Fall In Love With Historic Roros: A Food and Culture Capital of Norway
One of Norway’s more picturesque villages, Roros is a historic mining town and UNESCO world heritage site. With colorful, well-preserved 17th and 18th century wood buildings that wind their way up a hill side, Roros is surrounded by its history and past. Southern Sami and their reindeer herds still live in and around the town – as they have for hundreds of years. Just outside of Roros, built into the side of neighboring hills, are Nyberget Mine and Olav’s Mine which visitors can explore on a guided tour taking you 500 meters deep into the mountain. And in Roros itself the old copper smelting plant has been converted into a museum to learn about Roros’ history and mining past. Once dubbed Bergstad or the Mountain City, this town is full of character and a unique place in Norway. In addition to it’s unique architecture and charming atmosphere, Roros is also known as one of the coldest places in Norway dropping at times to below -50 C.
Roros’ history as a mining town dates back to 1644 AD when Roros Copperworks was founded. Roros became a mining capital for Norway due to its abundance of copper ore, abundant wood in the area (fuel for producing copper), and the nearby Hyttelva River which provided hydroelectric energy to power the mining operation. The colored buildings of Roros were painted according to the materials easily obtained in the mines – a dark yellow, burnt red, cream and green which all corresponds to minerals found within the mines. These colors were chose for the easy of making paint from the readily available materials.
The town is comprised of about 80 historic wood homes and buildings, many of which still have their dark pitch-log facades and traditional coloring. This gives the town a medieval feel. The well-preserved historic buildings and mining history lef Roros to be named a UNESCO world heritage site.
Roros and it’s history comes alive on a walking tour of the town. The local tourist office runs walking tours that cover the mining town’s history, culture and important people who shaped the town. They last an hour and begin at the Smelthytta and end at Roros church. It’s a great way to get some history of this fascinating town sprinkled with some local stories, lore and flavor.
No trip to Norway is complete without visiting a Sami family and learning about their unique and fascinating reindeer herding culture. The southern Sami have lived in and around Roros for centuries and many Sami families still call Roros home today. Eva Nordfjell and her husband Magne Haugom run Rorosrein. They are one of dozens of Sami families leveraging the growing interest in cultural and sustainable tourism to diversify their income and help care for their reindeer herds. Due to a number of factors, including climate change and increased cost of expenses such as gas and reindeer care, many Sami families are building cultural tourism experiences to generate additional resources to continue caring for their reindeer herds and feeding their families. It’s a way for them to diversify their income and for travelers to learn about the Sami culture and reindeer herding. These family-run Sami experiences help the families continue their way of life, while also allowing them to have agency in how their Sami culture is presented to travelers. And for travelers it’s a unique chance to have an intimate and personal view into Sami culture, traditions and reindeer herding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that helps breakdown barriers and connect across cultures – people to people
In Norway, the Sami are the only group legally permitted to herd reindeer – an effort to help keep the economic value of their livelihood and expertise in reindeer husbandry. The Sami have inhabited the northern arctic and sub-arctic regions of Fennoscandia for over 3,500 years. They are a tough, hearty peoples – weathering very cold, bleak winters, following their herds over vast distances of Arctic barren terrain, and navigating dangerous ice crossing to help their herds migrate during the changing seasons. The Sami are the indigenous reindeer herders of Sapmi, an area stretching across the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and part of Russia. Traditionally Sami have pursued livelihoods in coastal fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding. They are best known for their semi-nomadic reindeer herding. Today only 10% of Sami are involved in reindeer herding.
A visit to Rorosrein is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that leaves lasting memories of warm Sami culture and the unique nature of life amongst the reindeer.
Note: Rorosrein (and most Sami experiences) is only open in the winter because the reindeer spend the summer months in the far northern region of the Arctic.
The Smelthytta Museum brings to life Roros’ mining history. Constructed on the location of the former copper smelting works, the museum incorporates many of the old buildings equipment for producing copper with a modern structure housing displays and models teaching about mining and Roros’ history. The small models show incredible detail of the mining process, including the the horse and water powered smelting processes. During the summer the museum offers live demonstrations. Next to the Smelthytta Museum are the Miner’s Cottages, offering one of Roros most unique and quaint sections of town to walk through.
A short 15 minute drive from Roros brings you to Olav’s Mine where copper ore was removed since 1650 AD. From 1937 – 1972 it was the Røros Copper Works’s main mine and the last mine worked in the district. Today it’s a gritty and impressive museum that takes you 50m deep into the earth and 500m into the mountain as you wind your way on a guided tour through through the old mining shafts. Exploring Olav’s Mine brings the nature of mining and the toll it takes on the workers to life like almost no other museum or experience. Go deep in the hall of the mountain king – with mining sound effects and lights you also feel like you might cross paths with a troop of dwarves as you wind your way deeper into the earth.
