It's hardly a shock that January is the coldest month in Norway with average temperatures that range within the 20-30 degree Fahrenheit range. The shorter days also add to the wintry feel: the sun is up for about 6-8 hours a day in Oslo, while Tromsø to the north is in the 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—as a way of life, they get outdoors for exercise as often as possible.
If you're visiting Norway's coast, 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, though you can still expect snow and skiing in the nearby mountains. When in doubt, do as the locals do: dress warmly, bring layers, and be prepared for sudden changes in weather.
Crowds & Costs
Travelers who visit Norway after the holiday crowds have long gone will be rewarded with peaceful environs and quiet hotels that stay warm and atmospheric with candles and fireplaces. Due to shorter daylight hours, January is one of the slowest travel times in Norway, and flights as well as hotels will be at their lowest prices. The exception: popular ski resorts and ice hotels in the north that get booked early.
Where to Go
Norwegians know how to make the most of their winters, and there's no place in the country that should be off your agenda if you don't mind bundling up. A good place to start your trip is the city of Oslo—the fastest-growing capital in Europe with a sleek opera house, museums and art galleries, and Viking history. Other cities known for culture include Trondheim, as well as Bergen and Ålesund on the west coast with easy access to fjords.
Meanwhile, central Norway's inland peaks and national parks, especially Geilo and the region between Oslo and Bergen, attract locals and international visitors for their snow activities and lively resorts. For quieter surroundings, consider the UNESCO-listed village of Røros, as well as the northern Arctic region where you can learn about Sami culture. Due to Norway's winter conditions, getting around this time of year will likely involve a mix of short flights, trains, 4x4 rentals, or super jeep transfers.
What to Do
Where to start? For those who want to hit the slopes, Norway invented skiing in the 19th century and there are countless alpine resorts and cross-country trails all over the country. Another option is to head north to Tromsø or nearby Alta—both great bases for huskie or reindeer sledding. Meanwhile, photographers anywhere in Norway will relish in late sunrises and early sunsets (and blue hours) with fewer crowds to contend with. And foodies will have a better chance of snagging reservations at some of Norway's best restaurants (here's a guide for what and where to eat while there). You can even go surfing or snorkeling with whales year-round 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.
Remember when planning your adventure that January will have limited daylight hours, though the darkness can also add to your winter experience: you’ll see some amazing stars at night in the countryside, and longer nights (especially in the north) mean more chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
Events in January
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's Northern Lights Road Trip. This scenic winter adventure traverses the Norwegian Arctic and checks off a number of natural and cultural sites starting in the city of Tromsø, nicknamed 'Paris of the North'. From here, hit the road and see rock art in Alta, learn about the indigenous Sami people in Karasjok, and visit a hotel made of snow along the Finnish/Russian border. Each day ends with another opportunity to view the Northern Lights in this beautiful and remote part of the world.
Ultimate Winter Adventure in Norway's Arctic. This epic trip through Norway's wintry north is all about the travel modes and activities unique to the Arctic. Begin in Oslo and take a train to the UNESCO-listed village of Røros. Dogsled in the mountains, stroll through Trondheim, and stay overnight in an indigenous Sami tent near Tromsø. Cap it off with a coastal steamer ride to the Lofoten Islands, where you'll snorkel with whales and see the Northern Lights by horseback.
Norway Fjords Ultimate Ski Vacation. Into backcountry skiing? Always wanted to see Norway's famous fjords? This tour's for you. Spend six days exploring backcountry Norway with stunning fjord views, lush hotel accommodations, and certified mountain guides at your service.