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10 Photos: A Wintertime Tour of Norway

April 02, 2016
9 min read
10 Photos: A Wintertime Tour of Norway
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A cruise is a wonderful way to take in the majestic Norwegian coast. Here are some unforgettable images of Nordic scenery from TPG Contributor Kelsy Chauvin's recent wintertime trip to Oslo, Bergen, Ålesund, Honningsvåg and several other Norwegian port cities. Follow along with Kelsy's travels on Instagram and Twitter. (All photos are by the author.)

As someone who always runs warm, I love traveling to cold places — not only is it a fun way to take in snowy scenes, practice winter sports and see how locals make the most of freezing temperatures, it's also a great time to save money on airfare and hotels. And if you're really lucky, maybe the Northern Lights will grace the Arctic sky and make the whole trip even more magical.

This winter, I packed up a larger-than-usual suitcase stuffed with thick sweaters, big boots and an array of thermals and flew off to Norway on the friendly and modern Norwegian Air — more on that toward the end of the post.

Oslo is a great entry point for a country that treasures its traditions and has gone full-throttle into modern design. Norway's capital city has benefitted from the country's flush financial coffers — a result of thriving oil and natural gas reserves — and construction is booming all across town. A big part of that civic redevelopment is because of the Fjord City Project, which has systematically overhauled Oslo's waterfront and skyline with gleaming new buildings, pedestrian and bicycling promenades and improved port and marina areas.

Modern architecture and eye-catching design are the key trends throughout Oslo, especially on Tjuvholmen, or Thief Island — its name harkens back to a time when the islet once served as a prison. Don't miss the Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, pictured below. Its undulating roofs and curved walls cross a canal, making the complex feel as contemporary and enthralling as the remarkable collection inside. Ponder pieces by Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons and other multimedia artists featured in its revolving exhibit spaces.

Starchitect Renzo Piano designed the Astrup Fearnley Museum complex on Thief Island.

Oslo is filled with points of interest for every travel predilection. A full day could be spent pondering the more than 200 emotionally charged masterworks of sculptor Gustav Vigeland in the park that bears his name, including one of the city's most famous statues, "The Angry Child."

Of the more than 200 sculptures in Vigeland Park, it’s the emotionally immature “Angry Child” who demands the most attention.

Taking advantage of Oslo's astoundingly thorough and punctual public transit system, visitors can head to Holmenkollen and ease up to its famous Holmenkollbakken Olympic-caliber ski jump for a real dose of vertigo. The Viking Ship Museum, located on the historic Bygdøy peninsula, is certainly worth a peek as well, if only to process how those infamous Nordic traders mastered long-range sailing in such simple wooden vessels.

Original wooden vessels dating back about 1,000 years are preserved at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum.

As much as I loved Oslo, the fjords were calling. So I climbed aboard Hurtigruten's MS Nordkapp for a weeklong trip from historic Bergen (Norway's second-largest city), across the Arctic Circle and up to Kirkenes, just 15 minutes from the Russian border.

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Bergen, Norway’s second-biggest city, is also home to Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hurtigruten is both a leisure vessel, hosting travelers from around the world on its 14 ships, and a working fleet that carries cargo and ferry passengers between its many ports of call. Aboard the MS Nordkapp, stops and excursions included The Art Nouveau Town of Ålesund, which was rebuilt with remarkably consistent architectural stylings after a devastating fire in 1904.

A 1904 fire destroyed the small port town of Ålesund, which rebuilt itself largely in the Art Nouveau style.

Trondheim, Norway's third-largest city, had a cool college town vibe that complemented its long history, highlighted by its awe-striking, medieval-style Nidaros Cathedral, which dates back to 1040.

In Honningsvåg, the North Cape’s iconic iron globe.

Smaller towns along the way led me to authentically polar excursions to Tromsø's Polar History Museum — and, of course, the historic Mack Brewery and Olhallen Beer Hall. Also to the North Cape Hall in Nordkapp (just north of Honningsvåg), home to the iconic iron globe that marks the northernmost point of continental Europe.

Beautifully colored houses set off the stark white polar landscape in Honningsvåg, along with eco-friendly windmills.

It was just outside both Tromsø and Honningsvåg that cosmic luck struck, summoning those elusive Northern Lights. I was lucky enough to be scouting them from the deck of our ship on the first occasion when two veteran Aurora-Borealis chasers alerted me to what was right before my very eyes. It turns out when the lights are weaker, they can be easily overlooked or mistaken for clouds — in these conditions, only a properly set SLR camera would be able to capture their marvelous greens and reds. For my second sighting two nights later, the lights were far stronger and easy to follow with the naked eye, although still more gray than green.

Winter brings the best odds of glimpsing the marvelous Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle.

Our cruise wrapped up in Lapland, where an excursion through the Kirkenes Snowhotel took us onto the fjord for some king crab trapping through the ice (pictured below) and a cozy dinner to follow in the snow-covered Nordic woods. Without overstating it, I have never felt quite so warm and welcome in zero-degree temperatures.

Ice fishing and king crab trapping are some of the excursions offered by the Kirkenes Snowhotel.

Getting to Norway

Since it launched three years ago, Norwegian Air has been the obvious economical cross-Atlantic choice for nonstop flights aboard its Dreamliner — nonstop flights are available to Oslo (OSL) from New York (JFK), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Boston (starting in April), Las Vegas (starting in November), Los Angeles (LAX) and Orlando (MCO). Frequent Norwegian Air travelers will enjoy getting bonus CashPoints and other benefits for every six flights they take within a year through the Norwegian Reward program. Check out TPG Associate Editor Emily McNutt’s recent economy-class review and TPG’s premium-class review to see what flying on the low-cost carrier is really like. SAS, a Star Alliance member, also offers nonstop flights from Newark (EWR) and Miami (starting in September), letting passengers earn EuroBonus points.

Where to Stay in Oslo

Though the Radisson, Clarion and Scandic chains do offer accommodations throughout the country, Oslo isn't exactly a hotbed of chain hotels, making it a great place to splurge with classic, centrally located spots and earning foreign-transaction-fee-free card rewards.

The majestic Grand Hotel Oslo opened in 1874 and is slated to complete a major renovation later this summer. Located beside Studenterlunden Park along the main drag that is Karl Johans gate, the Grand Hotel Oslo has hosted everyone from world leaders like President Barack Obama, who visited in 2009 to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, to local legends like artist Edvard Munch — check out his masterpiece, The Scream, at Oslo's National Museum just around the corner. Rates start at about $249 per night in April.

Consider staying at The Thief, the city's newest luxury hotel and one of the most design-forward, uber-chic accommodations anywhere in the world. It's part of the Design Hotels portfolio, which offers a membership program that earns perks like free Wi-Fi, late checkout and partner discounts. Room rates at The Thief start at about $354 per night in April — book with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred to get 2x the points on travel-related and restaurant expenses. The property isn't yet part of Starwood's Design Hotels portfolio.

Another recently renovated beauty is the Hotel Continental, situated on the other side of the park beside the National Theater. Open since 1900, the property is a member of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, so cardholders of the Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express can enjoy special benefits like early check-in, late checkout, daily breakfast, complimentary lunch or dinner for two and room upgrades. Rates start at about $311 per night in April.

Have you ever visited Norway during the winter? Tell us about your experience below.

Featured image by The Hurtigruten cruise ships are a smooth way to take in the majestic Norwegian coast.