Trøndelag is the least visited part of Norway. It’s far enough to the north to be cold and have an unstable climate, yet it’s too far to the south to offer reliable northern lights. It doesn’t have the dramatic fjords, mountains or islands of western and northern Norway either. But it does have Trondheim, a great stopover on your journey between the major sights of the country.
January can be a miserable month for visiting any part of Norway, unless you come with the right clothes and mentality. Depending on how familiar you are with coldness and darkness, winter here can be fascinating, scary and beautiful in its own way.
I recommend going for a walk around Trondheim on a winter’s night. The city is full of cozy neighborhoods and old buildings, best appreciated with no noisy cars or people around. At night you’ll find Trondheim to be all quiet, especially in January. I’ll show you.
We begin our walk at Øvre Elvehavn, leaving the city center across Bakke bru/bridge. There are several hotels here, like Radisson Royal Garden on the left side here and Scandic Nidelven just behind it. If you plan on staying there during the winter, check out their Black Friday sales. It can work out cheaper than two dorm beds at a hostel.
It’s a perfect night for a winter walk. It’s been snowing the whole night, and it was snowing all of yesterday. The Bakklandet neighbourhood looks its absolute best when semi-covered in white.
Many of the Bakklanders chose to leave the Christmas decorations up, even though we’re approaching the end of January. Can’t blame them. It certainly adds to the atmosphere.
A man is taking his dog for a cold walk. Otherwise it’s all quiet in these picturesque streets lined with wooden houses and semi-buried trees.
Did I mention the unstable climate of Trondheim? Because it is. Our walk of a few hours takes us through an even mix of everything from full-on blizzard and mild snow to clear skies. I’m happy I remembered to bring some tissue to wipe the camera lens with. I’m also happy I’m not among the ones who will start their day by digging out a car, preferably their own on the first try.
The snowfall ends, and Trondheim again turns into that village-like lovely mix of old wooden houses and modern city. A full moon in combination with all the fresh snow means the night isn’t that dark at all.
Further up the hill towards the Kristiansten fortress we find a great vantage point. A bend on the river Nidelven is crossed by Elgeseter bridge, and on the northern side of it we see the Nidaros Cathedral. We’ll get down there later.
A new wall of falling snow approaches from the south, but for now most of the city is serene and silent.
I know that I’m all alone up at the fortress, yet I can’t shake off the feeling I’m being watched.
Eventually I figure it out. Faces in places.
I know that I’m all alone up at the fortress, yet I can’t shake off the feeling I’m being watched.
Eventually I figure it out. Faces in places.
Twenty years ago I studied in Trondheim, at the Hogwarts-like NUTS over there; the Norwegian University of Technology and Sorcery.
It’s a good place for learning that you know nothing, and rarely have I seen it look nicer than surrounded by these huge masses of snow.
Another quick look at the cathedral. It’s visible from almost anywhere in Trondheim. This is thanks to a local law that says that no building in the city center can be taller than the cathedral. No exceptions.
It’s not a large city center, either. You don’t have to wander far to enjoy a nice walk in the woods.
We’re back down in the streets of Bakklandet again. A few souls have started their day. Trondheim has a large student community, and many of them are eager bicyclists. A foot or two of snow will not stop them from making the streets more dangerous. It’s okay. Even with these guys around, there’s basically nothing to worry about here. Trondheim is a safe place. (Unless you’re from Bergen.)
The city centre is full of narrow alleys, “veiter”. And they look fantastic after this night’s major snowfall.
The old trading houses look good from the street-side as well. They’re all protected now, and will keep looking this way forever, it seems. Inside them there’s a lot of change going on, though. Thanks to the university, Norway’s top tech cradle, lots of exciting technology is developed here.
This road leads towards another old and cozy neighborhood on Trondheim’s west side, Ila. Inviting as it may be, we’ll go south from here.
At the southern end of Munkegata we find Vår Frue kirke, “Our Lady’s Church”. It’s about 800 years old, which makes it a nice warm-up act before we continue our walk south.
The main attraction of Trondheim is lurking in the background through dark alleys all over the city.
