Tromsø lies in Northern Norway. The municipality has a population of 73,480, but with an annual influx of students it has over 85,000 most of the year. It is the largest urban area in Northern Norway and the third largest north of the Arctic Circle. Most of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the island of Tromsøya, 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. In 2012, Tromsøya had a population of 36,088. Substantial parts of the urban area are also situated on the mainland to the east, and on parts of Kvaløya—a large island to the west. Tromsøya is connected to the mainland by the Tromsø Bridge and the Tromsøysund Tunnel, and to the island of Kvaløya by the Sandnessund Bridge. The city is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.
The city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789. The city is a cultural centre for its region, with several festivals taking place in the summer. Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge of the electronica duo Röyksopp and Lene Marlin grew up and started their careers in Tromsø. Noted electronic musician Geir Jenssen also hails from Tromsø.
The city of Tromsø is named after the island of Tromsøya, on which it stands. The last element of the city's name comes from 'island' (Norwegian: øy, Danish: ø), but the etymology of the first element is uncertain. Several theories exist. One theory holds "Troms-" to derive from the old (uncompounded) name of the island (Old Norse: Trums). Several islands and rivers in Norway have the name Tromsa, and the names of these are probably derived from the word straumr which means "(strong) current". (The original form must then have been Strums, for the missing s see Indo-European s-mobile.) Another theory holds that Tromsøya was originally called Lille Tromsøya (Little Tromsøya), because of its proximity to the much bigger island today called Kvaløya, that according to this theory was earlier called "Store Tromsøya" due to a characteristic mountain known as Tromma (the Drum). The mountain's name in Sámi, Rumbbučohkka, is identical in meaning, and it is said to have been a sacred mountain for the Sámi in pre-Christian times.
The Sámi name of the island, Romsa, is assumed to be a loan from Norse - but according to the phonetical rules of the Sami language the frontal t has disappeared from the name. However, an alternative form - Tromsa - is in informal use. There is a theory that holds the Norwegian name of Tromsø derives from the Sámi name, though this theory lacks an explanation for the meaning of Romsa. A common misunderstanding is that Tromsø's Sámi name is Romssa with a double "s". This, however, is the accusative and genitive form of the noun used when, for example, writing "Tromsø Municipality" (Romssa Suohkan). In Finnish, however, the word is written with a double "s": Tromssa.
The area has been inhabited since the end of the ice age. Archeological excavations in Tønsvika, just outside the city limits, have turned up artifacts and remains of buildings estimated to be 9,000 to 10,000 years old.
The area's rich Norse and Sámi heritage is well documented. The Norse chieftain Ohthere, who lived during the 890s, is assumed to have inhabited the southernmost reaches of today's Tromsø municipality. He described himself as living "furthest to the North of all Norwegians" with areas north of this being populated by Sámi. An Icelandic source (Rimbegla) from the 12th century also describes the fjord Malangen in the south of today's Tromsø municipality as a border between Norse and Sámi coastal settlements during that part of the Middle Ages. There has also been extensive Sámi settlement on the coast south of this 'border' as well as scattered Norse settlements north of Malangen—for example, both Sámi and Norse Iron Age (0–1050 AD) remains have been found on southern Kvaløya.
The first church on the island of Tromsøya was erected in 1252. Ecclesia Sanctae Mariae de Trums juxta paganos ("The Church of Saint Mary in Troms near the Heathens"—the nominal "heathens" being the Sámi), was built during the reign of King Hákon Hákonarson. At the time, it was the northernmost church in the world. Around the same time a turf rampart was built to protect the area against raids from Karelia and Russia.
Tromsø was not just a Norwegian outpost in an area mainly populated by the Sámi, but also a frontier city towards Russia; the Novgorod state had the right to tax the Sámi along the coast to Lyngstuva and inland to the Skibotn River or possibly the Målselv River, whereas Norway was allowed to tax areas east to - and including - the Kola Peninsula. During the next five hundred years Norway's border with Russia and the limits of Norwegian settlement would be pushed eastwards to Sør-Varanger, making Tromsø lose its character as a "frontier town".
