At Tromsø Arctic Reindeer
Tromsø is a city in northern Norway that is known for its natural beauty and outdoor activities, including reindeer sledding. There are several reindeer farms in the Tromsø area where visitors can learn about the traditional Sami culture and experience reindeer sledding first-hand.
Today, we would like to introduce you to Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, which is the most visited farm in the surroundings of Tromsø. They offer guided tours and activities such as reindeer sledding, feeding the reindeer, and learning about the history and cultural significance of reindeer husbandry.
So, here’s everything you need to know about the reindeer sledding and meeting reindeer at Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Farm.
ABOUT US AND REINDEER SLEDDING IN TROMSØ
Hi guys, Radka and Ivar here!
For those who do not know us, we are the faces behind the Guide to Lofoten page. We love Lofoten, but in 2022 we spent six months living in Tromsø, where I (Radka) worked for a travel agency as a trip planner. I was putting together trips for people who wanted to visit Tromsø and Lofoten, so naturally, I needed to try the activities that I was recommending.
One of the activities I loved the most was feeding and petting reindeer at Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Center. And let me tell you; we are pretty spoiled concerning reindeer since we could watch them almost every day from our tiny off-grid house we rented close to Tromsø.
Anyway, in this article about Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, I will share information about this wonderful tour and some basic info on reindeer and Sami people.
I hope you will enjoy it, learn something new and perhaps consider adding reindeer feeding & sledding to your Tromsø winter itinerary.
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Sámiland, more commonly known by its North Sámi name Sápmi, is the core region inhabited by the Sámi, extending across vast areas in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The Sámi people have inhabited north Scandinavia for at least 5,000 years, and they are the only indigenous people in the European Union.
Sápmi is a region that most tourists would know as Lappland. However, Lapp is a derogatory word used by Scandinavian colonizers about the Sámi people. It means something like ‘simpleton’ in English.
The Sámi people have been subjected to discrimination and racism by the Governments in the Nordic countries. They have lost land to farmers and industries, been subjugated to racial biology, and have had their religion, culture, and language suppressed. Nowadays, many young Sámi cannot speak their native tongue, and practices like reindeer herding are only used by around 5-10 percent of modern Sámi people.
There can be a lot written about the racialized discrimination of the Sámi people in Scandinavia, but I do not feel educated enough to dive into this topic. Moreover, I want this article to be about meeting the reindeer at Tromsø Arctic Reindeer.
However, I think it is important for tourists to understand that reindeer herding is an essential part of Sámi culture and not just an animal tourism experience.
You will learn more about the Sámi people’s history during the reindeer camp storytelling. If you want to learn more before your visit, I can recommend watching the critically acclaimed movie Sami Blood.
In 1997, King Harald of Norway apologized to the Sámi people for the treatment they had been subjected to.
Reindeer herding is more of a lifestyle than just a profession and there are currently over 3000 people active in Sami Reindeer husbandry. The number of reindeer varies annually, but there are around 250.000 herd animals in Norway.
Profitable Reindeer husbandry requires large areas – a given pasture range can only sustain a limited number of animals, and migrating reindeer herds each need eight different seasonal pasture ranges.
The reindeer herding year is a cycle based on season, weather, and reindeer migration patterns. In the Sami culture, there are eight seasons, each closely linked to the reindeer’s natural migration and the reindeer owner’s tasks during that season.
Winter is a critical season for reindeer herding, with the amount and quality of snow being among the most critical factors determining reindeer’s condition and survival rate.
The Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Camp is open from November to April, primarily to protect reindeer from the predators and effects of climate change by enclosing them in one area and feeding them. During the summer, the reindeer graze in the mountain pastures.
Reindeer and Sámi people have a connection that is thousands of years old. In fact, according to Norwegian law, only Sámi people who have or had reindeer herding as their primary occupation can conduct reindeer husbandry in the Sámi herding area.
While you can stumble upon reindeer herds while exploring the surroundings of Tromsø, at Tromsø Arctic Reindeer, you can get up close and personal with these magnificent animals without disturbing their natural habitat. You can partake in feeding the reindeer, reindeer sledding, and sharing a traditional meal while listening to the fascinating history of the Sámi people and stories about their culture.
The meeting point for the Reindeer Farm Visit is in front of the Radisson Blu Hotel in the city center of Tromsø.
Many companies resell reindeer feeding & sledding tours, but no matter with whom you book, the tour is provided by Tromsø Arctic Reindeer.
Be prepared that the check-in process in front of the Radisson is chaotic. It took us quite a while to make our way through the different groups and find the right person with our names on the list.
