Tromsø is one of the most popular places to visit in Norway, and I can understand why. Called the “Arctic Capital of Norway”, Tromsø is located far, far north above the Arctic Circle, making it perfect in summer for the midnight sun or in winter for the northern lights. It’s got museums, restaurants, shoppings, various outdoor activities, and countless lovely hotels. It’s also one of the most popular ports on the Hurtigruten, especially when travelling northbound (4 hours in the city!).
Tromsø is a city best explored on foot, so I’ve put together a self-guided walking tour based on where I like to go when I’m in the city. I’ve also put this together with the Hurtigruten in mind and the time that has to be taken into account when you’re only in the city for four hours. I took these photos in February 2020 in the middle of winter; hopefully I’ll get some photos this summer to show how different the city looks when there’s no snow!
- Historical Context
- Map and General Info
- The Walk
- Arctic Cathedral
- Roald Amundsen Statue
- Sjøgata 6 (Green Timber House)
- Frederik Langes gate 12 (White Timber House)
- Dreyer Gården (Pink & Green Timber House) (Sjøgata 12)
- Aunegården (Today ‘Guide Central’)
- Bus 26 Stop: Arctic Cathedral & Cable Car
- Arctic Hunter Statue
- Kystens Hus
- Old Fishing Warehouses
- The Polar Museum
- Skippergata 12 & Knudsen Gården
- Aargard Gården
- Ingvald Jaklin
- Seafarers Home
- Perspective Museum
- Verdens Theatret
- Skancke Gården
- Catholic Church
- The World’s Northernmost Burger King
- Tromsø Cathedral
For a full overview of the history of Tromsø, visit my Tromsø page. Otherwise, here’s what you need to know:
Tromsø has been an important site in Norway since the 1200s, when King Håkon Håkonsson built a fortress on the island (Tromsø is situated on an island; the ‘ø’ means island – Troms Island) to defend the settlement against the Russians. However, Tromsø didn’t get prominence until the 18th century, when it emerged as an important harbour for Arctic hunting and exploration. Tromsø was important to both Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen and their Arctic expeditions. Because of Arctic hunting, Tromsø grew rapidly as a modern and wealthy city; the women wore the latest fashions and Tromsø was one of the first places to get electric street lights. During World War II, Tromsø was occupied but the German Army did not burn the town down while they retreated, a rare instance in Northern Norway. However, Tromsø did catch fire in the 1960s, destroying nine of the old houses. Still, though, many old buildings remain, allowing us to get a glimpse into historical Northern Norway. Today Tromsø is a modern city with a population of 75,000, a hospital, a university, and a vibrant inner city feel.
Map and General Info
Note – if you are doing this walk during winter, be wary of ice. Tromsø can get very icy, and they don’t always cover the ice with gravel. Some paths are heated, meaning no ice, but you will encounter ice on this trip.
This trip can be broken up with visits to the cable car, Polar Museum, and Perspective Museum.
If you’re doing this trip while on Hurtigruten, always keep an eye on the time. I did this walk in around 45 minutes (lots of photo-taking stops) with no entrances.
Walk length: 1.8km (1.1 miles) / Mostly flat (hilly if detouring to the Catholic Church).
Start: By the ferry terminal
With the ferry terminal behind you, turn right and head down to the harbour front. From here, you get a lovely view out to the Arctic Cathedral.
Completed in 1965, the Arctic Cathedral stands out over the cityscape. The white, glacier-like appearance is supposed to represent the stockfish drying racks, the Northern Lights, and the eleven Apostles that were left after the betrayal. The entire east wall is formed by a huge stained-glass window, one of the largest in Europe, and the organ is built to represent a ship when viewed from beneath.
The Arctic Cathedral is generally open, but to get there you’d need to take bus 26, explained further in this walk. If you’re in Tromsø for a couple days, consider attending one of their concerts: https://www.ishavskatedralen.no/en/the-arctic-cathedral/concerts/
Directions: Walk up to the square with the large statue (just past the white wooden tourist shop)
Roald Amundsen Statue
Since Tromsø was an important harbour area for Arctic exploration, it makes sense to have a statue of Roald Amundsen in one of the town squares. Amundsen (1872-1928) was a Norwegian explorer who led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage by sea and also the first expedition to the South Pole. He also led the first expedition proven to have reached the North Pole in a dirigible in 1926.
Behind the Amundsen statue is the North Norwegian Museum for Art, a free museum with rotating exhibitions all about life in the north.
Tucked away in the corner of the park is a monument for the Jewish members of the community who were deported during World War II. The monument reads: “in memory of the Jews from Tromsø killed in German concentration camps. Erected with deep love by their countrymen. We must never regret”. All 17 Jews were deported from Tromsø. 16 died in 1943, and 1 died in 1945.
