Be In the Know

Be In the Know. Sign up to have DesignDestinations delivered right to your inbox, weekly.

Tromso–Paris of Norwegian North

The guidebook descriptions of Tromso, a major city  we visited on our Norwegian journey last spring, were a bit confusing to me.  Some of them called Tomso–The Paris of Norway.

As we meandered around the small city (60,000) known as the capital of Northern Norway on a Sunday morning I wondered what they meant.  While charming, I didn’t feel the romantic artsy-ness of the European City of Light.  Curious, I continued my reading and discovered the reason for the Paris of the North designation.

The ship captains often brought back goods and fashions from Europe and since Tromso is and has been a major port, this is where the stuff landed.

 Tromso folks quickly adopted the new trends.

The avant guarde fashion must have seemed exotic to the hardy and quite isolated folks who live there or visited from distant settlements.

 I marvel at their lives–trendy or not– especially when I learned that many times the “living spaces” of the homes are located on upper floors because the snow piles up so high during the long dark winter months that the first floor windows are covered up with dense white snow.

Now, that’s high.  A lot of snow. Makes sense.  The city is  at a latitude comparable to northernmost Alaska.

But what about the Tromso we visited? First of all, it is very far north and a center for expeditions–a jumping off point for folks exploring the North Pole and Arctic Circle.  It was also a center for the fishing and whaling industry.

 We visited museums focusing on the whaling industry and the  lives of the Sami’s–the native folks of the area.  As a child I remember studying them in school. They were called Laplanders in our Geography books.   Exhibits, dioramas and videos captured what life was like for these folks.




Most impressive t o me was the Arctic Cathedral with its massive stained glass window.  A stunning  structure of white and light, angles and massive spaces.  My architect friends would love how it interprets the environment of ice and snow and severe beauty.



 My eyes watered when we heard the choir practicing songs of my Episcopalian childhood, but sung in Norwegian, the language of my ancestors.  I was sorry my Mother couldn’t have been with me.  It was an inspiring and spine chilling moment……almost as if my subconscious was taking me back to an earlier life.

The other memorable moment in the church was when Jim Richardson, the National Geographic photographer on the trip, came over and reminded me to check the Exposure Compensation button on my camera in such a white light space.  Getting personal coaching from a photographer with this kind of talent, skill and experience was a real high.

The town of Tromso, complete with a university with fish medicine major, is quite attractive with many outdoor gathering places.  At points I felt almost like I was in a Colorado ski  town during spring break complete with scenes of folks wandering around in t shirts and shorts and dramatic vistas of snow covered mountains.

But then, turn a corner and there’s the port and the harbor and boats of all sorts in the water.  Won’t see that in Colorado.

I thought this was an interesting way to display a historic seal hunting ship–in its own glass house.  When you think about the amount of snow they get here, it makes sense.

 The shops were fun–filed with boots in June. It’s always muddy here.    A Burger King.  I liked the pop up shop–Moose on the Loose.  And I loved seeing this lady in traditional garb, evidently on her way to a party. She happily posed for me.















Other times I chuckled.  Like seeing that the British Consulate and the historic Mack Brewery share the same building.  I’ll bet that has contributed to positive International Relationships.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Franziska Iseli
    Aug 20, 2012 Reply

    Thank you, again, Susan, for this blog.

    It’s interesting how people have different views and experiences about the same places. For me Tromsø was just the last frontier to finally get up north and explore the wild Arctic. I could have easily done it without Tromsø and spend one more day in Svalbard. For you this seemed to be a very spiritual experience and I totally understand, why. Interesting!

    I am looking forward to the rest of the trip…. on your blog.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Aug 21, 2012 Reply

      It is fun, isn’t it, to compare notes and see how we each perceive an experience.

  2. posted by
    Franziska Iseli
    Aug 20, 2012 Reply

    I forgot to mention: The picture with the Cathedral under the bridge is totally awesome.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Aug 21, 2012 Reply

      Thank you so much.

  3. posted by
    Aug 22, 2012 Reply

    Your description along with your pictures of the Arctic Cathedral also gave me chills! So interesting the way you compared Tromso to Paris and then to a Colorado ski town.

  4. posted by
    Nick Tobier
    Oct 7, 2012 Reply

    Hi Susan–I was looking at the photo with the houses painted an array of bright colors and recalling reading once about wooden architecture in Finnish and Norwegian fishing villages. Are those bright colors traditional/common throughout the region? Best to you and Jack and family!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Oct 8, 2012 Reply

      Yes, we saw the colorful homes alot. Especially red. Really a wonderful contrast to the often bleak landscape in the winter.

  5. posted by
    The Paris of the North « FjordWørd
    Jan 21, 2013 Reply

    […] Design Destinations adds that “The ship captains often brought back goods and fashions from Europe and since Tromso is and has been a major port, this is where the stuff landed. Tromso folks quickly adopted the new trends. The avant guarde fashion must have seemed exotic to the hardy and quite isolated folks who live there or visited from distant settlements.” […]

Leave a Reply