When visiting Southern Norway, it's highly likely you'll arrive by ferry in Kristiansand with your family. It would be a miss not to stay a day or two, as Kristiansand is fun for kids! In winter, this port city turns into a magical Christmas town. A Christmas market, an ice rink in the church square, and a light show on the grand cathedral with music – we experience all this and more and love to share our stories with you.

christmas market

Get into the Christmas spirit in the streets of Kristiansand

We start to feel it as we drive from the ferry into the center of Kristiansand towards our hotel. The streets are festively lit, and at every shop or restaurant, there are Christmas trees adorned with lights. If you weren't in the Christmas mood yet, it won't take long to get there!

gult bygg på hjørnet

Markens Gate is the main street in Kristiansand's center. Our teenager, Fleur, is eager to head there straight away. Not just for the illuminated streets, but to get in some last-minute shopping. Large clothing chains, as well as charming small boutiques, restaurants, and cozy coffee cafes, are all to be found here. We have two hours to shop before the stores close for the Christmas holidays. Popping in and out of shops is not a bother this time. With the temperature outside at minus one degree, it's a nice way to keep warming up.

lysshow på domkirka

A spectacle of lights on the church tower

Yes, certainly we watch a film on the church tower! We enjoy this during the nightly light spectacle shown on the cathedral in Kristiansand's heart. The display isn't just about stunning visuals and videos; it's complemented by delightful music too. Lasting around fifteen minutes, this light show is a must-see if you're around the Christmas market. Post-show, the ice rink beside the cathedral is a great next stop. For us though, it's time to dine, so we head to a restaurant among the many in Markens Gate.


Tip: For a light-hearted and culturally rich film during the festive season, watch “Christmas as Usual”. It’s the heartwarming tale of Thea, a Norwegian, introducing her Indian fiancé, Jashan, to her family's Christmas customs. Through this film, we discovered the Norwegian tradition of “Lille Julaften” (Little Christmas Eve) celebrated on the 23rd of December.

bod på julemarkedet

Taste local delicacies or pick up a last-minute gift at the cozy Christmas market

We arrive in Kristiansand on Christmas Eve’s eve, the most significant day of Christmas celebrated in Norway. Luckily, we catch the tail end of the Christmas market, held near the cathedral until Christmas. The scent of warm local snacks wafts from various corners. There are also numerous stalls where you can find unique gifts, like a warm scarf or slippers – essential in a South Norwegian winter!

The Kristiansand Christmas market, open from late November until 23rd December, is set up in the large square by the cathedral. It's an unmissable sight when wandering through the city center.

snowman and ice rink

Ice skating in front of the cathedral

As you walk from Markens Gate into the Christmas market, the ice rink is virtually unmissable. Nestled among festively lit trees and set against the backdrop of the Rådhus and the cathedral, this rink is open to all. Bring your own skates or, if you didn’t pack them, rentals are available. For beginners, whether they're little ones or adults, there are eye-catching orange seal-shaped skating aids.

When we get the chance to visit the rink, it's raining, and we've already spent a morning at the zoo. So, we're more inclined towards a comforting cup of hot tea and Christmas cookies back in our hotel room. Interestingly, there's also a small curling area at the rink’s entrance, definitely worth trying out at least once.

safaribil i dyreparken

A true safari experience at Dyreparken Kristiansand

In Kristiansand, we embark on a safari adventure. Surprisingly, we encounter numerous wild animals up close! Of course, it’s not a real safari, but visiting the Africa section of Dyreparken Kristiansand, especially in the midst of winter with fresh snow from that morning, certainly feels like one. We hop into a jeep and, through the windows, witness lions playing in their 'wild' habitat. It’s our first time seeing these majestic creatures so close in a zoo, roaming freely in a vast territory. An intriguing feature is a tunnel with cage bars underneath their area, allowing the lions to literally walk over you. Our teenager finds it thrilling, excitedly running through the tunnel at the sight of a lion. The other animals in this expansive zoo also have large territories for free roaming. We're usually not keen on zoos due to animal welfare concerns, but here, the animals seem well cared for, with no signs of frustration in cramped enclosures. Despite some animals staying indoors in winter, we still get to see many up close, making it a rewarding visit. There’s even a Norwegian section, where we spot four serene wolves in the snow, a rare sight as they often hide in their large habitat.

dyr i Dyreparken

But Dyreparken is more than just animals. It also features a water park, toboggan run, a haunted house, and many more attractions. Families with members of all ages can easily spend a whole day or more here. It's no surprise they’re opening a new hotel in 2024 right at the entrance, offering views of the park! For more information about the zoo, attractions, opening hours, and accommodation options, check Dyreparken's website. It's just a fifteen-minute drive from the center of Kristiansand.

