Tromsø 2017: the cable car

I’ve done two posts about my short trip to Tromsø back in February – one about searching for the Northern Lights and one about going out snowshoeing. This post is about my trip up the cable car.

Tromsø is over two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. This means the days can be short or non-existent in winter and the snow can linger for much longer than it does at home – not that we get much snow here in the farming counties of the southern UK. And to be fair, I heard over and over again that Tromsø was snow-free up until five days before I arrived, at which point the snow just started pouring down, which meant I arrived into a beautiful blue-sky winter wonderland.

I had my plans to go out looking for the Northern Lights on Wednesday evening and snowshoeing on Thursday morning and an evening out at the Kulturhuset on Thursday but I had no specific plans for Wednesday – normally after arriving mid-morning, I’d spend the day pottering, getting some food, getting my bearings and not doing anything in particular. But this was such a short trip that the rest of Wednesday represented more than a whole sixth of my time in Tromsø and I couldn’t waste it. So off I went up the cable car.

I’d done it on my first ever trip to Tromsø in May 2011, when I’d gone up there in search of the Midnight Sun, only to find it was too cloudy and far too cold. But now I was better prepared. I had my huge fleece and The Hulk, my big Arctic coat. I’d inadvertently left my gloves in my bag, behind the reception desk at my hostel, but I did have my hat. And I didn’t have my thermal layers on because it was far too hot to wear them on the plane, or on the midnight drive to Gatwick either, come to that. But my trousers, although thin in themselves, were lined and I had my good snowboots on and The Hulk had coped with the extreme weather of Svalbard, in the High Arctic, in November, so I thought I’d be ok on a beautiful sunny day.

First stop was the tourist information centre down by the Hurtigruten quay to get a city map so I could find out what bus to get and where from. Second stop was the bus stop, where the shelter was clearly labelled with the cost of various kinds of ticket, so I was able to have 110kr ready when bus 26 came along, to buy a 24 hour ticket, which I thought would be handy for spending the afternoon hopping on and off buses, especially given that a single ticket is 50kr and there doesn’t appear to be any such thing as a return ticket. And of course, it’s all cheaper if you buy in advance from an app I didn’t know existed.

The bus goes over Tromsø Bridge, stops at the Arctic Cathedral and then makes its way through the suburbs that have spilled over onto the mainland. I knew the cable car station is a relatively easy walk from the Arctic Cathedral because I’ve done it in the opposite direction but the Arctic Cathedral is a good easy obvious target, whereas I wasn’t entirely certain where the cable car is. The bus drove along the seafront and looking up at the mountain, I was more and more certain the cable car was behind us.

The way it works is that it drives through the suburbs, does a big drop-off at a supermarket and then turns round and comes back through a higher street, parallel to the seafront and then it drops off at the cable car. In other words, be patient – you haven’t missed it, you just haven’t got there yet.

It seems odd that when you get to the cable car, you’re not allowed to buy a ticket until it’s time to board. Surely it would be more efficient to buy the ticket when you arrive and get on straight away, instead of waiting for the cable car to arrive and then selling an entire queue’s worth of tickets. Not that it’s a huge queue – the cable car can only take 27, and those 27 are very well packed in, a load of human sardines in a flying glass tin.


Almost as soon as I was crammed inside, strategically placed right at the front where I could enjoy the view, I realised my sunglasses were not in the pocket they should have been in. Squashed as I was, there was no way I could move enough to search my bag or the other pockets, so I spent the seven minute ascent panicking that I was going to go home with my retinas singed by the bright winter sun.


Fortunately, the sunglasses turned out to be in my bag, which was good because it was a spectacular blue and white Arctic view. If you climb up into the main cafe, there is a set of patio doors that open onto the viewing platform and the view, on a perfect day like that, is of a triangular white island, navy blue fjord and all along the horizon, white mountains. It’s very cold but very beautiful.


My camera is only a little compact pocket one – one day I’ll invest in a proper dSLR – but it’s got quite a good zoom on it. See just to the left of the bridge, on the island, there’s a little harbour? Here’s that little harbour up close.


I went out the back of the cafe and into the deep snow on the mountainside – the same deep snow that was out here in May 2011 but this time there were other people on the mountain, other people climbing up into the snow and skiing on it and they’d even cut or stomped steps in it to help people get up there.

The view from the mountainside is not all that different, it’s just from a different angle – still beautiful but harder to get to. I was horribly aware that the snow is pretty deep here and there’s no way to tell exactly where the edge of the mountain is. Because the mountain out here is a sheer cliff, and that means you could be standing on snow that’s supported by pretty much nothing.




I lurked out there for a while, took lots of photos, enjoyed the view and also froze my fingers, toes and ears off before returning to the cafe to sit under some dead animals and next to some kind of hand-pushed snow-clearning machine to eat the little picnic I’d bought in the supermarket on the way up.


When I’d eaten, I went back outside to look at the view again and watch MS Lofoten arrive and dock on its journey north towards Kirkenes. But it was cold and my camera battery was getting low and I was beginning to become aware I’d only slept about two hours out of the last thirty-six. It was time to descend.




At the bottom of the lane, I looked up and down the main road. The cable car bus stop was just up to the right. But if I turned left and walked only about twice the distance, I’d get to the bus stop before the cable car one, where there would be no one waiting, where I wouldn’t be squishing onto the bus in a crowd. So I ambled down the road, checked the timetable and my watch and found that the bus was due in about two minutes.


The bus took its time. The time for the last bus went past and it was almost time for the next bus before anything came along. The driver didn’t recognise the 24 hour ticket and I had to have a bit of an argument over whether or not I was allowed on the bus before we went off to pick up my companions from my crowded cable car.


I paused at the Arctic Cathedral on my way into town but you had to pay to get in and I’d already been in, back in 2011, so I decided not to bother. The next bus driver had no problem with my ticket and I headed back into town to find my room, charge my camera and have a nap before heading out into the dark night.