Tromsø was voted the third best Christmas city in the world, before Travel and Leisure realized that the Norwegian city is the most festive of them all to celebrate Christmas in. Why’s that?

Originally, it was said by the aforementioned US travel magazine that cities on either side of the US-Mexico border could compare with Tromsø. But while these locations are relatively snow-poor, Tromsø almost always experiences a white Christmas.

The opposite happens less than every ten years on average. No wonder we’re still on CNN’s top-ten list of the world’s best winter destinations. And even during Christmas, both statistics and newspaper reports show that the city is filled with tourists.

However, it’s not just the snow that excites everyone and everything in search of Christmas cheer.

 

 A Living Sea of Lights

When you live in a region known for darkness, the enthusiasm for the small amount of light that remains is often great. That’s why both the Northern Lights and other colorful phenomena, such as “the blue hour”, are praised.

Tromsø also has strong traditions with lighting candles in graveyards. When King Olav V died, a specific tradition of honoring the dead arose again. Outside the royal castle, the Norwegian people grouped together to create “a sea of lights” outside of the castle. A magnificent display of thousands of mourners standing together holding candles. While the rest of the country rediscovered this tradition, Tromsø has always lit candles for their deceased.

A sea of lights in Oslo.
Source: tk.no

This custom has been strongly linked to Catholicism, and was suppressed heavily by the Protestants for centuries. However, coming on the heels of the First World War, it was revitalized to commemorate the victims. From there it also took the trip to Norway, and northwards, where darkness and snow create unique scenery for the tradition. While staying at Tromsø Lodge & Camping you’ll find that there is a cemetery close by, and you are welcome to visit and see how we honor our loved ones.

 

The Concert Cathedral

In the dark and cold days of winter, the residents of Tromsø are also known to seek light and warmth in several ways that also bring yuletide cheer. The Arctic Cathedral, known for its special acoustics and unique architectural structure, fills with Christmas music. In 2019, no less than 17 winter holiday concerts were held in the Tromsdalen church, and this year you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy both Christmas and New Year’s concerts.

The Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø during sunset and the blue hour.
Source: iTromsø

 

Christmas artists from all over the world gather together to offer good cheer and music in Tromsø. While the Tromsø Cathedral, the Culture House and other concert venues are used for these occasions, none are nearly as popular as the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsdalen.

 

Christmas Street in People’s Hearts

The Christmas street heritage is also strong in the Arctic city of Tromsø. When the decades-old decorations of festive red hearts had to be replaced in 2017, close to 5,000 people took part in the vote on what the new look for Storgata should be. Despite the fact that an EU directive demanded the replacement of the prior decor, the old hearts were re-purposed. This, together with ever-increasing efforts from the trading stand, has helped to decorate the Christmas town of Tromsø.

The city streets of Tromsø, adorned with Christmas decorations.

The annual lighting of the Christmas tree at Stortorget is also popular with locals and tourists alike, and it is a spectacular sight when the spruce tree is flown there by helicopter.

 


Do you want to experience Norwegian Christmas? Book a cabin at Tromsø Lodge & Camping.


Christmas Parties Before and Now

“Julebord”, literally meaning “Christmas table”, is a traditional Scandinavian feast that has roots well over a thousand years back in time. Both Roman and Norse cultures were interwoven into the customs of the church, and while the church removed the parts deemed distasteful, some traditions remain today. An example would be the placement of an apple in the mouth of a pig.

The Christmas feasts as we know them today, are festive parties for colleagues and others organized, are a post-war phenomenon.

Also read: Winter Activities in Tromsø!

Who knows if Tromsø has any specific distinctive julebord traditions that no other city has, but the local newspaper in 1972 did stumble upon an interesting fact; thousands of Tromsø residents had spent in total more than one million kroner on julebord! The price per guest is usually NOK 25 and 90, so there were strong reactions when it was known the city’s chairmanship allocated NOK 120 per person for Christmas feasts. Even in the restaurant industry, some people reacted to the fact that “such gluttony had taken over”.