Tromsø Arctic Reindeer offers different types of reindeer tours. For example, you can book a visit to the Sami Camp that includes reindeer feeding and Sámi storytelling or include short reindeer sledding or long reindeer sledding on top of that.
All these tours have the same departure time from Tromsø and use the same couches (big buses). When checking in before departing from Tromsø, you will get a colored wristband based on the type of tour you booked.
Next, a guide will walk you to the nearby parking place, where you will board a bus. The parking place is only about 100 meters walk, but in the icy conditions, it can get very slippery, so bring your ice cleats.
We are not big fans of big tours, so I got a bit nervous when I saw two big buses at the parking place in Tromsø quickly filling up. The drive from Tromsø city center to the Tromsø Arctic Reindeer Camp takes about 25 minutes.
After we arrived, we were greeted by our Sámi guide dressed in colorful traditional Sámi clothes. She escorted us to the spacious Sámi tent, lavvo, where she instructed us on how to feed reindeer and gave us a timeline of the whole tour.
(Lavvo is a traditional Sami tent. It has a design similar to a Native American tipi but is less vertical and more stable in high winds.)
The reindeer farm in Tromsø is very spacious, and even though we were a big group of about 70 people who arrived in 2 separate big buses, people spread out, and it didn’t feel cramped at all.
Once at the reindeer camp, I quickly forgot about the chaos at the beginning of the tour in Tromsø. The guides were super laid back and friendly, and it felt much more organized than at the beginning of the day.
We were divided based on the wristbands’ colors; while one group went reindeer sledding, the other group went to get buckets full of reindeer food pellets and feed the reindeer.
Some reindeer knew instantly what would happen, and they came running towards the camp’s entrance, where the food was distributed. Others were lingering further away. Since we enjoy solitude, we decided to get as far away from the entrance as possible. The reindeer had different personalities – some were cheeky, others were shy, and some fought each other for food or just for fun.
I was almost sad when we were called for sledding time since I enjoyed walking among the reindeer, feeding them, interacting with them, or just observing them and taking pictures.
Reindeer sledding offers a more relaxing alternative to dog sledding, so you will love it if you travel with children. When booking, you can choose from a short sledding trip (about 15 minutes) and a long one (30 minutes).
We did this tour through a company I worked for, so my colleague and I could better understand the tours we were selling. Therefore, we got booked for long sledding.
You sit in a wooden sled, either alone (if you are a solo traveler) or together with your partner or kid(s). The sled is comfortable, but make sure you have enough clothes because you can quickly get cold when you are not moving for 30 minutes.
The guide walks in front of the first reindeer and makes a big circle in a section of the farm. You will be able to enjoy beautiful view of the mountains and fjord.
We liked the experience, but honestly I think that it is an attraction mainly for families with small kids. (Also probably easier on the reindeer if he does not have to pull a sled with 160 kg.)
After enjoying the reindeer stew for lunch (don’t worry, they also have a vegetarian option), we gathered again in the lavvo. We sat down around the open fire and listened to fascinating stories told by our Sami guide (I forgot her name) about the reindeer and life as a Sámi reindeer herder. I do not want to spoil all the fascinating information.
We learned about the Sámi way of life, their languages, culture, traditional clothing, Sami history, and the challenges that the reindeer and Sámi face nowadays.
I will share one interesting fact that I can not keep to myself as it is hilarious.
Did you know that Rudolf the reindeer and all the other 8 Santa’s helpers are actually females? This is because male reindeer lose their antlers in the winter. So any reindeer that still has antlers come Christmas time is most likely a girl.
Sami joik is a traditional form of vocal music that has been passed down through the generations. The word “joik” comes from the Sami language and refers to the traditional way of singing and chanting that is used to express a wide range of emotions and experiences, from joy and celebration to sorrow and longing.
Joik is a deeply personal and expressive form of music that reflects the Sami people’s unique cultural identity and traditions. It is typically characterized by improvisation and repetition and often incorporates elements of nature and the natural world into the lyrics and melodies.
In recent years, joik has gained increased recognition and popularity beyond the Sami communities, and it has inspired several contemporary artists to incorporate elements of joik into their own music. This has helped to introduce the unique and powerful sound of joik to a broader audience and has helped to raise awareness about the cultural traditions and heritage of the Sami people.
Overall, Sami joik is a powerful and expressive form of music that reflects the rich cultural traditions of the Sami people and serves as an essential part of their heritage and identity. It is a unique and beautiful art form worth exploring and experiencing.