During the 17th century, while Denmark–Norway was solidifying its claim to the northern coast of Scandinavia and during this period a redoubt, Skansen, was built. Despite only being home to around 80 people, Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII. This coincided with, and was a direct consequence of, the abolition of the city of Bergen's centuries-old monopoly on the trade in cod. Tromsø quickly rose in importance. The Diocese of Hålogaland was created in 1804, with the first bishop being Mathias Bonsak Krogh. The city was established as a municipality 1 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt).
Arctic hunting, from Novaya Zemlya to Canada, started up around 1820. By 1850, Tromsø was the major centre of Arctic hunting, overtaking the former centre of Hammerfest, and the city was trading from Arkhangelsk to Bordeaux.
In 1848, the teacher training college was also moved from Trondenes (near current-day Harstad) to Tromsø, with part of its mission being to educate Sámi scholars - there was a quota ensuring that Sámi gained access. The teacher college was followed by the Tromsø Museum in 1872, and the Mack Brewery in 1877.
During the 19th century, Tromsø became known as the "Paris of the North". How this nickname came into being is uncertain, but the reason is generally assumed to be that people in Tromsø appeared far more sophisticated than visitors from the south typically expected.
By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø had become a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated. Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fridtjof Nansen made use of the know-how in Tromsø on the conditions in the Arctic, and often recruited their crews in the city. The Northern lights observatory was founded in 1927.
When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Tromsø served briefly as the seat of the Norwegian government. General Carl Gustav Fleischer arrived in Tromsø on 10 April 1940 after flying in terrible conditions. From Tromsø he issued orders for total civilian and military mobilisation and declared Northern Norway a theatre of war. Fleischer's strategic plan was to first wipe out the German forces at Narvik and then transfer his division to Nordland to meet a German advance from Trøndelag. The Germans eventually captured all of Norway, after allied support had been withdrawn, although they encountered fierce resistance from the Finnmark-based Alta Battalion at Narvik. Tromsø escaped the war unscathed, although the German battleship Tirpitz was sunk by the RAF off the Tromsøy island on 12 November 1944, killing close to 1,000 German sailors.
At the end of the war, the city received thousands of refugees from Finnmark county and the North Troms area - which had been devastated by German forces using scorched earth tactics in expectation of the Red Army offensive.
Expansion after World War II has been rapid. The rural municipalities of Tromsøysund and Ullsfjord, and most of Hillesøy, were merged with Tromsø on 1 January 1964, creating today's Tromsø municipality and almost tripling Tromsø's population - from 12,430 to 32,664. In addition, the population growth has been strong, with at times more than 1,000 new Tromsøværinger (residents of Tromsø) annually. The population of Tromsø municipality today is 68,239, and the urban area, Norway's ninth most populous, is home to 58,486 people. This excludes most of the city's students, however, who often do not change their address when moving to Tromsø.
A major development was the opening of Tromsø Airport in 1964, situated on the main island, and in 1972 the University of Tromsø was opened, at the time one of four universities in Norway and the only one serving the northern half of the country. A local teacher's college and museum were eventually incorporated into the university. The Norwegian Polar Institute was moved to Tromsø from Oslo in 1998. More recently, the university has expanded further through two mergers, first with University College Tromsø in 2009 and then with University College Finnmark in 2013.
The city of Tromsø was established as an independent municipality on 1 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt). The city was completely surrounded by the Tromsøe landdistrikt (the rural municipality of Tromsø / later renamed Tromsøysund), but they were governed separately. As the city grew in size, areas were added to the city from the rural district.
On 1 January 1861, an area of Tromsøysund (population: 110) was transferred to the city of Tromsø. On 1 January 1873, an unpopulated area of Tromsøysund was transferred to the city. On 1 July 1915, another area of Tromsøysund (population: 512) was merged into the city of Tromsø. On 1 January 1955, the Bjerkaker area on Tromsøya (population: 1,583) was transferred from Tromsøysund to the city of Tromsø.
