Winter travel in Norway conjures up images of long dark evenings, hunting for the Northern Lights, cross-country skiing, Christmas markets and cozy evenings.
The reality may of course be quite different. Norway’s winter travel season is split into two distinct experiences.
Late fall and early winter are characterized by darkness. These months also tend to be the wettest, with any snowfall often being quickly washed away. Later in the winter and early spring, snowfall persists longer as temperatures drop as the days become clearer.
A stereotype about a Norwegian winter that is absolutely true is the nation’s love of skiing. Throughout winter and early spring, Norwegians of all ages head to forest trails and mountain lodges for a cross-country skiing retreat. For those who prefer downhill skiing, some of Europe’s most underrated slopes are dotted across the south and center of the country.
With activities ranging from skiing to chasing the Northern Lights 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 largest city in Arctic Norway and therefore has a lot to offer international tourists.
The Northern Lights economy is significant throughout the winter season with many different tours leaving town every night. But on a clear night, it’s perfectly possible to see the aurora without leaving town.
Elsewhere in the city, the Fjellheisen Cable Car takes people up the Storsteinen Corniche. Visitors take in the sweeping views of the city, which looks even more special bathed in the indigo mid-afternoon light, as locals set out to explore the snowy terrain on skis.
Also consider: Alta is another Northern Lights hotspot and offers a chance to experience Sami culture as well as other outdoor activities like dog sledding.
As magical as the north can be in winter, don’t overlook the capital. Winter is a wonderful time to visit Oslo.
Although you’re very unlikely to 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 transport system allows you to move easily between sites, minimizing the time you spend outdoors.
December is a great time for a break in Oslo, as the city is decked out in white lights and hosts some of Scandinavia’s best Christmas markets in many of its public squares.
Winter sports enthusiasts will not fail to stay in Oslo either. Formerly known as Tryvann and Oslo Winter Park, the rebranded Skimore Oslo offers 11 lifts and 18 lighted runs 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 the most popular in Norway for many reasons.
An impressive range of slopes, extensive children’s area, lifts with heated seats, two full-service resort hotels and 30 restaurants are just a few of the reasons to choose Trysil for a ski vacation. If cross-country skiing is your thing, approximately 60 miles of groomed trails are easily accessible from the resort.
Although the relatively new airport in the Scandinavian Mountains isn’t popular with airlines, Trysil is still only a three-hour coach ride from Oslo Airport Gardermoen, Norway’s largest airport.
Also consider: Hemsedal is another of the best family ski resorts in Norway.
Depending on your age, the name Lillehammer may conjure up images of the freezing 1994 Winter Olympics or the gangster comedy-drama television series. Lilyhammer with Steven Van Zandt. Whether you’re a fan of one or both, there’s something for you in this surprisingly compact city.
Less than two hours north of Oslo Airport by train, Lillehammer’s Olympic heritage is unmissable. The National Olympic Museum recalls the 1994 event but also the Oslo Winter Games of 1952 and the Olympic movement in general.
It is located in the open-air museum of Maihaugen, which houses 200 historic houses dating from the 13th century until today. Even covered in snow, the museum remains open. Throughout December, the houses in the museum are decked out in period-appropriate Christmas decorations.
For those wishing to try the same slopes that Olympic athletes once used, Hafjell and Kvitfjell ski resorts are only a short ski bus ride away.
Generally one of the hardest places to reach for international travellers, Røros is two hours by train from Trondheim. Those who make the trip to one of Norway’s coldest regions during the winter season are rewarded with a quaint little town straight out of the history books.
The wonderfully preserved downtown of this former copper mining town has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Much of the city’s modern economy is based on sustainable food production, with local butter, ice cream, beer and flatbreads known throughout Norway. This is quite an achievement for a city of a few thousand inhabitants.
A winter visit to Røros requires warming up for a walking tour of the town, but there are also a few indoor attractions. The local pottery is a must visit, as is the mining museum which tells the story of the whole town, not just the copper mine itself.
As long as you book your accommodation well in advance, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the city’s two major winter events. The Røros Christmas market in early December and the winter fair in mid-February attract visitors from all over Norway.