Aurora-chasers venture to the Arctic north, while slick Oslo lures the arty crowd. In the stampede to these A-list destinations, the rest of Norway is often forgotten. But leave some space in your itinerary for Trondheim, the country’s former capital and third largest city. With Scandinavia’s largest medieval building, rocking nightlife, and museums to charm your thermal socks off, there are plenty of reasons to linger – here are seven of the best.
1. To see medieval splendour at Nidaros Domkirke
The world’s most northerly medieval building inspires awe with elaborate tracery and rows of bishops that gaze from its stone facade. The Nidaros Domkirke is built over the grave of Saint Olav, Norway’s ‘eternal king’ and patron saint, credited with the country’s transition from paganism to Christianity.
Intriguingly, the Domkirke draws two very different kinds of pilgrim. Some arrive after following the Pilgrim’s Route, a 640km journey from Oslo, which has been trodden since the eleventh century. The others couldn’t be more different: fans of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, who placed the cathedral on the cover of their first full-length album.
2. To rock from daytime until dawn
Speaking of heavy guitars, you don’t need to wait until sundown to rock out in Trondheim. Part-museum, part-cultural centre, Rockheim takes you from the innocent beginnings of 1950s rock in Norway right through to modern heavy metal legends. Interactive displays and listening posts mean you can make a day of it, though in reserved Norway we’d advise against using Rockheim as your own personal karaoke bar. Continue the theme when the sun dips below the horizon and head to Fru Lundgreen, a basement bar with a non-stop soundtrack of Scandinavian rock.
3. To immerse yourself in Norwegian folk history
Monuments and historic buildings are wonderfully well preserved in Trondheim, and consequently the city exudes nostalgia. The Archbishop’s Residence is the oldest secular building in all of Scandinavia, with its first stones laid in the twelfth century.
Alongside it, in the shadow of the Domkirke, is the Archbishop’s Palace Museum, an award-winning attraction telling Trondheim’s history all the way back to the Iron Age.
But the best time capsule to Trondheim’s agrarian past is the Folk Museum (summer only). This open-air space has more than 80 historic buildings, mostly wooden houses in eighteenth-century style and farmsteads.
4. To maroon yourself on peaceable Monks’ Island
If your eardrums are ringing, embrace Trondheim’s spiritual side with a boat trip to Munkholmen (Monks’ Island). Lapped by the chilly waters of the Trondheimsfjord, this tiny isle has bleak beginnings as an execution ground, though following the birth of Christianity in Norway it became a Benedictine monastery.
In the seventeenth century it was transformed into a prison, but these days it’s a summer playground. Munkholmen is prime territory for picnics of thermos coffee and kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls), rambling the remains of a 400-year-old fort, and summertime swims. Boats run hourly in good weather.
5. For a glimpse of Norway’s colourful side
It’s far from grey up north. To see Trondheim’s most colourful neighbourhood, make your way to Gamle Bybro, the Old Town Bridge. From this hulking red span you can enjoy a fine view of storehouses in colours from mustard to navy blue, creating a rainbow of reflections in the Nidelven River.
If admiring the scenery from bright Bybro lifts your spirits, it’ll come as no surprise that the bridge is known as the ‘Gate of Happiness’. The bridge symbolised a new start for Trondheim, having been built after a devastating fire in 1681. From the east side of the bridge begins one of Trondheim’s most picturesque streets, Bakklandet. This cobbled road is flanked by pastel-coloured shop fronts and cafes painted merry shades of red and pink.
6. For feasts worthy of a Viking
It’s no secret that dining out in Norway can create a black hole in your bank balance. Nonetheless, there are reasonably priced restaurants in Trondheim, like Baklandet Skydsstation. This eighteenth-century building oozes charm, with walls draped in embroidery and old photographs; it’s an excellent spot for platters of herring, rye bread sandwiches or fish soup. Wash it down with one of more than a hundred types of aquavit. Vegetarians won’t want to miss the rotating lunch specials at Persilleriet, a snip (by Norwegian standards) at DKR128.
And while Brits may be disorientated by the sight of Three Lions English pub and Scottish-themed drinking hole Macbeth, there plenty of evening haunts with a more local feel. Head for Trondheim Mikrobryggeri for craft beers in a cosy setting.
7. To enjoy fjords, fishing and ski slopes near the city
The great outdoors is mere steps away from the city. Trondheimsfjord is Norway’s third longest at 126km, with scenic islets and rocky coves where sea eagles soar. The fjord is excellent fishing territory for travellers who want to barbecue their own catfish or simply bob in tranquil waters. The best times to fish are late winter and early spring, so pack your thermals.
For a more adrenaline-pumping winter pastime, take a 40-minute drive (or 45-minute train journey) south of Trondheim to Vassfjellet, a ski centre with 500m of vertical. Meanwhile a two-hour train ride away lies Are, a Swedish ski area with plenty of powder and an untouched feel.