Although bite-sized by European standards, Trondheim is in fact Norway’s third largest city, and lies in the Trøndelag county where the Nidelva River empties into the Trondheimsfjord. The city was rebuilt according to a Baroque plan following a fire in the 17th century and is under the watch of the second largest cathedral in northern Europe.
From 1164 to 1906 this was where Norway’s kings were crowned, and the adjacent Archbishop’s Palace holds the country’s crown jewels, or Regalia of Norway.
Trondheim has more than 30,000 students, infusing the city with style and nightlife. And sightseers can saunter through the cute Bakklandet quarter, known for its quaint wooden warehouses and browse high-quality museums for decorative arts and antique musical instruments.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Trondheim:
1. Nidaros Cathedral
It’s hard to sum up the importance of the world’s northernmost Medieval cathedral.
Norway’s National Sanctuary is a Romanesque and Gothic church built from 1070 to 1300 on the burial place of Olav II of Norway, who lost his life at the Battle of Nilestad in 1030. A year after he died he was canonised as Saint Olav, the patron saint of Norway, and from that point on his grave became a venerated pilgrimage site for people from all over Northern Europe.
Norway’s kings were traditionally crowned at Nidaros Cathedral, while for sightseers the most famous image is the western facade, full of sculptures of saints and kings flanking a sublime rose window.
These tend to be newer than they look, dating from a 19th-century restoration and still being carved up to the 1980s.
The crypt under the nave has tomb monuments going back to the Middle Ages.
2. Ringve Museum
Posted on high ground, the Ringve Museum is in an 18th-century manor with views of both Trondheim and its fjord.
It was the childhood home of the 18th-century nobleman Peter Tordenskjold, and was acquired by the Bachke family following an auction in 1878. One son, Christian Anker Bachke moved in with his wife, the Russian Victoria Rostin Bachke.
The couple never had children but invested their fortune in musical instruments, building a collection that now numbers 1,500 pieces.
Informative guided tours are offered in summer, when, against gracefully furnished rooms named after composers, you can see an Amati violin from 1612, a spinet and clavichord from the 18th century, Hardanger fiddles and an extremely rare cecilium from the 19th century.
Make sure to take a turn in the 13-hectare botanical gardens around the museum.
You can thank Trondheim’s 20th-century residents that this cute quarter on the east side of the Nidelva River is still here.
A new main road was due to be laid through Bakklandet in the 1960s, but long-term residents, students and architects all protested and the plans were shelved.
Between the Bakke Bridge and Old Town Bridge, Bakklandet is a small neighbourhood of painted wooden warehouses, which blossomed as Trondheim’s first suburb in the mid-17th century.
The buildings were both a place of work and living space for merchants and artisans, and on the river some of the wharfside buildings stand on wooden piles.
On Bakklandet’s cobblestone streets are galleries, design shops, cafes and restaurants with old-time wooden storefronts and ample outdoor seating on warmer days.
4. National Museum of Decorative Arts
Just a block from the Nidaros Cathedral, the National Museum of Decorative Arts has amassed a wealth of arts and crafts since it was founded in 1893. The present venue is from 1968 and can only display a fraction of its enormous reserve.
But you can marvel at Trøndelag silverware from the 16th and 17th centuries, Norwegian glassware from the 1700s and whole Art Nouveau interiors designed at the start of the 20th-century by the Belgian virtuoso Henry van de Velde.
These are just the basis for a fabulous Art Nouveau collection, while there are also works from the post-war “Scandinavian design” movement, jewellery and 20 carpets by the textile artist Hannah Ryggen.
5. Trøndelag Folk Museum
Eighty historic buildings from across Trøndelag have been moved to this outdoor museum.
The Trøndelag Folk Museum is one of the biggest attractions of its kind in Norway and is all the more atmospheric for the ruins of Sverresborg castle dominating the site.
Dating to Norway’s 12th-century Civil War era, the castle was the stronghold for Sverre of Norway who fought against Magnus V of Norway for the right to the throne.
Dating from around the same time as the ruins is the majestic Haltdalen stave church, going back to 1170. The ruins, historic town buildings (shops and local amenities) and rural monuments (mills and farmhouses) have a small cast of characters in traditional dress.
There’s also an indoor museum about folk culture in Trøndelag where you can peruse old crafts, furniture, costumes, home interiors, modes of transport and children’s toys.
6. Archbishop’s Palace Museum
Just south of the cathedral is the striking episcopal palace, around a big courtyard and with a tough Gothic gatehouse that has ogival portals.
The Archbishop’s Palace Museum is partly in a construction and grants a look inside the 1,000-year history of the cathedral and its diocese.
There are exciting architectural fragments like window tracery, as well as liturgical sculpture and the solemn soapstone interiors of the palace itself.
In the Middle Ages the bishops minted their own coins and you can see the mint just as it was discovered in an archaeological dig.
Also on show in a small room at the palace is the Royal Regalia, including the 200-year-old Crown of Norway, festooned with gemstones and crested with an amethyst cross.
A modern landmark for Trondheim, Rockheim is a museum for pop and rock music in an eye-catching venue.
