An enchanting mix of cities and villages, of fjords and breathtakingly beautiful seas, Norway is one of Europe’s few countries where you can be in a busy city in the morning and out in the countryside, without a soul around for miles, by the evening. The country’s main cities - Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, and the like - are as swinging and modern as many in continental Europe, but out in the countryside, life is still as quiet as it was a century ago.
`The Land of the Midnight Sun’ - a country where during the summer, the sun does not go down even at night (although not all over Norway - it happens only in the Lofoten Islands). This is the land of famous explorers like Amundsen and Thor Heyerdahl and the greatest of all, the legendary Vikings.
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NORWAY QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Oslo
- Currency: Kroner (NOK)
- Population: 5,368 million (2020)
- Language: Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk) and Saami
- Religion: Christianity (mainly Lutheranism)
- Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Schuko (Type F) European plug)
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NORWAY PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 May, May Day
- 17 May, National Independence Day
- 24 December, Christmas Eve (half day from 12 noon)
Also, Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Whit Monday.
FESTIVALS IN NORWAY
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BEST TIME TO VISIT NORWAY
Norway is commonly regarded as remote and cold – spectacular but climatically inhospitable. However, the best time to visit is not, perhaps, as clear-cut a choice as you might imagine with other seasons other than summer offering particular bonuses.
Most of Norway has a maritime climate with mild winters and cool summers. Because of the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean, Norway has a much warmer climate than its latitudinal position would indicate. Along the coast, the climate is temperate, modified by the North Atlantic current. The interior is generally much colder interior with increased precipitation and colder summers. Rainy is experienced year-round on the west coast.
High Season (mid-June to mid-August) - Accommodation and transport often booked out in advance. No guarantees with the weather – can be warm and sunny or cool and rainy.
Shoulder Season (May to mid-June & mid-Augusts & September) - A good time to travel, with generally mild, clear weather and fewer crowds.
Low Season (October to April) - Can be bitterly cold and many attractions may be closed. Northern Lights tourism can create mini high seasons in the far north. Short days, especially in the far north.
Easter in Norway is the time of the colourful Sámi festivals, and mid-May can be absolutely delightful if your visit coincides with the brief Norwegian spring, though this is difficult to gauge. Springtime in Norway is particularly beguiling around the fjords, with a thousand cascading waterfalls fed by the melting snow, and wildflowers in abundance everywhere. Autumn can be exquisite too, with September often bathed in the soft sunshine of Indian summer, but – especially in the far north – it is frequently bitterly cold, from late September to mid-to-late May.
Most people travel to Norway during the summer season, which can be the best time to visit as bus, ferry, and train connections are at their most frequent. This is the time of the midnight sun: the further north you go, the longer the day becomes until at Nordkapp the sun is continually visible from mid-May to the end of July. Just keep in mind that the summer season is relatively short and only stretches from the beginning of June to the end of August.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN NORWAY
The snow sports season in Norway can start as early as November and lasts until April. The busiest period is from mid December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in November, March & April. Oslo has more than 2400km of prepared nordic tracks (1000km in Nordmarka alone), many of them floodlit, as well as a ski resort within the city limits.
HIKING & CYCLING IN NORWAY
The best time for outdoor activities in Norway is from May to October, although the warmest months of June, July & August are the most pleasant.
BEACH OPTIONS IN NORWAY
While Norway may have some beautiful beaches, even the summer months have very moderate temperatures and don't really get hot.
SURFING IN NORWAY
Norway is an all year round surfing destination. You will need a nice warm wetsuit as it can be very cold as Autumn and Winter are considered the best times of the year.
KITESURF IN NORWAY
Norway can have great windsurfing conditions from April to November, with September and October possibly the best. If you're a kitesurfer, perhaps you want to consider snow kiting in the Winter months!
