Two reindeer made of light standing in front of a huge Christmas Tree in Tromsø.

  • 20. December 2019
  • Blog

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.

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!