Norway, Winter Wønderland
If you dream of a white Christmas and to feel (or even taste) some snowflakes, head to Norway! Santa Claus may call home the neighbouring country of Finland but the Western side of the Scandinavian Peninsula, praised for its extraordinary nature and its welcoming and warm people, is the perfect getaway to the real North of Europe.
Chances are that if you go to Norway, you will land in Oslo. The Norwegian capital isn't all bells and whistles but it still has a lot to offer and especially during the winter festivities. Start by the obvious: the Royal Palace. Norway is a monarchy and if it's Royal Family doesn’t have the same international appeal as its British counterpart; the Norwegian people love them as much as the Brits do theirs. Don’t forget to buy some mugs, plates or other souvenirs at the effigy ofTM King Harald V and Queen Sonja or TRH Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. So kitsch but so Norge!
Explore the rest of the city by tram or subway and visit the medieval fortress of Akershus Festning, which will give you a look at what Norway was back in the 13thcentury. Don't forget to bring your camera; the castle has some of the best viewpoints to the Oslofjord. After admiring the nature surrounding you, get your selfie taken at Frogner Park, where the naked (and erotic) human statues of the Vigeland Sculpture Park will keep your Instagram account buzzing for your whole stay.
If you want to warm up your shivering body, there are two museums not to be missed: the Munch Museum, dedicated to the Norwegian painter famous for its Scream, and the Nobel Peace Centre, where you can learn more about the history of the different laureates. Then, brave yet again the cold temperatures and get covered in snow while you purchase all the missing items on your gift list in one of the many Julemarked, Christmas markets, scattered around the city during winter. Nibble on delicious Norwegian waffles, preferably served with Brunost, a caramelized brown whey cheese. This peculiar delicacy is a great present, especially when it comes with its own ornamented metal cheese slicer. Jammed cloudberries, gravlaks (dry-cured salmon), pickled herring, a jar of agurk (sweet marinated cucumber), tørrfisk (unsalted, dry fish) or aquavit, the national alcohol, are also delicious ways to bring back a piece of Norway in your luggage.
Let it snow!
Once you are done with the capital and its urban pleasures, explore the Norwegian natural wonders. Norway is the perfect place to experience all the different outdoors activities. Of course, skiing is compulsory, the word itself comes from Old Norse, meaning "stick of wood". Whether you are a snow bunny or a skillful skier, the beautiful Norwegian ski resorts, such as Hemsedal, Hafjell, Geilo or Trysil, will fulfill your need for snow. So go Cross-Country, Snowboarding, Alpine, Kitting or even off-piste, but slide! Take a different path and enjoy a ride on a snow-mobile or a dog sled, two fun ways to make one with nature. But if you don't need an adrenaline rush, you can slow-travel by hopping on a cruise around the fjords and geysers.
To the polar express!
If you want to challenge yourself even more, take a boat, a bus or a plane further north. Finnmark, Troms and Nordland counties are even more interesting in winter. The northern you go, the closer to the Arctic Pole, the darker it gets. From the middle of November until the end of January, the sun does not rise at all- you still have some light for few hours a day-, but what you will lack in melanin, you will gain in the breath-taking show of the Aurora Borealis. Also called "Northern Lights", those green or more rarely red solar winds are best observable in February. I advise you to stargaze in Tromsø, a charming archipelago with the one and only Arctic Cathedral, or the enchantingly beautiful Lofoten Islands, which both benefit from warmer temperatures thanks to the Gulf Stream. Temperatures can indeed reach below -40 °F in the inner areas of Finnmark and Troms.
But Northern Norway is not only about the astonishing nature, it is also about the marvelous culture. This region is rich of its ethnic minorities and especially the Sami, reindeer herders and indigenous people of Northern Scandinavia and Russia. Head to Kirkenes and dive into their millenary traditions; meet the people, befriend the real Rudolf (which meat is surprisingly delicious!) and even use this time to improve your skills in ice-fishing. You could even stay overnight and sleep in a traditional lavvo, a temporary dwelling. Or if you want to "chill out" (literally), spend the night at Kirkenes Snøhotell Radius, a one of a kind snow hotel.
Euro, Onion and Penguins
Though Norway has privileged relationships with European Union, and is part of the Schengen area (you just need one to be able to visit 26 countries), it doesn't use euro but its own currency the Norwegian krone (NOK). Norway is one of the most expensive countries to visit.
Friendly advice: don't let the aquavit fool you. It is coldoutside! So pack accordingly. Opt for the "onion peels strategy". Use many thin, warm layers rather than a few thick layers. It will insulate better and allow you to strip off layers if the temperature climbs. Wear long johns, union suit, long underwear, long warm socks, gloves, scarf and a winter hat with the ear covered.
If you get stuck on icy grounds, don’t walk firmly or step hesitantly. Just glide along towards your destination. If it's good enough for penguins, it shouldn't be a problem for you.