Maybe we saw the early signs of why Tromsø was mentioned a few years later as the country’s nightlife city number one. Today you can do everything from booking catering in a rented lavvu in the heart of Tromsdalen, to arranging big shows to spice up buffets and feasts in all forms at the big hotels.

 

Christmas Fairs

There are Christmas markets in and around the city, where there is a wide variety of local crafts, crafts and traditional food. Åsgårdmessa is probably the oldest, as it has been around for 55 years. And it is by far the biggest. Every year, dozens of small-scale manufacturers compete for space, where they are required to sell only home-made products.

Christmas market at Stortorget in Tromsø.
Source: iTromsø

Christmas Food – Gold and Grandiosa

The thought that the frozen pizza Grandiosa is the favorite for Christmas dinner is a myth that has spread around Norway for about 30 years now. The truth is that ribs and “pinnekjøtt”, lamb or mutton ribs, still top the charts.

While traditions remain strong through centuries, they aren’t immune to outside influence and subtle changes. For some, the changes may not be greater than replacing the sticks with potatoes, or having beer instead of water in the steak pan. For others, the Christmas menu changes much more, for example to incorporate vegetarian options.

Also read: Traditional Cuisine in Norway: What to Expect

In the fishery-built Northern Norway capital, the meat traditions are very highly regarded. Every year, you’ll find meat from Tromsø in the yearly competition “Norwegian Championship in Meat Products”, and usually it’s the Christmas food that gets gold and other medals. This year, H Mydland AS won in both categories of lamb ribs, but also lamb roll and lamb leg from several of the city’s meat producers have had great success over the years.

 

Christmas Jazz and Old Favourites

Between the family get togethers and visiting friends, the residents of Tromsø find time to indulge in the city’s rich cultural life. The Christmas jazz and Viseklubben’s “Romjulsspelt med bokna musikk” are built on several years of dedication, and every year these concerts are sold out long before Christmas. It’s not unusual to see favourites Christmas artists of years past during these events.

 

The Tromsdalen Mountain Fireworks

A spectacular end to Christmas is set each year with what must be the world’s most stylish mountain fireworks. Each New Year’s Eve, 30-40 volunteers set up and shoot top-quality Chinese fireworks from the plateau at the summit of Fjellheisen. The mountain fireworks has its roots all the way back to 1946, and won the Tromsø municipality’s honorary award in 2017. It’s an incredible sight that you can’t miss. We recommend seeing it from the area around the Arctic Cathedral or suitable places in and around Tromsø city center.

 

Tromsdalen mountain fireworks at the year change to 2018.
Source: UiT, Twitter

 

Tromsø Lodge & Camping welcome you to Tromsø and wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Camping is a lot of fun! The sounds of nature, the fresh wind to your face, and the enjoyment of peaceful surroundings without the hustle and bustle of the city – few things are better. In order to keep enjoying the nature like we do now, we have to take care of it. That’s why we want to give you ten tips on environmentally friendly camping, in order for your hike to leave as few imprints as possible.

 

1. Leave the camping site looking as nice as when you found it

You have found the perfect clearing in the woods. The ground is flat and perfect for setting up a tent, the trees are shining in the sun, and there’s woods and nature as far as the eye can see. You look around you, and the terrain is scattered with old aluminum boxes and plastic bags. Not only is littering unsightly, it’s dangerous for the wildlife and nature’s ecosystem. Always keep in mind the “packed up-packed down”-principle before leaving the camping grounds and take everything you brought with you back home.

 

2. “Green cleaning”

The concept of “Green cleaning” is all about washing yourself and your equipment with eco-friendly soap. “Green” soaps contain natural ingredients that don’t emit hazardous chemicals into the ecosystems of the forest, and they’re great for cleaning and washing your body with a better consciousness.

 

3. Ditch the disposable equipment!

Instead of using money on cutlery and kitchenware which’ll be thrown away after a single use, bring knives, forks and whatever else you’ll need from home. Not only will you be saving money; you’ll avoid using unnecessary plastic equipment. There are a lot of eco-friendly alternatives for everything you would need!

 

4. Make and pack your own lunch

Here you have yet another win-win tip! By making your own packed meals, you’ll save money on pre-packaged solutions and you’ll save the environment by avoiding all the packaging that often follow with “fast and easy” meals. The best part is that you get to be as creative as you want with your food – as long as it fits in a lunchbox, of course.

