9 magical ways to experience Christmas in Norway

Christmastime in Norway is pure magic. Open fires, snowy landscapes, foods that warm the soul, distinctive traditions: it has all the ingredients for a fairy-tale Christmas.

1. Shop in Norway’s Christmas markets

Norwegian Christmas markets are the stuff of dreams. Wooden stalls crammed with handmade candleholders, felted julnisse (mythical, gnome-like creatures with long pointed hats), and thick knitted socks. Trees strung with fairy lights. Benches around open fires, perfectly placed for warming up with a mug of gløgg or hot chocolate while fluffy flakes of snow tumble from the sky.

In the run-up to Christmas, many of the ports we visit are transformed into winter wonderlands. You can soak up the Christmas spirit and pick up a selection of stocking – and stomach – fillers in Oslo, Bergen, Tromsø and Trondheim, to name a few. 

2. Explore the world’s biggest gingerbread town

Bergen’s Pepperkakebyen is a sight – and scent – to behold. The town’s landmarks, trees, and houses are recreated in gingerbread, painstakingly decorated, and lit with miniature streetlamps and glowing windows. You can even glimpse lovingly designed tableaus inside some of the structures.

The display changes every year but you can probably expect to see an array of churches, a replica football stadium complete with gingerbread players and fans, and a model train chugging through the sugar-dusted scene. In the past, visitors have been treated to a gingerbread airship floating through the sky, a replica Hogwarts, and a ship docked in the recreated harbour (courtesy of Hurtigruten!). Who knows what each year will bring!

But there’s more to this set-up than sugar and spice. Pepperkakebyen is a huge community effort that’s been running since 1991. Bergen’s schools, kindergartens, and businesses contribute to the effort, and profits go to charity. To many of the people of Bergen, Christmas doesn’t begin until they’ve visited Pepperkakebyen. It’s the town’s (delicious) spirit of Christmas.

Photo: Shutterstock

3. See the Northern Lights bedeck the skies

If Christmas was a natural spectacle, it would be the Northern Lights. Nature’s light show illuminates Norway’s northern skies and snow-frosted landscapes throughout autumn, winter, and spring, but there’s something extra special about seeing it while Christmas tree lights twinkle below.

There’s nothing like it for igniting that sense of wonder, even when you understand the science behind the display. December voyages of 11 days or more are covered by our Northern Lights Promise, so not seeing the Lights could actually be the gift that keeps on giving!

Photo: Shutterstock

4. Dare to take an icy dip

Julebad is one of Norway’s more unusual Christmas traditions. Literally translating as ‘Christmas bath’, a julebad is a plunge into ice-cold water to mark the end of Christmas preparations and the start of the celebrations. We can’t think of a fresher way to kick off the festivities!

Come Christmas morning, you can simply wade into the ocean in places like Bodø, jump into the water from a floating sauna in Oslo harbour, or take an Arctic dip before warming up in a wood-fired sauna in Træna’s oldest building.

You don’t have to wait until Christmas to take a cold-water dip. You can brave the icy waters in dedicated swim spots throughout winter – but the experience does feel extra-special when you’re wearing a Santa hat!

If that all sounds a little extreme, you can watch Norway’s chilly winter waters slip by as you bathe in a steaming hot tub on one of our ships. Much warmer, and just as special!

Let the huskies pull you over the frozen landscape, and if you’re lucky, the magical Northern Lights will appear
Let the huskies pull you over the frozen landscape, and if you’re lucky, the magical Northern Lights will appear
Photo: JAN LILLEHAMRE

5. Go dog sledding through the Polar Night

Just when you thought the snowscape couldn’t get any more magical, along comes the chance to dog sled through it! Glide across the hills above Tromsø, with the lights of the city glimmering in the mirror-like water of the fjord below. Listen to the shushing sound of the snow filling your ears as you speed through the blue light of the Polar Night.

You could learn to drive a dog sled yourself, or slide across the snow as a passenger. Afterwards, continue the seasonal spirit as you meet the huskies and warm up around an open fire with a bowl of bidos, a traditional Sámi reindeer stew.

Let the huskies pull you over the frozen landscape, and if you’re lucky, the magical Northern Lights will appear
Let the huskies pull you over the frozen landscape, and if you’re lucky, the magical Northern Lights will appear
Photo: JAN LILLEHAMRE

6. Cruise the coast of Norway

Mountains dusted with snow. Waterfalls frozen mid-tumble above the fjords. Twinkling lights reflected in dark waters. Your breath clouding the air as you watch it all scroll by. The Norwegian coast in winter is enchanting.

As you sail the coast with us at Christmastime, you’ll cross the Arctic Circle into the realm of the Polar Night. Entering the Arctic Circle is always momentous, but it takes on a new dimension around the time of the winter equinox. This is when the dark days and nights are warmed by fairy lights, open fires, and steaming mugs of gløgg. And the added ever-present excitement of the aurora making an appearance overhead.

The atmosphere on board is festive, too with Christmas decorations, traditional Norwegian Christmas foods, and carol singing.

Photo: Getty Images

7. Meet the reindeer

In Norway, only ethnic Sámi are allowed to own and herd reindeer. An estimated 250,000 semi-wild reindeer live in Norway, with most of them in Finnmark county. These reindeer might not be pulling Santa’s sleigh – as far as we know, anyway – but there’s still plenty of seasonal magic to be enjoyed in meeting them.

Reindeer have been a vital part of Sámi life for thousands of years. Every part of the animal is used, providing transport, warmth, sustenance, and an income. You can meet reindeer in Tromsø, but whatever you do, don’t ask Sámi how many reindeer they own - it’s like someone asking you how much money you have in your bank account.

Photo: Getty Images

8. Feast on traditional Norwegian Christmas foods

Christmas in Norway is all about getting together with friends and family over good food. What’s on the table in front of you usually depends on the region of Norway, but don’t miss the chance to try ribbe (pork ribs) with redcurrant sauce; pinnekjøtt (the direct translation is ‘stick meat’, meaning mutton ribs) served with mutton sausage, boiled potatoes, and turnip sauce; and julegrøt, a deliciously creamy porridge with butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Lutefisk (cod soaked in rye) is another traditional dish served around this time of year.

Come Christmastime, our onboard restaurants serve traditional Norwegian Christmas foods, too. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them! Also, look out for your ship’s handmade gingerbread house – just resist the temptation to sample it. This one’s only meant as a feast for your eyes!

9. Choose your julebrus tribe

Norwegian Christmas tables are filled with seasonal drinks. Take your pick from gløgg, hot chocolate piled high with cream, aquavit, or juleøl, a dark, strong beer traditionally brewed for Christmas. But julebrus is perhaps the most unusual.

It translates as ‘Christmas soda’ and was originally made as a soft festive alternative to Christmas beer for minors and designated drivers. Depending on the brewery and brand, flavours range from a bright red strawberry to a brown fruity cola flavour. As a result, Norwegians grow up fiercely loyal to their regional favourite.

Julebrus is only on sale during the winter, so its arrival in the shops is anticipated as a sure sign that Christmas is coming.

Choose your Christmas cruise