Copenhagen gets all the credit for being the capital of Christmas. This is because travel writers haven’t researched the Christmas scene in the rest of Scandinavia. Yes, we do enjoy the Copenhagen holiday spirit. Been there, done that. Waited in line at Tivoli.
But we’re going to have to vote for Oslo as the capital of Scandinavian Christmas. Oslo goes all out. The city has Christmas weather, Christmas markets galore, city-wide twinkly lights, Christmas shows, serious Christmas beer and booze culture, and hearty specialty Christmas food at many Oslo restaurants. In addition to sheer atmosphere, it’s not overpopulated by Tivoli-style tourists.
Here are six reasons why we love Christmas in Oslo.
You are more likely to get a white Christmas in Oslo than in Copenhagen or Stockholm. Even if it doesn’t snow, the frost can coat everything so it resembles Narnia before Lucy melts it. You also stand a decent chance of spotting the Northern Lights.
Oslo Christmas markets
Norwegians love Christmas markets, and there’s one every weekend starting from the first weekend in December. The open-air Norwegian Museum of Cultural History throws the best event, with their historic buildings decked out in era-appropriate holiday sparkles and craft vendors selling beautiful, handmade Norwegian wool products, ranging from sweaters to scarves hats, slippers, knee socks, and mittens.
You’ll also find tons of delicious treats such as mulled wine (gløgg), gingerbread (pepperkaker), sausage, and waffles. Christmas activities include horse and carriage rides, pony rides, costumed staff performing historic holiday craft/food demos, caroling, Santa visits, and more.
In addition to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History event, Spikersuppa (by the National Theatre) has a free ice skating rink and a picturesque wood hut Christmas market called Jul i Vinterland. It’s a big event with iron-kettle open fires where you can warm-up, a mulled wine station, Norwegian craft and food vendors, and a Ferris wheel with spectacular city views. Order an elk burger, finish with mulled wine and candied almonds, and then ponder buying reindeer sausage or super cozy, hand knit snowflake mittens.
These are just the main two markets. There are smaller markets throughout the season in Youngstorget, Oslo University Botanic Garden, hipster Grünerløkka, Torshov, and Toyen. Horse and carriage rides, hot food, and wool and wood crafts are common to all of them.
This is a cold, Northern land where winter sunrise is late, sunset is early, twinkly lights really dazzle through the darkness, wild reindeer exist, Christmas sweaters are a cultural icon, and naughty gnome-elf creatures (nisse) give presents, make mischief, and make classic Santa look like a boring, fat old fool.
The Norwegian Christmas table a.k.a. julebord
Oslo restaurants are wonderful about serving traditional Norwegian Christmas food in December. The Norwegian Christmas dishes range from pork belly, served bone-in with crackling on top (ribbe) to cured Norwegian lamb (pinnekjøtt) cooked over birch branches, special Christmas pork sausages (julepølse), rakfisk (fascinating, fermented trout or arctic char served in potato flatbread with red beets, onions, and sour cream), and meatballs.
Dessert is often whipped cream and sweet, golden cloudberries from the Norwegian mountains served with a crunchy cake cone. They call it moltekrem. We call it heaven. A common alternative is riskrem: rice pudding mixed with whipped cream. It tends to be bland, but this can be remedied with festive red berry sauce and almonds. Some folks prefer drowning it in extra butter and heaps of sugar and cinnamon.
Find Christmas menus at Olympen Mat & Vinhus, Kaffistova, Vaaghals, Frogneseteren Restaurant, Ekeberg Restaurant, Amundsen Spiseri & Bryggeri, and Restaurant Schroeder, frequented by Jo Nesbo’s detective Harry Hole.
Bonus: You get free gingerbread almost everywhere you go when Christmas shopping. It’s culturally acceptable to eat marzipan non-stop.
Norwegian Christmas beer and aquavit
Norwegians have been making malty, spiced Christmas beer since the Vikings days. These days, Norway’s craft beer scene is hopping and you’ll find many of the breweries in Oslo. You have the opportunity to sip some complex, Christmas-food friendly brews. Brewers add inputs ranging from the classic mulled wine spices, to fresh ginger, juniper and beyond.
Where there’s Christmas food and Christmas beer you’ll also find Aquavit. Literally translated as the spirit of life, this ancient Norwegian vodka that tastes more like whiskey is the life of a Christmas party. The flavour profile on this oaked, caraway-infused booze is round and deep. The distillers make subtle use of other herbs and spices including dill, mustard blossom, fennel, coriander, guinea pepper, clove, cardamom and star anise. It’s too easy to sip; it’s useful for counteracting fatty meats and fermented fish.
Taste a wide range of craft beers at Hopyard, Smelteverket, Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, Justisen, Crowbar & Bryggeri, and Grünerløkka Brygghus. Taste aquavit with your food while sampling a Christmas menu.
Oslo Christmas concerts
Oslo Opera House is a stunning, award-winning venue both inside and out, and it’s at the top of every Oslo visitor’s list. The angular white building slopes straight into Oslofjord. Inside, it’s a good-looking, semi-classical oak concert hall which is the home of The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet.
Combine and exterior and interior tour by attending The annual Nutcracker ballet. The gorgeous sets and costumes are not to be missed; it’s a superb interpretation. Magic for all ages.
Visitoslo.com has a full calendar of city-wide of Christmas concerts, from choirs to orchestral performances and puppet shows.