Welcome to Røros, the magical Christmas town
A Norwegian Christmastime dream
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
Every Christmas, I snuggle up by the fireplace at home in Seattle, enveloped by a beautiful red woolen blanket from Røros Tweed, and I often start to dream. In our very rainy winter city in the Pacific Northwest, I dream of a white Christmas in Norway—and in the warmth of my cozy blanket, my thoughts often turn to Røros. What would it be like to celebrate Christmas in perhaps the most Christmassy place in Norway? I can only imagine, but I would like to share my Norwegian Christmastime dream with you.
While I have never been to Røros, very strong associations come to mind at Christmastime. I have visions of a storybook town with its wooden buildings enveloped in snowdrifts, sparkling lights galore shining in the dark winter night, horse-drawn sleighs, dogsled adventure, genuine Norwegian food (including that delicious Røros Butter), stands filled with Christmas delights, brass bands and choirs, people bundled up in fur to keep warm, and nisse families wandering through the streets. And if I can believe the tourist websites, this vision does not seem to to be too far from the truth …
I first got interested in Røros when I learned that the family of a friend and colleague had immigrated from there to the Pacific Northwest. He had been lucky to travel there and was fully enchanted by the town that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980.
Established as a mining town in the mid-17th century, many of the original wooden buildings of Røros have been preserved in the city center, making it look more like a scene out of the new Christmas classic film Three Wishes for Cinderella or a setting in Disney’s Frozen.
But then, I also learned from my friend, that Røros can be very, very cold. Having first been there in the summer and experienced all that Røros had to offer in terms of outdoor living and recreation, he decided to go back in the winter and discovered a different Røros. “Frozen” was a good word to describe it. Not to take anything away from Røros, he said, “but I kind of got why they left. For them, life was difficult at that time—and it was so COLD.”
Winters are still cold in Røros, but fortunately for all, this treasure of a town has a few secrets for living well in the winter.
Over time, modern technology has made life much more comfortable for everyone. But the people of Røros seem to also have an incredible knack for embracing winter and making of the most of it. One of this secrets is the Røros Julemarked—the Røros Christmas Market—which takes place the first week of December each year. People come from all over Norway, Europe, and the world to experience an ekte norsk jul—and they don’t seem to be disappointed. It’s the real deal, albeit done its own unique Røros way.
Getting to Røros
Whether you are Norwegian or a tourist coming from abroad, there are several options for getting to Røros. The small municipality with a population of about 5,600 is serviced by an airport about a mile outside the town, and there are flights departing from Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport every day except Saturdays. Coming from other destinations from Norway may require transfers and/or train or bus connections.
But if you’re not in a hurry, a good choice is the Røros Railway, which runs between Hamar north of Oslo and Trondheim, with Røros along the way. Traveling north from Hamar, you will enter into one of Scandinavia’s largest wilderness areas along the Glomma River, and the scenery is breathtaking. And if you’re lucky, you may be able to spot wildlife along the way: the great forest between Rena and Koppang is also home to moose and bears.
Another added bonus is all the charming old station buildings you will pass by along the way. Built between 1862 and 1877, the Røros Railway is Norway’s oldest trunk line, and the buildings along the way are architectural gems. If you choose to continue north to Trondheim from Røros after coming from Oslo (or vice versa), you will pass by no less than 39 stations on the course of 237 miles. It will be a bit like a journey back in time.
The trip from Oslo to Røros will take nearly six hours by train, and from Trondheim to Røros is about two hours. It may take slightly less time to drive, but with treacherous winter roads, it feels more secure to sit back and enjoy the comfort of a heated train car and soak in the scenery.
There are many options for accommodations in Røros, and each has something to offer depending on what type of experience you want. In the wintertime, there are hotels, cabins, and apartments to choose from in various price categories.
For those looking for luxury, the Røros Hotell offers full comfort and relaxation, with a selection of restaurants, and a full set of amenities catering to serious skiers, families, and basically any tourist.
Rooms are “inspired by Scandinavian colors, shapes, and nature.”
There is an indoor swimming pool, fitness studio, solarium, sauna, and easy access to a recreation area of nearly 200 miles of cross-country ski tracks.
You can enjoy a drink in the lobby bar or a beer in the lavvo, a Sámi tent dwelling on the property. The hotel takes culinary arts seriously, too, offering seasonal regional cuisine prepared with local products. The hotel also offers full banquet facilities for large groups.
But some may opt for a smaller, more intimate lodging experience, and here Røros has much to offer.
Short of making any recommendations, both Bergstadens Hotel and Erzscheidergarden caught my eye on the various hotel websites, both for their central locations and the apparent coziness of their traditional interiors. Both are only a few minutes away from the Røros Church, and both are only a short walk to some of the most popular eating establishments in town.