NORWAY TRAVEL TIPS
The Oslo Pass (1/2/3 days adult - kr 445/655/820 NOK - $ 50/74/93 USD) is sold online, at the tourist office, or in the app - Oslo Pass - Official City Card" - available for iPhone and Android. The pass can be a good way of cutting transport and ticket costs around the city. The majority of the city’s museums are free with the pass, as is public transport within the city limits (barring late-night buses). Other perks include restaurant and tour discounts. If you’re planning to visit just the city-center museums and galleries, it’s worth checking which on your list are free before buying a pass.
Oslo public transport is covered by the Ruter ticketing system and you will find all schedules and route maps online
Tram - Oslo’s tram network is extensive and runs 24 hours.
T-bane - The six-line Tunnelbanen underground system, better known as the T-bane, is faster and extends further from the city center than most city buses or tram lines.
Train - Suburban trains and services to the Oslofjord where the T-bane doesn’t reach.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF NORWAY
Aurlandsfjorden - Take the ferry Flåm to Gudvangen through some of Norway’s most spectacular fjord scenery.
Lofoten Islands - Sleep in a fisherman’s robu (shanty) on this craggy and beautiful archipelago.
Bergen - Journey by train from Oslo to Bergen, arguably Norway’s most attractive coastal city.
Hurtigruten coastal ferry - Ride Norway’s jagged, beautiful coast.
Jotunheimen National Park - Hike amid the soaring peaks and countless glaciers.
Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) - Draw near to the edge high above glorious Lysefjord.
Karasjok - Dog-sled out into the winter Arctic wilderness of Norway’s far north.
Svalbard - Explore the extraordinary landscapes of Svalbard, Norway’s other-worldly subpolar outpost.
The bustling, cosmopolitan city of Oslo is the capital of Norway. Everyone who comes to Norway usually passes through here. Some of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Norway surround the city, making it a perfect staging area for a day of hiking, biking, boating, skiing, or camping. Oslo is also home to world-class museums and galleries to rival anywhere else on the European art trail. But even here Mother Nature has managed to make her mark, and Oslo is fringed with forests, hills, and lakes awash with opportunities for hiking, cycling, skiing, and boating. Add to this mix a thriving café and bar culture, top-notch restaurants, and nightlife options ranging from opera to indie rock, and the result is a thoroughly intoxicating place.
SUGGESTED OSLO ITINERARY
DAY 4: Climb the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and enjoy the panoramic views. Head back to hip Grünerløkka for potato bread hot dogs at Syverkiosken followed by a short walk to Torggata Botaniske for cocktails.
Arendal, one of the larger south-coast towns, has an undeniable buzz throughout summer, with the outdoor restaurants and bars around the harbour (known as Pollen) filling up with holidaymakers, and a full calendar of festivals and open-air concerts by the water most weekends. Even in winter, some of the larger bars stay open and have live music on weekends. It's a nice place to spend a few days, with enough going on to keep you amused while retaining an intimate village-like vibe. The matchbox-sized old district of Tyholmen, with its tightly wound core of timbered houses, adds considerable charm, while those seeking greater communion with the sea than a harbourside cafe can set off to the offshore islands of Merdø, Tromøy and Hisøy.
Grimstad is at its most lovely in the pedestrianised streets that lie inland from the waterfront; these are some of the most atmospheric on the Skagerrak coast. The town has a number of interesting calling cards. It was home to young playwright Henrik Ibsen and has a good museum in the pharmacy in which he once worked. And it is the sunniest spot in Norway, with an average of 266 hours of sunshine per month in June and July. The town also has an unmistakably, and welcome, young vibe, thanks to its large student population.
Kristiansand is Norway's fifth-largest city and styles itself as 'Norway's No 1 Holiday Resort'. That can be a bit misleading: sun-starved Norwegians do flock to this charming big town in the summer, and there are a petite town beach and flash marina, but it tends to serve as a gateway to the villages of Norway's southern coast and the inland region of Setesdalen. What Kristiansand offers in spades, though, is a lively cultural and shopping scene, some excellent restaurants and very healthy nightlife. In addition, anyone travelling with children will more than likely find themselves cajoled into visiting the town's outstanding children's park and zoo.
