Aurora-chasers venture to the Arctic north, while slick Oslo lures the arty crowd. In the stampede to these A-list destinations, some parts of it are often forgotten. Leave some space in your itinerary for Trondheim, the country’s former capital. With Scandinavia's largest medieval building, rocking nightlife, and museums, here is our pick of the best things to do in Trondheim.
1. See medieval splendour at Nidaros Cathedral
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 pilgrims. 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. 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. Visit the art museums
Metres from the cathedral, the Trondheim Kunstmuseum (Trondheim Art Museum) is best known for its temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. The downside is that these exhibitions often leave little space for the museum’s permanent collection, which features a particularly enjoyable selection of Norwegian paintings from 1850 onwards.
Trondheim’s Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum (National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design) possesses a substantial and diverse permanent collection. You'll find lovely textiles, furniture, ceramics and metalwork. An especially noteworthy part of the museum’s historical collection does much to illustrate bourgeois life in Trøndelag from 1500 to 1900.
4. 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.
Among the best things to do in Trondheim to go back to the 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.
5. Maroon yourself on peaceable Monks’ Island
If your eardrums are ringing, one of the best things to do in Trondheim for your spiritual side is 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). Ramble the remains of a 400-year-old fort, and go for a summertime swim. Boats run hourly in good weather.
6. Take a glimpse of Norway’s colourful side by the Nidelva river
It’s far from grey up north. Go see Trondheim’s most colourful neighbourhood, and 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.
7. Immerse yourself in local food culture
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 is plenty of evening haunts with a more local feel. Head for Trondheim Mikrobryggeri for craft beers in a cosy setting.
8. 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. Visiting the fjord is one of the best things to do in Trondheim for fishing and 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.
This tailor-made Aurora Feast in Finland, Norway and Sweden is perfect for people who want to explore the Arctic. Begin your journey from the southern part of Finland via Sweden up to the northern part of Norway. Most importantly, you will be hunting for the Northern Lights in the best locations!
9. Exploring the Christmas markets - one of the best things to do in Trondheim
One of the best things to do in Trondheim during the festive season is visit one of the Christmas markets. Maybe not one of the best Christmas destinations, Trondheim still is known for its charming Christmas markets. They attract both locals and tourists alike. The best-known markets are Trondheim Christmas Market and Bakklandet Christmas Market.
It is also worth noting that market dates and programmes may vary from year to year, so it is worth checking with the Trondheim Tourist Office in advance when planning a trip.
10. Get amazing views from Kristiansten Fortress
Narrow Brubakken leads up the hill from Bakklandet to Kristianstensbakken and the Kristianstenfestning. Dating from 1681, the fort’s earth and stone ramparts remain in reasonably good condition and a surviving artillery tower is of some interest. But the big deal – and one of the best things to do in Trondheim – is to come here for views back over Trondheim.
- For luxury: Britannia Hotel
- For couples: Quality Hotel Prinsen
- For rural stays: Private House & Bungalow by the sea
- For modern stays: Scandic Bakklandet
Where to stay in Trondheim
Find more accommodation options to stay in Trondheim.
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