On 1 January 1964, a major municipal merger took place. The city of Tromsø (population: 12,602), the municipality of Tromsøysund (population: 16,727), most of the municipality of Ullsfjord except for the Svendsby area (population: 2,019), and most of the municipality of Hillesøy except for the parts on Senja (population: 1,316) were all merged to form a new, larger municipality of Tromsø.
The coat of arms of Tromsø was devised in 1870 and is blazoned "Azure, a reindeer trippant Argent." It is often surmounted by a mural crown with five or four turrets. The municipal authority currently uses a stylised rendering drawn by Hallvard Trætteberg (1898–1987) and adopted by royal resolution on 24 September 1941.
Tromsø is the eighth-largest municipality in Norway with a population of 71,590, and the centre of the ninth-largest urban area, with a population of about 60,000. The city is home to the world's northernmost university and also houses the northernmost botanical garden and planetarium.
The city centre is located on the east side of the Tromsøya island — over 300 kilometres (190 mi) north of the Arctic Circle at 69°40′33″N 18°55′10″E / 69.67583°N 18.91944°E / 69.67583; 18.91944. Suburban areas include Kroken, Tromsdalen (on the mainland, east of Tromsøya), the rest of the Tromsøya island, and the eastern part of the large Kvaløya, west of the Tromsøya island. The Tromsø Bridge and Tromsøysund Tunnel both cross the Tromsøysundet strait connecting the mainland with Tromsøya by road. On the western side of the city, the Sandnessund Bridge connects Tromsøya island with Kvaløya island.
There are many tall mountains within the municipality including Hamperokken, Jiehkkevárri, Store Blåmann, Store Fornestinden, and Tromsdalstinden. The Lyngen Alps mountain range lies along the Tromsø-Lyngen municipal border. There are many islands within the municipality of Tromsø including Hillesøya, Kvaløya, Rebbenesøya, Ringvassøya, Sommarøya, and Tromsøya. There are also several fjords that are located in Tromsø including the Balsfjorden, Kaldfjorden, Malangen, and Ullsfjorden.
Tromsø experiences a subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc) as winter temperatures are just cold enough to qualify and the summer season is short. However, precipitation amount and pattern, with maximum precipitation in autumn and early winter, as well as lack of permafrost, are atypical for subarctic areas. Due to the ice-free Norwegian Sea and the westerlies bringing the mild air ashore, winter temperatures in Tromsø are moderated and very mild for the latitude.
Tromsø has reputation of accumulating a lot of snow in winter, but on the streets of the city ice often prevails, especially in the first half of the winter. Tromsø's snowfall pattern is quite erratic and varies substantially between different winters. Thaws with rain in the polar night mid-winter are not uncommon, which melts or wets existing snow, often followed by chilly windy Arctic blasts, creating dangerous ice driving and walking conditions. It is common to see Tromsø inhabitants walking with spikes in their shoes and almost all cars use studded tires. The all-time record for snow depth was set on 29 April 1997, when the meteorological station on top of Tromsøya recorded 240 centimetres (94.5 in) of snow on the ground. In an average winter, Tromsø sees 160 days with at least 25 cm of snow on the ground (based on 1970–2000 average and recorded at the met.office station on top of the island, 100 m asl).
The lowest temperature ever recorded is −18.4 °C (−1.1 °F), in February 1966, which is extremely mild for this latitude. However, at the airport, also in the city, the lowest ever recording is −20.1 °C (−4.2 °F) in February 1985. Despite being a full 10 degrees further north than the Norwegian capital, Oslo, winter temperatures are very similar. The "midnight sun" is above the horizon from 19 May to 27 July, and the period with continuous daylight lasts a bit longer, polar night from 28 November to 14 January.
Summers are rather cool, sometimes cloudy and rainy, and sometimes sunny, often with large variations from year to year and from month to month, depending on the weather pattern. Tromsø has recorded the sunniest month ever in Norway with 430 sunhours in July 1980, and also the sunniest spring month with 381 sunhours in May 2013. The highest temperature ever recorded at the met office 100 m amsl is 30.2 °C (86.4 °F) in July 1972. However, in July 2014, Tromsø - Stakkevollan (80 m) recorded 31 °C (87.8 °F). Outside the city, large areas in the municipality are above the treeline and have an alpine tundra climate. On the west coast of Kvaløya (Sommarøy), climate data show a mean annual temperature of 3.9 °C (39.0 °F), mostly because winters here are 2 °C (4 °F) warmer compared to the city, making this part of the municipality a subpolar oceanic climate (Cfc) zone. Tromsø has the distinction of being the northernmost city on earth where the average yearly low remains above freezing.
