I’ve always loved winter travel. There’s something so incredibly magical about snow and ice, about bundling up to explore in the frigid air and then heading inside to warm up over a cozy cup of coffee and a hot meal. But there’s quite a big difference between visiting a city and visiting the literal Arctic Tundra. Before this trip, I’d never experienced Arctic winter before – in fact, I’d never even been anywhere with sub-zero temperatures. Had my winter travels prepared me for the extreme cold of the far north?
Still, I was thrilled to be invited by Impact Travel Alliance, Visit Norway, and Norwegian Airlines to join a sustainable press trip to Norway in the middle of January. Visions of icy fjords and dogsled rides past herds of frolicking reindeer under the Northern Lights danced in my head as I stuffed my warmest sweaters into my backpack, crossing my fingers that if I just wore all of them at the same time, I might not freeze (much).
As I boarded my Norwegian Airlines flight to Oslo, I realized that my mental image and background knowledge of Norway actually came from watching Frozen on repeat (which, technically, is set in an imaginary land that just happens to be exactly like Norway) plus a decommissioned Disney ride called Maelstrom located in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot, which was amazingly confusing and has since been replaced with a Frozen ride. According to Frozen, there would be friendly reindeer and glittering ice palaces; according to Maelstrom, there would be vikings, polar bears, oil rigs, and trolls (um, has anyone from Disney actually been to Norway?).
I’m, er, not sure my sources were entirely reliable. What if Norway wasn’t the magical winter wonderland that I imagined it to be? What if it was just like, freezing cold and dark all the time?! After all, I was visiting Norway during something called, rather ominously, Polar Night. What did I get myself into??
But the minute I stepped off of my plane in Oslo, surprisingly refreshed after 10 hours in a comfortable Norwegian Airlines Premium Class seat, I was enthralled. Norway was every bit the snowy wonderland I’d been dreaming of. Snow fell softly on woodlands and meadows outside the windows of our train as we sped towards downtown Oslo. Perfect pink twilight danced off the glittering surface of the Oslo Fjord as we crunched our way towards the sauna for a traditional Norwegian pastime.
And as I plunged into the freezing cold waters of a salty fjord, it hit me (as in, like, literally splashed me in the face): Norway in the winter is freaking awesome.
In this post you’ll find all the details of the exact itinerary for the Norway winter trip I took in January, plus a few alternative options and suggestions if you want to switch things up. Here’s what you’ll find in this post:
Table of Contents
You can also see more of my Norway adventures on my Instagram, where I’ve created a Story highlight full of photos and videos that I took during my trip.
Psst: Looking for more posts to help you prepare for your trip to Norway? Check these out:
- 35 Photos of Norway in the Winter to Inspire your Wanderlust
- Europe in Winter Packing List: 32 Backpacking Essentials for Him & Her
- 12 Long Haul Flight Essentials & Travel Tips for Economy Fliers
How to Get to Norway
The best and most economical way to get to Norway is by hopping a flight with Norwegian Airlines, which happens to be one of my favorite budget airlines AND one of the most sustainable airlines overall. An economy ticket with Norwegian is no frills: you’ll want to pack everything into a lightweight carry-on bag to save on luggage fees and bring your own snacks, water, and entertainment. I also recommend bringing a little travel pillow (I have a TRTL pillow which is perfect).
I usually fly economy, but on this trip, I was invited to enjoy Norwegian Airlines’ Premium Class seats on their intercontinental Dreamliner. In addition to perks like early boarding and access to an airport lounge where I loaded up on pre-flight wine and chocolate cake, my seat was roomy and comfortable, with a reclining seat and footrest that had me drifting off to sleep under a cozy blanket in no time. I was served dinner and breakfast on my 10-hour flight, plus yet another glass of wine, and I spent a few relaxing hours watching movies on my own personal TV screen.
It was actually one of the most pleasant long-haul flights I’ve ever taken, and thanks to Norwegian’s innovative lighting and airflow technology, I felt more rested than usual when I arrived in Oslo bright and early the next morning. I literally had no jet lag. What kind of futuristic airplane science gets rid of jet lag?! Norwegian Airlines’, apparently.
As a major bonus, the plane is fuel efficient, so the entire flight actually takes less time than normal – and it’s better for the environment, too.
On the non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Norway, I slept most of the way, curled up in a blanket with my favorite travel pillow and reclined in my roomy seat with my feet propped up on the footrest. But on the flight back, I spent the entire 10 hours blissfully editing photos, watching Lord of the Rings on my private TV screen, gorging myself on the yummy provided 3-course dinner (complete with wine!) and diving into my long-haul flight essentials kit to perform various acts of sorely needed self-care. It was honestly the best 10-hour flight I’ve ever taken, and I don’t typically make a habit of staying awake on 10-hour flights.