Røros, a charming Unesco World Heritage-listed site set in a small hollow of stunted forests and bleak fells, is one of Norway's most beautiful villages. The Norwegian writer Johan Falkberget described Røros as 'a place of whispering history'. This historic copper-mining town (once called Bergstad, or mountain city) has wonderfully preserved, colourful wooden houses that climb the hillside, as well as fascinating relics of the town's mining past. It feels a little bit like a Norwegian version of the Wild West. Røros' historic district, characterised by the striking log architecture of its 80 protected buildings, takes in the entire central area. The two main streets, Bergmannsgata and Kjerkgata, are lined with historical homes and buildings, all under preservation orders. The entire area is like an architectural museum of old Norway.
After Lillehammer won its bid for the 1994 Winter Olympics, the Norwegian government ploughed more than two billion kroner into the town's infrastructure. In an example to other Olympic host cities, most amenities remain in use and visitors can tour the main Olympic sites over a large area called the Olympic Park.
The high peaks and glaciers of the 1151-sq-km Jotunheimen National Park whose name means the 'Home of the Giants', make for Norway's best-loved, busiest and, arguably, most spectacular wilderness destination. Seemingly hundreds of hiking routes lead through ravine-like valleys past deep lakes, plunging waterfalls and 60 glaciers to the tops of all the peaks in Norway over 2300m; these include Galdhøpiggen (the highest peak in northern Europe at 2469m), Glittertind (2452m) and Store Skagastølstind (2403m). By one count, there are more than 275 summits above 2000m inside the park.
BERGEN & THE SOUTHWESTERN FJORDS
Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, Bergen is a beguiling city. During the early Middle Ages, it was an important seaport and a member of the Hanseatic League, as well as Norway's capital – a heritage that can still be glimpsed in the beautifully preserved wooden houses of Bryggen, now protected as a Unesco World Heritage site. Colourful houses creep up the hillsides, ferries flit around the fjords, and a cluster of excellent art museums provide a welcome detour in case Bergen's notoriously fickle weather sets in. Meanwhile, a large student population ensures the city has a buzzy bar scene and nightlife. Making time just to wander Bergen's historic neighbourhoods is a must. Beyond Bryggen, the most picturesque are the steep streets climbing the hill behind the Fløibanen funicular station, Nordnes (the peninsula that runs northwest of the centre, including along the southern shore of the main harbour) and Sandviken (the area north of Håkonshallen). It's a maze of winding lanes and clapboard houses, perfect for a quiet wander.
Voss (also known as Vossevangen) sits on a sparkling lake not far from the fjords and this position has earned it a world-renowned reputation as Norway's adventure capital. The town itself is far from pretty, but everyone is here for white-water rafting, bungee jumping and just about anything you can do from a parasail, most of it out in the fjords.
There's a reason that the coastal town of Stavanger has been twinned with Houston and Aberdeen: it's sometimes known as Norway's 'Oil City' for its importance in oil exploration in the North Sea since the 1970s (Norway's largest oil company, Statoil, is based here). But while much of the outskirts are modern, you won't find too many skyscrapers – Stavanger's old centre has some of the most beautiful and best-preserved wooden buildings anywhere in Norway, many dating back to the 18th century. It's all very pretty, and in summer the waterfront comes alive in the best port-town style. What Stavanger's oil boom has brought, however, is suburban sprawl and sky-high prices, even for Norway. It's notorious as one of the country's priciest locations, and finding a bed and a bite comes with a hefty price tag. Nevertheless, it's a perfect launchpad for exploring nearby Lysefjorden, and for tackling the classic hike to Preikestolen.
All along the 42km-long Lysefjord (Light Fjord), the granite rock glows with ethereal light and even on dull days, it's offset by almost-luminous mist. This is the favourite fjord of many visitors, and there's no doubt that it has captivating beauty. There are two compelling reasons to explore this wonderful place: a cruise along the fjord, or the four-hour hike to the top of Preikestolen, the plunging cliff face that's graced a million postcards from Norway, not to mention as many Instagram posts. Daredevils might also want to brave standing on the Kjeragbolten, a boulder wedged between two sheer cliff faces. The ferry ride from Stavanger takes you to the fjord head at Lysebotn, where a narrow and much-photographed road corkscrews spectacularly 1000m up towards Sirdal in 27 hairpin bends. From Lysebotn, the road twists up the mountain and on into the Setesdalen region and Oslo.
