Home Destinations Feeding Reindeer, Joiking, & Fireside Storytelling: The Ultimate Sámi Culture Experience in Tromsø, Norway

Feeding Reindeer, Joiking, & Fireside Storytelling: The Ultimate Sámi Culture Experience in Tromsø, Norway

by Michele
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Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Michele feeding reindeer
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To really get to know a place, you have to understand its people and culture. There’s no better way to experience Tromsø than by learning from the Sámi people of Norway who have lived here for over 5,000 years.

On a recent Christmas trip to Tromsø, I spent a very special afternoon with some Sámi people of Norway who shared insights into their fascinating culture, traditions, and language. Plus, for the first time, I got up close to their most cherished resource, the reindeer.

The Sámi (also spelled Saami) are the indigenous people of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia, who with their strong Sámi culture, produce unique craftwork, sing beautiful traditional songs, speak their own language, and still maintain a traditional livelihood.

If you’re visiting Tromsø, I can’t recommend enough going on a Sámi Reindeer Experience.  Here’s everything you need to know about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Who are the Sámi?

The Sámi are the northernmost indigenous people of Europe who have inhabited the northern arctic and sub-arctic regions of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia for at least 5,000 years. If you’re new to the term, ‘Fenno-Scandinavia’ it simply refers to Finland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as three areas located in Russia including Murmansk Oblast, the Republic of Karelia, and parts of northern Leningrad Oblast.

Between these four countries, there is estimated to be a total Sámi population of approximately 80,000 people, half of which, live in Norway.

Traditionally, the Sámi have supported themselves with a variety of livelihoods, including fur trapping, sheep herding, and coastal fishing. However, the Sámi are perhaps best-known for their semi-nomadic reindeer herding which supports their community by providing them with meat, fur for clothing, and transportation. Sámi have been living and working with reindeers for centuries.

If you’re concerned about animal welfare, such as myself, it’s worth noting that reindeer herding is legally reserved for Sámi people only, and even then, only about 10% of Sámi herd reindeer.

Reindeer Feeding and Sámi Culture Experience

What to expect

Even though I was exhausted from a late, but successful Northern Lights tour the night before, I was super excited to see reindeer for the first time and to learn how the Sámi survive and thrive in the Arctic.

Hoping the cold air would wake me up, I left my hotel 30 minutes early to walk 5 minutes to the pick-up point out the front of Radisson Blu Hotel at 10 am. Along with 30-odd equally tired people, we all hopped on board the bus. It was at this point I was nervous there would be too many of us and not enough reindeer, I soon realised just how wrong I was once we arrived.

The best thing about doing a tour in Norway is that the tour starts as soon as you hit the road. The drive to the Sámi camp is picturesque and provides a great opportunity to see more of the stunning Norwegian landscape. After crossing over Tromsø Bridge, passing the iconic Arctic Cathedral, you follow the snow white coastline north while ogling all the pretty houses decorated in Christmas fairy lights.

After a 25-minute drive, you arrive at the camp where you’re welcomed by the beautifully dressed Sámi who escort you into a large traditional Sámi tent, known as a lavvu.

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Johan-Issak and Henrik

Henrik (left) and Johan-Issak (right)

Inside the lavvu, we gather around a large fire and Johan-Issak, a reindeer herder, introduces himself and his fellow Sámi companions Lynn, Henrik, and Lone.

Johan-Issak explains that each morning he feeds his reindeer and since he has so many, he needs our help. I immediately beam with excitement.

Eager and nervous to feed wild reindeer, we all spill out of the lavvu and are given buckets full of reindeer food pellets. It’s at this point we’re lead into a huge exclosure and are immediately surrounded by hungry reindeer.Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - White Reindeer

Feeding the Reindeer

Between the five reindeer jostling around me to stick their snouts in the bucket of food and the moody clouds hovering above the fjord just beyond the fence, I’m overwhelmed and can’t decide where to focus my attention. This. Place. Is. Gorgeous.

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Fjord and dark clouds

I move away from the entrance and try feed 2 reindeer at a time. After a couple of mouthfuls, they’re onto the next person. One reindeer with particularly large and impressive antlers stays with me for a while. Careful not to let its antlers poke me, I scan its eyes, antlers, hooves, and fur in an attempt to take in every aspect of this beautiful animal.

Sami People of Norway - Reindeer Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Feeding Reindeer Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Michele feeding reindeer

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Curious Sparring

For the next hour, I wander around the huge field feeding and observing the reindeer interacting with each other. I see a few reindeer sparring, either when they want to get to the food or if one of them gets too close to another as they graze. After a minute or two, they go their separate ways.

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Two Reindeer Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Baby Reindeer Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Reindeer SparringReindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - White and dark Reindeer sparring

I spot a lone baby reindeer and my heart melts. Since it doesn’t have any antlers, I crouch down and try to entice it over by holding out the bucket of food. Uninterested, it scampers off to meet up who I can only assume to be its mum.

The first hour and a half of the experience flies by and I realise that most people are having lunch.

Traditional Sámi Bidos for Lunch

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Inside GammeAfter feeding the reindeer three buckets-full of food, I head inside the gamme, another Sámi dwelling made of wood, where we have lunch.

Inside, the gamme is dark and cosy, the smell of burning wood fills the air. After my eyes adjust, I see two burning fires at either end, each surrounded by wooden tables and benches where people are eating by candlelight.

