Why I chose Stavanger over Tromsø - and would do so again in a heartbeat!

It’s been over a year now that I left Tromsø, my home for 3 years, and moved to Stavanger at the west coast of Norway. Thanks to the name of this blog (what a brilliant idea that was…), people still think I live in Tromsø, despite what it says on my contact page or Instagram bio. You see, it really doesn’t bother me at all… ehem…

To be honest, though, I still get reactions of people who can’t understand why I would choose Stavanger over Tromsø, and I think there’s also some people who think that my boyfriend Simon and I will eventually move back north for good (nope!).

So, I thought this would be the perfect time to compare life in Tromsø with life in Stavanger and give you the detailed rundown of why I love living in Stavanger so much!

Living in Norway as an Expat - Why I left Tromsø and moved to Stavanger

Tromsø vs. Stavanger in a nutshell

First things first, Tromsø is an amazing city and I can’t deny that! Nothing beats Arctic landscapes and the sun illuminating heaps of snow on a late winter day. However, visiting Tromsø and living in the city are two very different pairs of shoes.

Living in Tromsø means having to deal with 2 months of not seeing the sun at all during polar night. It means struggling to find a decent place to live as there just isn’t enough housing available at the moment. It also often means paying more for the flight from Tromsø to Oslo than for the connection from Oslo to wherever else you’re headed in Europe.

Stavanger on the other hand is different. The city has had the reputation of being Norway’s most expensive city for ages, but with the oil crisis of 2014, that’s just not the case anymore. We didn’t have any trouble finding a nice and affordable flat in the city and when it comes to travelling, we’re not dependent on the plane anymore, as we were in Tromsø, but now can choose between taking the plane, ferry, train or bus to explore more of Norway.

Overlooking Hafrsfjord in Stavanger

Overlooking Hafrsfjord in Stavanger

Both cities are very similar in one regard, though: having nature right off your doorstep! It doesn’t really matter where in Tromsø or Stavanger you live, you’ll always find a nice walking/hiking trail, a stunning viewpoint, or a scenic fjord in walking distance. I do think that this goes for all cities in Norway, though.

Or at least, I’ve yet to stumble upon a city where that isn’t the case!


What Stavanger offers that Tromsø doesn’t

Let’s start with the pros of Stavanger, shall we?!

1. Affordable housing

As I said, Stavanger used to be really expensive with monthly rents of 12,000 to 14,000 NOK (roughly around $1400 to $1600) or more, for a 1-bedroom apartment. Due to the oil industry in town, oil companies would buy or rent loads of apartments and houses to provide their employees, meaning that landlords were free to charge pretty much whatever they wanted as the companies were known to be able to afford it.

With the oil crisis of 2014, however, many people lost their jobs and former oil workers relocated and moved away from Stavanger in search of new job prospects. The housing bubble, thus, burst very quickly and accommodation prices fell rapidly.

Many people who had bought a flat or house during the oil boom in the city, suddenly found themselves in the position of loosing money if they ever were to sell their place again. Thus, some decided to rent it out instead and that is also how we got our current apartment. Our landlord would have lost money if she had sold her flat when she moved, so instead, she’s renting it out to us for a price that would have maybe gotten us a dark and moldy basement apartment in Tromsø.

Stavanger’s gorgeous old town

Stavanger’s gorgeous old town

Instead, we can now afford to live in a bright and airy loft in Stavanger, on pretty much a student budget! So basically, we pay less rent than we did in Tromsø and have a much nicer flat.

At the moment, you can expect to pay between 8000 and 10,000 NOK ($950 - $1200) for a 1-bedroom flat in Stavanger, while, as there aren’t enough flats available in Tromsø, landlords there can charge higher amounts and most 1-bedroom flats there will thus cost you between 10,000 and 12,000 NOK ($1200 - $1400) a month.

Tromsø, unfortunately, just doesn’t have enough housing available for a city that is growing at the pace it currently is. Each year, many students have to either live in temporary accommodation or can’t start their studies at all for lack of affordable housing - meaning that if you were to decide to move there, you should only do so if you were to start a well-paying job or are able to afford higher accommodation costs by means of savings/scholarships.


2. Travel made easy (and affordable)

The city of Tromsø is situated on an island in the Arctic and if that doesn’t sound remote enough for you, let me tell you that there’s no railway connection to Tromsø and that the next city of similar size is over 500 km further south.