And there it is in all its splendor; Nidarosdomen, the Nidaros Cathedral.
Construction began in 1070, and it took more than two centuries to get it to pretty much the shape you see now. It’s the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world, and the burial site of Saint Olaf. For almost a thousand years it has been a popular destination for pilgrims. A 650 kilometer Pilgrim’s Route from Oslo to here is well maintained, with many overnight facilities available.
By the way, this photo is a bit deceiving. In blizzard-like conditions, I have to resort to using long exposure to make it appear like a peaceful place. If you want to see what it really looked like, check out the short video below.
The most impressive part of the Nidaros Cathedral, in my opinion, is the west front. The sculptures are many and really well made, and restoration work is an eternally ongoing process.
They’re all meant to depict a specific saint, but since nobody knows what the saints actually looked like, many of them have been given the face of some famous person of more modern times. For example, there’s a Bob Dylan angel guarding over one of the towers.
More proof that the weather isn’t the best as we visit the cathedral. Check out the movements of this dense wall of snowflakes traveling past the floodlight. Still, wearing the right clothes, we’re quite comfy.
By the time we make our way across the river again to have a look at the cathedral from a distance, the weather has improved. I think it’s hard to find a bad angle for photographing Nidarosdomen.
This playground will probably not see much action until spring arrives.
In the meantime it’s lovely to look at.
That’s me! On Gamle Bybru (“Ye Olde Towne Bridge”), a much photographed sight in Trondheim. It’s more than three centuries old and was meant to stop undesirable visitors from entering the city. Now it’s mainly where you go to take the photo below, and a great way to cross the river between the city proper and the Bakklandet neighborhood.
Looking north from Gamle Bybru, we see many old trading houses on both sides of Nidelven river.
You may find it slightly Amsterdam-like, but it’s just how European cities on the waterfront used to be built. At the top of each building there was a winch and a hook, and instead of carrying heavy items off the ship and up the stairs, they could haul the load straight from the ship and into whichever floor that had space.
I think Bakklandet should keep the Christmas decorations in the streets up the entire winter. It sure looks like a friendly place to live, or “Skomakergata” as we say in Norwegian.
Two minutes later and just one block up the street, we have once again returned to the rougher version of winter.
Up the hill from the last photo, we’re almost back at the fortress, and I find a street where my old university dominates the view towards the south. It’s no wonder that some tourists mistake it for the cathedral.
When the ground isn’t covered by snow, the hill we walk up has a bicycle elevator. You just sit on your bicycle, put one foot on a footrest, and off you go. It works with strollers and scooters as well. It’s not flashy at all, but a fascinating detail in a hilly city.
Here’s the backside of the university building, with a Christmas tree that has been in place for more than a month now. I really enjoyed my years studying here. 10 out of 10, would study again.
We walk back to the city center across Elgeseter Bridge. It’s usually a cold and windy experience, but today it’s not that bad at all. In the background you see the Sverresborg neighborhood. It’s also very pretty, although a bit harder to explore, thanks to the many ups and downs of the streets there.
The Nidaros Cathedral from another angle, taken from the Elgeseter Bridge. If nothing else could convey God’s might to medieval people, this building sure could.
Another view from Elgeseter Bridge. You’re looking at Kristiansten Fortress, from where you’ve already seen several views of the city. It’s a short distance from the city center, across Gamle Bybru, so it’s well worth heading up there any time of the year.
A final parting shot of the cathedral, taken from the Marinen public park on the cathedral’s southern side.
So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed this little walk through Trondheim in the winter. If you want to try something similar, allow at least 3-4 hours. The city awakens around 7, so if possible, be out by 3 in the morning. An alternative would be to start walking at midnight and just keep going for as long as you enjoy it. The sun doesn’t rise until 8-9 in the morning in January.
Of course, you can also walk in the daytime. Just expect lots of people and cars milling about. It’s not the same experience, but still nice. Also, if it gets too cold, during the day you can just head inside for some warm chocolate whenever you need it. Thanks to the thriving student population, the city is full of excellent cafes and snack shacks with cuisine from all over the world.
