Want to know a winter secret for those visiting the coastal fjords in western Norway? The warm waters of the Gulf Stream give off a milder climate than other parts of the world at the same latitude. Temperatures here will feel less bitter than central and northern Norway.
For instance, Ålesund experiences an average high temperature of 40° F (low of 34°) compared to Røros, which has an average high temperature of 22° F (low of 5°). Still, while visiting the fjord landscape, it's best to dress warmly, bring layers, and be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions.
Keep in mind that January experiences shorter days: the sun is up for about 6-8 hours a day in the medieval city of Bergen, while Tromsø to the north is completely dark for the first half of the month (called Polar Nights) and quickly builds to about 5 hours of daylight by the first of February.
This doesn't stop Norwegians from staying active, though—as a way of life, locals get outdoors for exercise as often as possible. In the fjords, you can often find wintry activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice trekking, and skiing in the nearby mountains.
Learn more in our article on Norway in January.
Crowds & Costs
By January, the holiday revelers have dissipated leaving a smaller number of visitors interested in low crowds and costs, along with peaceful lodgings that provide cozy atmospheres during the month's shorter daylight hours. For most of the fjords, January is one of the slowest travel times in Norway; flights, as well as hotels, will be at their lowest prices. Perhaps the only exception: ski resorts and the city of Tromsø during the Northern Lights festival.
Where to Go
Norway offers nearly 1,200 fjords along a coastline stretching 1,581 miles (2,544 km) so there are plenty of options. Most travelers will arrive and depart in Oslo, situated on the Oslofjord—the fastest-growing capital in Europe with a sleek opera house, museums and art galleries, and Viking history.
Other popular fjord cities include Trondheim, Bergen, and Stavanger to name a few. They offer great culture while also providing access to smaller villages nearby. For instance, the pretty city of Ålesund, with its art nouveau architecture, makes a great base for seeing the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord by boat and hitting the slopes at the ski resort Strandafjellet Skisenter.
Meanwhile, fjords north of the Arctic Circle, like those found in Alta and the Lofoten Islands, makes a great base for viewing Northern Lights and Sami Culture.
Due to Norway's winter conditions, getting around this time of year will likely involve a mix of short flights, trains, ferries, and Hurtigruten cruises.
What to Do
If dry hiking and self-drive itineraries are on your agenda, wait for spring, as popular trails and scenic roads are often closed for the season. Skiing, on the other hand, is a big draw in the fjords and what better place to partake since Norway invented the sport in the 19th century.
Excellent resorts can be accessed from the fjords like in the student town of Sogndal, on an inlet of the Sognefjord (the longest fjord in Norway), which guarantees a scenic backdrop. The town comes alive with ski enthusiasts in winter. You can use the ski lift to access downhill tracks or trek up a range of back hill slopes.
Much further north along the Lyngenfjord is a year-round option for backcountry skiing with only colors of the Northern Lights to guide you. These Lygen Alps offer fjord views, glaciers, steep ascents, gentle bowls, and tree skiing depending on where you go. While in the region, check out Tromsø or nearby Alta—both great bases for huskie or reindeer sledding. You can even go surfing or snorkeling with whales in the Arctic Circle thanks to the Gulf Stream's warm waters. Or, simply bundle up for a long walk and enjoy the frost flowers and spectacular nature.
For a more relaxing trip, consider a 'Norway in a Nutshell' train journey traveling between Oslo and Bergen encompassing mountainous railways and a short fjord cruise under towering cliffs. For a meatier Hurtigruten cruise option, there are special two-week Northern Lights departures with an expert astronomer onboard, which depart from Bergen and head all the way to Kirkenes near the Russian border. This is a spectacularly scenic trip for photography enthusiasts.
Events in January
This is the time of year when residents hunker down but there are several indoor music, food and drink festivals as well as educational fairs around the country. Here are a few favorites:
Bergen International Whisky & Beer Festival. At the end of January, Bergen offers this 3-day event offers Norway's largest selection of beer and whiskey delights, as well as a wide selection of both whiskey and beer masterclasses taught by talented lecturers and experts from all over the world.
Northern Lights Festival. This remarkable festival takes place at the end of January at specially chosen locations all over Tromsø including their modern cathedral. Attendees will have their pick of classical, chamber, opera, jazz, and contemporary performances from local and international musicians.
Tromso International Film Festival. Another cultural festival in Tromsø, (it's called 'the Paris of the North' for a reason), this film festival kicks off for a week in mid-January with film screenings and talks at various locations around town including a few outdoor venues for those who can brave the cold.
Traveling to Norway in January? Check out these great itineraries.
Norway Fjords Ultimate Ski Adventure. Are you into backcountry skiing? Have you always wanted to see Norway's famous fjords? If the answer is yes, this tour is for you. Over the course of six days, you'll explore backcountry Norway with stunning fjord views, lush hotel accommodations, and certified mountain guides at your service.
Northern Norway Arctic Adventure. In less than a week, experience snow-covered scenery and the Northern Lights with this photogenic road-trip through the Lofoten Islands.