It’s easy to understand Norway’s appeal. With stunning landscapes, lots of open space, and friendly people, this coastal Nordic country is a delight at every turn. While summer brings the midnight sun, and beautiful green hiking trails, it also brings bigger crowds and higher prices than at other times of the year. In-the-know travelers visit Norway in the winter instead, and are rewarded with a veritable winter wonderland! What makes Norway such a perfect winter getaway? And why should you add it to your bucket list for post-COVID travel?
The Temperature: Norway is actually not as cold as you might think, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Coastal areas rarely get below 0°F even in the northernmost islands, while the inland mountains can get a little bit colder than that (perfect for skiing, with lots of light fluffy snow.)
Polar Nights: Long hours of darkness, twinkling holiday lights, reindeer in the north, little wooden houses, and no crowds – you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a movie! The deep snow and twilight of winter add a magical aspect to an already staggeringly beautiful landscape. The long evenings allow you to stargaze, catch the Northern Lights, and see the world from a different, more mystical, perspective. Enjoy the winter evenings in Norway by snuggling up next to the crackling fire with your favorite book and mug of hot cocoa.
[Lofoten Islands, Photo Credit: Johny Goerend via Unsplash]
Some of the best places to visit in winter are, surprisingly, along the northern coast. Characterized by contrasts, you’ll find crystal clear water and sandy beaches next to peaks of craggy granite mountains.
The northern archipelagos like Lofoten, Helgeland, Vesterålen, and Svalbard offer UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fjords, glacier walks, wildlife and fishing, sustainability, and steep mountains full of troll legends.
[Tromso, Photo Credit: Zu Photography via Unsplash]
If the wild north isn’t your cup of cocoa, the modern cities of Oslo and Bergen are always great starting points. Oslo boasts 50 different museums, historic buildings, and interesting modern architecture as well as having its own medieval castle — Akershus.
Bergen is notable for its colorful buildings and high-quality restaurants that will impress any foodie. Oslo and Bergen are also great home bases for smaller day-trips to see the fjords or the impressive countryside in only a few hours.
[Bergen, Photo Credit: Michael Fousert via Unsplash]
People often worry that the cold, snow, and long evenings will mean they won’t be able to do as much on a winter visit. Yet Norway offers so many activities that are only possible in the ice and snow!
Skiing, sledding, ice skating & snowshoeing are all major sports in Norway. With some of the best ski resorts and their own Alps, you’ll often find these activities available through your hotel, no matter where you stay.
[Lyngen Alps, Photo Credit: Hendrik Morkel via Unsplash]
Dog sledding & reindeer rides: If you stay in the northern region, you’ll have the chance to check these items off your bucket list! Happy teams of dogs tow you across the arctic landscape — maybe even try your hand at steering the sled. Or you can learn about reindeer herding and Sami culture from the herders themselves.
[Photo Credit: Top: Thomas Lipke Bottom: Arseny Togulev via Unsplash]
Safaris & whale watching: From arctic foxes to moose to sea eagles, there’s a lot of wildlife to see in Norway! Take a safari through the rich landscape, or head out onto the water.
While you can spot sperm whales all year round, humpbacks and orcas are only seen in the winter and spring.
Pro tip: Head to Vesterålen for a 95% chance of seeing whales even on short trips due to the nutrient-rich continental shelf being incredibly close to the mainland!
[Photo Credit: Simon Infanger via Unsplash]
Glacier walks, Ice Caves & Snowmobiling: for more adventurous spirits, try hiking along an icy glacier and exploring ice caves with a guide. Or enjoy the frozen landscape and the rush of speed in a snowmobile!
[Photo Credit: Vidar Nordli Mathisen via Unsplash]
One of the best ways to enjoy the stunning views of the Norwegian landscape is from a comfortable and warm seat on the train! The Flamsbana train line to the small town of Flåm is often touted as one of Europe’s most beautiful train rides. With panoramic views of the fjord landscapes, deep ravines, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and twisting tunnels that spiral in and out of the mountains, it’s definitely worth taking a ride. Make it an easy 3hr day trip from Bergen or have a whole adventure of it with a 6hr ride from Oslo.
Because Norway’s north is primarily made of islands, taking a cruise is the perfect way to get the most out of your trip and see it all. Choose from short 2-4 day cruises or take a long trip on a 12-15 day cruise from Hurtigruten. You’ll have the option of mini shore-excursions during the day, so without too much extra hassle, you can go on mountain hikes, city tours, kayaking, dog sledding, and other cultural activities.
Ice Hotels – Another thing you can only do in winter, there are a few of these hotels around Norway, including the northernmost ice hotel in the world – Sorrisniva. They are, quite literally, a work of art. Carved by local sculptors each year, they’re usually kept around 25°F. Even so, you can snuggle up on your ice bed with reindeer furs and an all-weather sleeping bag for a cozy, comfy night.
The hotels usually include a farm-to-table restaurant, relaxing sauna, and warm main lodge with free wi-fi. The ice hotels themselves include an ice bar and around 30 bedrooms with ice furniture, while the bathroom facilities are kept in the main warm lodge.
[Photo Credit: Tobias Fischer via Unsplash]
Glass Igloos — Taking social media by storm, these are domes/igloos/cabins with at least one wall and much of the ceiling transparent. They range from a small cabin with a separate kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, to a simple igloo with a bed, fireplace, and underfloor heating (but with sauna, shower, and dining facilities located in a nearby lodge.) In Norway you’ll find the glass igloos are often less expensive and a bit more spaced out, offering more privacy than the more famous Finnish ones. And the views of the Aurora are priceless.
For the right traveler, Norway in winter has a lot to offer. It’s a unique, incredible escape and you may even get to cross a few things off your bucket list! If this post has sparked your interest in a winter-wonderland vacation let us know! It will more than likely be next year before Americans can travel to Norway, but a lot of the more unique experiences have limited space and we do recommend booking well in advance.