Tight against the banks of its namesake river, Drammen is in the Buskerud County, half an hour by car from Oslo. If you know Drammen but haven’t been here for a few years, now is the time to visit because the city has been rejuvenated especially on the riverside. There’s new housing in stylish glass blocks, as well as restaurants, cafes, shops, cultural amenities and a river promenade.
One of the emblems of the new city is the Ypsilon Bridge, impossible to ignore for its two tall pylons. And don’t forget the Spiralen, an unusual helix-shaped tunnel from the 1960s that deposits you to a vantage point over the city. Close by is a deep ravine, Norway’s longest heritage railway line and a historic mine that produced cobalt pigment for the Royal Copenhagen manufactory.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Drammen:
In the wild countryside north of Drammen is a 1,300-metre-long gorge, with sheer walls that reach 60 metres in height and a width of just four metres at the narrowest point.
In summer, when the river’s at its lowest you can walk through the gorge along the riverbed, making the climb to the Gamledammen lake.
You’ll just need a pair of sturdy walking shoes and waterproofs, and you’ll get to climb ladders up waterfalls and hop from rock to rock on a 90-minute hike in lush vegetation and with awesome scenery at every turn.
At Bragernesåsen directly north of Drammen is something out of the ordinary.
The Spiralen is a corkscrew tunnel that twists its way for 1,650 metres up to a scenic lookout above the city on the Skansen Ridge.
The Spiralen completes six whole turns, rising 22 metres with each one, and at the top you’ll be 200 metres above sea level.
Here you can park up, strike out on one of the walking trails or treat yourself to something at the cafe.
The “Spiraltoppen” also features an outdoor museum run by the Drammens Museum, with historic houses relocated here from across the Buskerud County.
The tunnel was constructed back in 1961 and King Olav V conducted the opening ceremony.
3. Bragernes Kirke
On an axis intersecting Drammen’s main square, Bragernes Torg, and the city bridge, the brick-built Bragernes Kirke was consecrated in 1871. The church is in the neo-Gothic style that was fashionable at the time, and its choir is oriented to the north rather than the east, as is the tradition.
The tower is 64 metres high and is set off by the Skansen ridge behind.
The must-see work inside is the altarpiece painted with an image of the Resurrection by the esteemed Romantic Nationalist artist Adolph Tidemand.
This painting is replicated at churches across Norway.
4. Bragernes Torg
Much of Drammen was obliterated in a great fire in 1866 and to prevent another catastrophe the new centre of the city left a lot of room between buildings, creating a real sense of scale.
That is how Drammen ended up with the largest city square in Norway, and one of the largest in Scandinavia.
The result is you can look right across the Drammen River and get unbroken views of both sides of the valley.
There are normally flower and vegetable stalls, and if you’re in luck you might catch the farmers’ market in spring and summer.
In winter Bragernes Torghas a big ice rink on the square while summer means street theatre and concerts.
5. Drammens Museum
The city museum is headquartered at Marienlyst Gård, a manor house from 1770, but also has locations at two other elegant properties, Austad Gård and Gulskogen Gård as well as the outdoor museum at Spiraltoppen.
On the south bank of the Drammen River, the Marienlyst Gård has decorative art collected from across the Buskerud County.
There are cabinets and chests with traditional Norwegian Rosemåling (flower patterns) from Numedal and Hallingdal, glassware, Baroque silver from the 18th century, as well as traditional costume, religious art, painting, handicrafts and agricultural tools.
6. Gulskogen Gård
In the early 19th century the Drammen River was lined with rows of stately manor houses like Gulskogen Gård.
Sadly, many were lost during industrialisation, but this one survived and was given its current Louis XVI style in 1804. The property was acquired at auction by Drammen’s richest merchant, Peter Nicolai Arbo in 1794 and remained in the Arbo family for several generations.
The manor house sits in an English landscape park, which has hardly changed for 200 years and is has a 265-metre lime alley, a maze and free-roaming peacocks.
The interiors are enriched with paintings by another famous Arbo, the Historical artist PN Arbo who was active in the mid to late 19th century.
7. Austad Gård
This estate has a history reaching back to the 14th century, and has had some distinguished owners, like the 17th-century general, Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve.
The old house burned down at the start of the 19th century and the current Neoclassical main building was raised between 1808 and 1813 on the preserved foundations.
Swedish prisoners of war were used as labour, and at that time Austad Gård was used as a summer home by the merchant and politician Peder von Cappelen.
The house is more or less the same as when it was built, except for a graceful Art Nouveau extension to the rear, from 1918. Go in for silk wallpapers, period furniture and paintings, and investigate the grounds, which have a stream, orchard and a splendid avenue.