Traditional Sami joik
Sami joik as a part of modern music
The tourism industry in Scandinavia has been criticized for turning Sámi culture into a marketing tool to attract tourists. Gift shops often offer cheap reproductions disguised as traditional craftsmanship, and attractions may feature non-Sámi staff dressed in traditional Sámi clothing. However, in recent years there has been a positive movement of Norwegians (Swedes and Finns) and Sámi towards working together and creating sustainable, small-scale, culturally sensitive tourism products.
The Tromsø Arctic Reindeer is a family business founded by the Sámi reindeer herder Johan Isak Turi Oskal in 2016.
The initial purpose of the reindeer farm was to protect the animals from the perils of climate change. Unfortunately, climate change-induced rainfall forms a thick layer of ice, which makes it impossible for reindeer to dig through it and obtain lichen and moss, the staples of their diets.
Tromsø Arctic Reindeer is one of the tourist attractions that combines the original livelihood of reindeer herding while sharing the Sámi culture and knowledge with visitors from all over the world.
“Many visitors are surprised to find that all of us working here are reindeer herders, and it is not just a typical tourist attraction but rather a look at our way of life,” says Turi Oskal.
There has been debate about whether or not reindeer sledding is ethical or if reindeer are being exploited for entertainment purposes rather than being allowed to live their natural lives free from human interference.
Reindeer sledding can be a fun and interesting cultural activity, but ensuring that the animals are well cared for and treated ethically is essential. This includes ensuring that the reindeer are in good health, are not overworked or subjected to harsh conditions, and are treated with kindness and respect. It is also important to ensure that the activity does not have a negative impact on the local ecosystem or community.
Reindeer husbandry, or the raising and care of reindeer, has been an important part of the Sami culture and economy for centuries. Reindeer are often used for transportation, including pulling sleds or carts and are also a source of food, clothing, and other resources.
The Sami people have a deep cultural connection to reindeer and have traditionally taken great care to ensure the well-being of their animals. In modern times, there are laws and regulations to protect reindeer’s welfare and ensure that they are not overworked or mistreated.
You can see that the family running Tromsø Arctic Reindeer cares deeply for their animals. Moreover, the animals are not pulling sleds for longer than 30 minutes, but it is, of course up to you to decide where you draw the line when it comes to reindeer sledding.
We hope this article has given you a better idea of what to expect when visiting a reindeer farm in Tromsø and has helped you understand more about the Sami people and their culture.
We can absolutely recommend visiting the Tromsø Arctic Reindeer farm. It is one of the best things you can do in Tromsø in winter, especially if you travel with kids.
We love that you can get close to reindeer, pet them and feed them, which you should never do when you meet these magnificent animals in the wild. Moreover, the Sami culture and storytelling is a worthwhile on its own. You will learn a lot about reindeer, reindeer herding as a lifestyle, and the fascinating Sami culture and history.
For our next visit, we would skip the sledding and spend more time interacting with the reindeer. Even though the reindeer sledding was nice, we didn´t feel comfortable being pulled on sled by a reindeer, but it is, of course, up to you to decide where you draw the line when it comes to reindeer sledding.
Reindeer and caribou are the same animal (Rangifer tarandus) and are a member of the deer family. In Europe, they are called reindeer. In North America, the animals are called caribou if they are wild and reindeer if they are domesticated.
Male reindeer can grow up to 1.2 meters tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 250 kilograms – that’s over three times the weight of an average person! Females are a little smaller than males.
Reindeer can live for up to 15 years in the wild, although domesticated reindeer can live for as long as 20 years.
Reindeer are the only deer species in which both males and females can grow antlers. Compared to their body size, reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers of all living deer species. Males’ antlers can grow up to a whopping 1.4 meters in length.
Unlike horns which are never shed, antlers fall off and grow back larger each year. Male reindeer begin to grow antlers in February, and female reindeer in May. Males drop their antlers in November, leaving them without antlers until the following spring, while female reindeer, on the other hand, retain their antlers throughout the winter.
Reindeer eat mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses, and the shoots and leaves of shrubs and trees, especially willow and birch. In winter, they make do with lichen (also called reindeer moss) and fungi, scraping the snow away with their hooves to get it. An average adult reindeer eats 9 to 18 pounds of vegetation a day.
These beautiful beasts may be big, but they are still the target of hungry predators! Wolverines, bears, and even eagles are just some animals that prey on reindeer.
The eyes of Arctic reindeer change color through the seasons from gold to blue, adapting to extreme changes in light levels in their environment and helping detect predators.