A repurposed granary from 1918 has had an LED-clad cube fixed to its roof, with changing patterns and colours on its walls.
Full of touchscreens and multimedia, the permanent exhibition is a timeline of Norwegian popular music from the 50s to right now, and each room deals with a new decade.
All the way through you’re encouraged to get involved, testing your finger-work on an electric guitar, helped by a projection of the fabled Norwegian axeman Ronni Le Tekrø.
In the hip-hop room are turntables and breakdancing tutorials, while you can also create your own avatar to navigate 3D exhibits.
8. Kristiansten Fortress
On a hill above the right bank of the Nidelven River, Kristiansten Fortress was the main component of Trondheim’s new layout after the great city fire of April 1681.The fortress also helped plug a vulnerable spot in the east of Trondheim.
This was only put to the test once, in 1718 during the Great Northern War when it fended off an attack by Swedish forces led by the general Carl Gustaf Armfeldt.
In the 20th century the fortress saw a different kind of bloodshed when Norwegian patriots were executed here by the Germans, followed after the war by Nazi collaborators during the “legal purge in Norway”. You can go into the spartan, whitewashed defensive tower, the Donjonen, poke around the ramparts and view the city and river from the gun positions.
9. Old Town Bridge
As vantage points go, you can’t do much better than the pedestrian and cycle bridge crossing the Nidelva River at Bakklandet.
There has been a crossing at this place since 1681 when the Kristiansten Fort was being raised.
It was replaced in 1861 with the current emblematic structure, all the prettier for the Lykkens Portal, a wooden gate on the west side.
On the bridge you can see the cathedral spire and the rows of painted wooden warehouses on the riverfront.
Also historic is the excise house on the west side, today housing a kindergarten.
10. Torvet (Town Square)
Still a place for commerce and public events, Trondheim’s main square has been at its current site since the new city layout was drawn up by Johan Caspar de Cicignon in 1681. Immediately your gaze will land on the column in the centre, which has a statue of Olav Tryggvason, the first King of Norway, who founded Trondheim in the 10th century.
This monument is from 1921 and if you step back you’ll see that the column is part of an enormous sundial laid with cobblestones.
The southern end is packed with market stalls, selling Trondheim souvenirs, flowers and jewellery on the southwest corner, and groceries and specialty foods on the southeast side.
11. Trondheim Science Museum
In the confines of the old Norges Bank building is one of the new wave of science attractions promoting learning through interaction and play.
The museum has stations that explore topics like the human body, mathematics, weather, technology and agriculture in creative ways.
So kids can play “mindball”, which tests their ability to focus, give a weather forecast, take on a chess-playing robot and call on their sense of logic in a cargo-stacking simulator.
Aside from the permanent exhibition there’s also a chemistry lab, robot lab, “experiment club”, a schedule of fun lectures and a planetarium.
Visible in the Trondheimsfjord near the mouth of the Nidelva River is an islet that has had a busy past for such a small place.
Munkholmen was where the head of both Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s 10th-century de facto ruler, and his killer, Sigurdsson’s slave Tormod Kark, were put on pikes as a warning to visitors.
After that, Munkholmen was a Benedictine monastery until this was dissolved in the Reformation.
In the 17th century it became a fort designed by the Luxembourgish military mastermind Johan Caspar von Cicignon.
In that time the fort was also a prison holding famous historical figures like Peder Griffenfeld, the statesman and confidant to King Christian V of Denmark, who would spend 18 years on the island after being accused of treason.
You can come to Munkholmen by boat in summer for the daily tour and treat yourself to coffee and cake at the cafe.
Highest of all is the lookout from this radio tower erected in the southeast of the city in 1985. The Tyholttårnet is 124 metres tall, making it the tallest building in all of Norway.
At 74 metres there’s a revolving restaurant that makes one turn per hour, so you should get to see the whole of Trondheim and satisfying perspective of the fjord in one sitting.
If you just want the view there’s an observation deck on the level below the restaurant.
A few metres from the Old Town Bridge in Bakklandet is the world’s only ski lift for cyclists.
The CycloCable, formerly known as the Trampe bicycle lift, shuttles up a daunting hill with a 20% gradient from 07:00 to 20:00 every day.
This is a new, updated version of a lift that has been here in some form since 1993 and was invented by the Trondheim resident Jarle Wanvik who was sick of arriving at work exhausted after pedalling up the hill.
If you’re touring Trondheim by bike you could use the lift to get to the Kristiansten Fortress.
To work the lift, you push a start button and a foothold pops out of the ground, and this hauls you to the top, provided you can steer and keep your balance!
Facing the Trondheimsfjord and looking across to Munkholmen from the pier is the largest indoor waterpark in Norway.
Just the ticket for rainy days, nearly all of Pirabadet’s attractions are in one cavernous hall, cleverly designed so that grown-ups can bathe in peace while kids can burn off some energy on slides and in the wave pool.
Serious swimmers can get their exercise here, while for relaxation there’s a “wellbeing pool”, a jacuzzi, saunas and a solarium.
Piradet also has a cafe and snack bar if you get peckish.