Over the fire, the Sámi women, Lyn and Lone, serve hot drinks, cookies, and bidos, a traditional reindeer stew served on special occasions. I get the vegetarian option and enjoy the feeling return to my fingertips as I enjoy my hot lunch by the fire.

Outside, a few curious children and adults learn how the Sámi use a lasso to catch reindeer. Using fallen antlers to demonstrate, Henrik explains his technique.

Sami Culture

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Sami culture storytellingAfter lunch, we’re invited back inside the tall lavvu for fireside storytelling of Sami culture. Making sure we’re warm enough, Johan-Issak hands out blankets to everyone as we sit around the fire once more.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you all the interesting details Johan-Issak shares about the Sámi culture, but I will say that he covers everything from their language, nomadic lifestyle, the reindeer life cycle, how they make their clothing, how he protects his reindeer, and why he now invites people to help him feed them (hint: it has to do with the weather).

Sámi Language

While many Sámi can speak Norwegian and English, their traditional languages are classified as a branch of the Uralic language family and are therefore not related to Norwegian or any other Indo-European language. Better-known Uralic languages include languages such as Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian.

There are a total of nine different but closely related Sámi languages.  Three of these dialects are still in active use in Northern Norway.

Northern Saami is the most spoken Sámi language and the one used here in this Sámi language guide. It is spoken mainly in Northern Norway, Sweden, and parts of Finland. Here are a few useful Sámi travel phrases you can use.

Hello –  Bures.
How are you? – Mo dat manná?
Fine, thank you – Dat manná bures, giitu.
What is your name? – Mii du namma lea?
My name is …. – Mu namma lea …
Nice to meet you – Suohtas duinna deaivvadit.
Please – Leage buorre.
Thank you – Giitu.
You’re welcome –  Leage buorre / Šatta falli.
Yes – Jua/Juo/Joo.
No –  A-a/Ii.


Heading to Norway? Get my free Norwegian travel phrase guide.


Sámi Joik

While you may think that feeding reindeer will be the highlight of this experience, wait till you see the joik performance. A joik (also spelled ‘yoik’ and pronounced the same way) is a traditional song of the Sámi people. A joik is made up of sounds, not words, which is probably why it isn’t written down or recorded, but is memorised.

Johan-Issak explains that each joik has a meaning and can be about anything, including mountains, dogs, or reindeer. People can also have their own joik which, when shared, can reveal a lot about their personality.

We hear a personal joik performed by Johan-Issak and two other joik from Henrik, all three with their own story and special meaning. Hearing a joik isn’t something you can easily describe. For me, it was a very moving and a great way to end the Sámi experience.

At 2 pm, we all jump back on the bus to Tromsø and I stare out at the scenic landscape once more, but this time with a newfound appreciation. 

Evaluating the Sámi Reindeer Experience

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Sami lavvu tentWhen I travel, I make a point to seek out the kinds of experiences that I wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world — like hiking Trolltunga in Norway or, sleeping in a swag under the milky way.

Meeting the Sámi people of Norway is an absolute must when visiting Tromsø. Johan-Issak has been running these experiences for four years which means that everything runs like a well-oiled machine. On top of that, everyone is wonderfully friendly and eager to share their knowledge.

Johan-Issak was fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about him and this unique experience he’s created along with Henrik, Lone, and Lynn.

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Field of ReindeerIs the Sámi Reindeer Experience Worth the Price?

In my opinion, YES! Absolutely.

The price of the Sámi Reindeer Experience is on par with most activities you can do in Tromsø (Adult (13+) 1,090 NOK / $125 USD), with all the 5-star reviews I read, the insights I gained about the Sámi and being able to get up close with the reindeer, I can honestly say it was worth every Norwegian Krone.

Essential Info

What to wear

For the first hour or so you’ll be outside, dress in warm clothes (at least two layers), wear gloves a beanie and good winter boots. I wore these Timberland boots but I found that these Sorel winter boots are a Norwegian favourite and are even warmer.

When to go

Sámi Reindeer Experiences run every day from November 15th to April 8th.

Price per person

Adult (13+) 1 090 NOK / $125 USD
Child (6-12) 690 NOK / $79 USD
Child (0-5) Free

Location

Pick-up and drop-off is located outside the Radisson Blu Hotel

Time and duration

Pick up at 10:00, drop-off at 14:00 (4 hours)

Includes

  • Feed wild reindeer
  • Learn the art of lasso throwing (but not on real reindeer)
  • Enjoy hot drinks (tea, coffee, hot chocolate) around the fire inside a warm candlelit gamme (Traditional Sámi Hut)
  • Enjoy a warm bidos for lunch (a traditional Sámi soup) with more hot drinks and cookies (vegetarian option available)
  • Storytelling of Sami Culture
  • A joik performance (traditional Sami folk song)

Add-On Options

Short reindeer sledding (approximately 10 minutes)
Adult (13+) 200 NOK / $23 USD, child (7-12) 105 NOK / $12 USD

Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso - Reindeer Sleeding

Book Your Experience

Want to have your own Sámi experience? Check available times and book your experience.


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Sami People of Norway - Reindeer and Sami Tour Experience in Tromso


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Over to you!

Do you have a question about the Sámi Reindeer Experience? Ask me below!
Have you visited Tromsø?  What other things would you recommend doing?

Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

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1 comment

Nikki January 17, 2019 - 19:28

What a wonderful experience! This sounds like a trip of a lifetime and definitely something I’m putting on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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