop on your left.
When we arrived it was already dark, so it was time to explore the nightly Tromso - very lively and slippery. The next day we got crampons - we were very happy about this investment.
The colourful building you see in the picture is a sauna! You can immediately refresh yourself in the fjord. Next time we will check it out for sure!
The first day we just chilled in Tromso, we could not get our rental car earlier, so it was time for coffee - cinnamon roll - coffee - shopping - walking and repeat, repeat. We could observe the port life by checking out Hurtingrouten ferries. Just enjoyable.
One for the best views we had was from the café Jordbaerpikene in the shopping centre - if you have some time to kill - it's an excellent location to observe city life.
To get the car was a whole adventure. Hertz had left the car key in a kiosk. Although I had to provide all the details already online, also in the kiosk you needed to scan the driver's license etc. Well, ours was a paper one and impossible to scan. It took ages to get somebody help us.
Although Tromso is a nice city, I believe it's the surroundings are much more interesting. Our objective was to go to Senja and explore the nature there. The weather was not the most amazing one, nevertheless the views everywhere were just great - the fjords, the cute houses and the mountains. I did not expect the mountains to be so dramatic. We had a feeling we were at the peaks of the Alps - all spiky!
We took the southern road of Kvaloya and it was a beautiful drive.
Sommaroy is an absolute must! Even if the weather is not great! It looks like Nordic Maldives!
And in Kvaloya we saw reindeer! That was actually my objective of the trip... hehehehe... They were gracefully crossing a frozen lake - what a magic view was that! You can, of course, pay 120 euros for the Sami experience in Tromso and have a 15 min ride for that a stew but this felt so much better!
We stayed for a night in a really nice place - Buvik sea lodge. The view, the flat, the service - all was perfect!
And it had the best sauna and jacuzzi with the best view ever.
I wish Norway had geothermal activity, it would mean warm pools and hottubs everywhere. Well, it's not the case, so you if you want something like this, be ready to spend some cash!
The next day we were taking a ferry from Brensholmen to Botnham. It's a local ferry and not many people know about it, it runs also during winter and goes 3x a day. The ferry itself is very old and rusted but clean and with super warm toilets - it's a huge plus, you will see for yourself if you use it in winter :)
The crossing was easy and pleasant, it was a bit wavy, so people who get sea sick, might not like it. There is nothing else at the pier where the ferry docks. The ticket is sent to you electronically as the number plates are scanned. I have no clue how much we paid, I'm still waiting for my bill... The ride itself is very pretty. It takes around 40 min.
We spent two nights in Fjordgard - a very small village with not much to do apart from the hikes to Hesten and Segla. But it's very picturesque! You get there through 2 dark tunnels, looks a bit scary the first time, they are also very narrow, so you do have to pay attention. When we arrived the weather was still moody, so we just walked around, bought a slide in the local shop and had fun!
As we still had some daylight and it was not raining, we decided to check out the Devil's jaw - one of the most beautiful places in Senja. And it's very clear why - the whole ride is scenic and you have wow, wow, wow, after every corner... it can also be super slippery in winter, so eyes on the road!
It's one of those places where you can just stare at the horizon and sit for hours! Well, if you don't get cold!
The next day we had decided to go up Hesten to see Segla. I had seen the picture of the peak on the internet and it made me to decide to go to Senja actually. Our landlord kindly let us borrow her snowshoes. We had never used them before and it was a nice discovery! They really do work... we saw people walking up with normal boots, possible but very risky as it was easy to get into deep snow easily. You can also rent the snow shoes at the local hotel for 30 euros a day. The path was very visible and it took us almost 2 h to go up with many picture stops. The view is really impressive. The walk itself starts from a parking lot and then up and up.
Before you go it's important to check out the avalanche warnings, seeing the protection walls around the village, they can be quite big there.
The biggest eye catcher is, if course, the Segla mountain peak - it means a sail and has a different look from different points of view. To have the best view, you actually have to go up to Hesten - the peak on the right just in front of Segla. Segla hike is another one, a more difficult one where you actually hike Segla itself (many people confuse these walks).
Segla is always on your left and with each 100 m up you get a different view and the village at the fjord becomes smaller and smaller.
The higher you get, the more wow, wow, wow it is, of course!
With good snow shoes you can go to the very top of Hesten. The last bit was very steep and I can imagine that with wind it's not very pleasant. We had a very lovely day, so could stay there, sip nice and hot tea and enjoy this 1 million dollar view.
The next day we had to move to Mefjordvaer - another lovely village on a fjord. We could see now Segla from the other side and realised how next to the ridge we were at the top.
On the way we went again to Tungeneset. This time the waves were bigger and we spent there even more time. And we had a company of a seal!
The weather turned moody again and we could not explore the Mefjordvaer as much as we wanted.
A razor sharp snow was back and we had nothing else to do than to go to sauna - well, that's actually not that bad :)
It was our 5th day already in Norway and still there was no sign of aurora, it was cloudy most of the time so we got super excited when finally the weather forecast was showing sunshine for a full day!
And oh, what a difference it was in colours! It's actually super nice to see places in moody weather and in a good one.
The monochrome black and white scenery is very beautiful and has lots of charm but we had no clue what a bright day had for us in store. We had to get back to the ferry to go back to Tromso. It was with a heavy heart that we left. We had seen so many perfect places for the Northern lights hunting and we had to go back to the city... pffffff...
On our way to Botnham we saw a sea eagle! So majestic and beautiful!
The ride with the ferry was nice and smooth. As it was Sunday, there were many cars crossing, all were squeezed in somehow. While on the ferry we saw a submarine! Well, it was not a very settling feeling...
Even all the crew was taking pictures of this as I assume it's not every day that NATO has a large scale training there.