The distances in Northern Norway are huge, so unless you’re fine exploring the surrounding region again and again and again, you have to step on a plane in order to get anywhere. Seeing as there are only 2 airlines who provide regular flights (excluding charter flights and seasonal connections) from Tromsø, you’re pretty much stuck with the prices they offer if you were to go anywhere.

Flying over Northern Norway

Flying over Northern Norway

Of course, there are always some offers to be found, but you can’t exactly travel on a whim AND on a budget if you’re living in Tromsø.

For someone like me who loves to travel and who doesn’t own a car, Tromsø has felt quite isolated for a long time and I can only tell you that Stavanger doesn’t. Taking the plane to Germany from here to visit my family costs me a mere 400 NOK ($50) and I always have the option of taking the train to Oslo or the ferry to Bergen or Denmark as well.

And that’s besides the many non-seasonal, regular, daily direct flights you can take from Stavanger to, for instance, Amsterdam, London or Copenhagen. Not forgetting, of course, the many options to get around by public transport in the surrounding region - whether that’d be by bus, train or ferry/express boat!

In a nutshell: Travelling from Stavanger is so much easier and so much cheaper than it will ever be if you’re based in Tromsø.


3. more varied weather

Stavanger in autumn

Stavanger in autumn

When we first told people that we were looking into moving to Stavanger, EVERYONE warned us about the rain. The west coast of Norway is known to be very rainy year-round, but 15 months in and honestly, I haven’t really noticed that yet… And I’m not just saying that because the sun is shining while I’m writing this (and has been doing so for 4 days straight…).

In general, I find the weather in Stavanger a lot more varied than the weather in Tromsø. Yes, we do have weather fronts coming from the North Sea, draining us in rain - but half an hour later, the sun will come out again. Back in Tromsø, we often wouldn’t get to see the sun for several weeks (and that’s outside of polar night season) as the weather would often just be grey and miserable.

So personally, I much prefer experiencing all 4 seasons in 1 day if that means I get to see the sun more than just once a week!


4. Longer days in winter

I guess, this is a no-brainer! While Tromsø has polar night in winter where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon for 2 months straight, Stavanger still has 6 hours of proper daylight on the shortest day in winter - compared to 3 hours of twilight we would get in Tromsø.

Stavanger in winter

Stavanger in winter

I tend to suffer from seasonal affective disorder - at least I have suffered from it during all 3 years in Tromsø - and can honestly say that I this isn’t a problem I experience here in Stavanger. I don’t need to take any medicine here to lift my mood, which is what life should be like, right?

I mean, there’s no point having to go on anti-depressants each winter just to be able to live in Tromsø or the Arctic. For me, as much as I love the Arctic, it’s just not worth it and not a lifestyle I want to live in the future.


5. It’s simply a bigger city

Of course, Stavanger is a bigger city than Tromsø, which means that there’s just a bigger variety of pretty much everything: public transport options, supermarkets/restaurants and selection of food (whether that’s international or organic food options), and more of a cultural life.

I’m not saying that Tromsø doesn’t have any of this - there’s A LOT going on in Tromsø - however, if you’ve lived there for a while and get bored really easily (like me), you might find yourself in the position of having seen it all after a while. At least, that’s how I felt when I left the city.

Overlooking Stavanger at Vålandstårnet

Overlooking Stavanger at Vålandstårnet

Both, Simon and I, are city people. We love nature and getting our weekly dose of green on but we also love eating out, attending events and just escaping the weekly rut. As Stavanger has almost double as many inhabitants as Tromsø does, it’s a no-brainer that the city has a lot more to offer when it comes to entertainment.

Again, not saying that Tromsø is boring - far from it - but personally, we just find that Stavanger is a lot more exciting while still being a very compact and not exactly crowded city!


6. Norway in a nutshell

Last but not least, the Stavanger region is Norway in a nutshell, in my opinion. Within just a 30-45 min drive, you can experience everything you’ve ever imagined Norwegian nature to be - from the rugged coastlines with its many islands and even sandy beaches to lush farmland and fjords, mountains and waterfalls.

The region around Stavanger has just so much to offer (much more than just Pulpit Rock!) and even after a year of living here and working as a tour guide, I still feel like I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of everything there is to experience!