Sognefjorden, the world's second-longest (203km) and Norway's deepest (1308m) fjord cuts a deep slash across the map of western Norway. In places, sheer walls rise more than 1000m above the water, while elsewhere a gentler shoreline supports farms, orchards and villages. The broad, main waterway is impressive but it's worth detouring into its narrower arms, such as the deep and lovely Nærøyfjord, for idyllic views of abrupt cliff faces and cascading waterfalls. There's a comprehensive guide to the area at sognefjord.no.
At the head of Aurlandsfjorden, Flåm sits in a truly spectacular setting beside Sognefjord. The main attraction here is the stunning mountain railway that creeps up into the surrounding peaks and offers truly eye-popping panoramas.
Peaceful Aurland is much less hectic than its neighbour, Flåm, a mere 10km south along the fjord. These days it's renowned as one end of Lærdalstunnel (24.5km), the world's longest road tunnel. This is an essential link in the E16 highway that connects Oslo and Bergen; before its completion, traffic had to ferry-hop between Lærdal and Gudvangen. It’s a fast alternative to the sinuous, 45km-long Aurlandsfjellet, sometimes known as the Snow Road, which crests over the mountains via one of Norway's loftiest road passes. As such, it's generally only passable from June to October. However, speed and convenience via the Lærdalstunnel, vs driving fun and massive views via the mountain road, might be a difficult choice.
High above the valley, Stalheim is a place of extraordinary natural beauty with an interesting, lively past. Between 1647 and 1909, Stalheim was a stopping-off point for travellers on the Royal Mail route between Copenhagen, Christiania (Oslo) and Bergen. A road was built for horses and carriages in 1780. The mailmen and their weary steeds rested in Stalheim and changed to fresh horses after climbing up the valley and through the Stalheimskleiva gorge, flanked by the thundering Stalheim and Sivle waterfalls. Although a modern road winds up through two tunnels from the valley floor, the old main road (Stalheimskleiva) climbs up at an astonishing 18% gradient. As tour buses, improbably, use this road, it's one-way only: you can drive down it, but not up.
For years mighty Jostedalsbreen, mainland Europe's largest ice cap, crept counter current, slowly advancing while most glaciers elsewhere in the world were retreating. Now Jostedalsbreen itself has succumbed and is also withdrawing. It's still a powerful player, though, eroding an estimated 400,000 tonnes of rock each year. With an area of 487 sq km and in places 600m thick, Jostedalsbreen rules over the highlands of Sogn og Fjordane county. The main ice cap and several outliers are protected as the Jostedalsbreen National Park. The northern and southern sides of the national park are some distance apart, so they need to be visited separately – and you'll have a tough time without your own car. For accessing the southern side of the park, the towns of Solvorn, Sogndal and Fjærland are the most useful gateways, while on the northern side, Stryn, Loen and Olden are within easy driving distance and have plenty of accommodation.
There are two equally dramatic ways to approach Åndalsnes: by road through the Trollstigen Pass or along Romsdalen as you ride the spectacularly scenic Rauma Railway. The rail route down from Dombås ploughs through a deeply cut glacial valley flanked by sheer walls and plummeting waterfalls. Badly bombed during WWII, the modern town, nestled beside Romsdalfjord, might be nondescript, but the locals are delightful and the surrounding landscapes are absolutely magnificent.
The far northern port of Ålesund might be far from the bright lights of metropolitan Norway, but it's rich with some of the country's finest examples of Jugendstil (art nouveau) architecture – a legacy of a huge rebuilding project that took place after a devastating fire in 1904. Set out over a hook-shaped peninsula, the town is now the home base for Norway's largest cod-fishing fleet, and it's an attractive, lively town and unsurprisingly has some superb seafood to try.
