Common Misconceptions About The Arctic

When I tell people that I move to the Arctic I ALWAYS get one of the following responses:

1. But it's so cold there

2. But it's always dark there in winter

3. Are you gonna live in an igloo?

Can you imagine how annyoing this can be?!! So in the hope to get less of these responses in the future I thought I'd clear a few of the most common misconceptions people have about the Arctic.

(Please note: this posts refers to Tromsø and its surroundings as things are different further inland and in mountaineous areas, let alone in Russia or Canada)

1. It's always cold

No it's not. As I'm writing this post it's 26 degrees Celsius in Tromsø and although it still has been snowing in June, temperatures over 20 degrees are a lot less uncommon in summer as you might think.

tromso snowstorm winter

In winter temperatures mostly range between -5 and 5 degrees with very few days below -10 degrees thanks to the gulf stream. That's not cold. Especially because the air in Norway seemed a lot drier to me than the air in England where I was constantly cold, even in September.


2. It's always dark in winter

When I was a kid I imagined the Arctic to be pitch black in winter and wondered how people could possibly deal with these circumstances. Fortunately I got older and learned that in fact it's not pitch black whereas many grown-ups still believe that.

tromso polar night

In Tromsø the polar night lasts roughly from the middle of November until the middle of January. During this time there's daylight (yes daylight but not sunlight so technically twilight) from about 10am to 1pm.

That is, of course, not much but at least something!


3.  You can see the Northern Lights year-round

I didn't think that anyone could believe that the Northern Lights are visible year-round until our guide on the Northern Lights tour I did in Tromsø back in November told us that indeed, there are a couple of guests each year who travel to Tromsø in July to see the Northern Lights.

tromso northern lights

Not just one but several people each year. Crazy! Have you ever seen a Northern Lights picture taken in the sunshine?? No? Think about it!


4. There are polar bears & penguins

Picture credit: Ian Parker

Nope, there are no polar bears in continental Norway - just in Svalbard and that's 2000 km further north - and there are no penguins in the North at all. They can only be found in the Southern Hemisphere and the Antarctic.

So please don't ask me if I ever saw a polar bear or a penguin. I have not and I will not.


5. The ocean is covered by ice

Picture credit: Marcus Lofvenberg

Picture credit: Marcus Lofvenberg

Again thanks to the gulf stream, it's not.


6. People live in igloos

Wrong country. The indigenous people of Scandinavia, the Sami, lived in tents and turf houses. The Inuit in Greenland however used to live in igloos, yes, stress on used to live.

icehotel sweden

Nowadays they are occasionally build during hunting season but people live in houses as everyone else.  Nonetheless, tourists like to sleep in igloos in the Arctic, isn't that weird?


7. The Midnight Sun can be seen all over Scandinavia

Nope. There's 24 hour daylight (called midnight twilight) in most parts of Scandinavia (and oh, Scandinavia means Norway, Sweden and Denmark - not Finland although the same applies there too) in June but the midnight sun can only be seen in the Arctic, that is to say above the Arctic circle.

tromso midnight sun

The sun does not set there at all for about 60 days in summer (4 months in Svalbard and 6 months at the North Pole) whereas the midnight sun itself can only be seen for about two weeks at the Arctic Circle and 4 weeks in Tromsø.

I do understand that this is a phenomenon that is difficult to grasp and I totally understand that it's confusing. Nonetheless technically, the midnight sun can only be seen in the Arctic!


8. Everyone is pale in the Arctic

tromso telegrafbukta

I don't know how they do that but Scandinavians usually are tanned, even if they live in the Arctic. Understandable as they spend every free minute in the sunshine, regardless of temperatures, but still I envy them. I never get a tan even if I try....


9. The Arctic is a dead place

trump hair

You don't expect plants and fruits to grow in the Arctic? So wrong! Cloudberries for instance can only be found in the tundra of the North and because they are so rich in vitamins, they prevented the indigenous people of Scandinavia from getting sick and helped them to survive the winters.


10. The Arctic is a remote and boring place

Not true either. Whale watching, dog-sledding, skiing, fishing, hiking, snowboarding, snowmobiling - all very popular activities in the North.

tromso northern norway

Generally people love to spend time outdoors regardless of the temperatures and if you've ever seen pictures of Norwegian landscapes, you can probably understand this. Besides, culture cannot only be found in Oslo.

Tromsø is a city that offers you events like the Midnight Sun Marathon, the International Film Festival and the Sami Week each year.


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