Located two-hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, Tromsø, Norway isn’t exactly an ideal winter getaway. The city receives two hours of sunlight on a good day; temperatures hover at around 5°F; and any exposed skin is subjected to a vicious beating by polar winds. Though these conditions are probably only be pleasing to a puffin, Tromsø, home to a bustling college town and polar paradise, attracts thousands of tourists each winter.
So what’s there to do in the arctic, other than freezing half to death? Here are five options for any budget:
1. See the Northern Lights: Tromsø consistently ranks among the best locations in the world to see these color-saturated solar rays. Northern Light excursions can cost upwards of $200 per person, but a quick cable car ride ($20) up Mount Fløya, 421 meters above sea level, offers prime Aurora viewing and a look at the city lights below. If you get chilly, which will definitely happen, head inside Fjellstua restaurant, a cabin at the peak, and sip a beer or a hot drink in front of the fireplace.
2. Begin your pub crawl at Mack Brewery: The northernmost microbrewery in the world, Mack Brewery’s been serving up seriously cold beers since 1877, and it’s pretty much the only beer on tap in Tromsø. Brew tours are offered at 1:00 p.m. all year long for $24. If you’re looking for a quick pint — or four — then head downstairs to the brewery’s Ølhallen Pub for some Haakon lager, rowdy company, and a glance into the old Norwegian shipyards.
3. Go historical at the Polar Museum: What other museum lets you learn about Norwegian exploration, history, and how to properly decapitate a baby seal with a blunt ax? Located in a wooden shipping warehouse on the water, The Polar Museum documents the rugged history of the north’s first inhabitants, who were fisherman and trappers. The exhibits are described in Norwegian, so make sure you grab an English guide at the front desk.
4. Discover a burgeoning art scene: As one of the most expensive countries to visit in Europe, you’ll rarely hear the words “free” and “Norway” uttered in the same sentence, except when it comes to art. The dazzling Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum offers a melancholic exploration into the hardships of life in the north. Kurant Art Gallery, located in the shipyard next to the Polar Museum, and Small Projects (an artists enclave, of sorts) offer a trendier, postmodern look at the arctic’s subconscious.
5. Midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral: Tromsø’s most distinctive landmark, the Arctic Cathedral, overlooks the city center and impresses with its stained-glass mosaic window — a feature that’s earned it comparisons to the Sydney Opera House. Each night at midnight from Thursday to Sunday, the cathedral choir hums Norwegian folkloric hymns beneath the glowing, often aurora-lit sky and flickering candle light. It might well be the most moving way to end a day in Norway.