Embrace nature on land and sea in Tromsø, Norway

The autumn and winter months are the perfect time to head north above the Arctic Circle – 69 degrees north to be exact. The exceptional snowy mountains, glassy frozen lakes and wild animals roaming through the countryside just a short distance from Tromsø city centre, makes this one of the best European destinations to embrace all that nature has to offer.

There is no shortage of tour companies in Tromsø, each offering a different take on the wildlife of Northern Norway. It helps to have an experienced guide who knows the roads and top locations when trying to embrace nature on land and sea.

Northern Lights by sea

Northern Lights Tromso

Tromsø is surrounded by towering snow-covered mountains on one side and the wide-open ocean on the other. One of nature’s greatest phenomenon’s is the northern lights, the flashing streaks of green, orange, red and blue lights that flash across the skies, but one of the biggest issues involved with searching for the lights on land is light pollution from street lamps and houses of Tromsø City.

An alternative to the traditional land excursions, is to venture out into the darkness of the sea surrounding Tromsø is to see it from the water. Setting out aboard M/S STRØNSTAD is a unique experience. The excursion leaves Tromsø harbour at night when the skies are perfectly dark and lasts for around 4 hours, slowly sailing into the darkness and chilly winds, with nothing to see other than a blanket of stars overhead and hopefully the bright and colourful lights of the aurora.

Whilst waiting for the lights to appear, guests can sit inside the comfortable and warm cabin with hot drinks as guides talk about why the northern lights happen, how to spot and photograph them and the Sami and Viking legends relating to the lights. When the northern lights appear in the skies, the captain makes an announcement over the speakers and everyone rushes out onto the ice-coated decks of the boat, sets up their cameras and focuses on the skies, eagerly awaiting the flashes of colour.

Northern Lights by land

If you don’t have sea legs, then there are a number of companies in Tromsø offering northern light hunts by land, with drives into the wilds of Northern Norway, leaving behind the street lights, paved roads and civilisation.

The best way to see the northern lights is to find somewhere with open skies and spectacular mountain scenery, hours from other people. Expert guides from various tracking companies use apps on their phones and keep in contact with each other to track the movement of the lights through the skies, stopping off often to look out for faint flashes above. When the best site has been found, even if it means driving across the border into Finland, the guide sets up a camp fire and sets up cameras pointed up at the dark sky.

Even if the northern lights do not make an appearance, the faint glow of the crackling fire gently lights up the mountains and snowy landscape surrounding you, and the tasty hot drinks and sausages cooked in the open fire makes for a unique natural experience in the freezing cold and picturesque wilds of northern Europe. One of the best things about searching for the lights by night in the wilderness is that you have absolutely no idea where you are and phone signal is patchy to say the least.

Arctic landscapes by day

Fishermen Cabin Tromso

The wilds of Tromsø are arguably more breath-taking in the light of day than at night – even if the daylight during winter only lasts for a few hours and casts a dull glow over the landscape.

From central Tromsø you drive through a tunnel that passes through mountains (with roundabouts inside the tunnel) and onto Kvaløya Island (Whale Island) where there are small villages and quaint red wooden fishing huts dotted along the shores of lakes and fjords.

Along the way you pass narrow wooden bridges over fast-flowing icy rivers, uniquely Norwegian one-way metal bridges, the base of towering snowy fjords and frozen lakes, the minibus stops so that guests can take photos of the landscape or go for a short walk through ankle-deep snow fields or windswept beaches.

Northern Norwegian nature in the overcast daylight is a sight that will never be forgotten, and the secluded villages and wooden huts in the middle of nowhere could easily tempt you to leave civilisation behind and embrace a more natural way of life.

Reindeer and Sami culture

reindeer

You simply cannot visit Northern Norway without spending time with reindeer and the indigenous Sami people and you can do so at a traditional Sami reindeer farm a few miles outside of the city.

Upon arrival, a Sami reindeer herder gives an introduction to the life of reindeer herders in the wilds of Norway inside a traditional lavvu (a Sami tent that herders dismantle and rebuild as they follow their herds through the wilderness) before letting guest loose into a field of hungry semi-wild reindeer with buckets of food. There are few places in the world where you can feed reindeer by hand surrounded by tall mountains and snow fields.

