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The Winter Olympic Town of Lillehammer

Me getting cold in Lillehammer

This Saturday I packed my furry boots, thermos and countless layers of clothing for my first visit inland. My destination was the small town of Lillehammer, 170km due north of Oslo on the shores of Lake Mjøsa.

The day began for me (and my travelling companion Gerry) with an early start on Dovrebanen, the train line which transports countless people the 553km between Oslo and Trondheim. It might not be as famous as the Oslo to Bergen railway, but Dovrebanen offers views which rival it. Much of the two-and-a-bit hour journey to Lillehammer is spent skirting Norway's biggest lake, Mjøsa:

Sunrise over Lake Mjøsa, Norway

Lillehammer railway station

The first thing to note about Lillehammer is its size. SMALL. If it were a guy, it would shop in the kids section of H&M. Just 26,000 people live here, which makes its hosting of the 1994 Winter Olympics pretty stunning. That is of course why the vast majority of people have heard of Lillehammer. Aside from that it's just a small lakeside town with a couple of ski resorts close by, much like many small towns in Norway.

The quiet town centre

I don't mean to talk the place down, it sure has its charms. What I want to get across is what an almighty legacy the Olympic Games has left on such a small place. From any point in the town the ski jump arena towers over the houses and shops below, a constant reminder of the events 18 years ago (and of what is to come – Lillehammer is to host the Winter Youth Olympics in 2016)

Like most Norwegian towns, Storgata is the centre of activity. It's a very picturesque main street with wooden houses galore and reminded me of Storgata in Tromsø. In fact, the whole setting felt similar to Tromsø – an expanse of water, snowy mountains all around, small wooden houses, a pride in the town – but I guess these are generics to be found in most Norwegian towns. There was one important difference though and that's the activity levels. It was a much quieter place, with Storgata almost deserted at 11am on a Saturday.

Storgata on Lillehammer

Gerry on a cold Storgata in Lillehammer

Cute shop in Lillehammer

Lillehammer is not a town where groups of teenagers hang around outside the shops… it seems most people were already up, or heading up to the mountains. So up we went!

Olympic park in Lillehammer

Well, not quite up the mountain, but up to the main attraction for the day, the Norwegian Olympic Museum. Rather than just an exhibition of the Lillehammer games, the museum is a walk through the entire history of the Olympic movement, summer and winter, from its beginnings as the Ancient Greek games right up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. There is of course a healthy amount to see from the two winter events Norway hosted, Oslo 1952 and Lillehammer 1994, but the focus is on the Olympic movement as a whole. There's a sweet little video about how the town coped with being the centre of the world's attention back in 1994, just ask the receptionist to put it on for you when you arrive 🙂

London 1948 Olympics poster

Man from Innsbruck

Olympic Museum Shooting Exhibit Norway

Inside the Norwegian Olympic Museum

Me joining in one of the Olympic exhibits

The museum is housed within Håkons Hall, the sports arena which hosted the Olympic ice hockey tournament and still hosts ice hockey and handball tournaments today. Inside the arena itself is the giant egg from the opening ceremony, an unexpected surprise! Next door is Kristins Hall, home to Lillehammer IK, one of the better ice hockey teams in Norway. And outside were a whole bunch of families with skis, sledges, and basically any object on which you could sit/stand and slide about on snow!

IMPORTANT FOR VISITORS: Since publishing this article, the Norwegian Olympic Museum is now co-located with the Maihaugen museum. You can read more about this interesting place below.

Lillehammer egg from the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Sledging at the Olympic Park in Lillehammer

There's a ton of Olympic-related stuff to do on a return visit in the summer, including a trip up the chairlift to the top of the ski jump and a unique chance to ride down the Olympic bobsleigh track a few miles away at Hunderfossen. However, this was the end of David's Olympic adventure for the day.

Maihaugen open-air museum

A work colleague suggested a visit to the open air museum, which turned out to be such a great place it deserves its own blog post… which is here! In the evening we found a nice little Italian-Turkish restaurant called Toscana on Storgata. Yes I know Italian-Turkish conjures up images of kebab meat pizzas, but it was actually a decent place, obviously popular with locals and best of all, cheap beer! 56 Kroner for half-litre of Ringnes or Carlsberg, very good for a restaurant.

There wasn't a great deal on offer in the evening other than Premier League football in the pubs, so we ended up waiting in the train station with a coffee, although we were entertained by a slideshow of scenic photographs from a local photography club. It's useful to note that even on a Saturday most shops were closed by 4pm.

If you have even the slightest interest in the Olympic Games then Lillehammer is definitely worth a visit, but from Oslo I'd recommend just a day trip. Unless you're a skier or snowboarder of course!

Sunset over Lillehammer from Maihaugen

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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.

6 Comments

  1. Hi, David!

    Thanks for a lovely post on your trip to Lillehammer! Nice town, I agree. I’ve lived there for over three years. I recommend that you also visit the other two towns around the lake Mjøsa, Hamar and Gjøvik. Both towns are around the size of Lillehammer. Typical Norwegian small towns! Gjøvik can be reached by train using “the Gjøvik line” from Oslo train station. Hamar can be reached by “the Dovrebanen” just like Lillehammer and Trondheim. Hamar is the town where I live, and out of the three towns around Mjøsa Hamar is the only one which is situated close to the Mjøsa shore. By the shore is a large recreation area which is used for walking all year round (for the Sunday walk etc.), for skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. In walking distance by the lake are some church ruins from around the middle ages, a museum etc. As Hamar and Gjøvik are small towns you probably see what there is to see during a one day trip to each town like the one you had in Lillehammer.

    Your blog is great! It’s interesting to see how foreigners view Norway. As Norwegians we are somewhat obsessed on how we are perceived by foreigners … Your view is positive and open minded! I’m a associate professor in social sciences at the local univerity college and I teach about Norwegian national identies (among other things). I came across your blog when doing my prepararations for one of my lectures.

    Have (even more) fun while your in Norway! If you have any questions about Hamar, just send me an e-mail. If you come to Hamar I can show you around if you want.

    Odd Helge Lindseth

    1. Thanks so much for such a detailed comment! I would love to visit Hamar and have a guided tour, I’ll be in touch on Facebook if that’s okay? 🙂 It would be great to hear about your teaching too.

      1. Yeah, just contact me via Facebook! Please give me some days notice before you arrive. Welcome to Hamar! If you come to Hamar before the end of March we could have walk on the ice of the lake Mjøsa!

  2. Hi David,

    Hoping you could give some advice. We are travelling through Norway in December and have a couple of days to spare between Olso and Bergen.
    Prefer the smaller places and like to experience different things. Any suggestions would be great. Understand Flam is on the way but not sure about winter.

    Cheers
    Michael
    [email protected]

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