Don’t be scared off by the Arctic location! Winter can be the best time to visit Norway. (Photo: Getty Images)
In the depths of winter, it’s most people’s instinct to flee to warmer climates to laze on a Caribbean beach or under some Hawaiian island palm trees. A close second would be to stay at home under the covers and turn up the heat. Not many people would think of spending winter going north, way north, to chilly Oslo, Norway, and up into the Arctic Circle in the northern tip of the country. And yet there are seven quite good reasons why now is a great time to hop a plane and fly to Norway.
The northern lights
The northern lights are something every traveler should see at one point or another and Norway offers particularly spectacular views. (Photo: Trond Kristiansen/Flickr)
This is legitimately a bucket-list item for any traveler. There’s nothing quite like seeing the nighttime sky lit up like a lava lamp. Photos don’t do justice to the awesome sensation of a horizon-to-horizon magnetic light show, something that makes you reflect on your tiny place in the cosmos. A fun way to see the lights is to take a winter cruise on the Hurtigruten ship all the way up the Norwegian coast past the Arctic Circle, where nightly light shows appear with the regularity of Big Bang Theory reruns. Note: Trying to take photos of the northern lights at 3 a.m. aboard a moving ship after drinking numerous shots of local aquavit will probably not have the best results. Or so I hear.
The weather really ain’t that bad
Despite its high latitude, Norway’s winters are a lot milder than you’d expect. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Thank the Gulf Stream currents for the fact that coastal Norway, despite being far north of the U.S. northeast, has similar weather, with average February highs of 36 degrees in Oslo and only slightly cooler 250 miles north in Trondheim. No, it’s not Hawaii, but neither will it have the 40-below temperatures one sees in similar latitudes (or inland in Scandinavia). And longer nights mean you have more time to gaze at those northern lights.
Traveling in the winter means you can save money on flights and hotels and can splurge more on the fun stuff while you’re there. (Photo: Getty Images)
Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is notoriously expensive. But going there in the winter off-season means that hotel rates are cheaper, and upstart discount carrier Norwegian Airlines is running great ticket specials (just watch out for those extra fees) to make it less expensive to get there. Drinks, unfortunately, cost the same year-round.
If cross-country skiing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of good downhill options as well. (Photo: Trysil/Facebook)
The Norwegians are well-known for their cross-country-skiing prowess, with legions of gold-medal winners and a countryside filled with families scooting through the snow like troops of nimble penguins. If you want to learn or train in Nordic skiing, this is the place to be. But the country also has a surprisingly large collection of downhill ski resorts, such as Hafjell and Trysil, which are good alternative destinations where you can avoid the crowds in the Alps, as well as Oslo Vinterpark, a short commute from downtown.
Norwegian Black Metal band Satyricon seen performing in Bergen, Norway in 2011. (Photo: Christian Misje/Wikimedia Commons)
Norway is one of the world’s centers for death metal, and there’s no better place to appreciate the aggressive gloom of this important cultural phenomenon than in the depths of an Arctic winter. Listen to local and touring bands turn the volume to 11 in bars like Oslo’s Rock In and the Elm Street Rock Café. Aficionados should be sure to visit Oslo’s Museum of Black Metal Music and Culture and Trondheim’s Rockheim pop and rock music museum, with its atmospheric death metal garage exhibit (most of the explanations are only in Norwegian, but one gets the drift). Fun fact: When Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway visited San Francisco in 2013, he caught a Kvelertak metal show with Metallica’s James Hetfield.
Get up-close and personal with the locations from Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books including Karl Johans Gate. (Photo: imageBROKER / Alamy)
Norwegian murder mystery novelist Jo Nesbo has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide of his 10 novels featuring Detective Harry Hole. The books expose the dark side of Norway (and of human nature) while tracing fictional crime investigations around Oslo and Norway. The plot lines come as close to real life as you would want them to during Harry Hole walking tours that are conducted in Oslo every Tuesday evening. In winter you’ll have a properly atmospheric trip skidding around on icy streets under dark storm clouds, imagining the evildoer from The Snowman lurking in frost-shrouded alleys around you.
Sled dogs! Reindeer!
It might not be north enough for Santa, but you can still get up close and personal with the reindeer on Kvaloya Island. (Photo: Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy)
A highlight of visiting northern Norway in winter is seeing sled dogs and reindeer in their element. Go to a spot like Kvaloya Island near Tromso to sit in a replica Sami tent, draped in a traditionally crafted reindeer blanket sipping some hot chocolate before joining some very eager sled dogs on a ride through the woods at the Tromso Villmarkssenter. The friendly, furry dogs are as happy to be petted as they are to pull a sled. To help sled dog puppies get acclimated to visitor contact, their trainers request that visitors go into the puppy corral to play with the fuzzy little guys. This alone is worth a trip to the far north. Or, if you’d like to make like Santa, go for a for-real reindeer sleigh ride.