Still haven’t seen enough Christmas lights?

Since we visit the zoo on 24th December, Norway's main Christmas day, it closes at 1 pm. After two hours of relaxing and warming up in our hotel room, we're ready for another outing. This time, it's an indoor activity. As we can't get enough of the beautiful Christmas lights on the streets, we decide to go glow golfing! Just a ten-minute drive from our hotel, we find Glowing Golf Kristiansand. Conveniently, there's a car park right next to the building.

jente som spiller golf

It's been a few years since we last played, and this feels like a golf experience 2.0. We're given 3D glasses to make the experience even more special. Instead of pen and paper, we keep score via an app, which lets us see who's leading and adds challenges for each hole. It's a fun activity for both young and older children in the family. And when you're finished, don’t forget to open the large safe next to the exit for a fun surprise! Check out Glowing Golf Kristiansand’s website for current information on prices and opening hours.

Fisketur i Kristiansand

Hunting for the perfect cod for Christmas dinner

On Christmas Day, we do something we've never done before: join fisherman Ryan from Anglerpilot on his boat to catch the perfect cod for our Christmas dinner. This is a traditional dish in parts of Norway, unlike the usual "ribbe" (pork rib) or "pinnekjøtt" (lamb rib).

gløgg i to glass

Fortunately, we're greeted with clear skies and sunshine, although it's chillier on the water. Ryan provides warm overalls, ensuring safety and warmth. We cruise along Kristiansand's coast, admiring unique sights like an island with a large bunker, a waterfall, and Norway's biggest cannon. After some discussions and an open offer from Ryan to change plans, like making an extra stop at an island, we head to our first fishing spot. No luck initially, but we enjoy a picnic with coffee, tea, and non-alcoholic Scandinavian Gløgg on an island, along with mandarins and Norwegian “Kakemann”. Our second stop doesn't yield much either, but at the third, we catch a pollock, not a cod, but still a great find! Four hours in, we return, having thoroughly enjoyed Kristiansand from the water. For more information, check Anglerpilot's website.

rom med utsikt

Sleeping with a view
Instead of heading to the ice rink, after a rainy day at Dyreparken Kristiansand, we retreat to our comfortable family room at Scandic Kristiansand Bystranda. The room features a cozy sofa and facilities to make coffee and tea, complemented by treats we brought from home. We're treated to a stunning view over the small beach of Kristiansand, the marina, and the large port where ferries and large cruise ships dock, including the famous and enormous Aida cruise ship anchored during our stay.

Beneath the hotel lies the Aquarama pool. From our warm room, we watch people swimming in heated pools and groups of children taking quick dips in the sea – a typical Norwegian custom. Unfortunately, the pool is closed over the Christmas period, or else we would have definitely visited. For current opening hours, check Aquarama’s website.

basseng ute

In Kristiansand, the renowned Danish restaurant Skagen is always open during Christmas. On 24th December, they offer a limited menu, but on 25th December, the full menu is available. However, as it’s primarily a pub, it's not typically welcoming to children on other days. We were allowed in with Fleur until 9 pm after discussing with the owner.

Tip: If you're in Norway on 24th and 25th December, remember that almost all restaurants are closed, except for hotel breakfasts. Consider staying in an apartment to cook your meals or research dining options in advance.

Fjord line ferje

Best way to get to Kristiansand from the Netherlands
From Utrecht, a 950-kilometer journey, take the daily Fjord Line ferry from Hirtshals in Denmark to Kristiansand. The four-hour journey brings you directly to Kristiansand's center. Onboard, time flies with indoor and outdoor play areas and a scavenger hunt for kids. We enjoyed relaxing with a view, working, reading, and even napping, arriving refreshed and ready to explore Kristiansand in its festive glory. A great start or end to a holiday in Southern Norway!