Here are a few pointers to point you towards Trondheim if you’re in Norway anyway.
If you travel between Bergen or Oslo and Northern Norway, a flight may seem like the most obvious option. It’s probably the cheapest way, too, but you will fly past a lot of great scenery and experiences. Consider staying on the ground instead. And if you do, a stopover in Trondheim is a given.
From Bergen you can take the Hurtigruten coastal route. It’s a ticket that can take you all the way to the border to Russia, stopping for an hour or so at a lot of mostly small towns. It stops in Trondheim for 4-6 hours, so you have time to explore the city center and the cathedral. Hurtigruten is not cheap, but it’s pretty much a cruise with lots of facilities and excellent views of the coast of Norway. It goes to several ports in Lofoten and to Tromsø, so it’ll get you to exactly where you want to be
(If you use their web site, make sure you book through their Norwegian web site, from the port and to the port you want. Their English language web site will push a full cruise on you, at a usually much higher price!)
From Oslo you can travel by train to Trondheim, and then continue to Bodø by train afterwards. The train journey on Dovrebanen goes via Lillehammer and the scenic Gudbrandsdalen across the Dovre and Hjerkinn mountain range. In my opinion it’s every bit as pretty as the Oslo-Bergen train journey, only less famous. If you check for “minipris” tickets on the Norwegian railway company‘s web site a couple of months in advance, you may find prices well beneath what a flight will cost you.
After a day or two in Trondheim, you can continue your journey northwards. If you want to go to Tromsø, a flight is probably your best option. If you’re heading for Lofoten, you can go on the train to Bodø, and get a ferry from there. Again, “minipris” can be a cheap way to get to Bodø.
If you travel alone, a hostel may be your most economical option. Trondheim Vandrerhjem is a great place that is open throughout the year, located fairly close to the city center. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the train and bus station.
If there are at least two of you, a hotel may actually work out cheaper. Next to the train station there’s a budget P-Hotel which is usually a bit cheaper than other hotels.
As always, check for general deals on the usual hotel portals. Factoring in the huge breakfasts most of them offer, it may be the best deal even if P-Hotel is cheaper on paper. Two hotels with convenient locations and breakfasts and rooms I particularly like are Radisson Royal Garden and Scandic Nidelven.
And finally, here’s a map showing the roughly 7 kilometer walk we took in this article, taking you to or near all the places shown in this article.
(Interactive version from Google Maps here.)
Crystal Clear Photography is Utterly Beautiful! Of Course, you receive Infinite Help from an absolutely Gorgeous City and environs, Trondheim! With Not A Few Decades under my belt, This is the First Time in 40+years I felt SO Positively Emotionally Involved with a Location!
Wishing and Praying for You and Yours, now and into the future, the Very Best of Health, Prosperity, Security, and Happiness!
Thank You So Much for this Personal and Most Personable TanFasTic Tour! Just “Jeem”
Looking forward to our trip in Feb! we only have a few hours as we are travelling on the Hurtegruten working boat up the coast, so we will make the most of it!! Thank you!x Thanks for a great list to use for a future trip to Norway. I will be bookmarking your post for future use. Trondheim seems, like much of the country, a place worthy of more than a fleeting visit of a couple of days. The activities and sights with plenty of walks and photo opportunities are the kind of experience that is our ideal kind of break away.
Thank you, Alexander. I’m not sure you need to set aside more than one day to see the main sights of Trondheim, although it is of course possible to spend a few days there. If you ever return with more time on your hands, consider renting a car and driving to Åndalsnes. It’s relatively close (4-6 hours of driving each way, depending on your choice of route), and offers some huge and great scenery.
The Hurtigruten ship will dock just north of the map at the end of this blog post, so you can easily use the map to guide you around to these sights.
Fantastisk stemningsfulle bilder! Blir på ny veldig glad i denne flotte byen av å se disse bildene. Takk for at du deler 🙂
Takk, Sarah. Det er bare å glede seg til jul og den kalde, fine tida. 🙂
Once again, your photos have made me be there with you! They are all gorgeous, truly! At times, it is very good to be reminded of the beauty around the world!