We decided to stop again at the Gjellvika scenic spot before Sommaroy. So different with a sunshine!
We saw again reindeer and several groups of tourists running behind them to get a pic. Just like us a few days ago :)
On our way to Tromso we were hesitant which road to take, we had seen a bit of south of Kvaloya, so decided to check out the north. And it was amazing with the most beautiful reflections in a fjord ever! It's definitely one of the most magic places I have ever seen. Nordfjorbotn was simply mesmerizing, I think we were stopping every 5 min or so to get yet another picture of the reflection. The road 862 is in the mountains, the temperature difference with the coast was 5 degrees! As it was Sunday all locals were out skiing.
That day we knew that that the night was the only chance to see finally the green lady. We had been waiting for it for 6 days! The KP was only 3 or so and the sky seemed to be clear until 1 am. While they say there are so many places to see the northern lights around Tromso, the best place is without ANY light pollution, meaning also no lights in the distance. In the end the best spot was the road 862. It was also very handy as there were many parking spots along.
All the tours were also out - you could recognise them by the fires they had set up for freezing tourists. We were chasing the green lady for more than 4 hours, we also went to Grotfjorden as it was totally north and on the tourist map was noted as one of the best places. Well, as always, don't trust general tourist maps for gems, there was nothing special there plus it was with lights as there was a village.
Anyway, we were happy with what we saw. The green lady show was superb as always, not the most impressive we had seen (that was in Iceland) but still amazing.
The next day the moody weather was back, actually it was snowing almost the whole time. So it was a perfect timing to get the best coffee and pancakes with blue berry jam in the town in Fro Cafe.
We also managed to walk to the Artic Cathedral but to our surprise you had to buy an entrance ticket... What? Since when do you have to pay to talk to God? So we sneaked around a bit and then left to check out the neighborhood with lovely private houses.
And voila, holidays were over. The next day we left early to be sure to arrive on time at the airport and not to get any trouble with Hertz. We managed to give back the car fast and efficiently, so we had loads of time to kill in the end... Surprisingly there was no café open at 9 am! Our departure was also from a mystical tent just next to the airport. Anyway, a bit messy.
But we were rewarded with amazing views from the plane!
In short, it was a very beautiful trip. The nature is simply amazing and I would definitely want to see it in summer and autumn when there are blueberries, when all the walking trails are open and one can view aurora from different hidden places.
- Norway is definitely an expensive country. But that's why also everything is clean and arranged. The roads were always cleared from snow. Even the smallest village had their own tractor to clear the roads.
- My feeling was that in Iceland as a traveler you get a better value for the services you pay for, especially for accommodation. In Norway you get something decent for 130 euros and something nice for 180+. In summer you can camp for free anywhere you want, so you can have your 1 million dollar view every morning! WCs are available along the roads but in winter they were all closed.
- There is something very wrong with their beds. They were all soft and rather small and impossible to get a decent sleep.
- Many restaurants are closed on Mondays, so check before and always book in advance! All the nice places for food in Tromso needed a booking two days before for a dinner.
- I'm guilty but we tried reindeer meat. And it was so good! Mmmmmm. The best one was in Bardus bistro.
- Parking in Tromso is a real challenge, many hotels don't have a parking even for a fee. We stayed at Ami Hotel - an outdated but very clean place and they had 4 parking slots, so worked out very well for us.
- When researching Tromso and the surroundings for the itinerary I noticed that there was not that much info available. The blog posts were mostly superficial with affiliated links to overpriced tours, so I really had to spend quite some time to find the gems. Also there were no individual guides that normally I would find useful. I got one from https://expertworldtravel.com/ and it was a total crap! Even the tourism office is mostly for tours only. However, they were efficient to answer questions on Messenger.
- Driving in general in Norway was Ok as roads were well kept and cleared from snow. But it was really challenging when it was snowing and freezing! Locals were also respecting the speed limits, so I guess speeding is an expensive surprise. We found a bit confusing all the tunnels under Tromso as it's a whole street system there.
- When the snow is melting you get these kind of art works just next to the road!
- Tromso was full of souvenir shops, one after another. Their grocery stores are open quite late so it's good for late shopping. If you are hungry, there are loads of places with hotdogs - not bad at all but not as good as in Riga in Narvesen.
- Tromso is a stop for the epic Hurtigrouten ferry. It goes from Bergen to Kirkenes. You can take the ferry as cruise but you can also hop on and off at different stops. It's a must for the next time! You can go easily to Lofoten this way.
- In the whole trip we did not use cash any single time. The cards worked everywhere.
Abas reizes braucu Saulgriežos ar kori (divi dažādi) ar autobusu no Cēsīm caur Igauniju un tad caur visu Somiju. Tad no augšas smuki pa taisno uz Tromsi, uz koru konkursu “Pusnakts saule”.
Par polārajām naktīm, protams, biju dzirdējusi, bet biju pilnīgi nesagatavota polārajām dienām! Augi bijs gigantiski, jo gaismas dēļ aug bez atpūtas. Gulēšana bija drīzāk tāda nosnaušanās, jo kā noburti baudījām sauli visas nakts garumā, vārījām no fjorda savāktos gliemežus, grilējām ceļmalas atpūtas vietās lašus, ko paši izmakšķerējām. Daži pamanījās uz botānisko dārzu aizskriet, citi ar viaduktu uzbraukt kalnos, vēl kāds uz polāro muzeju… Noteikti braukšu vēlreiz. Noteikti tāpat lēnā garā cauri Somijai, lai izbaudītu kontrastus, satiktu ziemeļbriežus…
Toreiz koru konkursā dabūjām augstāko vietu un naudas balvu. Tas arī vēl kārtīgu eiforiju iedeva klāt.
Katrā ziņā iesaku Tromsi vasarā! ☀️