 

Packed lunch box. Image.
The beauty of packing your own food is that you can be as fancy or plain as you please!

5. Don’t seek or try to contact the wild animals

The synergy of the nature is fragile. Avoid feeding or disturbing the wild animals, as they can get dependent on humans for survival and lose their natural instincts. This also applies for photography. If you can’t photograph the reindeer or grouse at a safe distance, leave it be – let the wild animals live in peace.

 

6. Plan well and keep out of protected areas

Protected areas are dedicated to keeping some of Norway’s most significant ecosystems. We are lucky to have camping places surrounded by stunning nature and paths that make it possible to enjoy them in their entirety. When you stray away from the path, you risk destroying plants and disturbing the wildlife in that area. Keep yourself and the surroundings safe by staying on-path, and only set up camp in designated areas.

 

Not familiar with which areas are protected? Check out this link! (Only in Norwegian)

 

7. Solar energy – not batteries

Some of the first things novice campers often notice is how much darker secluded areas are at night. You can hoard up on AA-batteries for your headlights and flashlights, but it’s even better if you invest in a solution powered by solar panels. You can also find chargers powered by the sun. That way you can keep your phones and GPS alive over time. If you, on the other hand, are camping in Tromsø in the winter, we recommend that you stack up on enough batteries. That way you’ll not be dependent on the sun for electricity – it’s completely gone between November and January after all.

 

8. Fish and cook with care

Catching and shacking your own food can be a huge part of the fun while camping. There are however some places where fishing is illegal. Always remember to check out the legality of fishing in the area you’re in, which species you are allowed to haul in, and if you need a permit (a “fiskeløyve”). Prepare your meal on a stove instead of an open fire, especially if the climate is hot and dry, as campfires constitute a greater risk to the forest.

 

9. Use, rent, repair!

Of course it’s tempting to have top-notch equipment on a hike, but that’s not necessarily the eco-friendliest alternative. Unless the location is particularly demanding, you really don’t need the best of the best. Use what you’ve got! And if you don’t have everything you need, you’ll find several places to rent equipment in the city. There’s also a lot of good options for buying used, e.g. the Facebook Marketplace – that way you won’t have to buy a brand new tent for a one-night-trip.

 

10. If you are buying something new – buy it green!

There are a lot of eco-friendly alternatives within the camping world. There is a steady increase in environmentally friendly equipment in both physical stores and online, as more and more customers are interested in the sustainability of their products. This includes BPA-free products and products that use recycled materials in their production.

 


 

These are just some of the actions you can take to minimize the impact of your camping trip on the amazing Norwegian wilderness. In the end it’s important to remember the age-old expression: “Take only pictures – leave only footprints”.

Dog sledding is one of many activities you can try when you visit Tromsø. But did you know how far back in time people has used dogs for transportation and work?

 

A historical journey

No one knows exactly when, or who, first got the idea of using dogs for pulling sleds. However, archaeological evidence takes us back at least four thousand years – into Siberia and the northern parts of America. We also find scriptures of dog sledding in Arabic literature from the 900’s and in stories about Marco Polo. Especially where we today find northern Canada, there’s no doubt dog sledding was an important form of transport for the native Americans and the Inuit people – long before European colonists set foot on their land. The Europeans were fascinated, and we can read Peter Kalms enthusiasm in his book, written in 1749:

“In winter it is customary in Canada, for travellers to put dogs before little sledges, made on purpose to hold their clothes, provisions, & etc.  Poor people commonly employ them on their winter-journeys, and go on foot themselves. I have, likewise seen some neat little sledges, for ladies to ride in, in winter. They are drawn by a pair of dogs, and go faster on a good road than one would think.  A middle-sized dog is sufficient to draw a single person, when the roads are good.” (Kalm 448-9) 

 

The European colonists quickly adapted the tradition, and the French Canadians used dogs for warfare during the Seven Years War (1756-1768). The dogs were cheaper than horses – and much more effective in the freezing cold. In Norway, dogs were used during the second world war. They served as ambulances through the woods and mountains, as well as delivery dogs supplying soldiers in the field.

