We had a very short break of 4 days in February and an old dream of seeing the northern lights. Over a decade ago we did a trip to Norway, above the Arctic Circle, and got a very faint glimpse of it.
This time we decided to rely on Jan Sortland’s expertise—he promised that if we spent at least 3 nights in Alta, the chances of seeing it would be quite high.
That’s what we did: We spent 4 nights at a beautiful hotel in a very quiet area and got to see the lights twice! Also, taking advantage of the beautiful sunny days, we went husky sledding and snowshoeing. But the most amazing experience—which Jan strongly recommended—was reindeer herding with a Sami family, learning more about their culture and meeting one of the very few female herders.
Feeding the reindeers with the Arctic sunset as our background was magical!
My husband, Ryan Ogg and I and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28, 2023 through January 6, 2024. Will is graduating from high school this Spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago). We stopped in Copenhagen on the way to check out another city and have a couple of fun dinners out before our rural adventures. We were not disappointed by any of it! It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture. Afterwards, we had a guide and driver who showed us the highlights. With just a day, we didn’t want to spend too much time in any one location, but got to see the Little Mermaid, the Royal Castle and a couple of the horses, parliament, the outer edges of the hippie commune of Christiana, and a few more historic sights.
The next day we went out into the countryside, driving along the seaside to the Hamlet castle and then inland to another, before heading to the airport and to Oslo. Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs. It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snow shoeing, and king-crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in Northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.
When looking for a place to spend the Thanksgiving holidays this year, I decided to book a city trip (mostly) versus some of the more active trips that Wendy’s travel planners have booked for me over the last year or so. One hotel, one time to unpack. Jan Sortland, with whom I had worked on a recent, more active trip to Norway, did a phenomenal job of planning the trip that I had envisioned. Instead of supersizing each day with multiple activities, I was interested in a combination of privately guided days, interspersed with unscripted days to explore (or not) on my own and at my own pace. Jan listened, and delivered exactly what I asked for.
Copenhagen is a gorgeous and engaging city, as are the ‘burbs and towns the further away from the city center one goes. What I did not appreciate ahead of my arrival was just how much of a kick start to the Christmas season this trip would be. Copenhagen was already decorated for the “Jul” season and a number of Christmas markets had already opened on the day of my arrival. The hotel that Jan chose had everything that I was looking for and was perfectly located on Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square) for the market on the square, harbor walks and for great shopping in general.
Britt, the guide that Jan arranged in Copenhagen, did a great job of orienting me to the city and introducing me to the art and architecture, urban development and repurposing of buildings and land, food and spirits, culture and moods of Copenhagen’s various neighborhoods. Britt was thoughtful, listened intently and had great ideas for what I might like as we got to know each other. When I inquired about more local, neighborhood markets, she took me to a “pop-up” Christmas market off the beaten path, that would only be there for two days. I would have likely missed out on it altogether had I been looking for it myself. As we made our way out of the city on other days to Fredericksborg, Charlottenlund, Elsinore and Kronborg, she introduced me to locally made products, local artisans, craftspeople and leaders in design, and took me to several sweet churches tucked away in quiet neighborhoods. In addition to all of that, we somehow managed to share with each other our backgrounds and respective family histories. Truly a terrific ambassador for Copenhagen and a delightful woman.
Since Copenhagen and southern Sweden are conveniently connected by the iconic Oresund Bridge (think “The Bridge” on Prime Video), Jan planned a day trip for me to southern Sweden toward the end of the trip. Pía, my driver, and Annette, my guide, were both from southern Sweden and were a delightful addition to my experience for the day. We first made the drive, followed by a scenic walk on the Baltic Sea coastline, to see Ales Stenar, a preserved stone megalith (think Stonehenge) in the shape of a ship on the cliffs above the harbor town of Kaseberga. Fascinating, and a little bit of much-needed exercise. On the return trip we stopped for lunch and a tour of scenic Ystad, followed by a late afternoon tour of the coastal town of Malmo before returning to Copenhagen.
Last, but in no way least, Jan alerted me early on in our trip planning that Copenhagen is a city known for its food and in particular, its Michelin-star restaurants. When I expressed my interest, he used his “fixer” to secure a table at Geranium (ranked the best restaurant in the world in 2022), one of the two 3-star Michelin restaurants in Copenhagen. It was an experience more than a meal, which included a private tour of the wine cellar and the kitchen. From beginning to end, a visual as well as gastronomic experience. I am so very glad that I followed Jan’s lead on that.
A word about the temperatures and the crowds.… I’m always looking to get away from crowds, lines and traffic and I don’t mind traveling in the off season to do so (as Wendy so often suggests). The weather in Copenhagen at this time of year alternates between cool and crisp with gorgeous, blue skies to heavy and overcast, with occasional rain. No worries if one packs with that in mind.
I cannot say enough about the lengths to which Jan, his staff, the local guides and drivers went to make this trip seamless. Not one detail was missed. It was a terrific and different Thanksgiving getaway that has me prepped for Christmas earlier than usual. Thank you Wendy and Jan!
Just returned from a solo trip to Norway September 11-20, 2023. After my pet sitter bailed on me at the last minute, I reached out to Jan Sortland to see what he could do to adjust the 3-week driving itinerary through Norway that he and I had just finalized. Jan was very flexible, gave me several options to choose from and before long we had whittled a 21-day trip down to 10, maintaining the main focus of trip…seeing the northern lights.
I started out at Sorrisniva Wilderness Lodge in Alta, above the Arctic Circle in the northern fjords. By day I was entertained with king-crab fishing in Storekorsnes, lunch with and storytelling by a local reindeer herder, a visit to the nearby UNESCO site featuring northern Europe’s largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock art) made by hunter-gathers dating back 2000-7000 years, and a boat ride on the Alta River with Tor, one of the lodge owners. Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the lights…. It was such a great experience. I had been coached beforehand that not everyone gets to see the lights every night and sometimes not at all over a period of several nights. Fortunately I saw them each of the four nights that I was there and got some great photos. On my last night in Alta I came back early enough to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate from the warmth of my bed. It was an experience that I will never forget.
I had shared with Jan that I had a very broad range of interests coming into this trip, so the tenor and tempo changed quickly when I arrived back in Oslo. At my request, it was all about art, architecture, history and culture. In a very fun surprise, I was treated to a WOW Moment as I walked out of the elevator my first morning there. Jan knew from our trip-planning discussions that I am involved with a professional theatre company in my hometown and had made arrangements for his sister-in-law, Ingjerd Egeberg, a Norwegian actress (and national treasure), to spend an hour with me prior to the start of my planned day. Over coffee we had a lovely discussion about the theatre and then walked across the street together to the National Theatre for a backstage tour. It was truly delightful! Thank you again, Jan and Wendy! And THEN the day started.… The museums, art, architecture and parks in Oslo were beautiful…the Munch (The Scream) Museum, City Hall, the Opera House, the Deichman Bjorvika (the world’s best new public library), the Nobel Peace Center, the Harbour Promenade in Oslo Fjord, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The next day was spent away from the city at the Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, one of the most important outdoor sculpture parks for contemporary art.
And then it was time to head home. I cannot say enough about Wendy’s suggestion to use Jan.… His detailed planning, choice of hotels, guides, drivers, and restaurant suggestions were all spot-on. I enjoyed myself so much on this trip that I had Jan plan a 10-day itinerary to Denmark for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holidays. And next summer I’ll work in the driving portion of the Norway trip that I missed out on this year.