What’s it like to travel to Norway in the winter? Fantastic! We know a lot of people gripe about winter time and look forward to summer, but over the years winter has become one of our favorite seasons of the year to travel.
So, why would someone want to head to a Nordic Country and the Arctic Circle in the middle of the winter?
Here’s Why You Must Visit Norway in Winter
1.) You Can Mush Your Own Dog Sled
Our first winter experience in Norway was epic! Hopping on a tour across frozen lakes and mountains with a team of sled dogs leading the way is a fantastic way to ring in a trip. We raced around Lake Vinstra with several teams of dogs from Beito Husky Tours just outside Jotunheimen National Park.
The possibilities are endless with tour operators like this as they have a plethora of options for a customized tour with many routes and options. They even do extended tours over several days into the national park and surrounding area. All of it wilderness with little cabins dotting the landscape and wild winter landscape views. More on those cabins later!
It was not our first time on a dog sled. However, this is the first time we drove our own dog sled. Our previous experiences were packaged day tours in which visitors led the dogs around a small loop for an hour with plenty of assistance.
Here we were given a brief overview of how to handle the dog sled team and we were off with our own team of dogs crossing a variety of terrain for a full day trip.
Our entire tour lasted about five hours of driving the dogsled team with an hour-long break for lunch. If you’d like to take a dog sled tour like ours you can travel to the small resort town of Beitostølen. They have a small ski hill, hiking trails, and book a tour directly with Beito Husky Tours. They also offer day trips from Oslo and can assist with your transportation or accommodation.
2.) You Can Find Your Dream Cabin
It’s not an official statistic, but something like one in every three Norwegian families has a cabin. As cabins are gaining popularity in North America, Norwegians have been in love with cabins for decades and it’s an important part of their culture.
As you explore the Norwegian countryside and mountains you’ll find a plethora of cute cabins that dot the landscape.
Many of them are simple wood cabins painted green, brown, or red as the idea is not to disrupt nature so that you and any neighbors can enjoy.
As you travel across the beautiful snow-covered landscapes of Norway you’ll see tons of cozy cabins with fires roaring, conjuring up all the warm feels of a perfect winter destination.
We spent the majority of our time in Norway hopping between rustic hotels, cabins, and even DNT Cabins. It’s not all cute family cabins that make you want to bundle up and drink a warm cup of cocoa.
Norwegians are passionate about their winter sports and DNT cabins are for the active. One of the best ways to enjoy the mountains and winter sports is through the use of DNT cabins that are managed and operated by the DNT, The Norwegian Trekking Association. Many of their cabins are open to winter visitors in Norway like ourselves providing a refuge in their cabins for mountains travelers enjoying who love to snowshoe, ski, or dog sled.
If you want to take advantage of the DNT Cabins of Norway you can become a member and book your access to the mountains as a foreigner. Or you can hire a mountain guide and tour company like Hvitserk who assisted us in the Norwegian mountains and provided us with a very knowledgeable guide, Laine.
3.) You Can Enjoy the Birthplace of Ski
While the Alps receive a lot of the glory when it comes to ski in Europe, the sport has deep ties to Norway. It is the country with the highest number of Winter Olympic medals in the world. As some would joke Norwegians are “born with skis on their feet.”
It’s even the birthplace of ski evidence of primitives ski in Norway dating back 3500 years ago. AND the first ski competition took place in Trømso in 1843!
Norwegians are passionate about cross country skiing and tracks/routes can be found all across the country from small towns, national parks, and even the capital, Oslo.
Our first trip to Norway in the in winter was more about sightseeing and checking out everything Norway has to offer. However, we still got some time to strap on a snowboard at Norway’s largest ski resort, Narvikfjellet.
We’ve seen some cold temperatures in the mountains, but it was our first time snowboarding in the Arctic Circle and we can’t wait to return. We’d been told the conditions were looking pretty rough; however, the night of our arrival to Narvik a winter storm blew in dropping over 30 cm of snow.
That meant we got a little taste of the glory of Narvikfjellet. With low visibility and a full winter storm, we got to enjoy wide open powder runs and the chance to get off-piste. Off-piste riding is a major draw for Narvikfjellet as their brand new gondola provides access to some big terrain with views of the fjord down below. The low visibility kept us in the trees, but we know we’ll have to return for some of the legendary ski touring in Norway.
The mountain and much of Norway offers amazing ski touring opportunities for expert riders and we can’t wait to return. Of course, it’s not all for the bold. There are easy pistes and it’s possible for any skill level to enjoy a day our on the slopes in Norway.
