A winter wonderland: Traveling to Norway in the off season

Photo: borisbarabas / Foap / Visitnorway.com
A winter view of Bergen. Winter in Norway is beautiful inside and out, from its cultural offerings to the Northern Lights.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

I have traveled to Norway about 15 times, all in the summer, except for one winter trip to Oslo. The winter trip was surprisingly fab: a delicate blanket of snow coating the ground, while the amazing light diffused all to shades of purply-blue at dusk and dawn. Watching oodles of children sledding with their fathers on a bright Sunday at Holmenkollen, I laughed to myself as all used the tram as a substitute for a rope tow or leg power, leaving a delightful trail of slush in their wake. I wish others would see the country at this time of the year.

So does Innovation Norway / Visit Norway, a tourist board that presented a program on January 9 called “Travel in Scandinavia—Norway” in partnership with the American Scandinavian Foundation at their headquarters, Scandinavia House. The focus was “to help you plan the perfect Nordic vacation. This winter explore Scandinavia’s hidden gems and learn insider tips.”

The emphasis was not only on nature—a given for travel to Norway—but also on culture, as Oslo “has become a European culture capital. [Norway’s] cities are gaining fame for innovative architecture and design as well as top-notch culinary experiences.”

Receiving credence for culture, rather than nature, is a huge shift for Norway. This past December Bloomberg Pursuits wrote an article entitled “Forget Vienna, Oslo is the European Cultural Capital to Visit Now: From world-class restaurants to cutting-edge museums.” Of course, Visit Norway is leveraging this wonderful change in perception.

I was curious as to why they chose Scandinavia House for marketing. Harald Hansen, Public Information Manager of Visit Norway, clarified: “This event was initiated by Scandinavia House, and not us. I was the presenter representing Visit Norway. This was the first time for an event like this at Scandinavia House.”

According to Hansen, Visit Norway has no plans to take the presentation on the road, despite the event’s success. “It was a pretty full house,” he said. “People were very interested and asked a lot of questions after my presentation—actually for almost 45 minutes.”

For those who could not attend the program, Visit Norway’s website is quite helpful (www.visitnorway.com/plan-your-trip). It offers tourists’ perceptions, which is fun as it is always interesting to see how others experience Norway, especially those who have no familial connection. “Norway is a break from the noise,” “Norway is kid-friendly,” “Norway feels clean and delicate,” “Norway gives space for couples in love,” “Norway means a total stress-free vacation,” and “In Norway even the King is down to earth” are some of the observations of recent visitors.

The site also includes some new exciting info. “SAS is now offering direct flights from the U.S. East and West Coasts to the Northern lights—Alta, Kirkenes, and Tromsø.” While there you can delve into experiences only available in winter, such as cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and watching the migration of the largest number of humpback whales. The location offers the unique phenomenon of encountering the aurora borealis. And in January you can be part of the Tromsø International Film Festival. Enjoy a film in a traditional movie theater, outdoors in the snow, or aboard the famous Hurtigruten.

For those of us who travel to Norway often but are looking for a less costly experience, why not check out something new near the European culture capital of Oslo? Personally, I am dying to experience The Well, Norway’s largest spa, located in Kolbotn about a 20-mile drive from Oslo. Why? Waterfalls, Rhassoul (traditional Moroccan clay bath), Japanese Onsen (hot spring for bathing), 11 pools, 15 saunas and steam rooms, an Oriental hamam (Turkish bath), etc. It may be the most luxurious adult water park in the world. For those traveling sans vehicle, there are five private buses leaving from Oslo daily. The spa’s tagline: “Welcome to a World of Wellness—a paradise to be experienced,” is not an exaggeration. What a treat for a winter visit.

Too decompressed to leave after your visit? Why not spend a little time in Kolbotn and have a meal at the popular Gamle Tarnhuset Restaurant, housed in a lovely traditional building. It would provide a nice juxtaposition between the old and new Norway of The Well. Gamle Tarnhuset Restaurant offers seasonal food and a winter smørgåsbord, as well as winter tapas. And if you are resting your head at The Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania in Oslo, they offer packages to The Well for guests.

Promoting Norway’s built environment a step further, Visit Norway is offering tours focusing on architecture. “See Norway’s man-made wonders in seven days. Spend a week exploring some of the highlights of Norwegian architecture, from a wooden church that dates back to the 12th century to the latest high-tech hotel, which blends in with nature.” Now that would be a new and different way to experience Norway.

I know we all dream of Norway in the summer, but have you ever considered a winter trip? Author William Blake wisely states, “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” Why not enjoy winter in Norway? As author Anamika Mishra enthuses, “Winter is not a season, it’s a celebration.” Where better to celebrate it than in Norway?

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.