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DISCOVER NORWAY

Best things to do in Norway in the winter

Winter is a truly magical time of year in Norway - especially if you're looking for unique experiences. Whether it's chasing northern lights, skiing, or dog sledging, here's why you should visit Norway once the cold kicks in.

Northern lights
Considering a winter trip to Norway? You're in for a special experience. Photo by Pascal Debrunner / Unsplash

If you’re a fan of the cold, look no further – Norway is the place to be during the winter season. It has a host of fantastic winter activities to offer, regardless of which part of the country you visit.

Whether you prefer an active holiday or a break without much physical activity, Norway has something for everyone in the winter. While skiing is the go-to activity for locals, tourists enjoy winter tours and safaris, fjord cruises, Christmas markets, and many other memorable experiences.

In this article, we will look at some of the extravagant (think northern lights) and some not-so-off-the-wall activities (like skiing and cruises) you can engage in during your winter trip to Norway.

Chasing the Northern Lights

For many people, witnessing the Northern Lights is high on their bucket list – and for a good reason. Seeing the aurora in the sky is considered a special – often once in a lifetime – experience.

There are a number of options and dedicated tours that can increase the odds of your northern lights adventure being successful – and Tromsø, in particular, is very popular when it comes to northern light tourism.

Your best bet for seeing the aurora is to join a guided tour, as guides will do their best to find a spot where you can enjoy the visual spectacle – of course, depending on the weather and whether the skies are clear.

Most tours in northern Norway include exciting trips through the majestic Arctic wilderness, and a lot of them also offer additional activities that you can pair with your Aurora-hunting safari, such as snowmobile riding and dog sledging.

Dog sledging through white landscapes

Dog sledging is a unique way of experiencing Norway’s vast and wild landscapes. Multiple companies offer dog sledging safaris in northern Norway, and you can even combine the activity with a trip to a dog kennel!

Dog sledging trips can be somewhat physically demanding – especially if you’re the one driving – but they’re well worth the effort, and the feeling of immersing yourself in Norway’s winter environment is magical.

Generally speaking, if we’re talking about a two-person sledge, the people in it have different roles. One acts as the musher and operates the sledge, while the other is free to enjoy the sights from the sledge.

Sledging trips usually let the two people change places halfway so that both you and your sledge partner can experience both roles.

Remember that you’ll need to put in some effort during such trips, which often include pushing the sledge when the terrain gets rough or steep. If you’re unsure whether your health or general condition allows you to participate, make sure to check with your tour company.

The tour organisers will usually provide the winter clothes you will need during the dog sledging trip. You will also get a short course on operating the sledge and interacting with the dogs.

Snowmobile safaris

An activity often paired with chasing northern lights, snowmobile safaris are an adrenaline-packed way of moving through winter terrain.

Tour companies tend to add options of overnight stays in cabins to snowmobile safari excursions, which can make for a really special two-day adventure in the north – and increase the chances of seeing the aurora!

No prior experience operating a snowmobile is needed, and you will get a short safety course before you embark on the winter safari.

Most tour organisers can provide you with body suits, helmets, and other necessary clothes so that you’re well-equipped to handle the cold.

Many packages offer driving in pairs and allow people to switch during the trip – especially if it’s a drive that lasts more than two hours.

Remember that you must have your driver’s license with you to drive the snowmobile.

Winter on skis

Norwegians are a nation of skiing enthusiasts. Whether it’s alpine skiing or cross-country skiing, expect to find entire families on the trails at every opportunity they can get.

The skiing season in Norway is long, and the country has a lot of beautiful ski resorts (expect crowds, as the resorts are very popular and relatively easily accessible).

One of the key features of Norway’s top ski resorts is that they offer varied slopes adapted to different levels of skiing expertise. Furthermore, finding a family-friendly resort with instructors and courses aimed at children is very easy.

On the other hand, if you plan on taking a trip without kids or family, several resorts have a formidable reputation for partying (such as Hemsedal) – one might even call their after-ski bars somewhat infamous.