Directions: Just above the North Norwegian Museum for Art is the street Sjøgata. Sjøgata is the oldest street in Tromsø, and it used to follow the harbour from Skansen (the fortress) to the cathedral. Walk along it until you reach…
This is an old square from the times when Tromsø was an active market down. Called The Butter Market when translated to English, it was a place where farmers came with butter and dairy products to sell. There were plenty of different businesses, though – a bakery, butcher, pharmacy, hotel, barbershop, textiles and souvenir shops. This was also where Tromsø’s first roundabout was – the streets in town were so narrow and horses with carriages needed room to turn. Here the square was wide enough, so they would take a lap around the square before returning home. Nearby were small cottages that were used as shelter for people coming from afar for church on Sundays, but eventually they became permanent homes of artists and tenants.
While Smørtorget survived during World War II, the fire destroyed some of the houses, and development in the 1970s destroyed some more of them. There is a cafe in the square called Smørtorget that has some lovely photos and information boards inside. It also doubles as a secondhand shop, so it’s worth going inside for a look!
Sjøgata 6 (Green Timber House)
Sjøgata 6 is a green timber house that was built in the mid-19th century and was owned by the Austad family, a wealthy merchant family who owned many properties in Tromsø. For a while, the property was divided into four different apartments where different merchants and traders lived. It became a florist in the mid-1970s and still is today.
Frederik Langes gate 12 (White Timber House)
Next to the green house is one of the oldest houses in Tromsø, where business has been continuous for almost 200 years. First it was a trading house, then a warehouse, then manufacturing, and today it is a gym. It was built by Michael Wide Holmeboe, born in 1972, who built it in 1819. The house was called M.W. Holmeboe & Søn and was a well-known trading house for grain, salt and fish.
Directions: Continue along Sjøgata until you reach…
Dreyer Gården (Pink & Green Timber House) (Sjøgata 12)
This is another example of a 19th century merchants house – typically merchants houses end in ‘gård’ which means farm or tenement. Dreyer Gården was built in 1837 for Jørgen Dreyer, who had been brought to Tromsø as a servant. He received a merchant licence and, in collaboration with his old employer, formed the company “Killengreen & Dreyer”. Within a few years they had one of the city’s largest commercial houses, co-owned several shops and exported goods. The son, Christian Frederik Dreyer joined the company and renamed it “JC Dreyer & Son”. After his father’s death, Christian moved into the building. He had spend several years in Russia and had some good contacts within the Pomor Trade. He became known as “Russe-Dreyer” and was one of the largest merchants of Pomor products from the White Sea.
Directions: Continue along Sjøgata until you reach the next square
Aunegården (Today ‘Guide Central’)
Aunegården is another merchant’s house, built in 1860 for the merchant Hilmar Holmeboe. From 1878, it was the home of the local butcher. The butcher operated for 120 years until the business closed down in 1995. Today, it is a restaurant on the lower floor and a hub for Tromsø’s local guides on the upper floor. It was one of the few buildings to survive the 1969 fire.
On one of the buildings in the square you’ll find this lovely mural. I couldn’t find much information about it, so if you know what it is please let me know!
Directions: Sjøgata now turns into Havnegata, but continue along the main road…
Bus 26 Stop: Arctic Cathedral & Cable Car
Once you reach the Peppes Pizza, you have reached the bus stop for the bus that will take you over to the Arctic Cathedral and Tromsø’s Cable Car. There is a ticket machine at the stop, so buy a ticket and then take BUS 26 to:
- Arctic Cathedral: Ishavskatedralen
- Tromsø Cable Car: Fjellheisen
It takes 5 or so minutes to reach the Cathedral, and then the Cable Car is another 10 minutes away. It is possible to do the cable car within the four hours Hurtigruten is in Tromsø.
Continue along Havnegata
Arctic Hunter Statue
This statue represents an Arctic hunter, an important 18th and 19th century business.
Directions: Continue along Havnegata until you see the building ‘Kystens Hus’. Head inside. Immediately on your left is a nice little souvenir shop, or you can continue to the fish market.
Inside this building you’ll find a fish market, where you can take a look at all the fresh seafood they have on offer. This is a place where you can buy the stockfish or perhaps try some whale meat. Across from the fish market they have a nice historical photograph and some information about the old fishing business.
Directions: Continue to the other end of the building. Once you leave it, you’ll be on the hold harbour area.
Old Fishing Warehouses
Here we are on Tromsø’s old harbour! These warehouses were built in the early 20th century after a fire from 1902 destroyed the previous buildings. Originally they would’ve gone out into the water; this walkway was added recently. On the buildings you can see where the hooks to lift up the barrels of fish used to be, and the wide windows were once openings to put the barrels into the building.
Directions: Continue along the harbour and you’ll reach the Polar Museum. You have to walk around the building to get to our next spot:
The Polar Museum
Located in the old customs house from 1830, the Polar Museum is a fascinating museum about Arctic hunting, life, and exploration. The lower floor focuses on Arctic hunting, while the upper floor focuses on the Arctic explorers. It’s a great museum worthy of a visit; allow for 40-60 minutes depending on how much reading you want to do. Nice little souvenir shop, too!
Across from the Polar Museum, you’ll see a green house with a bust of Roald Amundsen out the front. This is an old customs building, and served as the customs house for around 100 years. It was in use until the 1970s and since 1992 has been the administration building for the Polar Museum.