Recent years have seen warming, and there have been no overnight air frost in June since 1997.
The midnight sun occurs from about 18 May to 26 July, but the mountains in the north block the view of it for a few days, meaning that one can see the midnight sun from about 21 May to 21 July. Owing to Tromsø's high latitude, twilight is long, meaning there is no real darkness between late April and mid-August.
The sun remains below the horizon during the polar night from about 26 November to 15 January, but owing to the mountains, the sun is not visible from 21 November to 21 January. The return of the sun is an occasion for celebration. However, because of the twilight, there is some daylight for a couple of hours even around midwinter, often with bluish light. The nights shorten quickly. By 21 February the sun is above the horizon from 7:45 am to 4:10 pm, and by 1 April it is above the horizon from 5:50 am to 7:50 pm (daylight saving time).
The combination of snow cover and sunshine often creates intense light conditions from late February until the snow melts in the lowland (usually late April), and sunglasses are essential when skiing. Because of these diametrically different light conditions in winter, Norwegians often divide it into two seasons: Mørketid (polar night) and Seinvinter (late winter).
It is possible to observe aurora borealis (northern lights) from Tromsø, as northern Norway is located in the auroral zone. As it is always light in the summer, no aurora is visible between late April and mid August. Additionally, due to the coastal location, Tromsø is often subject to cloudy conditions which prevents aurora being seen, even if they are present.
The municipality is governed by a municipal council of elected representatives, which in turn elect a mayor.
The municipal council (Kommunestyre) of Tromsø is made up of 46 representatives that are elected to four year terms. Tromsø introduced so-called "parliamentary rule" in 2011. The Municipal council elects an executive body, byrådet ("the city council"), consisting of six byråder ("city councilors"). At least in theory, these are equivalent to the cabinet members of a parliamentary government
The mayor of Tromsø since 2015 has been Jarle Aarbakke of the Labour Party.
More than 100 nationalities are represented in the population. Among the more prominent minorities are the Sami, Russians, and Finns, both the local Kvens (descendants of 19th century Finnish immigrants) and recent immigrants from Finland proper. The world's northernmost mosque is to be found in Tromsø. Our Lady Catholic church is the seat of the world's northernmost Catholic Bishop, who leads the Territorial Prelature of Tromsø. Although the local Catholic population is only 350 strong, Pope John Paul II visited this small church and stayed as a guest of the bishop in 1989.
As noted in the history section, the Tromsø area has long been a home to Sámi culture. The assimilation of the Coastal Sámi, however, led to the local Sámi culture becoming increasingly invisible in the Tromsø area during the 20th century. The 1970s, however, saw a revitalization of Sámi culture and identity, which also made itself felt in Tromsø. Today there is a Sami kindergarten and Sami language classes in certain schools of Tromsø. There have been attempts at countering the decline of the Sámi language for example through the establishment of a Sami language centre in Ullsfjord.
Tromsø city has generally displayed a positive attitude to the indigenous minority culture, for example through municipally arranged celebrations of the Sámi People's Day, bilingual signs at the University, and when the city made its bid for the Winter Olympics the Sámi name of Tromsø, Romsa, was included in the would-be logo of the event - which also incorporated an old Sámi symbol as its main element.
