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The Five Seasons of Norway

Nidaros Cathedral winter

If you're used to four equal seasons, you're in for a surprise when moving to Norway!

“Ugh, it's nasty out there”, I spluttered as I returned from Bunnpris, a Norwegian supermarket chain, last Friday night.

I'd been to grab some groceries for the weekend as the weather forecast looked bleak. Dark clouds, wind, rain, and a flood warning across central Norway. Lovely!

Consistent seasons

It got me thinking though, Norwegian weather is fairly predictable. True, we never know exactly how much snow we're going to get, or how cold it's going to be, but the seasons seem to be pretty consistent.

That's why for the third year in a row, we'll be disappearing off to Tenerife in November.

That's the worst month, at least here in Trondheim. But today's grim weather marks the start of the build up to my least favourite time of year.

Those of us lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world experience not four, but five distinct seasons.

Autumn

autumn2

The leaves on the trees turn a beautiful golden colour, fall and disappear, sometimes within days. I've taken some of my favourite pictures at this time of year. But what really marks autumn is the rapidly shortening days, especially noticeable in the evenings.

The acceleration from the almost endless days of summer to the long dark days of winter is faster than anywhere I've lived before.

Combine this with September and October being the wettest months of the year across much of Norway (Trondheim is no exception) and it can be a grim time to live through.

It's as much in your head as anything though, because the disappearing light and rainstorms just remind you that a long winter is on its way.

It's right now that most Norwegians start planning their winter holidays and we are no exception. Our now regular November week in the Canary Islands has been booked!

Winter One: The Dark Time

Tromsø in winter
Tromsø in winter

The Norwegian word mørketiden – the dark time – perfectly sums up the first half of winter, which lasts from roughly October through to early January. As the name suggests, it's the darkest time of year.

It's still wet and often accompanied by storms. Any snowfall tends to be washed away by the frequent rainstorms, so the only respite from the incoming darkness is provided by twinkling Christmas lights on the city streets.

The one saving grace is the blue hour phenomenon, which can be one of the most beautiful experiences in Norway.

Nidaros Domkirke winter
Blue hour in Trondheim

By the way, the actual definition of mørketiden is the time north of the Arctic circle when the sun doesn't rise, although I and many others use it more generally than that.

So to experience the true dark time, you must travel north past the Arctic circle. Above this line, the sun doesn't rise for at least one day per year. In Tromsø, they experience sun-less days for around six weeks.

Read also: Surviving the dark time

Winter Two: The White Winter

After Christmas, everyone's mood improves. Snowfall is heavier and more frequent, so although the days are still short, what little light there is is reflected off the snow, giving the impression of a much lighter environment.

A snowy Gamle Bybro in Trondheim

It's at this time of the year that Norwegians take to the great outdoors to go jogging on sticks (cross-country skiing), eat waffles, drink coffee, and generally be really Norwegian.

For me, snow is infinitely preferable to rain, even if the temperatures at this time of year tend to be lowest. The worst I've experienced so far is -23C / -9.4F.

This season can extend all the way through to April if there is enough snow. Most people would consider the transition into Spring to be the Easter week, which sees every Norwegian who owns a pair of skis heading to the trails for one final hurrah.

Spring

Spring breaking through in Oslo

The Norwegian spring is probably the hardest time of year to define, falling sometime between Easter and early June. It's so hard to define because it can be short, it can be long, it can be winter-like, or it can be summer-like.

When I moved to Norway in 2011, I was stunned when my first month (May) was full of glorious sunny days, with temperatures well into the 20's.

I even caught the sun as I spent a pleasant day people-watching on Aker Brygge. This, I did not expect.

Perhaps what defines spring better than anything else is the sight of shorts. At the first glimpse of that big orange ball in the sky, a Norwegian will don the good old short trousers, regardless of the temperature.

Summer

Trondheim in the summertime
The summer in Trondheim

Yes, we really do have good summers here in Norway! Sort of. Sometimes.

Of the four summers I've spent here so far, every one of them has contained at least two decent stretches of weather. And by decent, I mean days where it's possible to sunbathe.

A “good day” in a Norwegian summer would be one with few clouds and a temperature of over 20C. Approximately once per year it might even reach as high as, or just over 30C.

The biggest problem is that you have absolutely no way of knowing when those periods are going to be. Anytime from May to August, and one year the first weeks of September ended up being the hottest time.

Welcome to Norway!

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

19 Comments

  1. I have often read the complaints about Norwegian weather but it is all relative. I live in northern Wisconsin. The weather is very much like you write in this article with one terrible exception. The winters are more extreme in temperature. It is not uncommon to have days, weeks last year, with -10-20 deg. F with windchills to -40 deg. F. Give me Norway anyday! I visited Norway 15 mos. ago and fell in love. I’d live there if I could. My ancestors left there 160 yrs. ago – I think it is time to come home.

  2. I love reading the stories here. I look forward to my weekly email, I try and compare Norway to Scotland, especially the weather.

