Winter in Norway
Updated: Oct 4, 2018
Until recently, Norway was a low key Scandinavian destination. Overall travelers didn’t seem to be flocking to it in the same ways in which they are overflowing in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. While it may be gaining in popularity, its still a great place to get away from the typical tourist crowds. Make no mistake, Norway in the winter is an action packed country; mostly because you’ll be running all over the place to try to keep warm.
For activities in the North, my suggestions are going to be primarily in Tromso. When planning the trip, we wavered as to whether to go to Tromso, Alta, Hammerfest or a mixture but ultimately came to the conclusion that anything you can do in Alta or Hammerfest can be done in Tromso. Tromso, known generously as the Paris of the North, has the advantage of being a bigger town with more amenities albeit with more tourists.
North of the Arctic Circle:
Step up to Husky Sledding: When we asked our team lead what annoys her the most about tourists that go sled ridding she replied, “they come into this experience not prepared for how physical it is.” Trust me when I say that sled riding is not just sitting in a sled and getting pulled around (unless you’re getting pulled by reindeer; more on that later in this post). You and a partner will trade responsibilities of who is riding in the back and who is in the sled. The person on the back is responsible for braking or slowing down the dogs, and making sure the sled stays upright. More often than not, you will tip over. Try to keep to your leader’s instructions as much as possible for your safety and for the safety of the dogs. I promise that as cold as it is when you arrive- you will be given even warmer gear than you have- you will warm up from the sheer amount of activity you may not even realize you’re doing. All of that being said- it was the highlight of our trip. We selected Active Tromso as our tour operator and were very impressed. The pick up and drop off was smooth, the dogs seemed well cared for, and the landscape was icy and etherial. Overall, the company also seemed to be the best value with the most amount of hours sled riding compared to other companies for a comparable price. No sled operators that I found provided lunch- even if you are there all day- so be cognizant of that the day before so you can pick up something for the next day since most tours start very early in the morning.
Chase the Northern Lights. You can actually see the Northern Lights in Tromso but they are faint and if you don’t know what you’re looking for you may not notice the hazy streak above your head. October and March are the best times to go since other times of the year can get quite a bit of cloud coverage. Norway, however, is a much better destination than the more popular Iceland because it’s further North so you’re more likely to see them. Do your research when looking at tours and book early. There are many tours that will seem extremely similar. Most provide dinner of some sort of dinner, will show you how to take photos, will provide tripods (verify this on their websites or through email). I would recommend a smaller group experience if you can get it, and to check their social media pages if they have one to see the quality of photos and the types of places they may take you to as they tend to stay around the same spot. Make sure your camera has a lithium battery since other batteries may drain in the extreme cold and having a back up battery isn’t a bad idea. We chose Northern Soul Adventures which only hosts about 6-7 people at a time. Its organized by a married couple who love what they do and want to guarantee that you love it too.
Skiing is arguably one of the cheaper things to do in Norway. Rentals cost us around $25 for all gear and there are groomed, off piste, and cross country options all over the country. Keep your pass for whatever the first groomed slopes are because they can be reloaded all over the country (and you can avoid paying multiple times for the pass). The most stunning to me was the groomed slopes of Tromso because of the ocean views. Narvik is also known for skiing but times are limited to the evenings except for weekends so that locals can get up there, making it a little less than ideal as a destination since there isn’t much else around there. When you make it to the South of Norway, the slopes of Oslo are incredibly fun.
Reindeer sled rides and Sammie culture. The Sammies have been herding reindeer for centuries and reindeer tours are get ways for them to preserve their culture and share it with us. The better tours will explain clothing types of different groups, provide sled tours (often for some extra cash and I would recommend a shorter ride than a longer one as I don’t believe it’s worth the extra charge), provide food (usually reindeer stew or a vegetarian alternative), and give historical context to the groups that occupied this region before christianity came North and claimed shamanism was witchcraft. In reality, some Sammie traditions and garb actually influence our concept of Santa Claus down to his red suit. Many Sammie are now Christian and some religious rituals are either rarely practiced or mostly gone.
South of the Arctic Circle:
Get Trondy; The original capital of Norway and the historical epicenter of their history lies in the University town of Trondheim. Despite having a history dating back to medieval times, the city has young energy. Explore the design museums, the cathedral and have some coffee outside of a cafe while sitting on reindeer pelts and finish off your evening with some shopping and incredible food. “Trondy” refers to the hip and fresh food and art culture in the city. To take advantage, I recommend a modern Norwegian lunch at Sellanraa Bar. If you can’t decide what you want to eat, see if they will negotiate a sampling of dishes for you. If you’ve been holding out on eating all day because Norway is expensive, to say the least, take advantage of a vegan buffet at Mat Far Hagen. Don’t let the word vegan scare you, the food is filling, savory, and at this point in your trip you may be wanting some fiber in your diet. Norwegian food it filling and hearty, but fibrous it is not. Work off your lunch by going up the hill to the Kristiansten Fortress for stunning (and free) city views.
Explore Oslo If you’re more the budget traveler or are interested in an adventure, you can take a train from Trondheim in the evening and wake up in Oslo. I’d recommend staying near the center by the train station anyway if you’re coming in and out of destinations. Get to the The National Museum early to avoid the crowd and to spend some time with Munich’s “The Scream” . Many museums, like the Viking museum, may be closed in the winter so know before you go. There’s still plenty to do and if you can arrange your day trips out of Oslo I’d recommend going on Sunday if that’s a day you have scheduled in Oslo. Most stores and businesses are closed on Sunday and even the most heavily touristed areas of Oslo are no exception of that. Reserve a day for Vinterpark for some skiing or sledding and appreciate how much better 3 year olds are at skiing than you are. Don’t take it personally; Norwegians invented skiing. Of course, you’re going to want to take photos of the stunning Opera house.
FSS OLSO RECCOMENDATION: You can reserve a ticket from the train station to the airport using their Flytoget app and enjoy free wifi on the train ride in to the airport. Booking ahead should alleviate some stress if you have an early morning departure.