The vibes of Trondheim & its must-visits

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The third city of Norway, and the first significant one in the North, Trondheim remains rather small and easy to discover over a couple of days. The innovative student town showcases different gentrified areas that are enjoyable to stroll, past the must-visit Nidaros Cathedral that attracts thousands of pilgrims, believers and curious travellers every year.

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Vibes & where to hang out

One of the most enjoyable neighbourhoods to stroll is Bakklandet, towered by Trondheim’s fortress. A suburb of the city along the Nidelva River in the 17th century, it developed with wharves, industries and blue-collar housing when Trondheim became one of Norway’s most important seaports. Today, the residential neighbourhood with its pastel-painted wooden buildings brightened up by flowers houses coffee shops and restaurants, such as the cute Baklandet Skydsstation. Set up in one of the oldest buildings of Bakklandet, patrons enjoy herring prepared in various ways with one of their 230 aquavits (!) in its maze of small and cosy dining rooms.

Crossing the old pedestrian bridge, the very instagrammable trading houses, a small reminder of Bergen’s Bryggen appear on each river bank.

Just like Bakklandet, the city centre has turned into a coffee shop heaven! Norwegian chains pop up everywhere and the sweet cinnamon scent of skillingsboller (local cinnamon rolls and the ones from any of the Godt Brød bakery locations come highly recommended!) tempts passers-by at any hour of the day: students, families with toddlers, couples, pilgrims, tourists or elderly… If there is indeed a very strong coffee culture in Norway in general (world’s second highest per capita coffee consumption), it seems to be even more so in Trondheim!

One of our favourite areas in town used to be one of the most important industrial districts of Trondheim, and one of Norway’s busiest shipyards. When boats became too large to pass the Old Bridge in Bakklandet, the main shipyards were moved here, closer to the Trondheim Fjord. The whole district is still referred to as TMV (standing for “Trondheim Mechanical Workshop”), the industry that employed up to a third of the city’s active population around 1900. In 1983 though, its doors closed. What seemed catastrophic then has turned into a sleek real estate development project: a mall, bars, restaurants for every taste and coffee shops (have we already mentioned Trondheim’s coffee culture?!) have settled in the former industrial brick buildings bordering the water where locals flock during their spare time until late at night.

On a sunny summer day, the place to be is the Korsvika Beach, just a short bike ride away from town. As soon as the sun is out, locals tend to drop everything they are doing to rush to the ice-cream parlour and head to the beach! Know that you will be assessed based on whether you are capable or not of braving the cold waters of the fjord. We tried, and given the latitude, we were lucky it was not that cold! If the beach bathed by the midnight sun is a bit of a party scene in the late evening, it is very quiet in the early morning hours.

Trondheim’s must-visits

The Nidaros Cathedral, the Archbishop Palace & Saint Klemens Church

Amongst the must-visits, the Nidaros Cathedral and the Archbishop Palace that hosts the royal regalia attract Norwegians in masses. After all, this is one of the holiest places in the country and the end point of the pilgrimage of Saint Olaf, the eternal King of Norway. Few know that it is actually the small and intimate ruins of the Saint Klemens Church, newly excavated, that are the real cradle of Norway: the very place where King Olaf became Olaf the Holy!

To walk in the footsteps of Saint Olaf in and around Trondheim and to learn more about these three landmarks, check out this article.

The charming Open-Air Museum

Strolling the open-air museum, on the height of Trondheim, makes us feel like we are back in romantic Telemark with its lovely traditional farms and stave churches. Old buildings have been dismantled and rebuilt here to be gathered and showcase the old days of Norway, a type of attraction Norwegians are very fond of!

For a travel though time, make sure to stop by the stave church dating back to 1170. With less timber at these latitudes compared to the south of the country, this is one of your only chances to check out these unique churches in northern Norway. Many workshops of craftsmen give insights into the way of living over a century ago, especially when manned by guides in costumes eager to share their knowledge.

Next to the open-air museum, and also belonging to it, the 1739 tavern is a local’s favourite especially on Tuesday nights for its traditional klubb og pølse dinner (sauce with brown goat cheese, bacon and potatoes). Expect queues!

The Trondheim Art Museum (Trondheim kunstmuseum)

The reputation of Trondheim for innovation is even seen in its art museum. In the Trondheim kunstmuseum Gråmølna, I am using virtual reality to navigate through the art of the Swedish Lap-See Lam, a digital native.

The Gråmølna annex was built in what used to be the poor area of town to showcase some of the artwork the Trondheim painter Håkon Bleken (1929-), donated to the museum. One of Norway’s leading contemporary artists, is known for his stands against injustice. Bleken’s art is of course shown, as well as work from lesser-known artists, often females to try and close the gender gap in museums.

The Rockheim Museum

What do you know about Norwegian music? Maybe Ah-ah? The most famous Norwegian band who went international in the 1980s with their main song Take On Me? Maybe Sigird, the first female Norwegian hitting the charts in the UK these days? Expand your horizons and discover the pop rock Norwegian music scene since the 1950s, and if you are not a fan, create your own track in the interactive Rockheim Museum!

The excellent Ringve Music Museum

Her hands run delicately over the keys of the piano and a characteristic melody fills the 19th century room of the stylish farm. I recognise the tunes composed by the Bergenser Edvard Grieg, who greatly contributed to shaping Norway’s own musical identity when the country was about to gain its independence in the late 19th century.

But before the birth of typical Norwegian sounds, many musicians had preceded. We are in the Ringve National Museum of Musical Instruments of Norway and the visit appears to be a travel through time with live music played in different rooms in the former farmhouse of Christian and Victoria Bachke. The Russian-born Victoria not only passionately collected musical instruments, she was also adamant about all of these instruments having to be played!

As we explore the different beautifully furnished rooms and discover specific instruments in each, it is more than short live concerts we can enjoy: we are hearing for ourselves the evolution of sound over the years. From the clavichord and chamboule, the sound slowly evolves towards what we are the most used to: the piano. The technology took time though before reaching today’s sound. We can hear the sound Beethoven used to hear himself when he was composing on his hammer clavier!

Beyond purely music, it is also a social evolution that takes place under the roof of the Ringve Music Museum. From the 1750s when only 12 male town musicians could perform in Norway, to a form of women’s emancipation: it is the revolution and liberation movements that are being played too. This took time of course. Initially, music was not proper for women. Can you imagine? Spreading your legs to play cello, or making cheeks in a wind instrument? Out of a question! With time, playing piano did not only become allowed, but a way of showing proper education, especially for women.

Our talented musician guide plays every instrument with elegance, and she stops on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle: “I’m not a violinist”, she says; and still gets a short harmonious melody out of the folk instrument that inspired Norway’s superstar Ole Buhl and allowed him to design specific violins to make folk tunes!

Travel tips:

  • For a classy and comfortable stay in the heart of Trondheim, the Britannia Hotel is an excellent choice.
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)!

For more in Norway:

2 thoughts on “The vibes of Trondheim & its must-visits

  1. A thorough overview of what looks like a fascinating place. Great photography to boot. Thanks for sharing, the timing of your post was fun. We had literally just listened to a sleep story (on the app Calm) about Trondheim and taking the Nordland Railway to Bodo .

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