In 2011, however, the role of Sámi culture in Tromsø became controversial. The Municipal Board had applied for Tromsø to join the Sámi Language Administrative Area. This would have entailed giving equal space to selected Sámi toponyms on signposts, allowing Sámi-speakers to communicate in their language with local authorities, and make means available from the Sámi Parliament for officials to learn Sámi. The political parties FrP, Venstre and Høyre, opposed the decision and made it a part of their election campaign to reverse it, claiming that Tromsø was "a Norwegian city" and hence it was natural neither to display Sámi toponyms along with Norwegian ones, nor make Sámi an official language along with Norwegian. The parties opposing a larger role for Sámi culture in Tromsø won the election and reversed the application. It has been claimed that the issue has "divided" Tromsø's inhabitants between those who see Sámi culture as naturally belonging there and those who see it as alien to the area. During and after the election campaign, pro-Sámi politicians received threats and people wearing traditional Sámi garb claim to have been subjected to verbal abuse. In June 2013 the municipality nonetheless entered into a cooperation agreement with the Sámi Parliament which is intended to strengthen Sami language education and Sami culture in Tromsø.
Being the largest city in Northern Norway, Tromsø is a cultural centre for its region. It gained some international attention when on 11 June 2005 hosted one of six 46664 concerts, designed to put work concerning HIV/AIDS on the international agenda.
Many cultural activities take place in Kulturhuset (English: lit. the culture house), including concerts by Tromsø Symphony Orchestra and plays by Tromsø's professional theatre troupe, Hålogaland Teater. The new theatre building was opened in November 2005. The city contains several museums. The largest are the Northern Norwegian Art Gallery (Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum) and the Tromsø Gallery of Contemporary Art (Tromsø Kunstforening).
The Tromsø techno scene is the origin of many of Norway's most important artists in electronic music, and Tromsø was a leading city at the early stages of the house and techno scene in Norway from the last part of the 1980s. The internationally recognized duo Röyksopp and the ambient electronic musician Geir Jennsen, known as Biosphere, are the most famous exports.
The record label Beatservice Records and the Insomnia Festival means Tromsø still leads the country in the development and promotion of the genre.
The local newspapers are Bladet Tromsø and Nordlys.
Both the Tromsø International Film Festival and Nordlysfestivalen (lit. the Aurora Borealis Festival), a classical music festival, are arranged in January. The end of that month is marked by the Day of the Sun (Soldagen), when the sun finally appears above the horizon after the Polar Night, which is celebrated, mainly by children. The International Day of the Sami People is celebrated at the University of Tromsø and the city hall on 6 February every year. Tromsø's Latin American Festival, No Siesta Fiesta, is held at the end of February. It started in 2007 and showcases "the best of Latin America" in Northern Norway with film, dance, music, art, seminars, debates, markets, and a street Samba parade. Every autumn the Insomnia Festival for electronic music is hosted. It is one of the largest and most important festivals for electronic music and techno culture in Norway.
The Bukta Tromsø Open Air Festival, held in June and July, is a popular music festival. The Bukta festival is mainly a rock festival, but also features other kinds of modern music. The festival takes place in Telegrafbukta, a park on the south-western part of the Tromsøya island. Other popular cultural summer events among the population of Tromsø is the Karlsøy festival and the Riddu Riddu festival, both held in the region surrounding the city.
Tromsø is the home of many football clubs, of which the three most prominent are Tromsø IL, which plays in the Norwegian Premier League and is the world's northernmost Premier League football team, I.F. Fløya in the Norwegian First Division (women), and Tromsdalen U.I.L., playing in the Adeccoliga. Tromsø Midnight Sun Marathon is arranged every year in June and recently also a Polar Night Halfmarathon in January. The city is home to many clubs in the top division in various sports. Most notably basketball-outfit Tromsø Storm in the BLNO, BK Tromsø in the top volleyball league for men, and Tromsø Volley in the top volleyball league for women. The oldest sports club in Tromsø is Tromsø Turnforening, a gymnastics club founded in 1862, that also was the cradle of the before mentioned football club Tromsø IL.
Tromsø was selected by the Norwegian National Olympic Committee as Norway's candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics. This would have made Tromsø the first city north of the Arctic Circle to host the games. There were plans to use ships as the media village. In October 2008 the NOC suspended Tromsø's bid, citing excessive costs. From the southern to the northern tip of the island Tromsøya, there is a floodlit cross country ski track. A ski jump is also situated on the island, close to the university. As of the spring in 2010, the city's first ice rink has been open and is home to Tromsø Hockey, which plays in the Swedish Ice Hockey Association's League 3.