People are often surprised to find out that Oslo winters can actually be fairly mild, but that doesn’t mean you can turn up to the Norwegian capital in December with flip-flops and hopes of bronzing. The coastal nature of the city means slightly warmer air, but it’s still a snow-tipped paradise for most of the darker months. However, in typical Scandinavian style the city is incredibly accessible regardless of climate, so the inclement weather won’t stop you from enjoying all an Oslo winter (or Oslo Christmas) has to offer.
It’s not just indoor activities on offer either. The marka (forested hills) that surround the city are home to hundreds of different ski trails, both downhill and cross-country, so if you’re a winter sports fan there’s few better places to hunker down at the end of the year.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of a winter trip to Oslo, then read ahead for our guide to the best things to do in the Norwegian capital when the sun isn’t shining.
Winter temperatures in Oslo tend to hover around zero degrees Celsius, but at times they can drop to -15, especially when wind-chill is taken into account. This is much warmer than the inland of the country, where it remains below zero for most of the dark months. And we mean dark months: around the winter solstice, there’s only four or so hours of daylight.
All of this means that if you want to make the most of your Oslo city break in the cold, pack accordingly. This is especially true if you’re planning on some skiing or a winter hike through the frosty trails that surround the city.
With all that being said, the weather conditions in the winter make it slightly easier to see the Northern Lights in Oslo. While it’s unlikely, it does happen every so often, so keep your neck craned!
Things to do in Oslo in Winter
Skiing (of all kinds)
The Norwegians, unsurprisingly, love a good ski. However, unlike many other ski-happy nations, the cross-country version of the sport is much more popular here. In the marka surrounding Oslo, there are hundreds of different cross-country ski tracks; the combined length of these is over 2,500km (nearly 100km of which are built with lights for night skiing!).
Nordmarka and Ostmarka are the best regions for recreational skiing, and trails can be reached by the Oslo metro, so there’s no need to rent a car.
See Frogner Park Bathed in White
The famous Frogner Park is home to dozens of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, one of Norway’s most prominent artists, as well as a museum about the history of the surrounding area. While it’s wonderful to take a stroll through it in summer, in winter the place is usually much emptier, allowing you the opportunity to really take your time. If you’re lucky enough to have turned up just after it’s snowed, then that’s even better: when blanketed in white the park looks fairy-tale-esque.
The park is easily accessible via public transport, and free to have an amble in, so there’s no excuse not to go even if the beautiful snow turns into grey rain. Regardless of the weather, it’s sure to be an enriching experience.
Oslo Christmas Markets
There are a few different Oslo Christmas markets, but each has their own charm. The largest is probably the Winter Wonderland in Spikersuppa, which lasts for just over a month. Home to a skating rink, it’s right in the heart of town, so easily accessible.
Aside from the obvious food and drink stands, there are local artisans selling all kinds of hand-crafted goods, from cinnamon scented candles to whittled wooden musical instruments. There are also rides, including an iconic Ferris Wheel that allows gorgeous views of the Norwegian capital.
Another famous Oslo Christmas Market is Norsk Folkemuseum’s Christmas Fair. Located on the Bygdoy peninsula at the southern tip of the capital, this open-air market has over a hundred stalls. It’s also home to a small walking tour which delves into the history of Christmas in Norway.
Skate on a Frozen Lake
While there are numerous ice rinks set up in the city (the main ones being Spikersuppa, just by the Winter Wonderland, and at Frogner Stadium, by Frogner Park) there’s nothing quite like skating on a frozen lake. We’d recommend waiting for the locals to jump on as they tend to know when the ice is safe (it should be at least 10cm thick), but once they’re gliding across the ice it’s probably safe to join them.
The most popular lakes for ice skating are Bogstadvannet, Sognsvann, and Maridalsvannet. These are all just outside the city, but easily accessible by metro and a short walk. There’s plenty of space on all of them too, so if you’re less than confident you are unlikely to bump into someone.
For a really unique experience, you can also walk over the sea if the weather is cold enough. The best place to do this is Sandvika, and you can walk around Kalvoya island. There will be announcements and safety signs telling you if it is safe to do, so as long as you pay attention you’re bound to have a safe Oslo winter experience.
Hit the Sauna
Can you do an Oslo city break in the winter without visiting a sauna? The city has numerous wood-burning saunas dotted throughout it, and you can even take part in the refreshing (or terrifying, depending on who you ask) tradition of running from the sauna and diving into cold water. Salt Sauna are one of our favourite companies to do this with. Their modern building is also home to cultural events, discussions, and other community projects, so if you do go there your money is going to a good cause.