One of the more macabre exhibits

Exploring The Macabre And Fascinating Polar Museum In Tromsø, Norway

During our trip to Tromsø, in early September 2018, one of the places I was keen to visit was the Polar Museum in Tromsø, Norway.

Fresh from having binge-watched the Netflix series, The Terror, a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic in 1845–1848, and my interest in Polar exploration whetted, I was eager to learn more about Arctic explorers.

Located in former Customs House on the quayside – a stone’s throw from our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With – and dating from 1830, the polar museum in Tromsø is all about Arctic exploration and trapping.

By Lars Tiede – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

As the centre of seal hunting in North Norway in the late 1800s, Tromsø was the “Gateway to the Arctic” and an important base for many polar expeditions.

Near the museum is a statue of Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who led the Antarctic expedition of 1910–12, which was the first to reach the South Pole, on 14 December 1911.

Paying tribute to Norwegian Polar explorer, Roald Amundsen

He was an important person during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and the first person to reach both poles. He also led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06) in the Arctic.

The museum is a shrine to these courageous men and women and the ships and equipment that were essential for life both on the sea and in the Arctic.

The Polar Museet is all about winter trapping, seal hunting and polar expeditions

From the remarkably life-like exhibits, which ranged from macabre to fascinating, it is obvious that life as an Arctic explorer or trapper was hard and that they must have been used to great risk, hardship, deprivation and exposure to extreme conditions.

Some of the subjects of the exhibitions included:

  • Overwintering in the Arctic – The trapper Henry Rudi who killed 713 polar bears
  • The first woman to winter in the Arctic – Wanny Woldstad
  • Seal hunting in the Arctic Ocean
  • Fridtjof Nansen’s and Roald Amundsen lives and expeditions
  • Helmer Hansen and Hjalmar Johansen who accompanied Amundsen to the South Pole
  • Svalbard, Willhelm Barentz’ discovery of the region in the 1500s, whaling in the 1600-1700s and Russian overwintering
  • Temporary exhibitions with Arctic content

I feel obliged to include a trigger warning for animal-lovers. Some of the exhibits of animal trapping and seal hunting were downright distressing.

Here’s a photo-essay of some of the exhibits I found most fascinating.

A very-lifelike exhibit of a reindeer hunter with his kill
Scenes of life in the Arctic
A husky stands on guard
A rather distressing exhibit on animal trapping

Many of the exhibits are not labeled in English so it was hard to figure out what they represented.

These, of course, showcase some objects used by explorers.

Some objects used by Arctic explorers
“Did stone-age people live on Svalbard?” asks this exhibit, showcasing life in the Arctic.
As Norway is one of the few whaling nations, it’s not unusual to find whale bones

This exhibit contains British and Dutch graves that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

One of the more macabre exhibits
Sleds, spears, axes and tools that were used by hunters and explorers
I found this seal-hunting exhibit quite distressing
Seals, seal pelts and the clothes made from them
Models of the ships that sailed from Tromsø
And the men who sailed on them
A trunk of clothes and accessories worn by explorers
Remnants of the airships that Roald Amundsen used to explore the Arctic

This dog accompanied Roald Amundsen at the Gjoa-expedition, the first navigation through the Northwest passage in 1903-1906.

Roald Amundsen’s dog
A sled and the huskies that pulled it
Birds of the Arctic
The muskox (Ovibos moschatus), an Arctic hoofed mammal

Objects that belonged to Norwegian trapper and polar bear hunter, Henry Rudi, who was born in Tromsø.

Rudi is known for having killed a total of 713 polar bears
A walrus skeleton surrounded by photos depicting scenes of death
One of the creepier exhibits – the heart of a whale or polar bear (I couldn’t tell which)

We didn’t actually end up spending a lot of time inside the museum because the thermostat was set so high, we found it uncomfortably warm in all the layers of clothes we were wearing.

But if you like history and creepy stuff, visiting the Polar Museum in Tromsø is one of the things you might enjoy doing.

Polar Museum Tromsø Hours and Opening Times:

  • August 1 – June 14: 11am – 5pm (11.00-17.00)
  • June 15 – August 15: 09am – 6pm (09.00-18.00)
  • Closed on May 1 and May 17

Polar Museum Tromsø Entrance Fee: NOK 50

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22 thoughts on “Exploring The Macabre And Fascinating Polar Museum In Tromsø, Norway”

  1. Pretty macabre but pretty cool exhibit. I haven’t watched The Terror but that would add to the interest. The explorations were a fascinating time and glad to hear there’s a museum to it.

  2. For a polar museum, this place was f***ng hot – but I suppose for the locals, heat is one of the main attractions. We would probably have stayed longer if it hadn’t been for the heat. For us, it was like entering a sauna. What we did see was fascinating – they have really gone to town on the realism. Most of the stuff there was authentic, not reproductions, and we got a genuine Klondyke gold rush feel of Norway in its wild west days. The junk they sold at the inevitable souvenirs shop at the entrance was 100% made in China, however :p

  3. Looks like a good spot for a quick stop, the exhibits look pretty dated. Did they have marterials in English as well?

  4. Wow, it looks amazing, if we try to forget about the really really good exhibits of animal trapping, but it’s fascinating just the tools and resources that the people used to get to the North Pole, also the graves look macabre as everything, but still it shows that every expedition had it’s share of accidents, also who ever did the taxidermy on that dog should be fired, I saw the picture and I won’t lie I remembered when I saw top 10 worst taxidermy animals and just laughed.

  5. thanks for the warning – however, despite that I always think it fascinating to learn about other cultures and their history and not to judge them by today but by the times and geography of when and where they lived. I still think it would be interesting to visit, despite some of the atrocities.

    1. I don’t judge them at all, especially after watching The Terror and seeing the hardship they had to endure to survive in those extreme conditions. As an animal-lover, I’m just very sensitive to scenes of animals being killed or maimed.

  6. This looks like such an incredible place! All the pictures are very beautiful. This intrigues me to visit Norway asap! Thanks for sharing

  7. This does seem like a very informative museum. I feel there are not many places that can show us how life is and was like near the Arctic Circle but Norway is definitely one of them. It definitely seems like a lot of great information is available here. We would definitely want to visit here and learn more.

  8. This is surely one very interesting museum in Norway. Museums always fascinate me. We get to learn so much from them. I loved how they have preserved so many stuffs in the Arctic. The old graves are from 17th-18th centuries and how they managed to preserve them. Also, the fauna of Arctic – they are all so much captivating.

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