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Above the Arctic Circle and formerly the base of infamous polar expeditions, Norway's Tromsø has seen its fair share of hardy souls. More recently, this university city has reinvented itself as the north's cultural hub. Come in summer to party under the midnight sun, or brave the Arctic winter for northern lights and Christmas beer. While there's plenty to keep you on the tiny island of Tromsøya, it's also worth venturing across the bridge to neighbouring Kvaløya for a paradise of hiking, camping and skiing.
Stay in a Tromsø hostel downtown to have access to the main sights, nightlife and northern lights tours. Norway can be pricey for travellers, but many hostels in Tromsø have kitchens so you and your dorm mates can keep costs down by cooking dinner together. When the daylight lasts late into the evening, grab some skewers for a barbecue on the terrace, or simply chill with a local beer in the hostel hot tub.
Downtown Tromsø is tucked around the harbour. The main shopping street is Storgata, with most bars and restaurants down the neighbouring streets. Tromsø is actually on Tromsøya island, connected to the mainland and other islets by gracefully arcing bridges. North Tromsøya has the university and botanical gardens, while South Tromsøya has Telegrafbukta (the city beach) and Tromsø Museum. From downtown, it's just 15 minutes on foot to Tromsdalen on the mainland. Here you'll find major landmarks like the Arctic Cathedral and the Alpine Centre.
Ishavkatedralen, the Arctic Cathedral, is the icon of Tromsø. Built to resemble an iceberg, the cathedral hosts daily organ concerts through the summer. While in Tromsdalen, hike or take the 1960s cable car up Fløya mountain. There's a café at the top selling cold beer and hot chocolate to enjoy while taking in the view. You can also catch a bus to Hella to glimpse old Tromsø, a side many visitors don't see. The colourful village is made up of houses that used to be at the city's centre, giving it a historic feel.
Downtown Tromsø is compact enough to walk. To reach the outskirts or get onto the mainland, you'll take the bus – make sure to buy your transport tickets before boarding for a discounted price. The journey from Tromsø Airport via Flybussen takes 15 minutes, but if you're coming by boat you'll disembark at Prostneset (which is also the main bus terminal), located in the downtown area.