While it is difficult to choose a favorite port on our Norway/Arctic Circle itinerary,
Tromsø would certainly be among them. This city of approximately 65,000 is located
firmly within the Arctic Circle, at 69°40’N, 18°58’E, and boasts natural beauty,
a fabulous botanical garden, an aquatic life study center that serves double duty
as a museum/aquarium, and many more points of interest that could easily take a few
days to explore.
We visited Tromsø during a 12-night cruise on Celebrity Century that included seven
ports of call, all in Norway. Tromsø was our fourth port of call, and our first stop
southbound after visiting North Cape. It was also one of our three ports that had
a population of at least 40,000, giving a nice balance of city and nature.
The Midnight Sun
Due to its location, the sun does not set in Tromsø between mid-May and late July.
(Similarly, Tromsø has no natural sunlight between late November and mid-January.)
Therefore, before retiring to bed the night before our visit, we saw one of several
midnight suns on this cruise, as indicated by the Bridge Channel in our cabin, and
the photograph we took from the Sports deck a few minutes earlier. It’s worth staying
up for—not just so that you can say you experienced it—as it is an amazing phenomenon
that rewards you with beautifully hued skies as the sun nears the horizon.
Tromsø’s location might entice cruise ship passengers to pack a parka, yet this is
unnecessary. During the months that ships call, weather is quite temperate. According
to The Weather Channel (http://www.weather.com/), historical average high and low
temperatures for these months are as follows, keeping in mind that the low temperatures
tend to occur overnight while you are onboard the ship:
June: High 54F/12C; Low 43F/6C
July: High 59F/15C; Low 48F/9C
August: High 57F/14C; Low 45F/7C
Therefore, packing a sweatshirt and windbreaker is a good idea. (You would need these
for North Cape, anyway, another stop on these itineraries.) And, keep in mind that
these are averages. The day we were there, the air temperature approached 70F, warm
enough for shirtsleeves. Of course, it could also be cooler—layers are key in this
As with all of our port visits in western Norway, arrival was stunning. We passed
through calm waters to our berth, watching the mountains gradually fill with private
homes. Once docked, we had a glorious view of the Tromsø Bridge (connecting the island
of Tromsøya, where Tromsø is located, with the mainland), with beautiful snow-capped
mountains as a backdrop. We were blessed with clear skies and warm temperatures,
that certainly enhanced this wonderful day.
Tromsø City & Polaria Center Excursion
As we had not been to Norway previously, and some sites are a distance from the cruise
terminal, we opted for shore excursions in most of our ports of call. While parts
of Tromsø could certainly be seen independently—and we will do so next time—there
were several places we wanted to visit, an organized tour made the most sense for
us given our limited time there. We selected this particular one as it included a
stop we knew our son would enjoy—the Polaria Center, billed as the world’s northernmost
Our tour began at the Arctic Cathedral, a major landmark in Tromsø. It is a modern
structure, built in 1965, designed to invoke both the shape of a Sami tent and ice
floes. The stained glass window is reportedly the largest in Europe. Future visitors—note
that the interior of the Arctic Cathedral is closed to the public on Sundays.
Our next stop was the Polaria Center, where we enjoyed a film on Arctic marine life,
and several exhibits in the aquarium. The exterior of the Polaria Center also resembles
ice floes, and is very pretty. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend enough time here—less
than was billed. We were told there was another ship tour behind us (from a coastal
ferry), and I felt we were rushed through as a consequence. Still, we saw plenty—and
the aerials in the film were superb—and I did feel like we got the overview we wanted
on what I knew was going to be a short visit…just not as short as we actually experienced.
To somewhat compensate, a visit to the Botanical Garden was added as a bonus. At
first, I was somewhat dismayed, as it could have been done for free as it is a program
run by the University of Tromsø. Yet, it turned out to be a highlight of the trip.
It consisted of a geological walk, featuring the various rocks that comprise northern
This led to a beautiful garden, bursting with many varieties of colorful flowers.
I’d never imagined that such glorious colors could be found within the Arctic Circle.
It was a fabulous walk, and its location near the ship makes this an easy visit,
provided one can navigate uneven surfaces.
Our tour was scheduled for 1:00 pm, and we made a last-minute decision to spend the
morning exploring the downtown area. (In all honesty, we exited the ship to have
our port of call photo taken, and then decided to keep on going.) Celebrity ran a
shuttle bus to Tromsø’s Central Square, approximately a 10-minute ride from the cruise
terminal along the coast. (This was complimentary on our cruise; a modest fee may
have been instituted since then.) We were glad to have done this. We walked around
the square, stopping to admire the Tromsø Cathedral (1861) and other wooden structures
that lined the quaint streets. There were also several cafés and shops in this area.
We also found something unexpected and touching while waiting for the shuttle bus
to return us to the ship—a plaque in honor of 17 Tromsø residents who were deported
to Auschwitz in 1942. Although we later drove through this part of Tromsø on our
tour, there is nothing like exploring it on foot, and I highly recommend this if
Writing this article from the pages of my journal enabled me to relive a memorable
day to a beautiful city. More than three years after our visit, I still miss Tromsø,
and hope to be able to make a return trip. It is one of few ports I’ve visited where
I can envision myself living, due to the wonderful mix of urban amenities and natural
beauty. Next time, I’d like to travel independently to the Polaria Center and spend
at least several hours, and perhaps visit the Polar Museum (focusing on the city’s
history and culture). Tromsø also has among its many sites a planetarium, art museum,
and a cable car to Mount Storsteinen. Nonetheless, we are glad to have taken the
shore excursion on this first visit as it stopped at places we might have missed,
and also served as a sampler of what this beautiful city has to offer.