Experience the local food of Roros and meet the farmers who grow it and raise the animals on a Roros Food Safari tour. Visit a local butcher to try reindeer and other game meats including deer and elk. You can also visit Rorosrein to meet the Sami family that raises the reindeer. Learn about how local cheese is made at a cheese maker. Experience the exciting and dedication that drives the local beekeepers and their incredible honey. The Roros Tourism Office offers a number of different types of food safaris so let them know what you would like to see, experience and taste.
Experience Husky Dog Sledding at Kennel Dolanvollen
At Kennel Dolanvollen enjoy one of the most thrilling experiences in Roros – exploring the forests and countryside on a dogsled. Dog sledding has a long history in Norway going back to the era of the early Arctic explorers. Today many Norwegians are passionate about dog sledding, termed dog mushing, and the huskies are just as passionate too. Flying through the thigh high snowbanks on the back of a sled pulled by a team of 6 strong, very enthusiastic huskies is an exciting way to explore beautiful landscape around Roros. Arne Rosvold (who affectionally considers each of the dogs one of his kids and a member of his family) and his team lead dog sledding tours ranging from 1 hour, 2 hours and even longer (just contact them and they can arrange longer tours). Dog sledding trips run in all year round, even in the summer.
Food and Cuisine
Roros has quickly become one of Norway’s top culinary destinations. From reindeer and other game meats to local produce, to cheese made just down the street, to local breweries, to mushrooms and berries grown locally – restaurants in Roros serve an impressive array of fresh, local items.
A few great restaurants to try:
Roros is a photographers dream – a historic town that looks like a cross between a Norwegian Wild West and a picturesque medieval village, adventure activities by dog sled, a rich history of Sami culture, reindeer straight our of Frozen, and so much more. No where in Norway looks like Roros – this quaint town has a lot of character and makes for really unique travel photography. Winter is an ideal time for photography since the colors of the town really pop against the white of the snow. It’s also when the reindeer are at Rorosrein and the Sami experience is open for visitors. During the winter Roros also has cultural celebrations and festivals – most notably the 4 day Christmas Market. For my travel photography friends below are a few tips for making the most of your time in Roros:
- Come in winter. The reindeer are in town. Dog sledding is happening. And this historic UNESCO world heritage mining town pop against snowy back drop. And if you come when the Christmas lights are up it’s an added bonus.
- Time your visit for the Christmas Market – it’s a menagerie of colors, lights and exciting events such as reindeer races. This is an event full of special travel photography moments to capture.
- If you visit Roros in the winter be prepared for the potential that it can get really cold in Roros (it holds the record for the coldest place in Norway). Plan accordingly. Carry your batteries inside your jacket close to your skin to keep them from freezing and bring extra batteries since electronics tend to use batteries up quicker in colder climates. Bring plenty of warm gloves. If you can bring glove with lots of dexterity that you can operate your camera without taking off.
- Stay in Roros for a number of days so you can make the most of a couple of sunrises and sunsets – this will give you the best chance for having at least one really great sunrise and sunset where the colors pop.
- Explore the town at sunset and sunrise – it’s great for travel photography.
- Visit Rorosrein to photograph Sami culture and reindeer.
- Arrange a dog mushing excursion with Kennel Dolanvollen to get out into the countryside and capture unique landscape photographs. You may even be able to arrange a special sunset or sunrise excursion to capture the countryside in the best light. Contact them to inquire.
- For our food photographer friends take a food safari to meet the local farmers, beekeepers and herders. This is a great way to photograph traditional farming methods, to meet farming families and to photograph both the great food in the area and the people who make it.
- The Norwegians are very friendly, but still always ask before you take someone’s photo.
Planning Your Visit: Add Roros to Your Norway Trip
While locals have known about Roros’ charm for quite some time, more recently the town has been building a reputation with travelers as a top destination in Norway. With the Roros Regional Airport only an 8 minute drive from town it’s easy to link up visiting Roros with stops in Oslo, Bergen, the Fjordlands, Tromso and the Arctic region or anywhere else you are visiting in Norway.
Best Time To Go: The easy answer is whenever you plan to visit Norway. The lengthy answer is that winter and early spring can be some of the best times to visit Roros. The reindeer herds are still in the area. There’s plenty of snow on the ground for dog sledding. And the town looks beautiful covered in snow.
Number of Days Visiting Roros: Roros is a town that beckons you to linger. While you can see many highlights packed into one long day, the charm of this historic hamlet unfolds when you slow down and spend a few days experiencing the area like a local. Roros is also a great homebase to explore the wider area as well. I would recommend a minimum of 2 full days to make of the most of your time in Roros.
Do you need a car?: You don’t need a car in Roros. It’s a small town and nearly everything is within walking distance. For activities and locations farther afield your hotel or the tourism office can help arrange a transfer.
Getting There and Away: Daily flights connect Roros with Oslo and a number of other cities in Norway.
Genevieve Hathaway is a travel and documentary photographer and filmmaker. She is passionate about telling stories that empower women, local communities and conservation. Genevieve is the founder and storyteller-at-large for ArchaeoAdventures.