Trondheim: Hidden in the open, this city is the perfect introduction to Norway

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Although Scandinavian capitals like Stockholm or Oslo attract most visitors to the region, I came across waterfront charm, Viking history and a genuine Norwegian welcome in the much smaller city of Trondheim. Located further north than Oslo, Trondheim sits on the edge of a fjord of the same name, which means you’ll wake up to fog rolling over the water in a classic Nordic landscape. While you may want to avoid the heavy snowfalls of winter, the other seasons hold their share of surprises; summer, for example, can bring a cool morning, a rainy afternoon and an idyllic golden sunset all in one day. Trondheim tends to be popular with travelers looking to delve deeper into Norway’s smaller communities, so you can expect plenty of services, attractions, and accommodations available to foreigners. If you enjoy spending time outdoors and prefer a mix of urban and wild life, the area’s boat trips, hiking opportunities and winter sports will keep you busy.

I chose to stay at the centrally located Britannia Hotel, a five-star mainstay with restaurants, drinks, and a spa on site. Comfortable suites and over 200 elegant rooms give this hotel its well-received reputation. options range from the Tower Penthouse Suite to Family, Deluxe, and Superior Rooms. Britannia’s on-site restaurants attract avid diners from across Europe, and I started each day of my stay with breakfast in Palmehaven. The restaurant, housed in a restored room from the early 20th century, serves a five-star breakfast with a buffet and an à la carte menu; the buffet and the fresh à la carte selection are included in the price of your room. Palmehaven also serves lunch and afternoon tea along with light snacks and pastries.

Named European Region of Gastronomy in 2022, Trondheim is one of Norway’s top culinary destinations, a title backed by both the city’s hole-in-the-wall restaurants and acclaimed dining venues. For dinner, the Michelin-starred Speilsalen restaurant seats diners around a round table, caviar bar, or chef’s table, surrounded by mirrors. World champion chef Christopher Davidsen’s menu is full of specialties made with Norwegian produce and ingredients, complemented by an extensive collection of caviar. Ten-course meals in Speisalen can be booked in advance, and packages including dinner for two plus accommodation are also available. Other options include Brasserie Britannia, a classic bistro-style eatery, and Jonthan Grill, the country’s first restaurant with Japanese table grills where diners can cook their own smoke-free meat, seafood, and vegetables.

When the sun sets over the fjord, head to one of Britannia’s two bars. Vinbaren is an exclusive wine bar where you can choose from rare and fine bottles collected by the hotel. For creative cocktails, try the Britannia Bar, where you’ll find the familiar and the unexpected side by side. Bartender Oyvind Lindgherdet’s refined recipes are based on Norwegian tradition, telling a story with every sip.

The Britannia’s spa and fitness center made spending time at the hotel just as much in my getaway as exploring the city. The spa menu offers a variety of wellness treatments, and I enjoyed a remarkable hot stone massage that left me feeling rejuvenated. Six treatment rooms join a heated lap pool, sauna, steam room, ice bath, infrared cabin and more to provide you with a luxury spa experience depending on your needs.

Walking out of the hotel is easy and accessible, as the small town is largely within walking distance. Head a few blocks south and you’ll come across the imposing Nidarosdomen Cathedral, one of Trondheim’s best-known landmarks. The cathedral was built between the 11th and 13th centuries to mark the tomb of Saint Olav, the Viking ruler who is said to have introduced Christianity to Norway. The cathedral’s vast Gothic arches are mesmerizing, as are the views of the city from the top of the structure. In summer, visitors can climb 172 steps in a narrow stairway to reach the viewing platform.

After visiting Nidarosdomen, cross the Nidelva River for lunch at Baklandet Skydsstation, which prides itself on home-cooked meals and an overwhelmingly positive reputation among travellers. Lunch and dinner menus include regional classics, comfort food, and simple snacks, and you can get everything from coffee to cider with your meal.

The historic Bakklandet district is known for its cobbled paths and small businesses, which include quaint boutiques, galleries, and cafes. The area is a favorite with cyclists and home to the world’s first bicycle lift, used to transport you and your bike up one of the steepest hills in the region.

The Ringve Musikk Museum is another must-stop, easily accessible from downtown Trondheim by car or public transport. Founded in 1952 by founder Victoria Bachke, this music museum is housed in a mansion on the estate that Bachke called home. Each gallery is decorated with period pieces to match the history of the instruments on display. In total, the institution’s collection currently has around 2,000 pieces, a number that is constantly growing. A guided tour is the best way to see the museum, and the guides are known not only for telling the many stories of the museum, but also for demonstrating the use of each instrument. The museum’s new exhibit, titled “Soundtracks,” opened this month and includes daily concerts performed in the exhibit hall.

If you’re looking for a way to spend a sunny morning or afternoon outdoors, visit Sverresborg Open Air Museum, located just west of the city. Built around the ruins of a 12th-century castle, the museum features houses and other structures representing different eras of Norwegian history. Rural farmhouses join fishermen’s huts, churches and a school to help visitors imagine life through the centuries. The Old Town section of the museum focuses on Trondheim itself, and patrons can wander past colorful buildings that would have once lined Trondheim’s city center. Reincarnated through preservation efforts, Sverresborg’s oldest structure dates back to 1170 AD, meaning it has withstood centuries of medieval Norway’s tumult. The museum grounds have served Norwegian history for over a century, guarding the spaces and artefacts that have contributed to the country’s cultural identity as we know it.

If you’re ready to venture beyond the city limits, explore Trondheim from the River Nid with local tour company Trondheim By Boat. Fishing trips, sightseeing tours, and sunset tours depart daily from downtown. Packages such as the company’s Rockheim, Troll Voyage and Skansen experiences allow you and your friends or family to do the tour for you while exploring both on and off land and enjoying lunch or while dining at a local restaurant.

A visit to Trondheim can easily become the mix of Scandinavian luxury and hospitality you’ve been looking for, without the big city expectations. Expect fresh food with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, knowledgeable local information, and the opportunity to discover stories less told. Maritime history, Viking legends and natural beauty make this walkable city a welcome respite from the over-stimulation of most city destinations.

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