- Travel Tip: If you book an economy ticket, you can snag some INSANE deals out of Norwegian hubs like LAX, OAK, and JFK. To score an even better deal, book your ticket on the Norwegian version of the site instead of the US version: you’ll get the benefit of the Norwegian-USD conversion and save about $100!
7-Day Norway Winter Itinerary
So, you’re going to Norway. What are you gonna do? Where are you gonna go? How many heart-shaped vaflers are you going to eat?? Below you’ll find our suggestions for the answers to the above questions (and if you’re wondering about the waffles, the answer is all of them).
One quick note: My trip to Norway was planned for me by Impact Travel Alliance, Visit Norway, and Norwegian Airlines and was incredibly unique – and a little pricey. So, I’ve included a few suggestions for alternate itinerary stops just in case your bucket list doesn’t include “stay with indigenous reindeer herders in a cabin deep in the Arctic Tundra.” Although, if that experience strikes your fancy, I HIGHLY recommend it!
- Travel Tip: Planning to visit Norway in November or December? Be sure to stop by some of Norway’s Christmas Markets! You’ll find a market in just about every destination on our winter itinerary. Sadly, my trip was in January, so I don’t have any first-hand experience – you’ll have to tell me all about them after your trip 😉
Day 1: Oslo, Norway
I began and ended my journey in Oslo, Norway’s ultra-cool capital city and the environmentally friendly “Green Capital of Europe.” The city earned this environmental distinction because of its initiatives to cut carbon emissions using trash-fueled transportation and improvement of its waterways in an environmentally-friendly way. In line with its name, there are also a ton of fun and eco-friendly activities to do for tourists here, like taking a zero-emissions fjord cruise or exploring the city by bike. The city is also incredibly easy to navigate by public transit.
Oslo is an architect’s dream, filled with stunning and creatively designed buildings that are as beautiful as they are efficient. There’s the Barcodes, a line of buildings with the most unique display of windows I’ve ever seen, all lined up next to each other looking like an avant-garde barcode – the source of their nickname. And then there’s a classic European Old Town, with palaces and parks and old, heavy buildings dripping with charm.
- Travel Tip: The cheapest and easiest way to get from the airport into downtown Oslo is by taking the FlytoGet airport express train.
Here’s what we recommend on your first full day in Norway:
- Take a Walking Tour
A great way to see Oslo is to put on your wool socks and winter boots and take a walking tour around the city. Oslo has incredible architecture and the best way to see it all is on foot, by strolling between the amazing landmarks. This walking tour will take you through “hipster Oslo,” which is right where I stayed because, obviously, I am very hip and also totes “with it.”
Or, check out this walking tour which takes you around the areas frequented by locals, plus the Royal Palace and the Akerhus Castle and Fortress, which has protected Oslo since medieval times.
You can also wander your way through Oslo on your own, exploring the main sights on a self-guided walking tour. There are plenty to choose from, depending on if you’d like to see historic sites or more of the bustling waterfront. Either way, be sure to bundle up – and grab a camera for those spectacular golden hour views!
Sauna & Fjord Flopping
There is nothing as Norwegian as sauna-ing and then jumping into a freezing cold fjord (or, if you’re me, it’s less of a jump and more of a flop). We took the plunge at Oslo Fjord Sauna, a beautiful little sauna built from recycled fjord driftwood.
Here is what to expect: You’ll start by soaking up steam from water poured over hot coals while watching ballet dancers stretch in the Opera House across the water as swans float calmly by the sauna window.
As you work up a nice schvitz and contemplate your imminent demise in the icy black waters of the fjord, several tall, attractive Norwegians will pop into the sauna, spend 5 minutes warming up, dive into the water, and then get dressed and leave like this was just a short stop on their way to get vaflers or whatever.
By around the 5th or 6th Norwegian, your courage – and body temperature – will rise to the point that you’re just willing to MAYBE give it a try. I mean…when in Norway, right?!
And here’s the thing: it’s actually f**king awesome. I was convinced that I was going to hate it, but I actually went in the water MULTIPLE TIMES. It’s legitimately relaxing and feels SO good!
I can see your eyebrows raising through your computer screen, so hear me out: there is actual science to back me up. When your body hits that icy cold water, it will immediately produce a whole heap of warm, fuzzy hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, so that by the time you’ve shrieked your way out of the water and ran full-speed back into the sauna to warm up again, you’ll have this wonderful happy feeling. It’s like drugs, but way healthier! It’s also a miracle cure for jet lag and guaranteed to make you not feel cold walking through the streets of Oslo.
Visiting the sauna and hopping in the fjord is a must-do activity in Oslo, and you won’t see too many other tourists trying it. If you go – and you REALLY should – bring your own towel (like this quick-drying travel towel); wear your bathing suit under your clothes and bring a wet bag to carry it out; and bring sandals or water shoes – the only uncomfortable part of the whole experience was my bare feet on the snowy, icy ground.
