Elicé Gandrudbakken (right) and Marie Nygård are master students at Molde University College and representatives of iFri. Photo: Rabah Taif

Friluftsliv: the most Norwegian thing

Have you ever wondered why is it so common for people in Norway to be outdoors every week? Is it the influence of Friluftsliv lifestyle? We will try to investigate this phenomenon.


It’s an ordinary winter morning. It’s very cold outside, a time when you want to stay at home while drinking hot coffee. With sadness, you need to go to university. Surprisingly, hikers, runners, and even skiers can meet you on the way there. Nothing will distract them from friluftsliv, including the weather.

Umid Mirzaev, a first year master student at Molde University College is on a traditional Norwegian walk with Norwegians. Photo: Rabah Taif

But what does the Norwegian word “Friluftsliv” mean? This word could be literally translated as “open-air-life” and describes the connection of people to nature. In order to know more about this Norwegian concept of living, we decided to ask master’s students Marie Nygård (23) and Elice Gandrudbakken (27) from iFri (a group that organizes outdoor activities at HiMolde), and friendly Oskar Solenes who is an associate professor of Faculty of Business Administration and Social Sciences.

«It means joy, happiness and just being free» – Elicé Gandrudbakken, student

Why is spending time in the open air is an important part of Norwegians?

Marie: «Maybe because it is something of the best that Norway can offer. Our nature is very beautiful and most countries in the world don’t have the same kind of nature. We are very proud of it. It’s a lot of stuff that we don’t have in Norway, that’s why we need to take advantage of our nature. If you like outdoors you know the great feeling you get when you go hiking, it’s a special kind of joy.»

Elicé: «It’s a part of us. When you grow up it’s what you used to do because there are no other things to do. Every Sunday just go out with family and friends – that’s what you do when you’re a kid.  It’s a part of the Norwegian heritage.»

What does friluftsliv mean for you?

Elicé: «It means joy, happiness and just being free. When you are walking in the mountains, especially alone … It’s just beautiful.»

Marie: «I feel like friluftsliv is the most important interest that I have. I plan my life for getting hikes and outdoor activities in my free days because it gives me such much joy. It’s the most important thing for me except my family and friends, of course. I would rather choose to go on a hike than going to a party.» (smiles)

How often are you being outdoors?

Elicé: «I try to go at least twice per week. But it’s hard to get it done because of studying. If I could, I would go every day.» (laughs)

Marie: « For me, it depends on the weather. If it’s good, I can go maybe 5 hikes per week, but if the weather is bad – at least two times per week.»

Do you remember when you started friluftsliv?

Elicé: «We never actually started doing it because you’re just born in it. For example, our parents used to put us sleeping outside. In kindergarten, we spent a lot of time outdoors. We say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. It means that you need just to go outside. It’s a part who we are.»

Marie: «We also say that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. It’s just part of our culture. It’s been always part of our lives.»

Elicé: «Of course someone could disagree. I have a friend and she hates being outdoors. It depends on family, but I think most Norwegians would identify themselves with outdoors.»

What are your favorite hiking trails that you can recommend to others?

Elicé: «Romsdalseggen was pretty nice for me, there are also small hikes here in Molde which are nice, you don’t have to hike for 6 hours. I mean, Varden could provide beautiful view.»

Marie: « There is Melen in Eide, it’s about one hour from here. I like a lot to hike there. Here in Molde my favorite hiking route is probably Såta, which is very nice.»

Elicé: «We aslo have a hike which is called Molden in Luster, it’s in at end of Sognefjord. It’s so beautiful, you can see the whole fjord.»

Marie: «The most beautiful hike I have ever been to, except Romsdalseggen, must be Skålatårnet in Stryn.»

Oskar Solenes, an associate professor of the faculty of business administration and social sciences. Photo: Rabah Taif

«Friluftsliv is a very strong part of Norwegian identity» – Oskar Solenes, associate professsor

What has formed the behavior and habits of spending time outdoors in Norway?

Oskar Solenes: «There are long traditions for outdoor life in Norway. It has been since the middle of  the 19th century, and it was closely linked with the understanding of Norway as an independent nation. Outdoor lifestyle was also linked with music, painting, friluftsliv was related to the national romantic era.

The other thing is that at least since the 1930s, the Norwegian government has spent money to secure public access to nature. Norway has laws and regulations that everybody could be outdoors more or less everywhere. So, there is no such thing as private property in nature.

In addition, skiing was invented by Norwegians and we are born with skis on our feet. Winter holidays, and especially Easter holidays, have a long tradition in Norway: to get out to the mountains and to ski. It’s also because we have comparatively longer Eastern holidays than the other countries.  On the other hand, if you go and see how many people are actually walking outdoors or who are spending their entire Easter holidays in the mountains for skiing, I think the figures will show that it’s not everybody who does it.

It’s a very strong part of Norwegian identity that we love being outdoors. We also love to post it on Facebook whenever we are on a hike. We always brag about our mountains and our fjords whenever we are travelling. Our nature is one of the things that we are proud of in many cases.»

What are the advantages of being outdoors?

Oskar Solenes: «There are a lot of physical advantages, it’s good for health including breathing and balance. There has been done many kinds of research on how being in a natural environment has an influence on wellbeing and improves mental health. If you add animals, for instance, if you walk with your dog it’s another component that can help to calm you down.»

Which hiking trails you can personally recommend?

Oskar Solenes: There is a lot of trail in the surrounding of Molde. For example, hiking to Varden. There are also many tracks just behind the city, they are quite nice. Then there are some mountains out in Fræna, Skoften for example. All of them are quite easily accessible hiking trails. If you are going to do rougher hiking then, of course, you should choose Åndalsnes and Romsdalseggen both in summer and winter for hiking and skiing. Of course, you need to consider all things that are related to safety, especially during the wintertime.