- Location: Narvik, Northern Norway
- Accommodation: Scandic Narvik
- Ski Resort: Narvikfjellet
- Lift Ticket: 345 NOK a day ($40 USD)
4.) You Can See the Northern Lights
It’s almost impossible to talk about visiting Norway and the Arctic without mentioning the Northern Lights. If you’d like to the see the Northern Lights at least once in your life set your sights on Northern Norway. Some companies even guarantee you see the Northern Lights on one of their trips.
Our trip to the Northern city of Narvik and nearby islands was specifically around witnessing the Northern Lights. We were lucky enough to try out a number of amazing experiences and a few stand out in particular.
The first night of our tour outside of Narvik included a dog sled at night led by head torches and the Aurora Borealis above us. Our second night was followed up with the Northern Lights over the city of Narvik from atop the ski hill. Both experiences are ones to remember forever!
If you plan to see the Northern lights in Northern Norway I’d advise you to rent a car in order to guarantee your chances. Northern Norway is largely coastal and is comprised of a mix of mountains and islands. The result of the unique landscape and the sea create very localized weather and unpredictable weather.
You can check Aurora Forecast with this website and if looks like a high activity night you often can find clear skies even if you have cloud coverage in your area within a short drive. We went out to the Vesterålen Islands in search of the Northern Lights due to the lack of light pollution and incredible views.
Where to see the Northern Lights?
- Vesterålen Islands
- Lofoten Islands
5.) You Don’t Have To Sweat Your Ass Off
The typical vacation might be to an exotic location somewhere warm, but that comes with one big downside, the heat. We love destinations like Costa Rica, Mozambique, and Indonesia, but they all get oppressively hot.
That means sweaty clothes, feeling dirty, mosquitos, and spending all your time in A/C or the pool. After a month in Costa Rica, I felt like my clothes were about to disintegrate by the time we left.
Personally, we love cold weather! It might sound crazy to some, but when you’re in the right destination there are a plethora of things to do in cold weather — like everything else in this blog post.
As a plus, your clothes stay fresh longer and cold cheeks feel great. The best part is sitting next to a cozy fire with hot cocoa and a big cinnamon roll after slogging through snow.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.
What you need to stay warm in Norway during the winter:
6.) You Can Witness Breathtaking Landscapes
This one is a no brainer, but you’ve probably seen dozens of breathtaking landscapes. Any traveler considering a trip to Norway has likely seen the soul-stirring landscapes of the fjords, islands, mountains, and sea.
To see them in person really does take your breath away and it’s very clear Norwegians are aware of their beautiful country and take a lot of pride.
Our trip to Norway in the winter stretched across the central part of Norway starting in Jotunheimen National Park before making our way to Norway’s largest Fjord and the coastal town of Flåm. After this, we took a flight to the Northern City of Narvik. From Narvik, we explored the Vesterålen Islands in search of breathtaking fjords, islands, whales, and the Northern Lights.
7.) You Can Find Peace and Quiet
With so many amazing landscapes you can find headspace any time of year. However, the quietest time of the year is in the winter. As snow falls across the country tourism numbers drop almost everywhere.
With fewer tourists, you can find cheaper prices in an expensive country and most importantly you can find solitude. A day spent on the King’s Highway crossing a field of snow we were the only ones to be seen all day.
8.) You Can Snowshoe Almost Anywhere
There are so many ways to enjoy the wilderness, but one of our favorites has to be snowshoeing. It’s an activity that anyone can enjoy and requires little skill for entry, unlike alpine or cross country ski.
We loved snowshoeing along the higher reaches of the King’s Highway with Mountains of Norway. It was a long day with the group in the beautiful snow that covered several kilometers. However with a well-marked trail and plenty of resources, it was more than possible for anyone to enjoy this activity with or without a group.
If you’re wondering what to wear while snowshoeing or during any outdoor activities in Norway we suggest using a layer strategy.
You can learn more about the products we recommend and what to wear in our post on what to wear hiking.
9.) You Can Spot Some Amazing Wildlife
If you’ve ever wanted to see some of the incredible animals of the Arctic you should consider Norway. On land, you can find the occasional arctic fox, reindeer, moose, musk ox, sea eagle, or even wolf.
Then if you’re feeling truly crazy you can experience the dark and wild Svalbard a place where seeing a polar bear is almost a given.
