How to make the most of Nor­we­gian win­ter

Winter in Norway is long, cold and dark – but, from winter sports to cosy campus nooks, there is still a lot to enjoy if you know how. In my first blog post I share what I’ve learned so far as an exchange student in Oslo.

Tom sitting at a table outside with some snow in the background.
Winter up North can be fun - all you need is the right gear and attitude! Photo: private

When I arrived in Oslo on 3 January, it was a balmy -5°C. A blizzard had covered the city in a carpet of snow, but the real Norwegian winter experience was yet to come: temperatures kept dropping to -26.4°C! Of course, I knew that winter here is supposed to be much colder and darker than in Germany, but it presented me with some challenges that I hadn't seen coming.

The right equipment to leave the house

I quickly learned that, to successfully face the winter in Norway, you need the appropriate "equipment". On very cold days, this includes thermal underwear. A thick hat and a long scarf are two more faithful companions that will accompany you on every journey. The jacket should also be a little thicker and preferably waterproof. But even once you’re all bundled up, the way to university or to the supermarket can quickly become a challenge; namely when a thin layer of ice forms on the paths. In these conditions, Norwegians like to use spike straps that you can easily put on your shoes to get more grip. I know from some friends, and my own experience, that even with good equipment it is easy to slip and fall.

Another challenge is the lack of sunlight. The days are short, the nights long. In January, this was compounded by constantly overcast skies, which quickly deplete the body's vitamin D. You feel a bit tired and lacking in energy. To prevent this, I started taking vitamin D supplements in January. It made a difference for me: I felt much more alert and energetic.

Winter sports as motivation to get out

Even though winter is sometimes challenging, it also offers many beautiful sides and allows for seasonal outdoor activities. Sports have made my winter much more enjoyable and motivated me to spend time outside the library and the warm and cosy dormitory. Upon my arrival, one of my first missions was to organise some skis and accessories. I got them for cheap on, the Norwegian equivalent of Ebay.

I originally come from the Thuringian Forest, where I grew up with winter sports. I've been skiing, sledding and ice skating since kindergarten. I started Nordic combined in the third grade. Now, I’ve basically come to one of the holy places of winter sports: Oslo, with Holmenkollen mountain towering over the city. Skiing there myself in the National Ski Arena was a small lifelong dream that recently came true.

The Ski Festival at the National Ski Arena in Oslo. Photo: private

Another highlight for me were the Ski Festival and the Biathlon World Cup here. The world's elite come to Oslo to compete! I went to the festival with friends from university and we had a lot of fun at Holmenkollen. For my mother, the Biathlon World Cup was an additional motivation to come and visit me in Norway.

Overall, the ski culture is very strong in Norway. In principle, you can bring your skis anywhere, no one will question it. On buses, trains, at the gym, even in the university library you see people carrying their skis around. It was easy for me to adapt to that. In the last few weeks, I regularly went skiing before or after my courses at university and was able to explore many routes. For anyone who is new to the sport and would like to try it out, the university offers skiing courses. I can also recommend renting a sled and going to the slopes. It’s something I enjoy doing with my friends here.

Students walking in the snow on campus.
Better put on those spikes: The University of Oslo campus in winter. Photo: private

Cosiness on campus

Despite these options for fun out in the snow, winter does shift most of the social life indoors. This goes for the university campus, too. For now, students can be seen sliding (and slipping) in between buildings and it will be a while before we’ll be enjoying study breaks sitting out in the sun. The buildings where I spend most of my time are the university library, the Faculty of Humanities and the Social Sciences Faculty. All my courses take place in these two faculties. I mostly go to the library to write papers and to study.

One of my favourite places on campus is the coffee shop in the Faculty of Social Sciences. They have games that you can borrow while you enjoy your hot beverage. When it's snowing outside and everything is quiet, and you sit inside, play chess and drink your coffee in peace between seminars - it's very cosy and calming.

The coffee shop in the Faculty of Social Sciences is an indoor favourite. Photo: private

Winter is slowly coming to an end, and I'm already looking forward to more exciting moments, warmer temperatures and new experiences. I’ll update you in my next blog post! Hade bra! (Goodbye!) Tom

(Published 3 April 2023)