I am one of many who saw the BBC documentary ‘In the Land of the Northern Lights’ with the enchanting Joanna Lumley a few years ago and had dreamed about going ever since. Last October I mentioned it to my friend Inge Solheim, a well-travelled polar explorer and guide (he is the Expedition Leader for the expedition and guide for the American Team in the race to the South Pole for Walking With The Wounded this year) who of course made it happen.
I flew into Oslo for the first part of my journey, as there were no direct flights at that time. I stayed at the Hotel Continental overnight, it is very central plus it has a great restaurant and lively bar. It is easy to get to on the Flytoget train from Oslo Gardemoen airport. The train, similar to our Heathrow Express service, takes 20 minutes, costs £19 for a single ticket, saves a fortune in taxis and is the quickest way to get there. I got off at the National Theater stop and took the Karl Johans gate exit where the hotel, is literally, a skip across the road. This family owned hotel has recently been refurbished and it is a good property with lovely staff and an excellent service. It is extremely important to ask for a quiet room off the main street, as there is a bar opposite which stays open until 3am plus rubbish is collected early morning, as I found out! The Theatercaféen is their fabulous restaurant and bar which serves amongst the usual French dishes, delicious Rakfisk – a fermented trout, not for the faint hearted and an array of rather expensive but good wine. If you have time it is worth a trip out to The Fram Museum which tells the story of Norwegian Polar exploration. It is located about a 20 minute cab drive away on the peninsula of Bygdøy. The shopping in Oslo is not over exciting, however there is a Dale of Norway store very close to the hotel for those who love the beautifully knitted traditional Norwegian sweaters, hats and ski sweaters. There were lots of them visible in the airport on both adults and kids.
There are other good hotels in Oslo, the Hotel Bristol is one, I have not seen the rooms but I had a cup of coffee there and it was cosy with a nice ambience and well located on Kristian IV’s gate.
Next stop… Tromsø
Norwegian now fly from London Gatwick (there is a layover in Oslo on the way out of about an hour and a half but the flight home from Tromsø is direct).
Tromsø is a tiny airport so luggage arrives quickly. I took a taxi to the town centre and arrived at the Rica Ishavshotel within ten minutes. This is definitely the best hotel in Tromsø as it stands on the quayside overlooking the Tromsø Strait with magnificent views of the harbour, Ishavskatedralen and Tromsdalen. Rooms start from about £117-£250 for a standard room and you pay a bit more for a room overlooking the water which is well worth the view. The rate includes Wi-Fi and a fantastic buffet breakfast (and if you go off early before the buffet opens they will make you a packed breakfast/lunch!).
Tromsø is the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle. It is a pretty town with beautiful old wooden houses and some nice little shops and restaurants. Its Arctic Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass window at the back was built in 1965 and based on a rock out in Sommerøy.
Dinner that night was at Brasserie 69, which had, delicious dishes such as lamb shank, moules marinieres and steak frites on the menu.
Finding the Northern Lights…
After dinner I was accompanied by a lovely guide to go in search of the Northern lights…and find them we did. It is of course, never guaranteed and what I saw was not as spectacular as I had hoped for but it is an extraordinary experience to see these dancing shards, moving curtains of green, blue, yellow and purple light. You need a tripod to take good photos and a lot of patience unless they are very active. If you are lucky you will see them in Tromsø itself during your stay.
The following morning I headed up to Finnsnes by ferry operated by Boreal Transport. The ferry dock is about a five minute walk from the hotel and the journey costs about £29 per adult and £19 per child. An hour and a half later when I arrived, I rented a car and drove up to the Polar Zoo which takes about an hour and a half. I am not keen on zoos and animals kept in small pens, however this is more like a park. The enclosures for the animals are huge and they house moose, wolves, lynx, red deer, reindeer, wolverine, arctic fox and two brown bears (actually one is an albino so is white!). It is a perfect park to visit with children as they are allowed into some of the enclosures with the smaller animals. The most exciting enclosure is with the wolves (children must be over 16 yrs old and then it is still at the discretion of the keepers). Smaller children can go into the Arctic Fox enclosure with the soft, small foxes. There is of course an additional price for this. The drive back along the coast line is spectacular and worth doing during daylight hours.
Dinner that evening was at Emma’s Dream Kitchen (Emma’s Drømmekjøkken) with Arne Trengereid and his staff, who run the Norwegian Tourist Board. The restaurant is famous in Tromsø and the food delicious.
The next day we headed out to Sommerøy, Porsanger, Norway, a 40-minute drive from Tromsø, passing small herds of reindeer foraging for food and driving alongside sandy beaches in small coves with crystal clear water. Sommerøy is about 22 miles west of the city of Tromsø and is a beautiful drive. The island is connected to the neighboring island of Kvaløya by the Sommarøy Bridge. There is accommodation including some private houses to rent through the one hotel, it is all very basic but fine if you will be hiking and hanging around on the beaches during the day.
Going to Tromso, is a great trip for three or four nights, and certainly worth taking children, especially if you incorporate the Polar Zoo and are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights dancing. If you want to be more adventurous and travel onto Svalbard, then we have the experts to help. There are lots of wonderful things to do in Northern Norway from King Crab fishing, dog sledding, kayaking to see walrus, cruising (we can organise private yachts) and many other activities.
Inge Solheim takes small private groups of adults or families at his discretion on amazing adventures world-wide from Mustang in the Himalayas to walking in the Arctic, to a family holiday in Svalbard. If you wish to discuss this then please contact me for an introduction to him and then we can help to organise flights and hotels during that time.
You can fly to Oslo first with BA from Termimal 5 at London Heathrow Airport and then onto Svalbard with SAS. My sincere thanks to Arne Trengereid and his wonderful team at the Northern Norway Tourist Board for organising a great trip.
If you would like us to help organise a trip to Tromsø or Svalbard, please contact me us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every time I explore a new destination, whether it’s on an adventure holiday in Peru or a luxury beach escape in the Indian Ocean, I return home full of excitement to share the amazing sights I have seen. Through my own experiences I have developed a love of helping others experience the great wonders of the world; truly getting under the skin of the extraordinary destinations that are at your fingertips. Getting the details right, from which hotel is perfectly located for exploring away from the crowds, to which local guide is most knowledgeable on history or culture or art, is of paramount importance to me. I am constantly seeking out new and exciting experiences and exploring off the beaten track to ensure my clients are receiving the best and most honest first-hand advice.
Take a look at my travel diaries for food for thought on your next trip...