Winter travel in Norway evokes images of long, dark evenings, northern lights hunting, cross-country skiing, Christmas markets and cozy nights-in.
The reality can of course be quite different. Norway’s winter travel season is split into two quite distinct experiences.
The late autumn and early winter months are defined by darkness. These months also tend to be the wettest, with any snowfall often quickly washed away. Later in the winter and early spring, snowfall sticks around longer as temperatures drop while the days lighten.
One stereotype about a Norwegian winter that’s absolutely true is the nation’s love of skiing. Throughout the winter and early spring, Norwegians of all ages head out into the forest trails and mountain cabins for a cross-country skiing retreat. For those who prefer downhill skiing, some of Europe’s most underrated slopes are dotted around the south and central of the country.
With activities from skiing to northern lights hunting and everything in between, here are five suggested destinations for a winter trip to Norway.
Arguably Norway’s most famous winter destination, Tromsø is the biggest city in Arctic Norway and as such has a lot to offer international tourists.
The northern lights economy is big business throughout the winter season with many different tours leaving the city every evening. But on a clear night, it’s perfectly possible to see the aurora without leaving the city.
Elsewhere in the city, the Fjellheisen cable car whisks people up to the Storsteinen mountain ledge. Visitors admire the stunning view across the city, which looks even more special bathed in the indigo light of the mid-afternoon, while locals head out to explore the snowy terrain on skis.
Also consider: Alta is another northern lights hotspot and offers a chance to discover Sami culture together with other outdoor activities like dog sledding.
As magical as the north can be during the winter, don’t ignore the capital. The winter is a wonderful time to visit Oslo.
While it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the northern lights, Oslo’s main tourist attractions including the National Museum, Munch Museum and the museums of Bygdøy tend to be quieter at this time of year. Oslo’s efficient public transit system moves you between the sites easily, keeping the amount of time you spend outside to a minimum.
December is an ideal time for an Oslo break, as the city is decorated in white lights and hosts some of Scandinavia’s best Christmas markets on several of its public squares.
Winter sports fans won’t miss out by staying in Oslo, either. Formerly known as Tryvann and Oslo Winter Park, the rebranded Skimore Oslo provides 11 lifts and 18 floodlit slopes within walking distance of the city’s metro system.
Also consider: Bergen also offers indoor cultural attractions including the Art Museum, while average temperatures are milder than Oslo.
There are many Norwegian ski resorts ideal for international visitors. Trysil is Norway’s most popular for many reasons.
A staggering range of slopes, vast children’s area, lifts with heated seats, two full-service resort hotels and 30 restaurants are just some of the reasons to choose Trysil for a skiing vacation. If you prefer cross-country skiing, approximately 60 miles of groomed trails are within easy reach of the resort.
While the relatively new Scandinavian Mountains airport hasn’t proved popular with airlines, Trysil is still within just three hours by coach of Oslo Airport Gardermoen, Norway’s biggest airport.
Also consider: Hemsedal is another of Norway’s best family-friendly ski resorts.
Depending on your age, the name Lillehammer might conjure up images of the freezing cold 1994 Winter Olympics or the gangster comedy-drama TV series Lilyhammer starring Steven Van Zandt. Whether you’re a fan of either or both, there’s something for you in this surprisingly compact town.
Less than two hours north of Oslo Airport by train, Lillehammer’s Olympic legacy is impossible to miss. The national Olympic museum recalls the 1994 event but also the 1952 Oslo winter games and the Olympic movement in general.
It’s located at the Maihaugen open-air museum, home to 200 historic houses dating as far back as the 13th century until today. Even when covered in snow, the museum remains open. Throughout December, the museum’s houses are decorated with era-appropriate Christmas decorations.
For those keen to try out the same slopes as Olympic athletes once used, the ski resorts Hafjell and Kvitfjell are just a short ski bus ride away.
Generally one of the trickier places for international travelers to reach, Røros is a two-hour train journey from Trondheim. Those who make the journey to one of the coldest parts of Norway in the winter season are rewarded with a picturesque small town straight out of the history books.
The wonderfully preserved town center of this former copper mining company town has become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Much of the town’s modern economy is based around sustainable food production, with the local butter, ice-cream, beer and flatbreads known across Norway. That’s quite a feat for a town of just a few thousand people.
A winter visit to Røros means requires wrapping up warm for a walking tour of the town, but there are some indoor attractions too. The local pottery is a must-visit as is the mine museum that tells the story of the entire town, not just the copper mine itself.
As long as you book accommodation well in advance, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the town’s two major winter events. The Røros Christmas market in early December and the winter fair in mid-February draw visitors from all across Norway.