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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Lillehammer grabbed the glory of hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics, but 38 miles (61 km) to the south, the town of Hamar shared in the fun. Two decades plus later, Norway’s 20th-largest city still keeps its two Olympic venues active, and both absolutely warrant a visit.
Hamar OL-Amfi, also known as Nordlyshallen (Norwegian for “Hamar Olympic Amphitheater,” and “Northern Lights Hall,” respectively), hosted both the short track speed skating and figure skating events of the XVII Olympic Winter Games. Speed skating on the long track was held 2.5 miles (4km) away at the Vikingskipet. Though there was preliminary talk of possibly hosting ice hockey in Hamar, organizers eventually decided to keep hockey in Lillehammer. It was only after the Olympics when ice hockey finally moved into Hamar OL-Amfi, in the form of the Storhamar Dragons of Norway’s top level GET-ligaen. Nordlyshallen is an excellent home for its adopted sport.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Vaffler: Norwegian waffles. That's really all you need. Grab a cup of coffee and a waffle (NOK 20 each, about $2.40 US, or EUR 2.32 as of early 2015), add a scoop of jelly and some sugar, and you'll fit in with the Storhamar faithful.
Truth be told, the waffles aren't the best you'll find. Concession workers bring them out fresh on large platters, and despite their popularity, sometimes the waffles get cold before a new batch comes out. But even a cold waffle is a treat. There's a reason why these are the go-to game day snack in Norway. Your other options are sufficient (think hot dogs and Cokes), but nothing remarkable.
If you want to bring in your own snacks, well, no one objected to our bottle of water.
Though not a giant rink by international standards, Nordlyshallen is the largest hockey arena in Norway's top league by a significant margin. Sellout crowds are exceptionally rare, but even with a crowd of only half of capacity, the arena doesn't feel empty. The crowds do their part, but most of the atmosphere is set by the building and the way the team uses it.
Get here on time to take everything in. You'll want to make sure you're in your seat well before faceoff, and there's a lot to see first. Walk around the brick and hardwood-lined concourse. Look at the photos, posters, and trophies lining the walls. Look out the windows and across Mjøsa, Norway's largest lake.
Peek out to the ice surface and remember the violent rivalry between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Think back to Tonya Harding's skate blade fiasco as she took to the ice for her Olympic Free Skate. Divine retribution or another case of bad luck? Either way, that happened here.
As players prepare to take to the ice, a soloist belts out a live performance of "Storhamar, vårt Storhamar," a team anthem that is both powerful and evocative, even if you don't speak Norwegian. Then, colorful spotlights and a slick intro video cut to Green Day transports us out of the mid-90s to today as the players to the ice. A modernish scoreboard at center ice shows us the video, while retro (are the mid-'90s retro?) dot-matrix displays leftover from the 1994 Olympics give us additional information.
Seats are comfortable but not remarkable, unless you're sitting in one of the sections originally designed for judges or international media back in 1994. In that case, you'll have a desk! Sightlines are good from just about everywhere, and no views are obstructed.
The Dragons play in the residential Storhamar neighborhood of Hamar, from which they take their name. There are a handful of nearby sites that are worth seeing. A five-minute drive (or 25 minute walk) towards Lake Mjøsa's waterfront will bring you to the Hedmarksmuseet, a large open-air museum that contains, among other attractions, the ruins of the old Hamar cathedral. Though most locals will have been many times and will see no need to make this a game day stop, the site is absolutely worth visiting for an out-of-towner. Originally completed around 1200 AD, the ruins now sit in a modern (and controversial) glass enclosure. Access to the park is free, while certain attractions inside have an entry fee.
Even closer to the arena is Maxi Storsenter, a modern shopping mall where you can grab a bite to eat or do some shopping before the game. A true stadium journeyman will also make a point at popping into the smaller, older rink next door.
When we saw the attendance, we couldn't believe it. The fans made the crowd feel twice as large as it actually was. Not that they were particularly loud or rowdy, but something about this arena and the Storhamar Dragons fans means that a crowd of 3,000 in a 6,000-capacity rink just doesn't feel too small.
The area behind one goal is reserved for fans of the visiting team. Directly across the rink, the Storhamar Supporterunion fan club stands, sings, and supports the home team throughout the match. In a country where hockey isn't the main sport, their passion and dedication is especially noteworthy.
By car, European route E 6 serves Hamar. For those taking advantage of Oslo's growing role as a hub for low cost airlines like Norwegian Air Shuttle, quick and comfortable trains link Hamar hourly with central Oslo and the Oslo airport in Gardermoen. Should you want to relive the rest of the 1994 games, trains continue to (and arrive from) Lillehammer.
Hamar OL-Amfi is located about 1.7 miles (2.7 km) from Hamar's railway station. If it's not too cold, an average walk from the station or the city center should take about 40 minutes, but be careful - sidewalks can be icy. City buses serve the arena; inquire locally for current routes and schedules. Local bus fares are more expensive than in many cities, weighing in at 33 NOK (USD 4.00, EUR 3.82 in early 2015), but still affordable by Nordic standards.
A small number of taxis are available in Hamar, but fares are relatively steep. Parking is available immediately outside of the arena and is generally sufficient for local crowds.
Once you've arrived at the venue, access is similarly good. Most fans will enter on the main concourse from ground level, though some may enter at ice level. Concourses are wide, flat, and adequately lit, making circulation simple. From the concourse, fans enter the middle part of the seating bowl and then move up or down to take their seats.
Restrooms are plentiful and sufficiently clean. Security is present and visible at the arena, but hardly feels necessary in such a safe and peaceful town.
Though Norwegian ice hockey lacks the reputation of its Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland, the country has a strong hockey tradition, a well run national league, and a higher level of play than many fans might expect. If that's not enough, Oslo's growing role as a hub for low cost international flights has made travel to this expensive region a bit more accessible. If you've ever wondered whether Norwegian hockey would be worth your time, the answer is simple: It is.
Stavanger now claims Norway's most modern rink, but Hamar's Nordlyshallen deserves to be mentioned alongside of Oslo's Jordal Amfi when discussing this country's most interesting and most historic rinks.
Prices here in Hamar are about average. You won't get a bargain, but you will get a very good experience for your money. In fact, you'll get possibly the best hockey experience Norway has to offer.
In Olympic circles, the 1994 Winter Games are still regarded as one of the best. That history is still alive in this building. The vintage scoreboards, seats with desks for international media, and photos in the concourses make the visitor feel like these legendary games just happened yesterday. It's rare that history feels so close.
We were disappointed by the Storhamar Dragon's team shop. Beyond that, we only have positive things to say about our lone visit to this Olympic gem. While not quite a bucket list arena, Hamar OL-Amfi/Nordlyshallen is a comfortable rink in a beautiful location with a powerful Olympic history that is still palpable more than two decades on. The Dragons don't just rest on this, though. A thoroughly modern, but not overdone, game presentation keeps fans firmly rooted in the 21st century. The quality of hockey on display is quite good, and better than many would expect from this often-overlooked league. A stop at Hamar OL-Amfi is absolutely worth the time for any hockey fan, Olympic fan, or anyone who simply likes nice arenas.
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Hamar, Norway 2315
+47 62 54 27 00
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