Note that the top-end ski resorts also offer excellent cross-country skiing opportunities, with a host of well-maintained trails and guided tours.

You can find a detailed overview of Norway’s top ski resorts on the website of the state-funded guide Visit Norway here.

That being said, you don’t need to visit a resort to enjoy the activity in the winter. In Norway, you can go cross-country skiing virtually anywhere.

Fjord and coastline cruises

Norway has a varied and well-preserved coastline, and its pristine fjords are the envy of the world.

Some argue that winter is the best time to explore both, as the landscapes covered in untouched snow and the fresh and cold air provide visitors with an extraordinary experience.

If you decide to embark on a northbound trip, you’ll also have a chance to see the northern lights – as winter is the best season to witness the aurora.

Cruises also offer the chance to engage in multiple winter activities and can be combined with dog sledging, various excursions, and snowmobile safaris.

The winter period is less busy than the summer season, so if you want to avoid the crowds – especially when it comes to cruises in western Norway (like those that start from Bergen, the “gateway to the fjords”), winter is an ideal time to visit.

You can find out more about Hurtigruten’s cruise offer here, while more information on Havila Voyages cruises can be found here.

For a detailed overview of fjord tours and cruises from Bergen, kindly consult Visit Bergen’s site here.

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24 hours in Bergen: Everything you should see and do

If you only have one day to see Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, which is often called "the Gateway to the Fjords," worry not – we have put together a guide to make sure you squeeze in as much of the Bergen essentials as possible.

24 hours in Bergen: Everything you should see and do

Bergen is a beautiful city, and if you have the time,  we recommend spending at least a long weekend getting to know it.

However, if life forces you to see this gem situated at the foot of Mount Fløyen in a single day, here’s how to make sure you make the most out of it.

Morning – a walk around Festplassen and a visit to KODE

We’re starting our one-day tour from the Bergen train station (or the bus station, there is almost no difference as they are very close to each other) in the city centre.

As you hop off of the train, head for the station exit. Once you’re out of the building, you should immediately be able to see Lille Lungegårdsvannet – a small lake situated in the city centre on the other side of the street.

Cross the street, and a few moments later, you’ll be able to enjoy a short walk around the lake, which is something most locals that live in the centre relish (especially on those rare sunny days).

Start walking by taking the path closer to the mountain you’ll see on your right (based on your exit from the train station).

Once you’re halfway around the lake, you’ll find yourself at Festplassen, a piazza overlooking the lake which often hosts concerts, fairs and festivals.

This might be a good time to grab a cup of coffee at Godt Brød Festplassen and recharge your batteries – we’ve got a big day ahead of us!

Once you’re done with coffee, continue your walk around the lake. In just a few more minutes, you’ll find yourself at the doors of the famous KODE museum’s galleries.

Arguably, a single morning is not enough to fully appreciate KODE’s vast collections – the museum is spread out through seven buildings, housing more than 50,000 items – but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a lovely morning browsing an exhibition at, for example, KODE 4 (you can find out more about the current exhibitions at KODE on the museum’s website, here).

Noon – the Torgallmenningen main square & lunch

Once the clock hits noon, head towards Festplassen again. You’ll see the Hotel Norge by Scandic building nearby. Make your way towards it.

Two road crossings (and one gazebo) later, passing close to the Byparken park, you will find yourself just a few minutes away from Bergen’s central square – Torgallmenningen.

This is where you’ll find the city’s main shopping area (with shopping centres such as Galleriet and Xhibition), several restaurants, and many cafes.

Once you reach the central square, you’ll see a monument at its end (presuming you arrived at the square from Hotel Norge by Scandic).

Head towards it. The impressive Sailor’s Monument (Sjøfartsmonumentet) is composed of multiple statues which depict Norwegian sailors through the ages.

Once you reach it, you should already be able to see the Old Town in the distance (just a few hundred metres away in the same direction).

