Hammerfest is the world's northernmost town. Suffering from brutal winters, when night lasts for months, Hammerfest decided to brighten the situation and purchased a generator in 1891 from Thomas Edison. It was the first European town with electric street lights. In addition to the constant struggle against the harsh elements in this inhospitable region, the town suffered devastating damage from a fire in 1891. After being rebuilt, it was razed by retreating German forces at the end of World War II. Instead of being abandoned, Hammerfest was stubbornly rebuilt a second time. Rather than the grim industrial town one might expect, it is a surprisingly bright and rather elegant port with an open and unique atmosphere.
The main hub is around the harbor and Strandgatan, the town's main street that runs parallel to the quay. With the frequent arrival of coastal steamers an array of supermarkets, cafes and some surprisingly chic clothes and souvenir shops cater to the tourists stopping off in Hammerfest on the way to the North Cape.
The most notable attractions include the Meridian Column, erected in 1852 in memory of the first survey to determine the earth's exact size and shape, and the fountain in the town hall square, a gift from the former U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Charles Ulrick Bay (1946-1953) whose mother came from Hammerfest. In the basement of the town hall is the museum of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. Its exhibits of stuffed animals tell the story of Hammerfest as a trapping center.