Tag Archives: Things To Do In Tromso

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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Why I Chose To Visit Tromsø For My Northern Lights Bucket List Tour

In the novel, The Drifters, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James A. Michener, the second chapter is about the flaxen-haired Britta Bjørndahl, an 18-year-old girl from Tromsø, Norway.

After finishing school, she finds a job in an office at the docks, but eventually becomes curious about the world beyond Tromsø, and goes to vacation in Torremolinos, Spain for fifteen days.

The novel follows six young characters from diverse backgrounds and various countries as their paths meet and they travel together through parts of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Mozambique.

When I read it a few years ago, I was as enchanted with Britta’s tales of her childhood in Tromsø, as the fictional narrator of the book, George Fairbanks.

An extract from the book reads:

Britta Bjørndahl was born more than two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle on the island of Tromsø. During World War II her father had been a notable patriot.

For three perilous years, he had resisted the German occupation, hiding out along the fjords and in the mountains to send wireless signals to London or flashlight codes to British ships as they hovered off the Norwegian coast.

At the end of the war four nations decorated him, and in the summer of 1957, the entire crew of a British destroyer flew to Tromsø to relive with him the excitement of those gallant days.

As a huge WWII history buff, I was especially fascinated with the description of the sinking of the great German battleship, Tirpitz, that would “sneak into Tromsø harbor… and hide from Allied airplanes until it was time to rush out and destroy all Allied ships.”

With the sinking of the Tirpitz in the fjords near Tromsø, Hitler lost the last influential ship of his surface battle fleet and this marked the end of Germany’s naval war in northern waters.

After the war, a Norwegian-German salvage operation recovered the remains of the great battleship, but you can see the wreck of the ‘Tirpitz’, in the waters of Tromsø Fjord, Norway, as it was in 1945 in the photo below.

By Daventry B J (Flt Lt), Royal Air Force official photographer. This is photograph CL 2830 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain.

When I was planning my Northern Lights bucket list tour, this is why I chose to do it from Tromsø, Norway. My fascination with the fictional young Britta’s stories, and the fact that Tromsø lies within the Northern Lights Oval made me decide that Tromsø was the place to go.

One of the places in Tromsø that I was keen to visit was the Tromsø War Museum (Tromsø Forsvarsmuseum) where the cannons of a Nazi coastal artillery battery and a restored command bunker lie.

According to the Lonely Planet, “the Tromsø War Museum also tells of the giant German battleship Tirpitz, sunk near the town on 12 November 1944, and the Nazi army’s retreat from Leningrad, when many of its 120,000 troops were evacuated by ship from Tromsø.”

The Tromsø War Museum is open on Sundays in May and September, and every day except Mondays and Tuesdays from June through August.

But on the three days that we were to visit Tromsø, the Museum was closed. Unwilling to give up on my chance to see it, I wrote to the Tromsø tourism board and they gave me the contact of the museum’s caretaker, Leif.

So I emailed Leif and asked him if I could visit the museum as I wanted to write about it. He offered to give me a private tour. Unfortunately, when I emailed him before we left, I didn’t hear back from him, so we had to skip our tour of the Tromsø War Museum.

Our Tromsø Hotel, The Clarion Collection Hotel With

It was a long, tiring journey from Pune, India, to Tromsø in Norway, in early September 2018. When we touched down in Oslo, the temperature was in the high 20s and we wondered where the Arctic chill had gone.

Our first view of Tromsø from the air

We reached Tromsø on a rainy evening, jet-lagged and exhausted, and checked into our charming Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With, which was right on the waterfront.

Our Tromsø  hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With

The weather was a bracing 8 to 12 degrees C, so despite our exhaustion, we decided to explore the waterfront and get our bearings in this new country.

Near our hotel on the waterfront with the Polar Cathedral in the background

Thanks to the lovely weather, we managed to spend a lot of time outdoors, watching the boats come in and seagulls beg for scraps in the Storgata square.

A hungry seagull inspects the menu at a food truck in the square

The Clarion Collection Hotel With was a fantastic choice for us. It was slightly more expensive than some of the other hotels I had considered, but it more than made up for it in terms of location and food.

The beautiful waterfront near our hotel

The best part was that we spent absolutely nothing on our meals. Norway is an expensive place, and if we’d had to pay for our meals, it would have cost us a pretty penny.

I absolutely loved the Norwegian brown cheese (brunost)

However, at the Clarion Collection Hotel With, not only was breakfast covered, but there were free waffles in the afternoon and coffee available anytime.

Delicious waffles for lunch

To our delight – and this is the best part – we found that dinner was also on the house and it was always a delicious buffet with a fish or chicken main course. I felt like we’d died and gone to heaven!

Delicious dinners on the house

In the afternoons, we had to make our own waffles in the waffle iron, but the hotel provided the dough and toppings.

The waffle iron

While we were waiting for the waffle iron to heat up, an American lady came up and stood by me. She asked me if I knew how to make waffles.

Only half-joking, I said I watch MasterChef. She found that quite funny and proceeded to tell us how they saw the Northern Lights a lot in Alaska, where she lived.

This poor guy greeted us when we arrived

Arun and I enjoyed the three autumn nights we spent at our beautiful and comfortable hotel on the waterfront.

Arun Vs Polar Bear

The staff was pleasant and friendly and the hotel was very close to the Storgata (the main street) and within easy access of everything you could possibly need.

Exploring the Storgata (main street)

It was the perfect base for our Northern Lights Chase near Tromsø and our Fjord Sailing excursion, too.

The Fangstmonument (Arctic Hunter) – statue of a whaler in a boat

Other than those two tours from Tromsø, we didn’t venture too far from the hotel, except to visit a supermarket nearby and the Polar Museum, which I’ll cover in another post.

The Norwegians sure do love their breads

If I ever go to Tromsø again (and I hope I do), the Clarion Collection Hotel With is where I’ll stay. The perfect location plus free food! What more could we ask for in our Tromsø accommodation?

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Watch a lot more photos from our Tromso tour in the video below.