On the harbour-front you’ll see some harpoons that were used in Arctic hunting. Unfortunately they cover them up in winter!
Directions: Behind the Polar Museum you’ll see a hill. This is Skansen. You can walk a loop around it to find the stairs to the top of the hill
Skansen is a well-known 13th century fortification that was built by King Håkon Håkonsson (who also built Håkons Hall in Bergen). The ramparts were built using stones and peat and were constructed as a defence against attacks from the Karelians (from Karelia, an area between the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland) and Russia. Today Skansen is a circular mound with a marked raised outer periphery and a diameter of 50 metres. It’s especially hard to see in winter.
If you make your way up the stairs on the other side of the hill, you’ll see the yellow building Tollboden
The yellow building at the top is an old customs house too.
Directions: It’s time to start heading back to town. As you make your way past Skansen, you’ll see an old telegraph pole. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of it, but here it is on Google Maps:
You can clearly see Skansen & Tollboden in the summertime behind it.
Walk up the street ‘Nordre Tollbodgate’ until you reach the main road (Skippergata), where you make a left.
Skippergata 12 & Knudsen Gården
These are two separate merchant houses across the street from one another (you’ll be on the side of Knudsen Gården). Knudsen Gården was built in 1822 for the customs officer, and from 1843-1858 the building served as the post office. Well-known 19th-century novelist Bernt Lie lived here during the 1880s. The building has the last city private garden; the others have disappeared throughout the years due to development.
Skippergata 12 was built in 1822 for the customs officer, and from 1838 it served briefly as the building for the local newspaper. Today it is a Thai massage parlour.
Directions: Continue along Skippergata
This was the home of the wealthy and well-known Aargard family, who sold “fish, hides, skin, salt, grain and colonial goods”.
Directions: Continue along Skippergata until you reach a woman and child statue:
Cross the street and you’ll find a statue of a bust.
Ingvald Jaklin was a Norwegian politican for the Labor Party who also served as mayor of Tromsø after World War II
Directions: Continue walking to the yellow and brown house
This beautiful building was built in 1860 as a merchants house, but later went on to serve as a hospital. Since 1926, it was a retirement home for seafarers.
The mine out front is actually a collection box to gather money for seamen who were made homeless after the submarine wars of 1916. The caption reads:
“ditt troll – du var sjømannens skrækk sank ham nu klingende mynt i din sækk”. It’s written in Old Norwegian, but it roughly means “You troll (referring to the mine), you were the seafarers fear, sinking him to get coins in your pouch”
Directions: Cross the street onto Storgata. This is the main pedestrian street in Tromsø. Immediately you’ll see our next stop.
The building was built in 1838 as a large commercial house for the export of cod and fish products and trade of grain, colonial goods, manufacturing and factory products. Today it houses the Perspective Museum, a free exhibition full of photographs of old Tromsø. When I visited, it had exhibitions on LGBT rights and religious history.
Directions: The building next door is our next stop
This is Norway’s oldest cinema that’s still in use, and it dates back to 1915. Inside you can see signs for the Tromsø International Film Festival, which is held in January and includes an outdoor cinema!
Directions: Continue along Storgata
This yellow timber house (now a shop called Nille) is an old merchants house from the early 19th century.
Directions: Continue along Storgata until you reach the next intersection
The building on the street corner is Bispegård, or the bishops residence. It has been the Catholic bishops residence since 1860. When Pope John Paul II visited Tromsø in 1989, he spent the night here on the 3rd of June.
Option: If you want to see the world’s northernmost Catholic church, head up the street behind Bispegård. When I did it in February, I found it very icy to the point that I didn’t make it as far as I wanted to (hence the subpar photos). But if you’re doing this in summer, it’ll be fine!
The Catholic Church was built in 1861 and is the world’s northernmost Catholic Episcopal seat with the world’s most northerly Catholic bishop. The church is also the geographical centre of Tromsø!
You can see that the church is connected to Bispegården, which reveals itself as a truly large building.
Directions: Head back to Storgata
The little hot dog stand is Løkkekiosken, a treasure of Tromsø. Meaning ‘Onion Kiosk’ in English (even though it’s just named after the owner and not for the shape), this was built in 1911 for 18-year-old Margrit Løkke, who wanted to sell goods from the stall. It was listed as an important cultural monument in 2009.
Directions: Continue along Storgata. You’ll pass a nice souvenir shop worthy of a detour. They even have some trolls out the front!
You’ll eventually reach…
The World’s Northernmost Burger King
I mean what else can you say about it? Why not go in and get a burger from the world’s northernmost Burger King!
Continue along Storgata. You’ll pass a candy store as well as another souvenir shop, both worthy of quick detours. Eventually you’ll reach a big square with an even bigger church…
This is the world’s northernmost Protestant Cathedral and is one of Norway’s largest wooden churches. It was built in 1861 in a longhouse style. The park is called Kirkeparken and was a burial site in the Middle Ages and possibly the site of Tromsø’s first church.
Behind the church you’ll see the Hurtigruten terminal, where this walk started! Here we are at the end 🙂 Enjoy Tromsø!