8. Galleri Athene
On Grønland amid the glass buildings and refurbished factories on the south bank of the Drammen River is one of Norway’s biggest private art galleries.
Galleri Athene is on five floors and puts on exhibitions for painting, sculpture, graphic art and installations, and showcases both unknown and upcoming talent and already established names.
The gallery also stages live music, book launches and art seminars.
When we wrote this post in early 2018 the main exhibition was “Everlong” by the sculptor and installation artist Jørgen Frederik Scheel Haarstad.
9. Ypsilon Bridge
The biggest recent addition to Drammen’s cityscape is this cable-stayed pedestrian and cycle crossing, which opened in 2008 and was designed by the Arne Eggen architecture firm.
The Ypsilon bridge is so called because of its “Y” shape as it has two abutments on its north side at Bragernes and one on the south at Strømsø.
The most memorable feature though is the pair of angled 47-metre pylons towards the Bragernes bank, with 16 cables on either side.
The Ypsilon Bridge’s unveiling in 2008 was shown live on TV 2, Norway’s largest commercial television broadcaster.
In a building that resembles a rolling wave, Drammen has the biggest bathing facility in all of Norway.
The Drammensbadet has nine pools, five of which are inside and four outside.
Those outdoor pools are open June to August when you can drop your towel on the grass if it’s warm enough.
Inside there’s a 50-metre Olympic pool, where fitness swimmers can get their laps in, away from the mayhem of the wave pool, which has a climbing wall and a “power channel”. Along with the pools there’s a well-equipped fitness centre and a wellness area on the second floor, with jacuzzis, a sauna, steamroom and restaurant.
11. Drammens Teater
The city’s main cultural venue, the Drammens theatre is a special building by any measure.
It dates back to 1870 and has neo-Renaissance architecture inspired the theatres of Porte St.
Martin and Châtelet in Paris.
In 1993 the building was gutted by fire and everything except the external walls had to be rebuilt.
The man in charge of the project was architect Hans-Gabriel Finne, and the exuberant stuccowork, including a 45.3-metre stucco rosette on the ceiling, were composed by a workshop in Oslo.
And as for programme, there are pop, jazz and rock concerts, lectures, comedy shows, ballet performances and classical concerts.
12. Drammen River Cruise
The Drammen River is an indelible part of the city’s identity, so if you’re in town in summer it’s a great idea to head off on a river cruise on the city’s ship, the MS Drammen.
You’ll sail from the city centre ten kilometres up the river to the new bridge at Mjøndalen, and can catch some sun on the upper deck and buy drinks and snacks on board.
Since the whole city is squeezed into the valley, you’ll get a clear overview of the different quarters.
One, Øvre Storgate, was the city’s distillery district, where akvavit was produced and where the bulk of Drammen’s 19th-century Biedermeier architecture can be seen . Further along is the endearing Landfalløya district, settled by farmers in the 19th century.
This cobalt mine belonged to a company set up by King Christian VIII, and was excavated from 1776 to 1898. Its story is closely linked to the Royal Porcelain Factory in Copenhagen, because cobalt ore was needed to make the blue pigment in porcelain decoration.
The Blaafarveværket (literally Blue Colour Works), produced the pigment and cobalt glass on site, but eventually went out of business when synthetic alternatives were invented.
There are eight kilometres of mines to navigate, as well as impressive quarries and mining exhibits that show the evolution in technology between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Above ground the complex is also a major art destination with three new temporary exhibitions each year by famous Norwegian and international artists.
And one more element not to be missed is the mighty Haugsfossen waterfall, which has a 39-metre drop.
14. Fossesholm Manor
If you’ve developed a passion for Buskerud County’s historic estates there’s another, 20 minutes away in Øvre Eiker.
The manor goes back to the 16th century, but in the 1760s the house was given a Rococo rebuild which remains today.
You’re invited to tour the interiors, which are still in their 18th-century Rococo splendour and embellished with colourful murals by the Swede Eric Gustaf Tunmarck.
There’s a separate Baroque bell tower in the yard, and you can pore over diverse exhibitions on art, the Resistance in the Second World War and dolls.
Make your way to Vikersund on the southern shore of the Tyrifjorden and you can ride on the longest heritage train line in Norway.
The Krøderbanen will take you from Vikersund up to Krøderen on a 26-kilometre line that opened in 1872. Services continued until 1985 when it was shut down, and it was only in 2011 than the Krøderbanen was resurrected as a visitor attraction that runs from May to October.
The stations still look a lot like they did at the end of the 19th century, and you’ll travel in vintage carriages pulled by steam a steam locomotive.
When get to Krøderen, the station is a beautiful piece of heritage with exhibitions about the line, a souvenir shop and a cafe still in the style of the 1920s.