The world-famous, UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjorden, an oft-photographed fjord that every visitor to Norway simply has to tick off their bucket list. And in purely scenic terms, it's impossible to argue against the case for its inclusion: it is, quite simply, one of the world's great natural features, a majestic combination of huge cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and deep blue water that's guaranteed to make a lasting imprint on your memory. Unfortunately with prestige comes popularity. Some 600,000 visitors come here to see the sights every year and scores of cruise ships dock at the port every day in summer. You're unlikely to enjoy much peace and quiet, especially around the main port of Geiranger. Thankfully, out on the fjord itself, peace and tranquillity remain and a ride on the Geiranger–Hellesylt ferry is an essential part of your Norwegian adventure.
With its colourful warehouses, waterways and wooded hills, Trondheim is, without doubt, one of Norway's most photogenic towns. Norway's third-largest city and its historic capital is a pleasure to explore, with wide streets and a partly pedestrianised heart, some great cafes, restaurants and museums to visit – plus Europe's northernmost Gothic cathedral. Fishing boats putter around the harbour, gulls wheel and screech overhead, and beyond the city's outskirts, there's a wealth of wilderness to explore.
Bodø, the northernmost point of the staggeringly beautiful Kystriksveien Coastal Route and 63km west of Fauske on the Arctic Highway, is the gateway to Norway's true north. It's also the northern terminus of Norway's railway system and a jumping-off point for the Lofoten Islands. The town centre, rebuilt after being almost completely levelled by WWII bombing, is unexciting architecturally. The city's main charm lies in its backdrop of distant rugged peaks and vast skies. Dramatic islands that support the world's densest concentration of white-tailed sea eagles – not for nothing is Bodø known as the Sea Eagle Capital – dot the seas to the north.
Narvik has a double personality. On the one hand, its location is spectacular, pincered by islands to the west and mountains in every other direction, while spectacular fjords stretch north and south. At the same time, heavy industry casts a pall of ugliness over the rather scruffy downtown area – the town was founded in 1902 as the port for the coal-mining town of Kiruna in Swedish Lappland and the trans-shipment facility bisecting the city still loads several million tonnes of ore annually from train wagons on to ships. But Narvik's appeal lies elsewhere, with unique sporting and sightseeing activities offered by its majestic surroundings and the spectacular Ofotbanen Railway to Sweden.
You’ll never forget your first approach to the Lofoten Islands. The islands spread their tall, craggy physique against the sky like some spiky sea dragon. The beauty of this place is simply staggering. The main islands, Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy, are separated from the mainland by Vestfjorden, but all are connected by road bridges and tunnels. On each are sheltered bays, sheep pastures and picturesque villages. The vistas and the special quality of the Arctic light have long attracted artists, represented in galleries throughout the islands. One of the best ways to appreciate the view is to follow the E10 road, which runs along the islands from tip to toe, taking just about every detour you have time for en route.
Svalbard is the Arctic North as you always dreamed it existed. This wondrous archipelago is a land of dramatic snow-drowned peaks and glaciers, of vast ice fields and forbidding icebergs, an elemental place where the seemingly endless Arctic night and the perpetual sunlight of summer carry a deeper kind of magic. One of Europe's last great wildernesses, this is also the domain of more polar bears than people, a terrain rich in epic legends of polar exploration. Svalbard's main settlement and entry point, scruffy Longyearbyen, is merely a taste of what lies beyond and the possibilities for exploring further are many: boat trips, glacier hikes, and expeditions by snowmobile or led by a team of huskies. Whichever you choose, coming here is like crossing some remote frontier of the mind: Svalbard is as close as most mortals can get to the North Pole and still capture its spirit.
Longyearbyen is like a portal to a magical sub-polar world. Just about every Svalbard experience begins here, but if you came to Svalbard and spent the whole time in Longyearbyen (Svalbard's only town of any size), you'd leave disappointed. That's because although Longyearbyen enjoys a superb backdrop including two glacier tongues, Longyearbreen and Lars Hjertabreen, the town itself is fringed by abandoned mining detritus and the waterfront is anything but beautiful, with shipping containers and industrial buildings. The further you head up the valley towards the glaciers, the more you'll appreciate being here. Even so, Longyearbyen is a place to base yourself for trips out into the wilderness rather than somewhere to linger for its own sake.
