Travel review: Northern Lights and winter activities in Tromsø, Norway
- Credit: Archant
A reindeer pulls us on a sledge through the thick snow of the Arctic wilderness as ribbons of fluorescent light dance intensely in the black starry sky above us, like psychedelic disco strobes. It might be a freezing 25 degrees below zero but I’m not worrying about the cold – this magical moment is the kind of stuff my childhood dreams were made of.
A reindeer pulls us on a sledge through the thick snow of the Arctic wilderness as ribbons of fluorescent light dance intensely in the black starry sky above us, like psychedelic disco strobes.
It might be a freezing 25 degrees below zero but I’m not worrying about the cold – this magical moment is the kind of stuff my childhood dreams were made of.
It’s the second time that I’ve been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights – or the Aurora Borealis – during this three night trip to northern Norway but this time is definitely the most spectacular.
Several vibrant green bands skip across the sky between two snowy mountains, infused with purple and pink hues as our Sami reindeer herder, who is leading the group, poignantly informs us of his family’s belief that the lights are a symbol of their ancestors looking down on him.
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We had also seen nature’s incredible light show a night earlier after travelling an hour and a half north of the city of Tromsø – our base for the trip – as our guide regaled us with some fascinating history and stories of Norwegian life along the way.
We eventually pulled up beside a lake flanked by rolling snow-covered hills to see a faint green band across the sky which soon intensified into a dazzling display, mesmerisingly reflected in the waters in front of us for a good hour or so.
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What made the trip with Arctic Guide Service even better was that we were given advice on capturing the phenomenon on camera and everyone’s equipment was put on the right settings before we stopped. The result was a (nearly) postcard perfect snap, and the knowledge under my belt to ensure other similarly stunning scenes on the trip didn’t go undocumented.
In December the city of Tromsø falls under the polar night when the sun doesn’t rise at all – in contrast to the summer when it barely sets.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find it’s not a complete blackout – there are a good few hours each day of twilight as the sun tries, and fails, to nudge above the horizon.
In late afternoon the sky turns a stunning bright blue with a scattering of warm orange and pink colours as the sun sets a bit further around the globe – a sight we were fortunate enough to see beyond a glistening white landscape as we glided through the snow on a dog sledge in what was just one of many other jaw-dropping moments of the trip.
We did this two hours outside of Tromsø at Lyngsfjord Adventure’s Camp Tamok, where we also enjoyed the reindeer sledging, and arrived to find a pack of howling Alaskan huskies itching to get running with their sledges.
After getting kitted out with thermal body suits and boots, along with a brief bit of tuition from our guide, my sister hopped into the wooden sleigh while I stepped on the back ready for my first attempt at mushing.
It was pretty nerve-wracking as the eager hounds began to pull away, but with a little trepidation I eased my feet from the brake and away we went.
Although it was much easier than I expected, the dogs needed help to steer and a little assistance in getting the sledge uphill.
Thankfully that, and the sheer adrenalin pumping through my veins as the dogs whisked us through the stunning wilderness and the wind gushed against my face, kept me warm in the minus 16 conditions.
As we raced through snowy pine forests, vast icy valleys and past frozen streams it felt as though I had just stepped through a wardrobe into Narnia – and I thought about how the experience is up there among the best of my life.
Once back at the camp and enjoying some delicious fish stew around our candle-lit table next to the roaring log fire, our fellow group members exchanged similar sentiments.
Dog sledging can be very different at each location, so on day three we embarked on our second dog sledging adventure – this time a bit nearer Tromsø at a 45 minute drive.
The tour company, Active Tromsø, is run by Arctic superman Tore Albrigsten, who has had more than 30 year’s worth of experience in extreme dog racing under his belt – and he certainly had some incredible stories to tell.
At the kennels, nestled in a valley below his home, Tore talked us through how he keeps the dogs and we helped him and partner Sandra to group the hounds – some feistier than others – together and attach them to the sledges.
This time the sledges were much sportier and streamlined, with the passenger enclosed in a red zip up plastic covering. But we were feeling confident as it was our second time – this proved to be a big mistake.
The dogs launched into action and the sledges were much speedier and challenging to control, but it was all the more adrenalin-fuelled and exciting. We had to fast develop a good technique to make sure we stayed on and kept the sledge upright – one that we didn’t quite master before a couple of tumbles into the powder-soft snow.
Again, the scenery was breathtaking and our two hour excursion whizzed by in what felt like less than half the time in what was another unforgettable day.
But while many flock in winter to Tromsø – nicknamed the Paris of the North – to catch the Northern Lights or enjoy one of the many snow-related activities on offer on the outskirts, the city should not be overlooked. There’s plenty to do within walking distance – including a cable car taking you up a mountain for some breathtaking panoramic vistas of the city, the modern and architecturally impressive Arctic Cathedral and a handful of interesting museums, like the fascinating Polar Museum.
It also boasts a thriving culinary scene there’s a buzzing nightlife scene to get involved with until the early hours – from authentic cosy pubs to swish, modern bars.
As winter holidays go, Tromsø has it all – a thriving, beautiful city with the Arctic wilderness and all its opportunities to be at one with nature on its doorstep. Next stop: head there in the summer.
Direct flights from London Gatwick to Tromsø with Norwegian start at £106 return (www.norwegian.com/uk)
Where to stay:
The Thon Hotel Tromsø offers comfortable and modern accommodation right in the heart of the city centre. From £104 per night. Phone: +47 77 69 80 50 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lyngsfjord Adventure (www.lyngsfjord.com)
Active Tromsø (www.activetromso.no)
Arctic Guide Service (www.arcticguideservice.com)
Where to eat:
Rå Sushi: A stylish top-notch restaurant serving some of the freshest and tastiest sushi you could hope for, showcasing the seafood this harbour town has to offer at its best, with a wide selection of sashimi and maki as well as hot dishes. Visit www.raasushi.no/ or call +47 77 68 46 00
Compagniet: A quaint restaurant – the oldest in Tromsø – serving delicious traditional food, with an interesting concept of serving main courses in two parts. For example, the halibut and Iberian pork sees the fish arrive first poached beautifully in butter and with papardelle and then the meat after, with spinach, raisins, pine nuts and potato in a red wine sauce. There’s also a nightclub attached. Visit www.compagniet.no or call +47 77 66 42 22
Emmas Drømmekjøkken: A charming fine dining establishment with a cosy, bright atmosphere. The fillet of reindeer was the star of the show, served with root celery purè, mushrooms and brussel sprouts and blueberry sauce – the meat succulent, gamey and delicious. Visit www.emmasdrommekjokken.no/ or call +47 77 63 77 30
For more information about the region visit www.nordnorge.com