The real highlight of Norway lies in its rich seas with a plethora of whales and dolphins that call the coastline home. We journeyed to the Northern town of Andenes in search of whales.
From this small coastal town, you can spot orcas, sperm whales, humpback, and beluga whales. Then for the truly adventurous, it’s the one spot in the world where you can swim with Orcas! Just be warned the season operates from January to March so you’ll be swimming in the cold.
We had an amazing wolf encounter and an opportunity to learn about the wildlife of Norway at the Polar Park just outside of Narvik. In the experience, we were able to come face to face with wolves and have the opportunity to receive wolf kisses and touch the amazing hunters.
- Whale Watching Location: Andenes
- Operator: Whale Safari
- Whale Safari Price: 1095 NOK Adult ($125 USD)
- Wolf Experience Location: Polar Park
- Price: 3000 NOK per person ($350 USD)
10.) You Eat Amazing Comfort Food
While Norwegian cuisine is far from one of the world’s most famed cuisine that doesn’t mean you won’t eat well in Norway. For many centuries and up until the 1960s Norway was a very poor country and the vast number of dishes are meat, fish, hearty stews, bread, and potatoes. It’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but a hearty reindeer stew called Finnbiff.
If you’ve been following our blog for a while you’ll know we are vegan at home and eat very little meat in our travels. It’s an environmental and health decision for us, but when presented the dishes from locals, especially when they come from environmentally friendly sources we will eat meat.
So, when we were offered finnbiff in Northern Norway we were happy to try the iconic dish of the Nordic countries. It’s rich reindeer stew served on top of whipped potatoes and if you’re lucky lingonberry on the side. It’s the perfect dish to warm you up on a cold winter night with a beer.
11.) You Can Eat All The Waffles You Want
Natasha and I try to eat pretty healthy on an average day, but I do have one weak point, that is sweets. It’s next to impossible for me to turn down something as delicious as a waffle.
Winter time in Norway is time for plenty of winter sports that burn handfuls of calories so like any good loving sports fiends they reward themselves with high-calorie sweets. Nothing is better than a Norwegian waffle after a day out in the mountains.
The traditional waffle is made in a heart-shaped press than topped with cream, strawberry jam, and brown cheese. They are thin and soft – more like a crepe than a thick crispy Belgium waffle. Don’t ask me how many waffles I ate during my time in Norway because it definitely averaged more than one a day! 😮
12.) You Can Find Hope for Our Planet
Norway is a massive oil producer and it’s clear that the world is still decades away from moving away from an oil-based economy. However, Norway also happens to be one of the greenest countries with electric car sales outpacing combustible engines and plenty of green initiatives aimed at reducing their carbon footprint and striving towards carbon neutrality.
On a positive note, we got to see one of the countries most innovative creations, a fully electric powered ferry. The “Future of the Fjords” is the first of its kind in the world and to ride on the electric boat is a wild sensation. The boat moves silently across the fjord with no engine shake and the sensation of the standing on the front deck feels like flying through the Norwegian fjords.
- Route: Flåm, Aurland, Undredal, & Gudvangen
- Operator: Visit Flåm (Future of the Fjords)
- Price: From 405 NOK ($45 USD)
13.) You Won’t Actually Freeze Your Ass Off
Norway may be far North and stretch into the Arctic circle, but it’s not always that cold. Thanks to the Gulf Stream delivering warm water and a massive coastline the majority of the country is pretty temperate.
While in the South in mid-February I was comfortable in a sweater and thermals. It was perfect for exploring the charming coastal towns with their wood homes and ties to Vikings. In fact, many of the coastal towns only see a few days with temperatures lower than freezing.
14.) You Can Chat With Colorful Locals
It would be a lie to say Norwegians are the most open bunch of people in the world, but there are certainly plenty of colorful characters that come with a place as wild as Norway.
As a big bonus for English speakers, thanks to a great education system the majority of Norwegians can speak fluent English with around 90% reported speaking English as a second language.
15.) You can Experience Great Train Journeys
Some of the best train journeys in the world are reported to take place on Norway’s extensive train system. We were lucky enough to hop on the Flåmsbana and take it over 800m in elevation through twenty tunnels, past waterfalls, and under snow-covered peaks. It’s a breathtaking journey and on a classically styled train.
You can learn more about the train journey and book tickets on Visit Flam’s website. At the train line end, you can hop on the Bergen to Oslo express that crosses Norway’s largest wilderness section and is considered to be one the greatest train journies in the world.
