Shh. Let everyone else assume it’s an arctic tundra come winter.
With 60,000 miles of shoreline (counting the islands), Norway in winter doesn’t involve nearly as many parkas, snow days, or sunless hours as you might be picturing. While inland and up in the Arctic Circle may be witness to Mother Winter at her most passionate, Fjord Norway’s wintery blues come in the form of empty UNESCO sites, quiet landscapes, and painted city streets. Let these photos prove it.
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WHERE: Oslo, Haugesund, Larvik, and Gudvangen, Norway
Don’t be on the lookout for any horned helmets—turns out that’s 100% myth—and don’t worry about any cheap reproductions here. This is the birthplace of the Viking Era (793-1066 AD), and the entire coast is dotted with remnants of these seafaring people, seasons be damned.
Viking relics (ships, cemeteries, religious sites) can be found all throughout the country, though Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum might be the most readily accessible off the plane. For a fully immersive experience, visit the Viking Farm at Avaldnes in Haugesund (once the royal seat of Viking kings), the Njardarheimr Viking Village in Gudvangen, or the Kaupang Viking town in Larvik. You’ll see how Vikings lived day-to-day, tour the villages, and join in on authentic-to-the-era meals.
INSIDER TIPCome hungry. Vikings did not eat like peasants—the cuisine is healthy, fresh, and fit for warriors.
WHERE: Bergen, Norway
Every time a remarkable place receives UNESCO World Heritage status, handwritten letters get mailed to hordes of hungry tourists. At least, that’s how it seems. But come wintertime, at Bryggen—a row of Hanseatic League merchant houses dating from 1702 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the clack of your heels is the only noise on the block.
Stop into the Hanseatic Museum for a guided look into the city’s history, grab dinner at Bryggen Tracteursted, the city’s oldest restaurant, pictured above, or just wander the wooden structures on your own, imagining this Viking port hundreds of years ago.
INSIDER TIPThat scent your nose is detecting? Follow it. That’s Baker Brun—look for one of the white houses that make up this historical row. Grab a skillingsboller (a traditional Norwegian pastry similar to a cinnamon roll, but far less sticky), and then just follow your feet.
WHERE: Flåm, Norway
The atrium of the Fretheim Hotel might as well be a walk-in Norwegian snow globe. This is where the Flam Railway begins, right at the edge of the world-famous Sognefjord. Stay here, on-site at a farm-turned-inn dating back to the late 1800s, and you’re seconds from hopping aboard a RIB safari on the nearby UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjord (yes, even in winter), taking one of the world’s most scenic train rides, or simply lounging in an armchair with a cup of cocoa.
INSIDER TIPThe nearby Ægir Brewpub is known for its “Viking Plank”: a five-course meal (albeit tapas-sized) that will also change what you think about Norwegian food.
Stavanger’s “Color Street”
WHERE: Stavanger, Norway
Technically named Øvre Holmegate, most people know it as the “color street.” Lit up with lights and painted in a series of bright colors, you’ll know it when you see it—the vast majority of Stavanger’s houses are white, white, and white. It’s now become its own destination, filled with quirky bars (Bøker og Børst, or “Books and Booze,” epitomizes this), restaurants, and shops that stay alive well into the night.
INSIDER TIPStavanger, the oil and energy capital of Europe, is a street art capital, too. Look for mural-sized Jack White lyrics, a graffitied replica of David, and plenty of art by Dolk and Dot Dot Dot.
Cruising the Lysefjord
WHERE: Stavanger, Norway
The hike to Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen, isn’t advisable in wintertime (early spring is doable with a guide), but that doesn’t mean you can’t ride the waters beneath it. From Stavanger, take the Fjord Line along the Lysefjord, and you’ll get three hours on these chilly, powerful waters. Out on the deck or safe inside the cabin viewing out the panoramic windows—glass of wine in hand—is up to you. You’ll see Vagabond’s Cave, Hengjane Falls, and the epic Pulpit Rock, though every second of the trek is a geological memoir, holding millions of years of nature’s work in front of your eyes.
Bryggen From the Harbor
WHERE: Bergen, Norway
How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites get more beautiful at night? Sitting right across the harbor from downtown, photographers line up on the water’s edge to snap photos of Bryggen’s old merchant houses, not quite blending into the city lights that climb the hillsides.
INSIDER TIPThe Clarion Hotel Admiral has possibly the best views of the site, though this area is lined with markets, restaurants, and bars, making wandering your way between dinner and cocktails its own (free!) itinerary-worthy event.
Oslo Opera House
WHERE: Oslo, Norway
Put away your pearls—the Oslo Opera House is meant for all of us. Designed to look like an iceberg, consider its steeply angled roof an invitation to partake, touch, and enjoy. With a walking path up either side, it doubles as a meet-up spot, a picnic spot, and a grab-a-photo-of-the-harbor spot, in addition to its designation as a hub of world-class music and entertainment.
INSIDER TIPThe inside is just as beautiful as the outside, purposefully designed to mimic patterns found in nature—spare five minutes to peek inside.
Flåm in Winter
WHERE: Flåm, Norway
The “traveler’s list of tourist traps” is only getting longer, and, unfortunately, many consider Flåm to have now made the cut. Come summer, swarms of international tourists flock to this otherworldly spot made surprisingly less spectacular with long lines, slow-moving tourists, and higher prices. But in winter? The above photo is worth far more than a thousand words, and nearby adventures—RIB safaris, river cruises, skiing, and the like—are available year-round.
INSIDER TIPAs a result of Flåm’s growth, the country is starting to limit the number of ships that can come into port each day. To visit, definitely make reservations in advance, and go in the off-season.
WHERE: Voss, Norway
At Myrkdalen, the largest ski resort in Fjord Norway, you have through May to get your snow kicks on, and that means snowboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or simply riding the lift for the views. The Myrkdalen hotel is ski-in/ski-out, with cabins and apartments built for whoever’s ready to become a lifer. If the apres-ski scene doesn’t convince you, the open views across the mountains of Hordaland might.
Snowshoeing Around Stegastein (Black and white snowshoe/color snowshoe)
WHERE: Aurlandsfjord, Norway
The Stegastein viewpoint is hard to beat in terms of minimal effort and maximum reward. Drive your car up the winding road, park in the adjacent lot, and boom: Fjord views to last a lifetime. But it’s just one point on the Aurlandsfjord, and the views are million-dollar all along these mountainsides. Explore out on your own (or with a guide), and you’ll nab an image few tourists ever get the chance to see.
INSIDER TIPYou’ll be fighting crowds here in summer—if you want the experience to feel more rugged, if you’re a photographer looking for a specific shot, or if you simply the moment to yourself, winter is the only way to go.