The Jæren coast near Stavanger

The Jæren coast near Stavanger

Stavanger might not be situated quite as gorgeously as Tromsø with its dramatic mountaintops as a backdrop, but Stavanger is very close to whatever form of Norwegian landscape you might be in the mood for at any given time - and there aren’t many places in Norway where this is the case in the same way it is here!


What Tromsø offers that Stavanger doesn’t

Of course, Stavanger isn’t perfect either (no place really is), so there are actually quite a few things Tromsø is better at after all:

1. snow

Yep, Tromsø has a lot of snow in winter while Stavanger has… well, barely any. I think we got quite lucky last year as there was plenty (considering it’s Norway’s west coast anyway) of snow in Stavanger between December and January, but in general, whenever it does snow in the city, it melts away pretty quickly.

So if there’s one thing I actually do miss about Tromsø, it’d be the snow! Especially in February and March, when it’s still the dead of winter here in Norway, Stavanger is quite depressing (as in grey and dull), whereas that’s the season when the Arctic is at its best.

Tromsø in late winter

Tromsø in late winter

There’s still plenty of snow around but the sun is back after polar night as well, making for an incredibly sunny and snowy landscape that’s just absolutely gorgeous!


2. Electricity Prices

When we moved to Stavanger and heard what our landlord paid in terms of electrical bills while living in the flat we took over, we basically thought something along the lines of: “We’re from Tromsø! We’re used to cold weather! It doesn’t even get that cold here, so how bad could the bills really be?!”.

Well, as it turns out, bad.

Not as bad that it would make life in Tromsø appear cheap again, but definitely a lot higher than what we paid for electricity in Tromsø. You see, electricity in Northern Norway is subsidised by the government, meaning that you’ll pay less for electricity than you do in the south.

We didn’t know that before moving, but we sure as hell know now…


3. Midnight Sun & Northern Lights

When comparing Tromsø and Stavanger, it’s quite obvious that Tromsø has all these natural phenomena that Stavanger doesn’t have - aka the Midnight Sun in summer and the Northern Lights in winter.

Northern Lights as seen in the Lofoten Islands

Northern Lights as seen in the Lofoten Islands

However, remember that visiting and living somewhere are 2 different pairs of shoes. Believe it or not, but as a Tromsø local I did not spend each winter evening hunting the Northern Lights. I mostly spent my evenings relaxing under a blanket on my couch after a long day at work/uni. And while the Midnight Sun definitely provided me with the energy to get up effortlessly at 5.30 in the morning in summer, having the sun shine in your face and heating up your room to resemble a sauna at 3 am, is not exactly something I ever enjoyed…

In short: While Tromsø might seem like a magical fairytale to visitors, you have to keep in mind that there’s an everyday life there as there is anywhere else. It’s not all magical all the time, even though it might appear so from afar!


4. Wildlife sightings

Similar to the natural phenomena that Stavanger doesn’t have, we don’t have any whales or reindeer roaming the streets here either (although there are wild reindeer in the mountains close to Stavanger).

The one time I went whale-watching in Tromsø

The one time I went whale-watching in Tromsø

Again though, most locals are more annoyed at the reindeer on the streets (and those that destroy their gardens) than they are fascinated by them and it’s not like people would go whale-watching or husky-sledding all the time either. These activities have been set in place for tourism purposes, and locals rarely get to admire the whales or go for a ride on a husky-sled.

I never went husky-sledding in Tromsø at all and only found it acceptable when I visited Svalbard as a tourist…


Thinking about moving to Norway yourself?

To sum up, it’s not my intention to speak ill of Tromsø. The city is absolutely lovely and I totally get it if it’s your dream to visit or even move there. However for me personally, Stavanger is just a much better fit and I absolutely enjoy living here.

In the end, if you’re thinking about settling down in Norway yourself, take some time to think about what it is you’re looking for from your adventure up north.

Are you planning to go skiing every weekend? Then Tromsø surely is your best best! Are you looking to eat out a lot and go the theatre/cinema or attend concerts often? Then Stavanger will suit you well, as there’s just a lot more to choose from in all regards.

I’d say, in a nutshell, Stavanger is for those who want it all (I’m definitely that kind of person which is why I love it here so much), while Tromsø is for those who are willing to compromise on a couple of things in order to experience life in the Arctic and live a lot closer to nature.


Are you planning to move to Norway yourself or have already done so?

Share your questions and/or advice in a comment below or by using the #nordicinsider on Instagram!