There’s nothing better than a keepsake to serve as a reminder of an amazing trip. Add these authentic Norwegian products and gifts to your souvenir list – they’re not easy to find anywhere else in the world.
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There’s nowhere that does Christmas, or Jul, like Norway – from the cosiness of a crackling log-cabin fireplace to the mountainous drifts of snow. And, of course, don’t forget the trees – it’s a Norway spruce that adorns Trafalgar Square every year. Their Christmas-tree ornaments are top-notch, too. Visit in December, and you’ll invariably find Christmas markets (such as the famous Norsk Folkemuseum’s annual Christmas fair) selling handmade decorations, including little gnomes, white-glazed porcelain stars and hearts, or animals carved from wood. Your mum will love you.
As Cadbury is to the UK, Freia is to Norway. It’s the country’s leading chocolate maker, and you’ll find it in shops nationwide. Not sure where to start? Try the classic melkesjokolade first, made with milk from Norwegian cows. Alternatively, pick up a Kit-Kat-like Kvikk Lunsj, created in 1937 and resplendent with a retro three-colour-stripe wrapper. Meaning “quick lunch” in Norwegian, this bar has always been advertised as an outdoorsy energy-boosting snack, so it’s an essential part of any hiking or kayaking trip around Norway’s fjords.
Norwegians love their bunads (woollen national costumes for men and – more commonly – women); brightly embroidered, they’re voluminous and often accessorised with buttons and buckles. You’ll see them worn publicly on official state holidays – notably Nasjonaldagen (National Day, 17 May) – as well as for birthdays, baptisms, family celebrations and photo sessions for Tinder profiles. Buy traditional outfits for men, women and children from Heimen Husfliden’s shops in Oslo, where everything is handmade using techniques in practice since 1912.
Aquavit (also written akvavit) translates as “water of life”. As anybody who has knocked one back will know, it really means “firewater”, and it has been doing the rounds since the 15th century. Distilled from potatoes or grain, with a herby flavour, it’s potent at a minimum of 37.5 percent ABV. Linie Aquavit (41.5 percent ABV) takes the spirit to a new level of refinement. It’s sent to the southern hemisphere and back in sherry barrels aboard cargo ships – an age-old custom whereby the rolling motion of the sea helps to maximise the flavour. After crossing the equator (Linje, in Norwegian) twice, it’s bottled, with its distinctive golden colour. Look for it at a Vinmonopolet.
“There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes” is a well-worn national saying. In Norway, that’s your cue to invest in a new wardrobe addition that keeps you warm and gives you an unmistakeable dash of Norwegian style. Case in point: Dale of Norway knitwear, notably sweaters, which have been crafted since 1879 and combine 100 percent pure wool with beautiful patterns based on nature and history. The village of Dale is tucked among fjords and falls in western coastal Norway, but the brand has concept stores in Oslo and Stavanger, too.
Liquorice, known locally as lakris, is Norway’s black gold. Be it sweet, salty or both, Norwegians simply can’t get enough of the stuff, and the quality of it is a source of national pride. However, it’s an acquired taste, and you can find entertaining YouTube clips of foreigners trying salt lakris for the first time. A combination of liquorice and chocolate is considered a delicacy, and there are luxury brands on the market. Check out what’s on offer at grocery stores, and visit the food court Mathallen Oslo to buy the artisan version.
Frustrated with regular knives’ inability to cut proper cheese slices, the ever-inventive carpenter Thor Bjørklund came up with the ostehøvel in 1925. Norway’s patented cheese slicer, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a woodworker’s plane, has since been exported throughout Scandinavia, and you may have seen examples at Ikea. You can certainly buy one in Norwegian supermarkets such as Coop. All the same, nothing beats the real deal still produced in Bjørkund’s factory in Lillehammer – the sharp souvenir for stylish travellers to bring back.
Sure, you can find Viking-themed memorabilia in any souvenir shop – just stay away from anything that depicts helmets with horns, as they’re historically inaccurate. If you don’t mind digging deep for something unique, your best bet is a gallery or a vintage shop, where you can look for Viking drinking bowls. Most are shaped like ships, with dragons carved at both ends. In the port town of Ålesund, Galleri Artifex has some gorgeous genuine art nouveau examples from around 1900.
There’s something stylish about classic 1960s Norwegian cookware, taking us back to the heyday of Sir Terence Conran’s lifestyle store Habitat. In Norway, it never went away – or so it seems – judging by the success of sales in vintage shops up and down the country. From saucepans and plates to jugs and assorted kitchenware, the best is a quiet riot of pushy patterns and vibrant hues. And the best thing about it is that it’s usually quite inexpensive. As well as retro stores, scour flea markets, including Vestkanttorvet in Oslo.
Welcome to a land of sausage aficionados. Norwegian sausages, called pølse, are made from various types of meat – with pork and lamb being the most common – and non-meat sources, such as mushrooms and egg protein. However, outclassing all competition are deer and reindeer sausages, which are considered local delicacies due to their distinct, gamey flavour. Find them in food markets, deli shops and, of course, the food court Mathallen Oslo.
If you’re looking for an authentic Norwegian souvenir that’s impossible to find anywhere else in the world, it’s time you invested in a tine. Dating from the 1800s, these wooden carrier boxes were used for storage and to transport all manner of items, from church finery to cheese. Oval in shape, typically with iron or wooden handles and a lid, they’re simple and sturdy; therefore, many have survived to become antiques. What makes them such covetable souvenirs is the decoration: hand-painted folk scenes with bags of charm, each one beautiful and unique.
The weirdest thing about Norway’s most iconic cheese, brunost? It’s not cheese at all. Made from a gently boiled-down combination of milk, cream and whey, it’s a delightfully contrary sweet-savoury, creamy-tangy concoction, unlike anything else you’ll ever eat. As the milk and cream are cooked down, the natural sugars caramelise, creating a thick, golden-brown curd. Add the sharp tanginess of the whey (especially in the goat-milk variety), and it’s a taste-bud-tingling, bafflingly delicious addition to a cheese board or picnic.
Rosemaling, the decorative folk painting of Norway, started becoming a thing in 1750 when upper-class European art styles – baroque, regency, rococo – were introduced to Norway’s comparatively rural culture. Out of style by 1870, it had migrated to the United States, and in doing so, it managed to avoid extinction. In Norway, the technique is growing in popularity again, as artists and artisans set about relearning the old methods. Apart from more traditional objects, such as plates, you can find rosemaling cups and vases – if you look hard, even rosemaling bikes and cycle helmets.
Trolls have an important role in Norwegian mythology, and carved-wood statues have been a traditional gift since time immemorial. They come in all shapes and sizes, from big and mean to small and cunning-looking, and the folklore surrounding them is endless – so much so that many Norwegians will insist visitors watch the found-footage faux-documentary Trollhunter (2010) to understand them better. Whether you do or not, it can be fun – especially if you’re with young ones – to pick out a selection in a souvenir shop for friends back home. Legend has it that when you’ve thought of a friend to buy one for, the right troll will wink.
You’ve bought your bunad. To complete the look, you need some traditional jewellery, and that means sølje (pronounced “sol-ya”, meaning shiny and sunny) pins and brooches, which you’ll find in outlets that sell bunads. If wearing a full traditional Norwegian costume feels a bit much for your first day back in the office, you can show you’ve been in Norway over the weekend, much more subtly, with statement jewellery. Browse for vintage examples in street markets such as Oslo’s Vestkanttorvet.
Alex Allen contributed additional reporting to this article.
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