The blue-green ribbons of light in the sky, with a young woman in the foreground.

I went chasing Northern Lights and found hygge in heartwarming winter

Beyond breathtaking spectacles and other cliches lies the soul of Scandinavian happiness, hidden in plain sight.

It is impossible to avoid cliches when attempting to describe Tromsø. In fact, you begin to think these are the very views and vistas that gave birth to those phrases – winter wonderland, picture postcard perfect, fairytale-like, magical. Every turn you take, there lies an image straight off a Christmas card.

I am a tropical soul; I come from swaying coconut palms, sandy beaches and almost perpetual summer. To even plan a holiday into a town that lies about 350 km north of the Arctic Circle, in winter, during polar night, was nothing short of a giant leap of faith (a week of no sun?!).

My very first glimpse of Tromsø through the airplane window is breathtaking. Brightly lit houses dot the hillside like a hundred fairy lights. In the winter darkness of 3pm, I can just about make out the uniformity of the sloping roofs and the snow that covers everything. For the days that I spend there, my breath remains similarly taken.

It’s a few days before Christmas and the island of Tromsø is decked out in lights and Christmas trees.

Across the waters, mainland Tromsø glitters too, the Arctic Cathedral conspicuous with its unique triangular shape and purple lighting. The city centre bustles with tourists, especially in the evenings when the many minivans and buses go off in different directions, carrying eager groups of travellers on a hunt for northern lights.

Tromsø is touted as one of the best places to witness the phenomenon of aurora borealis. But as the city lights can interfere with visibility, several companies offer guided tours that take you far from light pollution. A number of conditions – and luck – have to work together in order to get a glimpse of the northern lights. And so it was, when I joined one such tour and waited for four hours, scanning the sky, keeping warm with hot chocolate.

I was coming to the conclusion that even this wait was an experience – standing on a frozen beach surrounded by mountains, in the company of strangers united by nothing but the wish to see some magic, under stars brighter than I have ever seen them. Just as the guide was wrapping up, saying we would have to return in a few minutes, there came the lights, shimmering, moving, in shades of pink and green.

While the northern lights were surely the highlight of my trip, the city of Tromsø has my heart. There is the Raketten bar that calls itself the “tiniest bar in the universe” and sells hot wine and reindeer hotdogs. There is the Polaria aquarium, designed like ice floes and housing some adorable seals. A troll museum for those who’d like to dip a bit into folklore. And an ethereal midnight concert at the Tromsø Cathedral, a wooden church that is over 160 years old, in the heart of the city.

Walking along some quiet streets, I understood the idea of hygge in its entirety, for every home exuded a warmth that I could feel even when standing ankle-deep in snow – every window decorated with a star or candles, curtains drawn to show cosy living rooms dressed in warm wood and thick rugs. Picture perfect.

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