dog-sled-team-ww1
Dog sled team from World War I. Photo: Land Titles Survey Authority

 

Vital for reaching the South Pole

During his expedition through the Northwest Passage in 1903-1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen learned to use dogs for pulling sleds by the Netsilik population in Canada. Using dogs became one of the most important factors for success when he became the first to reach the South Pole, December 14th, 1911. Unlike his competitor, Robert Scott, Amundsen used dogs for pulling most of the supplies – giving the crew members less weight to carry. Scott reached the pole 34 days later by using tractors (which broke down or sank through the ice), Mongolian horses, and dogs that he didn’t know how to handle. Him and his crew did not make it back from the expedition.

Roald Amundsen dogs south pole
Roald Amundsen on the South Pole. Photo from Oceanwide Expeditions

 

Dog sled racing

Most likely, there has always been competition linked to dog sledding. However, the first ever documented race took place in 1850. It started in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with the finish line in St. Paul, Minnesota. A more famous race was arranged in Nome, Alaska, in 1908. It became a historical route when Norwegian native Leonhard Seppala delivered diphtheria medicine to the town. The journey has become an important part of American history, and you can find a statue of the lead dog, Balto, in New York City.

The most famous race in the United States, The Iditarod, first took place in 1967. Norwegian dog sledders was inspired by the race, and decided to establish the longest dog sledding race in Europe: Finnmarksløpet. The first time it was hosted, in 1981, only three teams participated. Today the race is so popular it is divided into three different classes, and thousands of spectators come to watch every year. This year, Finnmarksløpet will run from March 9th, and is 1200 kilometers long. The winner from 2017, Petter Jahnsen, used 6 days and 9 hours to complete the race.

 

Dog sled racing finnmarksløpet lars monsen
Norwegian adventurer Lars Monsen racing Finnmarksløpet. Photo: Finnmarksløpet

 

Did you know? Dog sledding was a demonstration sport at three Winter Olympics: 1932 in New York, 1952 in Oslo, and in 1994 in Lillehammer. It never gained official event status.

Building dog teams

Traditionally, sled dogs were chosen based on their strength, size and stamina – criteria Roald Amundsen had for his dogs going to the South Pole. Today, dogs are bred for speed and endurance – weighing around 25 kilograms (55lb), and able to run up to 45 km/h (28mph). The most commonly used dogs in dog sled racing is the Alaskan Husky, or Siberian Husky.

Putting together a team of dogs requires you to select leader dogs, swing dogs and wheel dogs.

  • The leaders are the most important dogs, and controls the direction and speed of the team.
  • Right behind the leader, the swing dogs help the rest of the team through corners and turns.
  • The strong wheel dogs are positioned in the back, and pulls the sled out of the snow to help the team start running.
  • In bigger teams, the rest of the dogs are placed between the wheel dogs and the swing dogs.

The person on the sled is called a “musher”. The word originates from the French “marche”, meaning “to go” or “to run”, and was used as a command for making the dogs start running. For the English Canadians, the word “mush” was used. This evolved into what we now call the driver: The Musher!

 

Dog sledding in Tromsø

When you visit Tromsø, you have the chance to be a real musher. At the same time you will have an authentic Arctic experience! The friendly dogs love to run, as well as getting warm hugs during the breaks. You will get close interactions with the dogs and the guides, and you will experience the magnificent nature in a unique way. If you want to go dog sledding while visiting Tromsø Camping, ask the reception – and they will help you find the perfect experience! Read about the trip here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Information Sources:

Two Rivers, Alaska

Roald Amundsen, Wikipedia

Finnmarksløpet

Snowy Owl Tours

Kalm, P: Travels Into North America: J. Forester, translator:  The Imprint Society; Barre, MA: 1972

 

Photos from a dog sledding trip with our partners, Aurora Alps

Book accommodation

We welcome you to a pleasant stay here at Tromsø Lodge & Camping. We do everything we can to help you get a pleasant stay.

We look forward to your visit.

Come chat with us at the reception or give us a call or an email if there are any questions.