What to Expect on Sundays in Norway

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From the lack of shopping opportunities to the cultural habit of heading to the hills, Sundays is Norway take some getting used to.

When I first moved to Norway, there were so many things that surprised me. I knew I’d get tripped up by the food, the language, and finding my way around on public transport. But what I hadn’t expected to surprise me so much was Sundays.

Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral by the Nidelva river. Photo: David Nikel.
Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral by the Nidelva river on a quiet Sunday. Photo: David Nikel.

I vividly remember walking around downtown Oslo late on Sunday morning, wondering when shops would open. But not only that, I wondered where everyone was.

It wasn’t long before I figured it out. The shops couldn’t open, and the Norwegians were all up in the hills! Still, it would take months before I got used to it.

In the heart of Scandinavia, Norway presents a blend of stunning nature and deep-rooted cultural traditions. Sundays perfectly capture this blend, offering a quiet, reflective day that contrasts with the busier weekdays.

This article explores what one can expect on a typical Sunday in Norway, highlighting the nationwide quiet day with most shops closed and the Norwegian habit of spending the day in nature.

A Day of Rest and Reflection

In Norway, Sundays are officially considered a day of rest. This tradition, deeply embedded in Norwegian society, finds its roots in both cultural and religious practices.

The result is a uniquely serene atmosphere that envelops cities and towns across the country. Most notably, this quiet day is characterised by the closure of nearly all retail stores, as the commercial side of Norway takes a pause.

Are Shops in Norway Open on Sundays?

The law in Norway mandates that most retail businesses close their doors on Sundays. This legislation aims to ensure that retail workers have time off, fostering a healthy work-life balance.

Trondheim market square on a quiet Sunday. Photo: David Nikel.
Trondheim market square on a quiet Sunday. Photo: David Nikel.

Bars, restaurants, and galleries are allowed to remain open, as are petrol stations. Convenience stores and small grocery stores are permitted to open for limited hours.

To take advantage of this, some bigger Norwegian supermarkets have smaller annexes, which are able to open on Sundays. In some places, supermarkets are able to open on the couple of Sundays prior to Christmas.

This legal framework ensures that Sunday remains a day distinct from the rest of the week, dedicated to rest, family, and personal time.

Sunday Opening in Tourist Destinations

There is a major exception to Norway’s Sunday trading laws. If somewhere is designated as a ‘typical tourist destination,’ more shops are able to open. However, such a status is usually only given to areas with high tourist traffic.

City leaders in Oslo want the city centre to receive this designation in order to allow more Sunday trading. Will they succeed? Watch this space.

Embracing Nature: A National Pastime

The silence of the cities on Sundays tells only half the story. As shops close and streets quiet down, Norway's landscapes come alive with the sounds and sights of nature enthusiasts.

The Norwegian love affair with the outdoors is no secret. Known as “friluftsliv” or “open-air living,” this philosophy encourages a connection with nature, emphasising its importance for physical and mental well-being.

On Sundays, families, friends, and solo adventurers alike head to the forests, mountains, and coastlines to hike, ski, cycle, and fish.

The country's right to roam (“allemannsretten”) allows everyone free access to explore the vast wilderness, provided they respect nature and leave no trace.

People enjoying their sunday in the hills of Oslo. Photo: David Nikel.
People enjoying their sunday in the hills of Oslo. Photo: David Nikel.

This right—popular throughout the Nordic region—fosters a national culture of outdoor activities, making nature an accessible retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation.

The contrast between the quiet cities and the vibrant natural landscapes on Sundays is a reflection of Norway's dual identity. It showcases a society that values both its cultural traditions and its natural heritage.

Whether it's skiing in Lillehammer, hiking in the national parks, or simply enjoying a quiet picnic by a fjord, Norwegian “friluftsliv” is hard to miss on Sundays.

Cultural and Community Activities

While retail therapy is off the table, cultural and community activities thrive on Sundays in Norway. Museums, art galleries, and other cultural institutions often remain open.

Community events, such as concerts, plays, and sports activities, also take place on Sundays, bringing people together in a different capacity. The majority of Eliteserien football matches take place on Sundays, for example.

And of course, churches across the country hold Sunday services, reflecting the day's traditional religious significance.

The Quiet Charm of Norwegian Sundays

Sundays in Norway reflect the country's commitment to work-life balance, community, and the great outdoors. The quiet streets, the closed shops, and the bustling hiking trails tell the story of a nation deeply connected to nature.

For visitors, experiencing a Sunday in Norway offers a unique perspective on Norwegian life.

It's a day that challenges the typical tourist itinerary, encouraging a slower pace and a deeper connection with the country's landscape and culture. It’s a reminder of the simple joys of life—family, nature, and community.

For new residents, though, it can take a while to adjust. If, like me, you live in a city like Trondheim, there will always be a shop open somewhere if you urgently need something. But if live somewhere more rural, that’s not always the case.

Nevertheless, the day is a unique opportunity to step back from the fast pace of modern life and engage in the simple pleasures that define the Norwegian way of life.

From the quiet reflection in the empty streets to the joyful exploration of the vast, open landscapes, Sundays in Norway are a weekly celebration of culture, community, and the great outdoors.

How do I spend my Sundays? I often head into central Trondheim for a walk while the city is quiet. In the morning, the streets are often deserted. Occasionally there's some people wandering around from the coastal ferry, but there's few others.

So, why go? I enjoy strolling along the river, taking photos, and getting some exercise. It’s not quite a remote hiking trail, but it works for me!

What do you think about Sundays in Norway? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences down in the comments.

About Life in Norway

Sometimes, more than one person in the Life in Norway team works on a story. This was one of those times!

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