Relaxing in a sauna is the perfect Norwegian tradition, even if you’re not up for a casual fjord flop. There are multiple options for saunas in addition to the Oslo Fjord Sauna, including saunas that are also works of art and saunas that are also solar-powered boats – here’s a full list.
Mathallen Food Hall for Dinner
The perfect way to warm up after a day of exploring snowy Oslo and plunging in an icy fjord is at Mathallen Food Hall, a super-hip food market located in one of Oslo’s coolest neighborhoods. There are a ton of different food stalls to please every palette.
We ate at Hitchhiker, located upstairs. Hitchhiker has been voted the best street food in Oslo for the past 3 years and offers an eclectic mix of food from all around the world with an Asian slant. And while everything on the menu is delicious, we went all-in and tried their 7-course tasting menu. Give yourself a few hours for this: it’s a LOT of food, but it’s SO good!
After an eventful first day in Norway, head back to your hotel and get some sleep, because tomorrow you’ve got a flight to catch to the Arctic circle! Mathallen was conveniently located around the corner from our hotel. Speaking of which …
Where to Stay in Oslo
We stayed in the Scandic Vulkan Hotel, which was conveniently located in one of Oslo’s hippest neighborhoods, Vulkan, a former industrial area by the Akerselva river. Vulkan is a full-scale example of sustainable urban development, using shared resources to create an area that is almost entirely energy self-sufficient. Scandic Hotels, a Norwegian hotel chain, is an industry leader for sustainability. All of which made me feel warm and cozy, particularly when combined with an incredibly soft mattress and warm down comforter.
But let me just be honest for a sec: the real star of my stay was the breakfast. BREAKFAST WAS LIT, you guys. We’re talking like a 25+ selection spread of breads, local cheeses, delicious pickled things, several different types of herring, mackerel, salmon, fruit, sausages, eggs, and even cake. I highly recommend filling up on the amazing breakfast here – it’ll keep you full all the way until dinnertime!
Day 2: Alta, Norway
Ringed with mountains and bordering the arctic tundra in Norway’s Finnmark region, Alta is a young city located above the Arctic Circle. Alta is best known for its stunning views of the Northern Lights, and it also makes an excellent entry point for an Arctic adventure.
How to get to Alta, Norway
Being one of the northernmost cities in all of Norway, the only quick way to get from Oslo to Alta in the winter is to fly. Luckily, there is one direct flight from Oslo (OSL) to Alta (ALF) and back on Norwegian Airlines per day, plus 2-3 others with stops. Each flight from Oslo to Alta takes 2-3 hours, and prices range from $100-300+ each way.
Tickets are cheaper if you book well in advance, so if you are able to plan and book ahead, we’d recommend it!
Here’s what we recommend doing in Alta.
Go Dog Sledding
Another one of Alta’s claims to fame is Finnmarksløpet, the longest sled-dog race in Europe. Even if you’re not a professional Musher, dog-sledding is a must-do activity in Alta. Head to Trasti & Trine, a beautiful lodge run by a local couple, to give it a try!
Your dogs will pull you through snowy woods and past icy streams and mountains. My ride was around sunset (in the early afternoon) but you can also take a ride after dark – possibly even while the northern lights dance overhead. Be sure to keep an eye out in case you spot a moose in the woods – apparently they like to hang out nearby!
I was nervous about the treatment of the dogs – there is not much consensus about whether dog-sledding is ethical. That said, I did find that Trasti og Trine seemed to be treating their dogs very well (and cheerfully answered all of my questions about the dog’s well-being and training habits).
It was also abundantly clear that these dogs LOVE to run, and their thick coats make them quite comfortable outside in the snow (they overheat quickly indoors). While we gently put on their harnesses – which gave us a chance to familiarize ourselves with our team, as well as make sure they seemed like, healthy and happy – the dogs’ excitement was palpable. By the time we got them hooked up to the sleds, they were leaping and barking in excitement, incredibly eager to take off. During the ride, each time we stopped to take a photo or enjoy the view, the dogs barked and yipped and jumped, eager to get back on the trail.
Absolutely no incentives to make the dogs run faster or harder was used, and the dogs did not seem overly tired at the end of the run. They were well trained and showed signs of being happy, healthy, well fed, and well taken care of.
- Travel Tip: You can borrow extra-warm snow gear on site, and we highly recommend it. The wind chill will make sitting on the sled (or even driving it) much colder than you’d expect. Bundle up in the provided gear and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time.
After dog sledding, you can enjoy a delicious and locally sourced meal right on site, with homemade bread, locally picked berries, and local game and fish.
Where to Stay in Alta
After a long day of dogsledding, your easiest option is to sleep right here you are at Trasti & Trine in their warm, cozy lodge. We recommend booking in advance, so be sure to check availability for your dates.
But if you’re up for a splurge and are willing to venture a bit out of your comfort zone, you can check something else off your bucket list….
