In the popular imagination, Norway is commonly regarded as remote and cold – spectacular but climatically inhospitable. There is some truth in this, of course, but the best time to visit is not, perhaps, as clear-cut a choice as you might imagine with other seasons other than summer offering particular bonuses.
There are, for example, advantages to travelling during the long, dark winters with their reduced everything: daylight, opening times and transport services. If you are equipped and hardy enough to reach the north, seeing the phenomenal northern lights (aurora borealis) is a distinct possibility and later, once the days begin to lighten, the skiing – and for that matter the dog-sledging, ice fishing and snowmobiling – is excellent. There are skiing packages to Norway from abroad, but perhaps more appealing – and certainly less expensive – is the ease with which you can arrange a few days’ skiing wherever you happen to be.
As the year advances, Easter is the time of the colourful Sámi festivals, and mid-May can be absolutely delightful if your visit coincides with the brief Norwegian spring, though this is difficult to gauge. Springtime is particularly beguiling in the fjords, with a thousand cascading waterfalls fed by the melting snow, and wild flowers in abundance everywhere.
Autumn can be exquisite too, with September often bathed in the soft sunshine of an Indian summer, but – especially in the far north – it is frequently cold, often bitterly so, from late September to mid- to late May. Nevertheless, most people travel during the summer season, which can be the best time to visit as bus, ferry and train connections are at their most frequent. This is the time of the midnight sun: the further north you go, the longer the day becomes, until at Nordkapp the sun is continually visible from mid-May to the end of July.
Something worth noting, however, is that the summer season in Norway is relatively short, stretching roughly from the beginning of June to the end of August. Come in September and you’ll find that many tourist offices, museums and other sights have cut back their hours and buses, ferries and trains have already switched to reduced schedules.
Almost every town in Norway has some sort of summer shindig. There are winter celebrations too, though for the most part at least, these are worth attending if you are already in the area rather than meriting a special trip. Festivals fall broadly into two types, one focusing on celebrations of historical or folkloric events, the other based around music, whether jazz, pop or classical.
As you might expect, most tourist-oriented events take place in summer and, as always, national and local tourist offices can supply details of exact dates, which tend to vary from year to year. Below we have listed the more important festivals, some of which are also mentioned in the Guide.
(Northern Lights Festival), Tromsø. Late Jan. wnordlysfestivalen.no. This week-long festival of classical and contemporary music coincides with the return of the sun, hence its name.
Lillehammer. Late March. wbirkebeiner.no. Famous 58km cross-country ski race from Rena to Lillehammer, which celebrates the dramatic events of 1206, when the young prince Håkon Håkonsson was rushed over the mountains to safety. The race follows what is thought to have been the original route.
Finnmarksvidda. Easter. wfestival.karport.no. Finnmark’s largest festival, held in the town of Karasjok, is something of a Sámi New Year. Sámis prepare by fashioning new gáktis (Sámi dress), polishing their silver and cooking large meals, while during the festival there are snowmobile, reindeer and cross-country-skiing races, lassoing contests and art exhibitions and concerts.
(National Day/Constitution Day). Nationwide. May 17. Many processions and much flag-waving with cheering crowds celebrating the signing of the Norwegian constitution on May 17, 1814.
Festspillene i Bergen
(Bergen International Festival), Bergen. Late May until early June. wfib.no. Much-praised festival of contemporary music that puts a real spring in Bergen’s summer step. Venues across the city. For more information, see The Bergen International Festival.
Oslo. Mid-June. wnorwegianwood.no. Three-day, open-air rock festival, arguably Norway’s best, that takes place in Frogner Park; showcases big-name international artists as well as up-and-coming local bands.
(Extreme Sport Week). Voss. Late June. wekstremsportveko.com. Every reckless sport imaginable and then some – from paragliding and base jumping through to rafting and bungee jumping.
Midnight Sun Marathon
Tromsø. Late June. wmsm.no. Taking advantage of 24hr daylight, this “night-time” run attracts hundreds of athletes. You can opt for shorter distances too.
Kongsberg Jazz Festival
Kongsberg. Four days in early July. wkongsberg-jazzfestival.no. Large-scale jazz festival, one of the country’s biggest, where the emphasis is on Norwegian musicians.
Molde. Mid-July. wmoldejazz.no. Held over a six-day period in the middle of the month, this is one of the best festivals of its type, attracting big international names.
(St Olav Festival), Stiklestad. Late July. wstiklestad.no. St Olav, Norway’s first Christian king, was killed at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Historical pageants and plays honouring him are staged on the King’s feast day (July 29) as well as during the six days before.
Åndalsnes. Late July to early Aug. wraumarock.com. Two-day knees-up showcasing the talents of a wide range of local and international acts from the likes of the Bare Egil Band to the Raga Rockers and the Toy Dolls.
Oslo. Mid-Aug. woslojazz.no. A six-day event attracting a veritable raft of big international names.
Norwegian International Film Festival
Haugesund. One week in late August. wfilmweb.no. Norway’s most prestigious film festival, with a wide selection of the latest releases from across Scandinavia.
Oslo. Ten days in early to mid-Sept. wultima.no. Much-vaunted festival showcasing the talents of contemporary classical musicians from Scandinavia and beyond. Various venues.
Trondheim. Three and a half weeks in Oct. wuka.no. Prestigious cultural festival, one of Norway’s largest, featuring a battery of international and domestic artists in everything from classical music to rock, theatre to wrestling, juggling and crime writing.
Bergen Internasjonale Filmfestival (BIFF)
Bergen. Mid- to late Oct. wbiff.no. Week-long international film festival, one of the best of its type in the country. Various venues across the city centre.