And yes, if you are going to Røros at Christmastime (or any other time, for that matter), a mandatory stop is Røros Church, or Bergstadnes Ziir, which literally means “the mining town’s beauty.”
The octagonal, whitewashed stone church was designed by architect Peter Leonard Neumann from Trondheim and was built in 1784. Its steeple towers above the town’s rooftops, a magnificent sight to behold, especially during the blue hour, that magical moment when the snow reflects the glassy blue light from the sun far behind the horizon in the northern skies.
The church seats about 1,600 people, making it the fifth largest church within the Church of Norway. Røros Church is ranked by Riksantikvaren as one of the 10 most high-profile churches in Norway. It is home to many concerts, and since 1999, it has been one of the concert venues of the Norwegian Advent Concert Series. You may be lucky enough to attend one of them.
Velkommen til julemarkedet!
But if you have come to Røros the first week of December, you will be immersed into the winter wonderland of the Røros Christmas Market.
But first things first: come prepared to spend several hours outdoors, for there is a lot to see and do. And, most certainly, you can expect those chilling temperatures for which Røros is known, with daytime temperatures ranging between -13° and -22° Fahrenheit. So, animal activists, leave your spray-paint cans at home. You will see many natives and visitors enwrapped in fur coats, for this is a climate that requires them. If you don’t have a fur coat, bring your down coats, your warmest wool sweaters, hats, mittens, and a good pair of insulated boots. You will want to stay warm while in Røros, so you can enjoy all that is has to offer. But don’t worry: if you’ve forgotten something, there is plenty to buy at the Røros Julemarked, most of very high quality. It will be hard to resist all the handmade wares, and there is such a wide variety of woolen and knitted goods, that it may be hard to choose.
Genuine arts and crafts
If you are looking for handcrafted Norwegian Christmas gifts, the Røros Julemarked is the place to be. Røros has a long history of trade, art, and craftsmanship, which all comes to life in the stalls of the Christmas Market. Sámi arts and crafts are popular, and a wide variety of items is available to purchase.
You may want to pick up a reindeer skin, a woolen hat, a Norwegian sweater, traditional ceramics, or a wooden toy handcrafted in Røros. Then there is a huge selection of Christmas nisser to choose from and traditional ornaments for your Christmas tree. You may even want to bring home a julenek, a bundled sheave of wheat stems to put out to feed the hungry birds.
Specialities for every taste
Food in Røros is pure and unspoiled, just like the nature it comes from. Warm yourself up at the Julemarked with some gløgg, which goes perfectly with some delicious freshly baked gingerbread. There is no shortage of gingerbread houses to admire, too, as they decorate the town this time of year. There are even workshops to learn how to make your own.
Other Røros specialties to try are cured sausages and smoked salmon. Goulash soup is also popular on a cold winter’s day, or you may want to try some rømmegrøt. Then, of course, don’t forget about freshly baked Norwegian waffles with some genuine Norwegian brown cheese, and remember that the ever-so-delicious Røros Butter makes things taste so good.
And even though it’s wintertime, there are locales where you can enjoy fresh berries and ice cream, as well as fresh cheese. Of course, many adults will also want to taste the local juleøl, the year’s full-bodied Christmas ale from the famous Røros Brewery.
All those little nissefolk—and Rudolf!
People-watching at the Røros Julemarked is fun. Many children don pointed red caps, as they gleefully wander though the streets. With the strong Sámi culture in the Røros region, you will enjoy seeing their traditional clothing, which is not only warm but colorful. The streets of Røros are literally swarming with people during the Christmas Market, and you might also run into Rudolf there, as friendly reindeer and husky dogs join in on the fun.
Brass bands and choirs
And, as in my dreams, there really are brass bands and choirs at the Røros Christmas Market, as community bands come out in full force to provide holiday entertainment. Young and old alike join in on the fun, as adult and children’s choir take their turns—it may be hard not to sing along.
Winter recreation and romantic sleigh rides
Røros is truly a dream come true for anyone interested in winter recreation. There are the abundant trails for cross-country skiing. It is not to be forgotten that snow is guaranteed for six months of the year, with opportunities close by for both cross-country skiing and alpine skiing.
Non-skiers can enjoy husky-powered sleds. Many dog-sledders in the area offer trips for individuals and groups, lasting from one hour to an entire week.
Finally, no Christmas trip to Røros would be complete without a romantic sleigh ride. You can travel through the streets of Røros snuggled up under a sheepskin blanket, sleigh bells ringing. After dark, your sleigh will be lit by torchlight, as you travel through the narrow streets of Røros and beyond. It is even possible to travel in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, for those who wish to experience more of the Sámi culture.
Yes, for me, Røros became my Norwegian Christmastime dream this year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring this winter wonderland adventure with me.
To learn more about travel to Røros and experience the dream for real, visit Destination Røros at roros.no. God tur og god jul!
All photos courtesy of Destination Røros
This article originally appeared in the December 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.