Sleep in an Igloo (Hotel)
Sorrisniva is the world’s northernmost ice hotel and has been built from scratch every winter for the past 20 years, with each year featuring a different theme. This year’s theme was Fairy Tales, which meant that there were several Disney themed rooms (I was THRILLED) and many beautiful, sparkling ice statues hand-crafted by local residents of Alta.
I’ve never slept in an igloo in my life, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Surprisingly, the inside of the hotel was warmer than the air outside, and the dense snow walls rendered everything incredibly quiet. My Aladdin themed room was quite cozy, especially after I snuggled into two goose down sleeping bags on top of a pile of reindeer pelts. I immediately fell into the sort of deep trance you can only fall into when sleeping in a room made of snow and ice, and then slept like 3 hours longer than I intended because there are no windows in an igloo. Whoops.
Sadly, because I slept in, I wasn’t able to take advantage of some of the best activities at Sorrisniva, like the free kick sleds, snow shoes, and the sauna and outdoor private jacuzzis. I did, however, take advantage of a delicious breakfast – Norway does breakfast RIGHT, y’all. If you do book a stay at Sorrisniva, allow yourself ample time to enjoy the full facilities! And yes – there are plenty of warm, cozy spots in the lodge that aren’t made of snow and ice.
Sorrisniva is deeply integrated into the local community: all of its ice sculptures are hand-crafted by locals residents, and the exquisite food in its cozy restaurant is all locally sourced – right down to the hand-picked cloudberries. And yes: cloudberries are actually a real thing and not just an imaginary Norwegian-sounding fruit that I just made up. They look like orange raspberries, with a tart and sour taste and a crunch like passionfruit, and you can only find them in the Arctic. They taste amazing when spooned with sour cream on top of Vaflers, which are adorable Norwegian heart-shaped waffles that you can only get in Norway.
Sleeping at Sorrisniva is a once in a lifetime bucket list splurge: Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, visited recently, and the King of Norway is a regular. Even if you don’t choose to stay overnight, come for a delicious locally sourced dinner, take a drink at the ice bar, and admire the ice sculptures.
If you do plan to stay overnight, be sure to book in advance! Check availability for your dates.
Day 3-6: Sami Homestay in the Arctic Tundra
This next destination is where our Norway winter itinerary veers off the beaten path and starts forging its way blindly through the Arctic chasing after herds of reindeer. Because for the next 3 nights, you’ll be sleeping in a cabin deep in the arctic tundra, surrounded by nothing but snow and reindeer, with a 2-hour snowmobile ride through -30 degree weather between you and civilization.
Your hosts will be a family of indigenous Sami reindeer herders who host visitors in partnership with the amazing Visit Natives program. The homestay directly benefits the Sami people, which helps them to preserve their culture while educating and connecting with folks like you (and me).
The Sami people have been living in the arctic of modern-day Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia for thousands of years, practicing reindeer husbandry and herding. Although there are a few different types of Sami, the Sami reindeer herders’ entire livelihood depends on their herds. They spend all winter keeping their herds fed and safe in the Arctic tundra, and then help the reindeer migrate safely during the summer months.
This experience is by far the most adventurous, unique and, to be blunt, pricey part of my Norway itinerary. It’s not luxurious and it can feel a bit uncomfortable at times – you’ll be roughing it in the middle of the Arctic and riding snowmobiles for hours each day. This is an Arctic Adventure with a capital AA.
While the experience may not be for everyone, I HIGHLY recommend adding it to your bucket list if it does intrigue you. But for real: it’s f**king amazing, though. But if you’re already nope-ing your way right out of this one, don’t worry – we’ve included a few alternative suggestions that might be more your speed further down this post.
However, if your curiosity is piqued, read on and I’ll give you an idea of what to expect.
Visit Natives Sami Homestay Experience
You’ll take a van from Alta to a cozy house on the edge of the Arctic tundra, where your Sami host will meet you with the gear you’ll need to wear for your snowmobile ride. Suiting up for a 2-hour ride on a snowmobile through the Arctic tundra is quite a challenge. You’ll want to wear as many layers as you can, plus a provided snowsuit and as many layers of Sami traditional clothing as you can fit on top. I also recommend bringing your own pair of snow goggles, like these – the ones we borrowed iced over the minute we stepped outside!
Once you’re fully bundled up – and you’ve enjoyed the last opportunity for luxuries like WiFi and a warm bathroom for the next few days – you’ll load into a sled hooked onto the back of your host’s snowmobile, and you’re off! The two hour ride through the tundra will take you to a small cabin in the wilderness: this is where your host lives during the winter as he guards his reindeer herds.
The cabin doesn’t have running water, but your host (and you, if you like) will fetch water from a nearby stream each day, which you can use for drinking as well as bathing – a large kettle of water sits on top of a wood stove, which heats the whole cabin. As for facilities, there’s a perfectly clean and comfortable little outhouse a short walk away from the cabin. You’ll be glad you remembered to bring baby wipes to keep yourself relatively clean during your visit.
