Hei venner! I’ve just got back from yet another Scandi trip, this time to Tromsø in Norway. Tromsø is up in the Arctic Circle, and usually it would be well into minus temperatures at this time of year up there, but during my visit it was surprisingly mild – apparently it’s been an unusually ‘warm’ winter for Norway. Anyway – I’m back, I’m broke and I’m ready to share with you my tales of hygge in Tromsø. Of course, hygge is just as Norwegian as it is Danish, and if you’re looking for somewhere to hygge up in the frozen(ish) north, I’ve put together some of my highlights of the trip!
Tromsø is awash with cosy little cafés and restaurants, but Art Café deserves a special shout out. It’s a tiny little place near the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum (which I’ll talk about later in this post) run by a husband and wife team, and as the name suggests, it’s dotted with some unusual paintings and sculptures. The vibe is intimate, friendly and laid back, and this place is hyggeligt through and through. I rarely go back to the same place twice on a trip as I like to explore as many places as possible, but after an amazing fish soup with homemade bread for dinner one night, we returned the next day for hot chocolate and a slice of the owner’s incredible cake. If you were on the Hurtigruten cruise and had a few hours in Tromsø, this is the place I’d recommend for a pitstop.
This was actually a recommendation from The Hygge Nook! Several nights a week throughout the winter, the striking Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen) in Tromsdalen hosts a ‘midnight concert’ (which actually starts at 11pm), comprising a singer, a pianist/organist and a saxophonist. They play traditional Norwegian music under the sloping walls of the triangular cathedral, and I spent most of the concert with goosebumps. It was such a cosy way to spend an evening, and if you’re even remotely into music, this should definitely be on your hygge hitlist for Tromsø.
I have a real knack for finding great tours, and I certainly didn’t disappoint myself here. I found a trip into the Lyngen Alps to visit Aurora Spirit, the world’s northernmost distillery, where we found out how they make whisky. As it happened, we were the only two people there, so we got a private tour of the site. We also got to taste a couple of the spirits – the Bivrost aquavit was my personal favourite. The setting of the distillery is unbelievably stunning too, looking out over the beautiful snowy mountains. The 2.5-hour drive there is pretty bloody spectacular, with a gorgeously rugged landscape specked with colourful wooden houses illuminated with lanterns. Apparently this is a relatively new tour from Tromsø, and it’s well worth a visit if you want to get out of the city and dodge the tourists.
One of my first stops in Tromsø was Fjellheisen. It’s a cable car running up to the Storsteinen mountain ledge with a spectacular view over the island, and it’s a must-see for photo opportunities. The change in temperature just a few hundred metres up the mountain is quite shocking, so if you go during a similarly mild period, now is your chance to don all your cosiest gear as protection from the bracing wind. There were no visible Northern Lights during my stay, but I hear that this is a great spot for watching the lights over the city if you don’t fancy blowing £100 on one of the aurora tours. If it’s a clear night with active lights, there’s probably no need to splash out on a tour – the city itself is tiny, so it’s easy to travel a short distance away yourself for darker viewing conditions. I used this site to keep an eye on the aurora forecast each day.
I think my favourite part of the trip was learning about the Sami culture. The Samis are the indigenous people of the Sápmi region, which covers the majority of Arctic Norway, Sweden and Finland, along with parts of northeastern Russia. We went to a Sami camp about half an hour outside Tromsø to learn about their lifestyle as reindeer herders, and we got to hand feed lichen to some of the baby reindeer (SO EXCITING!). But what I really loved about the visit to the camp was the meal in the wooden hut. I went for the veggie option rather than the reindeer soup, and we listened to our Sami guide talking about life in the Arctic tundra – a very hyggeligt experience as the fire crackled away in the centre of the hut. The highlight for me was hearing a couple of joiks. A joik is a wordless Sami song created for people, places and animals, with sounds threaded together to represent the traits of the person or place they’re singing about. For instance, a fast-paced, frantic song could represent an extrovert, while a slower-paced, more meandering song could be about a glacier. As someone with a linguistics degree, this fascinated me, and I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen about joiks. You can hear an example here.
My newfound love of all things Sami also took me to the Tromsø University Museum, which had ample exhibits about all aspects of Sami life. There was an entire room dedicated to the integration of the Sami people into Norwegian culture, and how the Samis fought to be recognised, which was fascinating. The bus ride from the town centre to the museum also takes you through a residential area which is bursting with houses perfect for hygge – aim to travel back as it’s starting to get dark if possible for maximum hygge vibes! There is also currently an exhibition taking place at the (free!) Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum I mentioned earlier in the post called There Is No, which got its name from the common misconception that there is no word in the Sami language for ‘art’. There’s a great mix of sculpture, paintings, photography and mixed media, and this is a great way to spend an hour. And while we’re talking about galleries, the (also free) Perspektivet Museum was another highlight. My favourite part was Homo Religiosus, all about how different religions coexist in Tromsø, and it’s well worth a visit on your way to or from the nearby (and significantly more popular) Polar Museum.
Have you ever been to Tromsø? What were your hygge highlights? If you have your own hygge places to recommend, please let me know – I’m always looking for new places to explore!