WHAT TO EAT IN NORWAY
Norwegian cuisine in its traditional form is based largely on the raw materials readily available in Norway and its mountains, wilderness, and coast. It differs in many respects from continental cuisine through the stronger focus on game and fish.
Some local Norwegian favorites include:
Fårikål - The national dish of Norway, is a hearty mutton and cabbage stew, typically served with boiled potatoes. The list of ingredients is scarce: only mutton, cabbage, salt, pepper, and water, although some recipes call for the broth to be thickened with flour.
Lutefisk - A Scandinavian dish made from dried whitefish that's been treated with lye, resulting in the fish having a gelatinous consistency and often, depending on the type of whitefish, a very strong, pungent odor. Both the Swedes and the Norwegians claim the dish as their own, but lutefisk is also prepared in Finland and in the United States, namely in the state of Minnesota, where it's predominantly consumed by Scandinavian immigrants. In Norway, lutefisk is typically served with boiled potatoes, mashed green peas, melted butter, and pieces of fried bacon.
Lefse - A traditional Norwegian flatbread, visually looking like a huge, round tortilla. It comes in many varieties such as plain, sweet, thin, or thick. There is also a popular version of lefse with potatoes incorporated in the dough, and it is a favorite of the Telemark region.
Kjøttboller (or kjøttkaker) - Traditional Norwegian meatballs. Even though they share many similarities to their Swedish counterpart, they are usually larger in size and more often shaped as meat patties or meat cakes.
Fiskesuppe - A popular Norwegian fish soup characterized by its creamy texture and buttery flavor. This comforting dish appears in many regional and seasonal versions, but it usually consists of various types of fish, shellfish, and root vegetables, cooked in a rich broth with butter, milk, and cream.
Sodd - Norway's national dish which usually consists of diced mutton, meatballs (made with beef, lamb, or mutton), carrots, and potatoes served in a clear, fragrant broth. The vegetables are usually cooked separately and are then added to the broth.
Skillingsboller - A traditional Norwegian version of a cinnamon roll. This circular pastry is usually associated with Bergen. The rolls are made with a combination of flour, milk, yeast, eggs, sugar, cardamom, lots of butter, and chopped almonds
LGBTQ IN NORWAY
Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is very liberal in regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights. In 1981, Norway became one of the first countries in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law explicitly including sexual orientation. From 1993 to 2008 Norway allowed same-sex couples to enter registered partnerships. Same-sex marriage in Norway has been legal since 1 January 2009, becoming the first Scandinavian country and the sixth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
Much like the other Nordic countries, Norway is frequently referred to as one of the world's most LGBT-friendly nations, with high societal acceptance and tolerance of LGBT people and with a well attended annual Gay Pride Parade in Oslo.
WHERE TO STAY IN NORWAY
Aker Brygge & Bygdøy - scenic, central and close to all the major sites. Can be a little soulless and restaurants are expensive.
City Centre - close to everything. A wide variety to choose from. You may not be motivated to explore Oslo’s interesting neighbourhoods.
Frogner & Western Oslo - serene and close to the Slottsparken and city. Good options for midrange places. Restaurants can be expensive and there’s little nightlife beyond wine bars.
Grünerløkka & Vulkan - fantastic choice for experiencing local life, with everything on your doorstep and the city close by. Not a lot of hotel choice. Can be a little too hipster for some.
Opera House & Bjørvika - great views, close to everything and increasingly scenic. Few choices beyond the chains. Not too much neighbourhood life.
Sofienberg, Grønland & Tøyen - Parkland, sights and very down to earth residential neighbourhoods. Close to city and Grünerløkka. Not a lot of choice beyond private and apartment rentals.
St Olafs Plass, Bislett & St Hanshaugen - pretty residential areas with an increasing number of places to eat and drink. Few choices beyond private and apartment rentals. A little further from the main sights.