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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Lillehammer, Norway 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.
Vikingskipet stands proudly on the shore of Norway’s largest lake and a short drive from Hamar OL-Amfi, which originally hosted 1994’s Olympic figure skating and short track speed skating. Perhaps ironically, the large size required of an Olympic speed skating oval means that Vikingskipet is considerably larger than Hamar OL-Amfi, even though the latter hosted the more popular Olympic events.
Today, Hamar OL-Amfi fills its schedule with games from the local pro hockey team. The Viking Ship fills its schedule with conventions and occasional competitions in a variety of sports, including “The Gathering,” one of the world’s largest computer LAN-parties. But mostly, Vikingskipet functions as a large, workaday rink. Speed skaters practice, bandy teams train, kids try out hockey, and families skate around. We popped in for about an hour on one of these regular days to take a look around, and we were glad we did.
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Our lone visit to the Viking Ship came on a non-event day. Naturally, concession options will vary based upon the size and type of event. For our visit, well, no one seemed to mind that we brought in a bottle of water.
Many Olympic fans recall 1994 as one of the greatest winter games in memory. If you share that opinion and remember Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen, and Johann Olav Koss, simply looking around this giant arena might give you goose bumps. If not, at least admire the size and architecture. From the outside, the arena supposedly resembles the hull of an upside-down Viking ship. Inside, follow the bilingual mini-tour and learn about Lake Mjøsa and its role in the local environment. Head downstairs to ice level and admire the names of the Olympians who took to this ice. Grab a seat and take advantage of the rare opportunity to see local amateurs practice bandy, hockey, figure skating, and speed skating all on the same ice surface at the same time.
At a latitude of nearly 61 degrees North, Vikingskipet is further north than chunks of Alaska and Greenland. The latitude and the lakeside location make for an interesting habitat for nature lovers. Akersvika Nature Reserve skirts the arena. A small observation tower sits in Vikinskipet's parking lot and provides nice views of the arena, of Lake Mjøsa, and of the surrounding area. Climb to the top (free) and enjoy not only the views, but also the tranquility.
With the lake on one side of the arena and a road on the other, Vikingskipet can feel slightly cut off from the rest of town, but that's not really the case. If the weather cooperates, central Hamar is only about a 15 minute walk away.
There aren't fans when you come in to Vikingskipet, just a chance to visit a historic venue.
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 Oslo's airport in Gardermoen. Should you want to relive the rest of the 1994 games, trains continue to (and arrive from) Lillehammer.
Vikingskipet is just under a mile, or just over a kilometer, from Hamar's railway station. If it's not too cold, an average walk from the station or the city center should take about 15 minutes, but be careful-sidewalks can be icy. City buses serve the arena; inquire locally for current routes, and schedules. Bus fares are more expensive than in many cities, weighing in at 33 NOK (USD $4, EUR 3.82 in early 2015), but still relatively inexpensive 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.
Even if you just want to wander around and watch local kids skate, there is an entry charge. On one hand, this rubs us the wrong way. On the other hand, there have been numerous time when we've been in a new city and would be happy to pay a nominal charge to have free reign to roam around an arena on a non-event day. Here, you have that opportunity.
As the Vikingskipet now largely works for those taking to the ice instead of solely to spectators, the arena runs a well-stocked pro shop.
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