A town with a population of about 25,000, Lillehammer is located in the mountains of south central Norway. It lays on the shore of Lake Mjøsa, the largest lake in Norway. The surrounding landscape is made up of large forests, farmland, huge mountains and little villages.
Lillehammer is mostly known for being the host of the 1994 Winter Olympics and it is in fact the oldest winter sports destination in the entire country.
The town combines old tradition, visible in the town center’s beautiful 19th-century wooden houses, and modern services, such as great restaurants, museums and sports facilities.
The area has been inhabited since the Iron Age, but Lillehammer’s modern history officially begins in 1827, when it was given town privileges – it had been a market town for decades before that. It received town status several years later, in 1842.
The town’s coat of arms displays a significant medieval event – an event that altered the history of Norway. It commemorates the mountain crossing by the Birkebeiners, who saved the king’s child, Håkon Håkonsson.
Nowadays, the Birkebeiner events take place in Lillehammer each year. These events include some of the biggest cross-country skiing and running competitions in the world. The historic Birkebeiner run inspires the modern competitions. Each competitor has to carry a backpack weighing 3.5 kilograms, representing little Håkon.
With a history like that, it is no surprise that Lillehammer was the host of the Winter Olympics in 1994. The facilities are still there and are still being used. They can be visited.
Lillehammer : Must See
The Olympic Park (Olympiaparken) is Lillehammer’s main tourist attraction.
Visitors can explore this large sports park. One of the highlights is the Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena, the former Olympic ski jumping site. This attraction is open throughout the year and the panoramic views from the open-air terrace at the top are breathtaking. There is no better place to take photos of the town than up there. A chairlift runs up and down, but active visitors may want to walk the 954 steps to the terrace. The ski jump is still being used for its original purpose and ski jumpers can be seen training all year round. Other features of the Olympic Park are the bobsled simulator and the excellent Norwegian Olympic Museum. The latter is located in Håkon Hall and is unique in the sense that it is the only museum in northern Europe that covers the entire history of both the Summer and Winter Olympics. 7,000 artefacts provide an insight in the evolution of the Games from their very beginning in 776BC until modern times.
Maihaugen offers even more historic insights. This fantastic open-air museum – the largest in northern Europe – allows visitors to take a look into the life of common Norwegians during the past half millennium. About 200 buildings represent life in the Gudbrandsdalen valley. Entire towns have been recreated and have even been moved there, including a 13th-century stave church, school building, farms, pharmacy and family homes from every decade of the 20th century.
Lillehammer is also home to two family parks.
The Lilleputthammer and Hunterfossen Family Parks feature a Ferris wheel, rollercoaster, obstacle courses, a fairytale castle, high ropes park and much, much more.
More culture can be experienced at the Lillehammer Art Museum, which has large collections of Norwegian art.
It is located in the heart of the town and is a popular central meeting point.
Alternative activities are a trip on Lake Mjøsa on the paddle steamer Skibladner, a great way to experience a beautiful lake, and a visit to the Ringebu stave church, constructed in 1220 and one of 28 remaining stave churches in Norway.
Situated only 180 kilometers from Oslo and 145 kilometers from Oslo Gardermoen, Lillehammer can easily be reached by car, bus and train. The town lies along the railway line between Oslo and Trondheim and trains depart and arrive on an hourly basis. The train trip from Oslo takes only two hours and from Trondheim it is a seven-hour journey. The train station is located only two blocks from Storgata, the town’s main shopping street.
Buses provide connections to cities such as Bergen and Oslo, including Oslo Gardermoen Airport.
Lillehammer can be accessed by car along the E6 highway; the journey from Oslo to Lillehammer takes two to three hours.