Ask a guidebook writer
David Nikel answers Norway travel FAQs
After my tour of Scandinavia these last few months, it’s nice to be back at home in Trondheim! Winter has well and truly arrived, with temperatures plummeting below freezing and a ton of snow on the ground. Even though I’ve lived here for almost eight years it’s still a surprise to me when the first snow comes, as it was far from guaranteed back in England.
It’s also the signal for me to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next one. That seems to be the case for many of you too, since I’ve received a bunch of questions just lately from people planning a trip to Norway next year.
So rather than focus on a single destination this month, I’m digging into the mailbag and answering some of the most common questions. If you’re not already planning a trip, perhaps this will inspire you to do so!
What’s happening with the National Gallery?
Great question! Every guidebook on the market (including the first edition of my own, sadly!) will direct visitors to the grandest art gallery in Norway—rightly so because the collection is truly outstanding. But unfortunately, the main gallery and all the other museums that fall under the “National Museum” umbrella are currently closed pending the construction of a brand new super-museum.
At the time of writing, the opening date for the new attraction at Aker Brygge has been set to sometime in 2020. Authorities are being somewhat cagey about a more specific date!
In the meantime, there is the opportunity to visit Mellomstasjonen in a building adjacent to the new museum. Roughly translating to “the station on the way,” the mini-museum gives visitors a chance to get a sneak peek at the plans for the new gallery, along with some small exhibits and a gift shop.
Disappointed? Head instead to the Bygdøy peninsula, where you can choose from the Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, or the maritime-themed Fram and Kon-Tiki museums.
Is the new Munch museum ready?
Sadly no. The enormous new waterfront Munch museum will include over 11 exhibition areas, making it one of the world’s largest galleries dedicated to a single artist. The new museum will open in June 2020, but on the plus side, the existing location in Tøyen stays open throughout 2019.
How busy is Lofoten these days?
The magnificent Lofoten Islands have received so much attention from international media over the last few years that they are suffering from the sheer number of visitors. Because so few people actually live on the islands, local authorities struggle to find the budget to pay for the necessary infrastructure improvements.
I don’t want to discourage you from visiting Lofoten, as I genuinely feel it’s one of the world’s most naturally beautiful places, but you should consider a visit outside the peak period of June to August.
Alternatively, consider a trip to the Vesterålen islands to the north of Lofoten. While the scenery is not quite as dramatic, Vesterålen offers a lot of the same activities (northern lights, kayaking, cycling, hiking, whale watching, etc.) but with none of the crowds.
Will I see the northern lights in 2019?
Oh the eternal question returns! Predicting the northern lights more than a couple of days in advance is impossible as it depends on the “space weather” caused by the sun and the local cloud cover.
That said, it’s widely known that the best times to visit on average are February through March and mid-September to early November. That’s simply because these are the times of the year where skies are likely to be clearest, while still being dark enough to see the lights. The problem with visiting at the darkest time of year–December and January–is that cloud cover is much more likely.
To increase your chances of seeing the “tricky lady” put on a show, head inland away from the coast where clouds tend to gather. In Norway, Alta is a good choice, as are the Sámi communities of Karasjok and Kautokeino—although be prepared because winter temperatures there can be dangerously low.
Is there anything new opening in 2019?
The most interesting new attraction for readers of The Norwegian American is actually a hotel. Set to open in March, Amerikalinjen is the refurbished headquarters of the Norwegian America Line on Jernbanetorget in central Oslo. It’s from here that the forefathers of many readers of The Norwegian American set sail for America a century ago. It’s a compelling narrative, so I’m excited as anyone to see if the experience lives up to the expectations.
If you’re traveling to Norway in 2019, have a great time and if you happen to stop by Trondheim, feel free to look me up for a coffee and a chat!
David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.
This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.