  3. David, I love reading your stories and articles about living in this area of Norway. My husband I moved here from England in 2009 and spent the first 6 month in Byåsen, now we live in Skatval. I think Trøndelag is a beautiful part of Norway and I too am fascinated by the seasons and how they compare to the UK, and I just love this part of the year (when it isn’t raining) as the colours and the light are so breathtaking.
    Keep up the good work, I look forward to you email every week… I just wish there were a few English people living in Stjørdal, I do miss a good chat about good old England! 🙂

  4. I worked for 3 months and a half through summer and beggining of autumn in Norway, and this year, since december to April, so i got a glimpse of most of the five seasons.
    Summer was glorious (for me, a portuguese with a unnusual love for colder environments and deep disconfort in warmer regions), not only because i managed to have a job but even better – it was on the mountains, for me, a lover of the great outdoors and friluftsliv, a great experience. Summer was never too hot (i can’t stand temperatures over 30º) and the mountains’ glaciers and snow capped tops gleaming in the summer sun, the colorful flowers in the valleys…amazing! Then in Autumn i had the pleasure of contemplating the birch trees getting golden leaves through Molde and Trondheim areas, and that refreshing cold in the air.
    When i returned and start working in December it was no problem to me since i adapt way better to dark than to too much light (like in Lisbon in summer, brrrr, i can’t stand Lisbon in summer), so to me it was ok (and besides there is a lot of nature to enjoy, unlike the concrete suburb i usually live in Lisbon, where there is not even a small park at walking distance, and in Norway it is amazing to contemplate the chances of nature, just right at your door. It was dark, but i deal well with it – and there was the promise of snow (i had already spent months at the same time of the year in Sweden so it was fine).
    Then came the snow and wow! Fascinating gleaming blue light in the long evenings and the white blanket covering the tops and a lot of hikes and skiing – inspiring and motivating!
    Now Spring has arrived. It is quite strange since all grass and nature has been covered in snow and now it is starting to see the daylight. Ground and grass looks brown or greyish but soon it will be green again. It is interesting to see the change, on how the streams run more and the sounds of forest change, the birds starting to sing, and little tiny green grass appearing here and there. A beautiful, green, mild summer will come – just so sad that i don’t have job here anymore and i have to leave back to that sun-beaten, polluted, concrete blocks down in the crisis-riden south of Europe…

    1. Hi Maria,
      I am planning to go to Norway, Sweden and Finland on 4th December 2017. Since you have worked there before, can you please let me know about the weather at that time. I wish to go there for a 12- day holiday. Can you please let me know the attractions at that time. I also wish to see the Northern Lights.

      Your reply will be very much appreciated. Thank you.

    1. In the mountains directly above Geiranger yes absolutely there will be snow. But Geiranger is most definitely not a place to visit in the winter. The tourist ferries aren’t running and two of the three approaches to the village are closed (many of Norway’s mountain roads are only accessible from May-Sept/Oct)

  5. Good Article. Thanks for sharing, David.

    I’m planning for a 2 weeks trip to Norway and having to pick the best time to go to Norway as well as the lowest possible flight cost/not so peak season, it’s a bit of a dilemma.

    Also to decide if my priorities are hikings, or catch the northern lights. So much to do, so little time, hehehe.

    Anyway, available affordable flights for me are from end of August to mid-September. Based on your views and experience, are there still much sunny days there? And which places are best to visit at this time? Hope to avoid the rains too :/

    1. It’s the end of summer and start of what I would call the “rainy” season, so it’s really difficult to say. You shouldn’t have a problem finding accommodation and most attractions will be much quieter at that time of year, but be wary of anything specifying “high season” as that is mid-June to mid-August only. You can find lots more advice on norwaytraveller.com – have fun!

  6. When I was in Norway in their summer I would look at the weather map of a night and head on a train to the sunniest location I could find .

  7. Hello David! I enjoyed this article. I have the opportunity to go to Oslo in mid-November. I know you cannot predict snow, but can I expect to see it then? Also, have you taken the Oslo to Bergan train during that Season and do you recommend it ? Thx!

    1. Impossible to say. It’s possible of course, but not as likely as in January-March. The train journey is lovely any time of year, and there will be plenty of snow on the route in November. Just remember the days will be fairly short.

  8. Hi David,

    As a guy born in Norway and raised here and lived all my life here, I still don’t understand why people fall in love with this country. I mean, if you’ve ever been in Ringsaker at winter times (especially this year), the snow is almost taller than me (i’m 1.70m).

    My point is, I don’t like this country and I want to get the fuck away from here.

    1. As a fellow Norwegian I agree during winter, but a Norwegian Summer is the most beautiful ever..(if the weather is good);-)

    2. Sometimes we long for some romantic place to go far away… norway seems a lot like that, the pictures around the net are awesome and well is not a poor country loaded with crime like many others, maybe when people are there they will freeze to death and want to reconsider things up! In my case I really really wanna go there to visit and see whats like.

  9. We’re planning to go to Norway in September, what’s the best transport to go from Alsund to Tromso?
    Is it the raining Season this time of the year?
    Thank you. Elizabeth

    1. Hi, there’s certainly a good chance of rain in September, autumn is the rainiest season in general across Norway, but I’m not sure about specifics in Tromsø. To get from Ålesund to Tromsø you can either fly or take the Hurtigruten coastal ferry. Have fun!

  10. Interesting article. Glad I found it. We (4 adults) are taking a Viking cruise up the coast of Norway in January-February 2019. In addition to day trips we are going above the Arctic Circle ‘in search of the northern lights’ and will be outside a lot. What would you recommend we take vis a vis boots, long underwear, etc? We hail from Maryland, USA, where typical winter temps don’t dip below 20-30F. Thank you for any advice you can give us.

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