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Tromsø - a bustling cultural centre at 70° Nord

Tromsø is a town bursting with creative energy and the selection of cultural activities seems endless.

Artists are inspired by the fantastic light, the spectacular nature and the friendly people of Tromsø. And this is reciprocated, with the young-at-heart and adventurous locals always game for trying something new. The year is packed with one cultural event after another, from film and music to theatre and art. The selection is nothing less than impressive for a town with merely 65,000 inhabitants.

A Festival for All Seasons
Whether it’s winter with the perpetual darkness or summer with the midnight sun
– Tromsø has a festival for all seasons, and knows how to make the most of the Arctic climate and natural surroundings to create unforgettable experiences.

The kick-off is in January with the Tromsø International Film Festival. Hans Henrik Berg, the legendary head of the local cinema, had a bright idea in 1991: To show high quality films in the darkest period of the year to brighten the long winter. The festival was an instant success, and has grown steadily. It is now Norway’s largest film festival with an impressive
56,985 sold tickets in 2009. And, as is typical for the spirit of Tromsø, the festival is for everyone, and not just for film professionals. It is really a happening, the cafes are filled with moviegoers, eagerly discussing the films they have just seen – or are going to see. The festival has a special focus on films from the north circumpolar region, and plays an integral part in the development of a regional film industry.

 Tromsø has an active music scene. This is from one of the many concerts held year-round.© Marte Kopstad/UD

The Northern Lights Festival is an internationally renown festival within the classical music segment. It attracts some of the world’s best talent under the Aurora Borealis. An added bonus is when the artists interact with the locals, like 2009 when the famous dancers at the Russian Marinskij ballet spent time at the Tromsø Culture School with the young dancers.

Tromsø has a large and active Sami population, and February 6th marks the Sami national day. A whole Sami Week of activities celebrate the occasion, the highlight is perhaps the World Championships in reindeer-racing. Watching skiers speed past behind reindeers in the middle of a snowy Storgata (Main Street) is a great crowd pleaser. A nice way to round off the day is by stopping in the lavvo (tent) where traditional Sami food is served.

Running under the Midnight Sun
The Midnight Sun Marathon gathers participants from all around the world. Running an Arctic marathon in the middle of the night in broad “daylight” is a unique experience, and spectators gather along the route to cheer the runners on.

Tromsø can boast of a vibrant international community, and is more like a mosaic than a melting pot: The different cultures assimilate but at the same time retaining their unique identities. This is never more evident than in the International Week in June where concerts, activities and food from all around the world show how multicultural Tromsø truly is.

The local music festivals are popular meeting places. Bukta Open Air Festival is held on the beautiful southern tip of Tromsø Island, and has been a huge success since it started in 2004. It is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy great rock music from both local bands and international stars. And nothing tastes better than fish burgers when rocking on the beach!

The Døgnvill Festival is one of the newest additions to the festival arena. The annual event debuted in September 2007, but has already had headliners such 50 Cent, Snoop Dog and A-ha. Whether it’s the light or the Arctic nature is hard to determine, but Tromsø has fostered some of the best electronica artists around: Röyksopp, Bel Canto, Biosphere and Mental Overdrive, to name a few. If you like electronica, the Insomnia festival is the best way to spend a week of sleepless nights in October.

What better way to enter the dark season again than by chilling out at the Tromsø International Jazz festival in November? Barents jazz describes itself as a “musical circus” and features exciting jazz artists from the entire Barents region.

But there are also plenty of things happening without the festivals. There are many museums and art galleries, concentrating on life in the Arctic. Kulturhuset (the cultural house) features several shows a week within the arts, and is a cultural gathering point for the entire population.

Hålogaland Theatre showcases theatre from at home and abroad with a distinct northern Norwegian flavour. And it’s worth the trip just for the great architecture and waterfront location.

Reindeer racing in the middle of Storgata is one of the many things you can experience in Tromsø. ©Bent Raanes


Polar History

Tromsø’s rich Polar history as the gate to the Arctic Ocean has not been forgotten. Take a trip to the Polar Museum and experience an original trapper’s hut, built in Svalbard in 1910. The conditions were hard for the trappers, who mostly hunted for polar bears and arctic foxes, and the tiny hut built from drift wood gives an insight into what it was like. At Polaria you can get up-to-date with the newest scientific findings from the neighbouring Polar Institute and enjoy a fantastic panorama film from Svalbard. The most popular attraction is the aquarium with the gentle bearded seals, but also check out the Barents Sea’s most common fish species.

A must-stop is Mack, the world’s most northern brewery. You can take a guided tour of the production process or visit Ølhallen, the brewery pub, which is famous for the old-timers who tell incredible (and most often true!) stories from the harsh and dangerous life as fishermen and trappers in the Arctic.

Creative Innovators
The cultural life continues to blossom with many ambitious and creative innovators dedicated to making the region an even better place to work and live. The results create both jobs and great experiences.

At Film Camp in Målselv the criteria for using the facilities is employing a minimum of 40% local workers – which is a clever way of building new competence in the region. The camp has already started attracting film producers from around the world. In 2009 creative forces from the entire region were pulled together to establish the Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra. The quality is so high that an international record deal is already secured, just a year after they started.

And there are many plans for the future, one of them being to secure the Chess Olympics in 2014.

Renown for its northern Norwegian hospitality, Tromsø is a small town with a big heart – and has cultural activities to suit every taste.

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