Your immersive experience include smoking reindeer meat in a traditional Lavvu tent, chopping wood, fetching water from a stream, hopping on a snowmobile to check on herds of galloping reindeer, and feeding a few domesticated reindeer, plus playing with 3 sweet children and 1 adorable dog.
You’ll learn about the Sami people, who have lived in the Arctic for centuries but – like many of the world’s indigenous populations – have faced persecution from their neighbors and government, including official assimilation policies and laws banning their traditional languages and cultural practices.
Today only about 2,800 Sami reindeer herders remain, working together to keep their traditions (and their herds) alive. As you stay in the home of one of the few remaining Sami reindeer herders, you’ll learn about the difficult choices that modern Sami make every day to preserve and protect their heritage and culture, and the threats they face, both culturally and environmentally as their climate warms and threatens their livestock and their livelihood.
You’ll wear warm reindeer boots and eat smoked reindeer meat with lingonberry sauce. You’ll sit around a crackling fire listening to your host joik, which is Sami traditional singing. Each joik is meant to reflect or evoke a person, animal, or place through song (sometimes with words, sometimes without).
And you’ll see some of the most stunning scenery you’ve ever laid eyes on. Northern lights dancing overhead. Cotton candy pink skies. Herds of reindeer thundering past you as you ride next to them on a snowmobile, holding on for dear life.
This experience will stick with you for the rest of your life, and you’ll be dreaming about it forever.
To learn more about this once in a lifetime experience, head to Visit Natives for detailed information. I also suggest reading through this complete write-up by Annette at The Bucket List Journey, who was also on my trip!
And if you want to see more stunning vistas from this part of my trip – and a video of me crashing a snowmobile while herds of reindeer fly past – head to my Norway winter photo guide.
Day 6: Return to Alta
After a few life-changing days in the Arctic tundra, you’ll head back to Alta once again. We recommend taking advantage of your last day in the Arctic Circle by partaking in some more epic winter activities. Bask in the northern lights or work up a sweat on showshoes or skis…or, you know, do both.
Go Snowshoeing or Cross Country Skiing
If you’re up for an adrenaline-inducing activity, showshoeing and cross-country skiing are common activities in Alta for tourists and locals alike. Whether you’ve tried shoeshoeing or skiing before or it’s your very first time, you can enjoy the winter weather and the polar night on Alta’s beautiful trails. While it does get quite chilly out in the winter, you’ll work up a sweat making your way across the fluffy snow on foot.
We strongly recommend taking a guided tour for either of these activities, as the tours come equipped with an expert local guide, equipment rentals, and warm, weather-appropriate clothing and gear (do you own an Arctic jumpsuit? Because we certainly do not…).
There are a variety of tour operators that run snowshoeing and skiing tours for all levels, but Glod comes highly recommended by travelers and has excellent reviews. You can find their snowshoe and cross-country skiing tours on their website.
Take a Whale Safari
Between October and January, Alta’s fjord is the perfect spot to embark on a whale safari! Because if you’re already hanging out with reindeer and going dog-sledding, why not add whales to your Norway trifecta?
During their northern migration period, you have a chance to see sperm whales, pilot whales, minke whales, humpbacks, dolphins, and killer whales, all set against the backdrop of Alta’s snow-capped mountains.
We didn’t get a chance to do this amazing activity ourselves, but if you go, here’s a 3 hour whale safari from Alta that looks incredible (the photos in this review have us dying of FOMO). This all-day tour also looks amazing.
- Travel Tip: Like all wildlife viewing excursions, there is never a guarantee that you’ll see what you’re hoping to see – nature is fickle like that. But just in case, we recommend bringing along a pair of travel-friendly binoculars.
Visit the Cathedral of the Northern Lights
Alta’s claim to fame inspired another of its most famous attractions, the Cathedral of the Northern Lights, designed to look like its otherworldly namesake. Whether or not you get a chance to see the actual northern lights, it’s worth visiting the Cathedral to see one of the most unique architectural marvels in Alta.
The church is beautiful to appreciate from the outside, but you can also tour the small church and the Borealis Alta exhibit in the Cathedral’s basement. The exhibit explores some of the history of the Northern Lights in Alta and the science behind the phenomenon. During the Christmas season, you can also attend classical music performances inside the church.
Chase the Northern Lights
Alta is known for being a prime destination to see the Northern Lights, and no trip to the city would be complete without taking a night to search for them. If the conditions are just right, you can see this beautiful natural phenomenon light up the winter night sky with dazzling displays of green, purple, and sometimes even orange and blue. In order to see the auroras, you’ll need three things: solar activity, dark skies with little light pollution, and clear weather.
If you want to try and see the northern lights, be sure to check the NorwayLights Aurora Forecast for high aurora activity and the weather forecast for clear skies, then either book a guided northern lights tour or head out on your own to try and catch a glimpse of the aptly-named “green lady” for yourself. Seeing the northern lights is one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever done – and I only saw them for a few minutes through a camera lens. It’s definitely worth braving the cold Norwegian winter night to see them!
