While seeking the Northern Lights were my main purpose for being in Tromso, there is plenty for visitors to do during the day. I imagine tourism is a main industry here, and there must be something to do in the between times (and summer time of endless daylight).
The first stop was the Tourist information center. I went in to look at couple of maps (many are free) and ask about postcard rates. They answered my questions (granted, I didn’t give them much of a challenge), gave me weather and museum advice (like the free Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum across the street), had a nice selection of postcards (and other goodies), and even sold the stamp I needed. There were free public computers available for research. It was not very crowded, but I went early in the morning, so perhaps it can get real busy later in the day (or around cruise times).
As the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum was literally across the street, why not? Yes, admission was free (as mentioned to me at the nearby Tourism center), but it would still be worth it with a small admission fee. Their focus is entirely on Norwegian artists, a subject I know very little about (only Munch), so I learned a little that day. They were still creating the Peder Balke special exhibit when I visited, so I missed out on that. I was the only visitor that morning, so it was curiously quiet, as I was the only person making footstep noises. I was able to take as long as I wanted, even sit on the floor and appreciate the art, mostly paintings, but also photos, sculptures, statues, and other works. I imagine that when a cruise comes in, it can get very crowded. There was a children’s art area at the top floor, and on the bottom floor, restrooms, free storage lockers (no backpacks or purses around the art), and coffee/tea/baked goods for purchase.
The Polar Museum isn’t a giant place with a bunch of interactivity. What is does have is a low admission fee, lots of artifacts, dioramas, and photos, and a good way to occupy a couple of hours between meals. It’s not a far walk from the town centre and you might learn a bit about how impossible some of these expeditions sounded when they thought them up. They didn’t have today’s technology (think synthetic fabrics or vehicles). The younger ones could be a bit scared by the animal trapping and seal hunting recreations. Be aware that there is another museum in Tromso called Polaria, sometimes also referred to as the Polar Museum. To be sure which one you want, you could call this one the Polar Exploration Museum.
Outside the Polarmuseet; diorama of a hunter/trapper cabin
Seal skin and model display; gun display next to children’s drawing station
The next day, I bought a 24-hour bus pass to get me to the University of Tromso (and back). If you visit a lot of science museums like I do, this one is a bit disappointing. Granted, they don’t have the level of tourism that large, international destination cities get, so they can’t afford/justify cutting-edge exhibits. Still, if you’re pressed for something to do during the day, while you wait for a northern lights tour, this can fill some of that time. The admission fee felt high for the size of the place, but maybe that’s just Norway. The place is designed to entertain children, with a nice mix of interactivity (both physical and mental), so if you visit without kids, try to imagine their level of wonder and you might have more fun. The planetarium was more disappointing, it’s an empty-looking room with a few information stations. I can’t remember anything about the film I saw, and I almost missed it entirely as the staff member at the gift shop/ticket counter didn’t make any mention of it. He also had no idea where the botanic garden was (the downhill path is adjacent to the building).
The sparse exhibition floor; hamster wheel
Both attractions reside within the university campus, so this was a bonus. In late October, many of the plants were dead or dormant, with some workers on site, presumably removing and/or replacing plants. Still, it’s a nice walk if you’re up for it, and it’s free. There was a good variety (but don’t expect tropical colors) and lots of paths to take, kids that love running around should have a great time. Fair warning, bring wind protection, as there is little shelter to be found if a steady and cold wind comes your way.
If you prefer to not spend money on admissions fees but take a half-day trip somewhere, take the easy bus ride from town to the University, wander around the botanic gardens, university bookstore and campus, and get a bite to eat at the campus cafeteria.
The third day had another chase tour, so there was only one stop today, the Polaria Museum. I would definitely recommend planning your visit around the seal show (feeding time and the younger ones do a few leaps, plus the staff will answer questions afterwards). But the seals are not the only attraction – there are a couple of short films that are decent and exhibits do try to entertain and educate, but it’s nothing new if you go to a lot of science museums or keep up with environmental news. Outside the museum (and for a separate/combined admission) is a preserved seal hunting ship called the MS Polstjerna housed in another building. You can see most of it from the outside, so I didn’t feel the need to pay to read more details.
Hoop leap; trained for your amusement
The next post will share my second northern lights chase tour. I leave you with a night and day shot of Tromso Cathedral.