However, before you continue your trip to Bergen’s two most-talked-about tourist spots – the Fish Market and Bryggen – take a pause and grab some lunch at Torgallmenningen.

There are numerous options to choose from at the square, but if you’re travelling on a budget, the Sabrura all-you-can-eat sushi spot in Galleriet might be a good option (they usually have a buffet option that will cost you around 250 kroner per person).

However, if you want to taste something more traditional (although somewhat more expensive), it’s absolutely worth it to take a 5-minute walk to Pingvinen, a cosy restaurant that serves fantastic and traditional Norwegian dishes, such as plukkfisk (cod mixed with mashed potatoes, served with bacon and flatbread) and persetorsk (Bergen-pressed cod served with carrots, mushy peas, potatoes, butter sauce, and trout roe).

Early afternoon – Fish Market and Bryggen

Next stop – Fish Market (Fisketorget). Return to the Sailor’s Monument, and then walk down Strandgaten to reach the coveted Fish Market (it will be located on your left).

Note that, outside of the tourist season (which generally spans from May to September), there will be a limited offer of outside stands at the square adjacent to the Fish Market building. Don’t worry if you don’t see any outdoor stands – the indoor market is the place to see.

You’ll be able to easily spot the Fish Market building as it has a green poster with the letter “i” on it, which marks the tourist information office.

Once you enter the indoor venue, you’ll usually find it filled with tourists admiring deep sea fish, live lobsters, and other premium seafood that can be found on display.

Double-check the seafood prices, though – the market has a bit of a reputation for being a “tourist trap.”

Once you’re done gawking at the sea monsters (+10-kilo-fish are often put on display), exit the market and head for the colourful wooden houses on the other side of the Bergen harbour.

Take your time enjoying the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen – it’s truly unique. You’ll be able to find scores of souvenir shops in this area, so it might be a good idea to stock up on those Bergen keychains and T-shirts once you’re done appreciating Bryggen.

Bonus activity: The Bergenhus fortress is just a few minutes away from Bryggen, so you can easily extend your walk and soak up even more culture – from the Rosenkrantz tower to King Håkon Håkonsson’s Hall, the rich history surrounding the city’s harbour will definitely impress you.

Late afternoon – Mount Fløyen

If you’re quick on your feet, you’ll be able to squeeze in one more fun activity before the sun sets – riding the Mount Fløyen funicular to the top of Fløyen.

The ride is short and comfortable, and you can get on the funicular directly from the Old Town.

Once you reach the summit, enjoy the fantastic views of Bergen and its surroundings, and grab a hotdog or a cup of warm coffee (there are several places where you can get coffee or baked products on top of Fløyen as of the time of writing).

Note that Fløyen is extremely popular with both locals and tourists, so expect crowds and be patient. It will be worth it in the end.

There are multiple scenic walking routes just a stone’s throw away from the funicular station, so if you’re not too tired, you can immerse yourself in the amazing mountainous nature that Bergen is known for.

As the sun sets, make your way down the mountain again (as even the downhill walk takes a while, hop into the funicular once again to save time).

Evening – grab a drink (or two) in Skostredet street

Just a short walk from the Old Town funicular station – the one you took to ascend Mount Fløyen – you’ll find Skostredet street.

In the last couple of years, both the street and the surrounding area have experienced a boom, becoming a sort of international nightlife centre filled with exciting cafes and restaurants.

Mexican food, Spanish food, Italian food – there’s something for everyone at Skostredet; it’s a true international hub bustling with life on most evenings in and outside the tourist season.

The pizzeria Villani Trattoria, the Taperia, the Poca Madre Mexican Kitchen & Bar, and the Osteria Wine bar are all excellent choices to end the day and reminisce on the fantastic sights you just witnessed in Bergen.

Congratulations on making it this far – it was an ambitious daily program!

However, even if you followed all the stops we recommended and hit multiple items off your Bergen bucket list, the experience is sure to leave you wanting to visit again.

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