Where to Stay in Alta (…this time)
Now that you’ve just returned from spending 3 days roughing it in a cabin without running water deep in the arctic tundra, you might prefer something a little bit more on the comfortable. We stayed at the Thon Hotel Alta, which had a lovely shower (much appreciated) and window views of the Cathedral of the Northern Lights, which is located a snowball’s throw away. Check availability for your dates.
Day 7: Fly Back to Oslo
From Alta, you’ll hop on a short flight back to Oslo. The earlier your flight, the more time you’ll have to spend in Oslo exploring anything you didn’t have an opportunity to see before your Arctic excursion!
At this point in your trip, you’ll be shocked to discover that the city you found brutally cold just 7 days ago now feels quite warm. This also explains why most of the photos from my final day in Oslo feature me coatless, sleeves rolled up, basking in the 20-degree sun. This does not explain why the minute I landed back in California, I bundled up again to protect myself from the 50-degree chill. Wtf, body??
- Travel Tip: We checked right back into the same hotel as before, the Scandic Vulkan Hotel, and the familiarity after such a wild week was extremely comforting.
If you didn’t have the opportunity to explore Oslo on foot before, this is the perfect day to do it! But if you’re looking for some alternatives, here are some suggestions for how to spend your final day in Norway.
- Take a Fjord Cruise
One of the best ways to see all of the Oslo Fjord and its various stunning buildings and ports is to take an Oslo fjord cruise, available in the winter on a hybrid zero-emissions cruise ship. The cruise took us gently past Akershus Fortress and various scenic marinas, plus roughly 28672867 tiny, adorable red cabins nestled into patches of Oslo’s rolling woodland hills. We were informed that “everyone in Norway has a cabin in the woods,” and I think my heart up and left my body to go live in Norway forever right then and there.
If you’re visiting Norway in November or December, you can also take this Christmas cruise from Oslo to the charming little Christmas town of Drøbak! You guys, Norway has a Christmas town and that’s it, I’m dead. I literally cannot even.
Visit a Viking Museum
If you only have a chance to visit one museum during your trip, make it the Viking Ship Museum – which is part of the Oslo Cultural History Museum. Visiting will give you an insider’s look into the early settlers of the Nordic region. Inside the museum, you can see several big, old Viking ships (and yes, they look even cooler than you might have imagined them from the movies!).
Dinner at Ett Bord
Ever heard of Nordic Tapas? Well, now you have. Plop yourself down at the giant communal table and enjoy a few sharing-sized plates of delicious, organic, locally sourced Norwegian specialties at Ett Bord. The menu changes constantly based on whatever’s available that week from local farms and hunters in Norway. Decision making is hard, so we recommend asking for the Chef’s choice – and if you’re lucky, he might visit your table and tell you where whatever you’re eating is from!
Drinks at Himkok
Toast your last night in Norway by visiting one the best bars in the world, Himkok …If you can find the hidden speakeasy, that is.
Himkok’s claim to fame, in addition to being incredibly cool and difficult to locate, is an impressive selection of house-made spirits, which are featured in a variety of expertly crafted cocktails. There’s also a broad selection of beers, a greenhouse where all the bar’s herbs are sourced, a garden, a library, walls lined with pickled and fermented things, and even a barbershop. The bar, like most of the spots we visited in Norway, is incredibly sustainable too, and even won the inaugural Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award.
We recommend trying a glass of house-distilled aquavit if you haven’t tried it yet – it’s Norway’s official spirit! After your palate-cleansing aquavit, try the honey mead or literally any cocktail – they’re all amazing.
Alternative Norway Winter Itinerary Destinations
The itinerary above is just one of many possible options for a Norway visit. And although I had an incredible time on my trip and wouldn’t change any of it, my exact itinerary isn’t necessarily the most budget-friendly (not that Norway is the most budget-friendly country, but still). So, I dove into research mode to come up with a few other options for Norway winter destinations that are just as mind-blowing and a little bit more accessible.
That said, I do highly recommend venturing into the far north and popping over the Arctic circle. Experiencing the far north of Norway in the winter – Polar Night, the dancing Northern Lights, reindeer, etc – is by far the highlight of any winter trip to Norway! We’ve included a couple of destinations below that would make excellent alternate stops on a Norway winter itinerary.
Tromsø is a historic fishing town, and today is known as Norway’s “gateway to the Arctic.” Located above the Arctic Circle, a visit to Tromsø in the winter includes activities like northern lights tours, reindeer farming, dog sledding, and winter sports. If you’ve decided not to do the Sami homestay, you can still learn about Sami culture in Tromsø.
How to Get to Tromsø
We recommend flying to Tromsø: from Oslo, it’s an easy flight on Norwegian Airlines. There are five 2-hour direct flights per day at reasonable prices if you book in advance, and if you fly at night, you may even catch the northern lights from your plane window!