16.) You Can Get Awesome Coastal Vibes
Norway has its roots deeply tied with the sea. From Vikings to fisherman Norwegians have spent millennium living by the sea. Along its massive coastline, you’ll find old fishing villages, cabins, and port towns. So find a cozy cabin and a cup of coffee enjoy the sounds of the ocean or the views across a breathtaking Fjord.
Don’t worry about ice thanks to the Gulf Stream the majority of the ports remain ice-free throughout the year, just a few in the North freeze.
17.) You Will Test Your Spirit
The Northern reaches of Norway are known to experience some wild and violent weather. For some, this may be a deterrent, but it was an amazing ride for us. As the blizzard rolled across the island of Andoy North of the famed Lofoten Islands the sea swelled and winds whipped snow across the craggy coastline.
It was a blast literally and figuratively leaning hard into the wind and experiencing the power of mother nature.
To travel around Norway in the winter may seem like a crazy idea, but it can truly be an amazing experience.
How to plan a trip like this in the winter?
Hvitserk and Mountains of Norway were kind enough to plan our trip for us. Hvitserk specializes in adventure tours around Norway that include hiking, skiing, sailing, biking, and kayaking. Our specialty tour was a shortened version of their Seven Day Snowshoe and Dogsled expedition. Our experience with our guide, Laine, was terrific and she was very knowledgeable. The passion for her job and the outdoors was contagious which helped with our group dynamics.
We love taking on an adventure around the world but have come to appreciate the need for a local guide when it comes to expeditions in foreign countries. A local who knows the mountains or coastline can make all the difference and allow for you to dive deep into a new destination or experience. If you’re interested in a similar experience head over to their website for booking information.
How to Dress For Norway in the Winter
We recommend using a layering system for Norway in the winter. Temperatures are for the most part very mild, but if you head inland or to elevation, it is possible to find very frigid temperatures around -20C. Here is how we layer our clothes when traveling or when we’re active in cold temperatures.
This is the layer that touches your skin. It’s also what we consider the most important layer as it’s responsible for moisture management. It’s what keeps you warm in cool temperatures.
Do not wear cotton as your base layer! Cotton performs poorly at wicking away moisture (pulling and drying) and provides no warmth when wet. It can even cause hypothermia in the right conditions.
Most commonly it is a fleece jacket or sweater that provides warmth, but not necessarily protection from the elements. On a temperate day on the coast, we love wearing a wool sweater for warmth even if it’s not a technical piece of clothing.
This layer is for insulation and is most commonly a down jacket. On most cool days or evenings you can wear this with a base layer and I’ve worn a combination of a base layer, mid layer, and insulation instead of a winter jacket. Insulation or mid layers are interchangeable.
This the layer that offers protection from the elements It’s not designed for insulation, but protection from rain, wind, or snow. I have two Goretex shell jackets one designed specifically for alpine touring and the other a rain jacket. However, other than the cut, pocket layout, fit, and zippers the jackets are basically the same thing. This is super important if you’ll spend a lot of time on along Norway’s coast as they frequently see high winds in Northern Norway.
What to Pack For Norway in the Winter?
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time around reflective snow. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
We’ve tried a few different brands, but recently settled on Kora as our favorite pair of thermals. It may be best for us as we need something technical when we snowboard or climb mountains to wick away moisture from our bodies. Kora makes high-performance technical clothing out of quality Yak Wool from the Himalayas — warning they are high priced.
For base layers we recommend they fit snug are made from a non cotton material like nylon or wool. We’ve had a lot of baselayer, but our favorites are wool based layers from Helly Hansen, Smartwool, Black Diamond, and the yak wool from Kora.
There are only a few items we recommend everyone has and one of them is a down jacket. A down jacket is a staple for travel and outdoor activities as it’s tremendously versatile.
We always recommend you bring a great packable down jacket on just about any extended trip. When you’re dealing with the mountains and wide temperature shifts it’s a great way to keep warm without eating up too much space in your hiking backpack.
There are two different hiking pants that we love to wear on our travels the Keb Trouser from Fjallraven and prAna’s Stretch Zion Pant/Halle Pant. The most versatile would have to be prAna pants that are lightweight, look great, and extremely comfortable. We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple, but they are heavyweight and not great for quick dry properties yet extremely durable. If you really want to mix it up you can opt for hiking tights — Tasha loves those! You’ll see a lot of these kicking around Norway in the winter, and it’s the reason we picked up a pair ourselves.
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