A meal is served inside a wooden gamme (Sami hut) of hot reindeer stew (although vegetarian options are available) before a talk back inside the lavvu around an open camp fire where the herders talk about their clothes and way of life before giving a rendition of traditional folkloric singing. Reindeer are an integral part of rural Norway, so where better to meet some than on a Sami farm.

Fact File

FLY: SAS Scandinavian Airlines flies to Tromsø via Oslo-Gardermoen from across the UK; Norwegian Air Shuttle also flies to Tromsø via Oslo from London Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh. Widerøe flies to Tromsø via Bergen from London Stansted, Aberdeen and Liverpool.

STAY: The Quality Hotel Saga is located a street away from the harbour in the centre of Tromsø. The hotel offers a large buffet breakfast and afternoon coffee and snacks, with comfortable rooms and rates starting at £150 per night. For a more cost-effective stay, Smarthotel Tromsø also offers a Scandinavian buffet breakfast and free hot drinks throughout the day, with simple rooms and rates starting at £102 per night.

Excursions

NORTHERN LIGHTS BY BOAT: Arctic Expedition take guests out on one of their modern boats.

NORTHERN LIGHTS ON LAND: Northern Horizon picks up guests at hotels within the centre of Tromsø and drives them deep into the wilds of Northern Norway.

ARCTIC LANDSCAPES: Northern Horizon also operates Arctic landscape tours that last around 5 hours and include hot drinks, a fresh sandwich and cookies.

REINDEER ADVENTURE: Tromso Arctic Reindeer, a Sami-owned tour company, picks guests up beside the harbour in central Tromsø and drives them to a traditional Sami reindeer farm a few miles outside of the city.

4 Best Spots to Enjoy Nature Near Tampa Bay

Best Places to Enjoy Nature Near Tampa Bay

Florida is made up of miles and miles of ocean coastline, palm trees, and consistently warm weather. Get outdoors and enjoy the local nature of Tampa Bay at these exciting attractions.

1.  Manatee Viewing Center

Florida is known for its large population of manatees. Manatees are often considered the “cows of the ocean” with the average manatee weighing approximately 1,200 lbs. and measuring 10 feet long. They are gentle, friendly, and a truly interesting sight to see. You can view Florida’s manatees at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.

The center acts as a refuge for the local manatees. Manatees tend to prefer warmer water temperatures. Because the viewing center is situated in a canal with an average of 68 degrees, it’s a common spot for the wild manatee to roam. There is also a 50-foot-tall observation tower that gives you views all the way across Tampa Bay.

2.  Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon Island Preserve stretches out over 3,190-acres of land, offering the perfect outdoor respite for Tampa Bay travelers. The preserve is home to many of Florida’s local wildlife including birds, fish, and water mammals. The calm waters of the Weedon Island Preserve make it a popular spot for canoeing and kayaking. There are also over three miles of hiking trails and boardwalks to explore.

3.  Indian Rocks Beach

Indian Rocks Beach is a great place to avoid the large crowds that are often found on the other local beaches. With over three miles of sandy beachfront directly on the Gulf of Mexico, you will have plenty of room to stretch and run. The beach is also known for its spectacular sunsets. Grab a bite to eat or shop at one of the local souvenir shops along the boardwalk.

Indian Rocks Beach is one of the best shelling beaches in the area. The well-maintained beach makes it a great spot for adding to your collection of unique seashells. Be sure to check the beach after a storm for the best opportunities. Choosing hotel accommodations in the Indian Rocks area will give you more time to experience the local beach culture and explore the miles of beachfront land.

4.  Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve

The Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve is made up of multiple separate parks, making it one of the largest outdoor recreational spaces in all of Florida. The Hillsborough River State Park is included in the wilderness preserve, offering over 3,000 acres of protected land, including a primitive canoe trail.

There are over 60 miles of trails, perfect for hiking, biking, or stopping for a relaxing picnic. Florida waterways run through many of the wilderness preserve parks. Connect with nature by renting a kayak or canoe for the day. You are likely to see wild birds, turtles, and even alligators along your adventure. And while you’re there, don’t forget to visit campgrounds and RV parks in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay area is one of the best places to explore Florida outdoors. With miles of beaches, preservation areas, and wildlife viewing centers, you will never run out of entertainment and adventure.