If you’re coming from Alta, you can take a quick 40-minute flight directly to Tromsø.
Things to Do in Tromsø in the Winter
Tromsø offers a wide variety of the best Norwegian winter activities. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Chase the northern lights: At night, you can often see the northern lights in Tromsø. While there’s a chance you can catch them from the city center or the waterfront, we highly recommend booking a tour, which will provide transportation and a guide to help find the perfect spots to view the lights. The tour guides are experts at seeking out optimal conditions and clear skies, and can even help you take photos of this beautiful phenomenon! This northern lights tour comes with snacks and hot beverages, perfect for keeping warm under the stars while you watch the aurora borealis overhead.
- Ride the Cable Car: Tromsø is a spectacularly beautiful city, nicknamed by some as the “Paris of the North.” And, if you’re in the Arctic city of love, what’s more romantic than taking a sunset cable car ride up to the top of a mountain? At Fjellheisen, you can do just that: enjoy a quick cable car ride up to a panoramic viewpoint that also has a restaurant, where they serve snacks, hot drinks, and classic Norwegian dishes.
- Meet a Reindeer: If you’re dying to befriend a cute reindeer, spend an afternoon with the Sami reindeer herders in Tromsø! The Sami people have been taking care of reindeer for centuries, and by spending time with them, you’ll have an opportunity to meet and help feed domesticated reindeer in a way that’s culturally sustainable and doesn’t harm wild, undomesticated animals. There are several types of tours: some, like this one, offer sledding in addition to feeding reindeer and learning about traditional Sami culture. Others, like this tour, focus on both meeting reindeer and experiencing Sami cultural traditions like hearing Sami Joiks and enjoying a meal with your Sami host in a Lavvu tent. Whichever tour you choose, if you want to meet reindeer in Norway we strongly encourage you to support the indigenous Sami people, who have herded and farmed reindeer in Norway’s arctic region for centuries.
- Visit the Tromsø Ice Domes: Tromsø’s ice hotel is amazing to explore. You can book a stay overnight, or just take a Tromso Domes day tour where you can learn about how the hotel was built and even grab a drink at the ice bar.
- Take a Fjord Boat Tour: Tromsø is surrounded by fjords and the best way to see them is by taking a boat tour. Many operators offer boat tours in the city, and there’s a giant waterfront with dozens of boats offering all kinds of fjord excursions, from adventure wildlife safaris to midnight cruises, and even some that offer a 3-course dinner.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Tiny red houses and fishing towns dot the landscape of Norway’s Lofoten Islands, with a backdrop of stunning mountains, sparkling harbors, and stark rock formations. There are few destinations more picturesque or unique than this small archipelago, and if you’re up for a winter adventure, this is the perfect spot.
Lofoten is also taking measures to become a sustainable tourism destination, working to make tourism to the area better for the environment and for communities. Beautiful landscapes AND sustainability? Win-win. This is why we love Norway, y’all!
How to Get to the Lofoten Islands
Getting to the Lofoten Islands isn’t easy, but there are lots of options: here’s a detailed list.
If you want to fly from Oslo, you’ll need to fly into the nearby Leknes Airport (LKN). There aren’t many direct flights to Leknes, so if you can’t find one that suits your schedule, you can try Evenes Airport (EVE) instead.
From the Leknes airport, rent a car and drive or take a 1-2 hour bus (from Evenes, it’s 3-4 hours). If you’re planning on driving, we’d strongly recommend reading up on winter driving in Norway and consulting with your rental car agency on necessary equipment and precautions you may need to take.
Or, to add another fun option, you can take a ferry! The ferry trip from Bodø is probably the most adventurous option, with the bonus of making you feel like a Viking crossing the fjord. Just be sure to pop some dramamine so you don’t lose your Viking cool.
Things to Do in the Lofoten Islands
The Lofoten Islands were originally fishing civilizations, so many of the best activities revolve around boating, marine life, and exploring the surrounding fjords.
- Marvel at Lofoten’s landscapes: One of the most unique things about the Lofoten islands is its otherworldly landscape. Large rock formations jut out of otherwise calm harbor areas, while Norwegian-style red houses dot the snowy white landscape. This means there are no fewer than a million amazing photo opportunities everywhere here. It’s fun to simply walk around and marvel at the stunning views, or hop on an island tour or a photography tour to get even more exposure to the unique winter scenery here.
- Take a boat ride: Since the Lofoten Islands were historically clusters of fishing villages, getting out on the water is one of the best activities you can do here in the winter. A winter boat ride through the Lofoten Islands will take you through stunning fjords and give you the opportunity to see local wildlife while riding through the polar night. On clear days, you might even catch a beautiful orange sunrise over the famed rock formations in the islands.
