Norwegian winters are long and cold. If you are new to Norway or just need a reminder, here is a quick guide on what to expect and how to enjoy the winter, not just endure it.
First, the basics. Winter in Norway can get very cold and layering is key, especially if that bottom layer is thermals. Though they may itch and feel awkward under your jeans, you will come to love them when we get below -10 °C. Next, get some decent boots. You don’t want to accidentally slide all the way down to town on ice. For that, I recommend a snow sled or simply a plastic bag. I would also advise a snowy hill over an icy road, one where you won’t crash into any oblivious pedestrians, or a car for that matter. What you want is patterns under the sole of the shoe that will prevent slipping. You can also buy crampons. Necessary accessories like hats and gloves are available in a surprising myriad of colours and shapes – go crazy.
Now to the important stuff: how not to succumb to the winter «depression» common among Norwegians. While most will cheer at the first fall of snow, we will after a few weeks begin ceaselessly complaining of it until spring arrives. There are, of course, some lunatics who eagerly await the coming cold and venture out into the white hell voluntarily, preferably on skis. Yet, these lunatics are onto something – the trick is to find the things that are unique to winter that also offer solace from it. Skis might be an idea, it is certainly very Norwegian. I find them tricky myself, but if you find a decent slope and can stay on your feet, you might love it just a little.
There is also ice skating. However, a snowball fight is something that doesn’t require any equipment. For the less violent, you could build a snowman, snow woman, or whatever really. Afterwards a campfire and some marshmallows might be cosy. Don’t forget the Kvikk Lunsj chocolate! Just make sure it is alright to light a fire where you are, and tidy up after.
While the sky is dark, the town lights up, especially during Christmas. It is the perfect time for taking a stroll, or just stand on Old Town Bridge, «Gamle Bybro» in Norwegian, and watch the lights reflect in the river. You can seek shelter from the cold and enjoy various seasonal hot drinks in the local cafés. Winter is, after all, the perfect excuse to hide indoors. At home, you can enjoy hot chocolate, solbærtoddy made from black currants, or gløgg, a spiced sweet drink. You can make it with water, or you can use red wine or spirits, which always improves just about anything. At least if you drink enough.
Christmas will be a great opportunity to engage with local celebration such as the Christmas market in town, where you can check out the Norwegian treats and local produce. There are various Christmas sodas and candy, and if you are British, rejoice: ‘tis the season of biscuits. For dinner there are many dishes to explore, though unfortunately for vegetarians there is a lot of meat. However, there is the national favourite «risengrynsgrøt», a porridge consisting mainly of rice and milk, served with butter, cinnamon and sugar on top. It is not a dessert, though it may sound like it.
Norwegian winter, especially after Christmas, may seem endless and frigid. When it does, you can either embrace it and throw yourself in the snow, or you can hide inside with a hot drink to heat your fingers. Whether you are looking out of the window or skiing in the woods, try to enjoy winter. Visit the Tyholt tower and get a good look at the city. Eventually it will start getting warmer and ta-da: you survived a Norwegian winter.
And please, for your own sake, never go out drinking without a jacket on. If you fall drunkenly asleep in a ditch it is perfectly possible to die. Other than that, keep your head up and enjoy the pretty, white stuff.