- Chase the Northern Lights: The Lofoten Islands are at the southernmost part of the Arctic Circle, which means you still have a fairly good shot at seeing the Northern Lights – although frequent clouds make it less likely than in other Arctic destinations. That said, this is arguably the most beautiful place to see them in the whole country, if you’re lucky enough to get a night with no clouds. While you could try to catch the northern lights from where you’re staying, you can also take a northern lights tour that you can take with a professional guide who will show you the optimal viewpoints with the best conditions for seeing the lights.
Looking for more details about visiting Lofoten? The blogger at Heart My Backpack lives in Norway and has visited the islands several times in the winter – here’s her guide to things to know before visiting Lofoten.
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, and one of the country’s most popular destinations for tourists due to its picturesque location on the side of a mountain. This is one of Norway’s most historic cities, with a long history as a fishing village and strong connections to the Vikings some 900 years ago.
The city center in Bergen is super walkable and charming, full of local coffee shops and boutiques. If you’re hoping to add some small-town charm to your itinerary, Bergen provides the perfect laid-back contrast to the wide variety of outdoor winter activities of many of the other destinations in Norway. Bergen offers the perfect balance to some of the more adventurous destinations in our Norway winter itinerary.
How to Get to Bergen
Bergen isn’t too far from Oslo in comparison to the other destinations in this post, making it an easy add-on to your trip if you have extra time. You can take a direct flight from Oslo’s airport to Bergen – they’re 1 hour long and there are 4 direct flights per day. There’s also a train you can take from Oslo, which lasts 6-6.5 hours one way.
Things to Do in Bergen
In Bergen, you’ll find lots of charming places to walk around, winter vistas to take in, and charming city vibes within its historical districts. Here are a few of the most popular things to do there:
- Stroll through the Bryggen: The Bryggen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and serves as Bergen’s historical center, complete with a 12th century wharf and a surrounding historic village filled with picturesque wooden buildings that you can explore. Here, you can find many local shops and restaurants to warm up in. You can take a guided walking tour through Bergen (including Bryggen) to learn more about its fascinating history.
- Ride the funicular car: For spectacular views of Bergen and the surrounding waterfront areas, take the funicular car, Floybanen, to the top of a nearby mountain, Floyen. At the top, you can take in the panoramas from the outdoor viewing deck, or grab some snacks and drinks at the restaurant or cafe at the top. For more intrepid folks, you can also hike up to the viewpoint at the top, but be careful – the paths and stairs might be icy. Bring a pair of travel friendly crampons to snap onto your shoes just in case.
- Learn about Bergen’s history: Because of its rich history, Bergen has a ton of local museums where you can learn more about its story. One of the best museums in Bergen is the Hanseatic Museum, which was once the historic center of trading in the city. The museum is like going back in time to the 14th century, with exhibits focusing on what life was once like in Bergen. While the main section of museum itself is closed for restoration, there are still historic exhibits open that you can see in the adjacent building. The Bergenhus Fortress Museum is one of the oldest buildings in Bergen, which was built in the 13th century and hosts exhibits dedicated to the resistance movements in Norway during WWII. On a different note, the Edvard Grieg Museum (Troldhaugen) is the historic home of the famed composer, who wrote “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (YouTube it – you’ll definitely recognize the tune!). Here, you can see old instruments and artifacts – including his famed composer’s hut – that the composer used to create his impressive volume of work.
- Visit a Gingerbread Town: If you visit Bergen in December, you can stroll through and marvel at the world’s largest gingerbread town, the Pepperkakebyen. Bergen’s community comes together to build the many homes and structures that make up the town, and once it’s done, tourists are welcome to visit (for a small price of 100 NOK) and marvel at its complexity while simultaneously trying not to eat anything.
- Stuff your face with delicious seafood: Don’t worry, if the thought of gingerbread houses made you hungry, Bergen’s got you covered. As one of Norway’s many historic fishing villages, Bergen has excellent catches available year-round in its restaurants. While the outdoor fish markets are closed in the winter, the Mathallen Indoor Fish Market remains open during the colder months, where you can sample local fish dishes.
Are you packing your bags and singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” at the top of your lungs yet? Which destination on this Norway winter itinerary are you DYING to do? Drop your comments and questions about visiting Norway in the winter in the comments below!
Pssst: Planning a trip to Northern Europe? We have tons more content on the region to help you plan your trip! Check it out:
- 35 Photos of Norway in the Winter to Inspire your Wanderlust
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Copenhagen in Winter
- Two Super Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries (for Two Weeks)
- Europe in Winter Packing List: 32 Backpacking Essentials for Him & Her
- 10 Magical Things to do in Bremen, Germany in Winter
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Disclaimer: I visited Norway on a press trip sponsored by Impact Travel Alliance, Visit Norway, and Norwegian Airlines. All opinions, bad jokes, Frozen references, and repetitive uses of descriptors like “jaw-dropping” are 100% my own and absolutely not their fault. I am so honored and grateful to everyone who hosted us along the way, including the Sara family, Visit Oslo, North Adventure Alta, and Trasti og Trine.
Printable Europe in Winter Packing List
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