A country of absolutely exquisite natural beauty’, you’d better believe that Norway has it all. In the East, the capital city’ Oslo is brimming with cool culture, spectacular shopping and fantastic food.
Towards the West are towering mountains standing heavy with snow and dramatic cliffs that drop down into breath-taking fjords. Wildlife abounds, whether you are on land looking at reindeer and arctic foxes or at sea amongst a pod of orcas.
During the summer, the days are long and the many sunny days are celebrated by locals and tourists all enjoying the warmer weather. In the far north, adventurers can go take part in one of Norway’s essential experiences; sunbathing at lam under the weak rays of the midnight sun.
During winter, the stars are scattered across the inky heavens like a million diamonds. Those who are lucky will see the night skies splashed with dancing colors. The Arora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, are simply magical; a sight like no other.
There is nowhere like Norway!
Oslo as a city is cold, conservative and jaw-droppingly expensive. How is it then, that it is still consistently rated as one of the best cities in the world? Norway’s capital and largest city blossoms in the summer. A sunny summer’s day will liven up every street, and the charm of the city is revealed. Leafy parks are filled with people lazing on the green grass and the air is filled with the laughter of children. Cafes are packed with friends catching up, restaurants are buzzing, and the sound of live music drifts out of side streets everywhere.
A trip to Oslo would not be complete without appreciating at least a part of the 2600kms of ski slopes and cross-country trails during winter. The oldest of Norway’s slippery slopes is located here; the Holmenkollen Ski Jump dates back to 1892 and has now been transformed into a museum. You can also visit the observation deck in the tower, but we warned; the view from the top of the drop is dizzying.
For a stroll on a warm sunny day, head to St Hanshaugen park, one of the largest parks in Oslo. This park is interesting because of its history as a place for Midsummer’s celebrations in times gone by.
If the sculptures around the city’ have captivated you, then make sure you head to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. It houses a collection of over 200 statues made of bronze, granite and iron. Don’t miss two of the most famous sculptures, the little Angry Boy and the Wheel of Life.
02. The Norway Fjords
No words can describe the incredible feeling as you stand in awe, gazing down at Norway’s Fjords for the first time. On the west of the country, the unique landscape has created an area of wonder, recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status due to its rugged and naturally unspoilt beauty.
As tempted as you’ll be to stay staring at the first fjord you see, it is really essential that you visit several of the stunning strands which make up the network of fjords, in order to truly appreciate their magnificence as a whole.
To the south is Naeroyfjord, the narrowest fjord in the world. This is where you can get up close and personal with the waters and the wildlife, and kayak through the emerald-green waters and glide over the glassy surface, listening to the sound of silence.
Norway’s Fjords also offers a multitude of other activities, including fishing, hiking and cycling. Real thrill seekers can also go in search of the ultimate high, by scaling the blue-tinged Nigardsbreen Glacier. A little bit further inland from the fjords, this is a fantastic adventure for those with some extra time.
Bergen is often described as the ‘Gateway to the Fjords’ and it is certainly one of Norway’s most beautiful cities. It is recognized as being the country’s Cultural Capital, and was celebrated as European City of Culture in 2000.
Filled with history and tradition, Bergen is a big city with small-town charm and an atmosphere which, despite the cold temperatures, warms the hearts of all who visit. Bergen is a great city to explore on foot. Cobbled streets and winding alleyways lined with wooden houses add to the magic of the city.
If that’s still not enough for you, then the Ulriken Panoramic Tour takes you by double decker bus and cable car to 642m above the city streets, to the highest of Bergen s famous “Seven Mountains”. From the summit, you can enjoy magnificent views of Bergen and the surrounding sea, islands, fjords and mountains.
A popular meeting place amongst locals and visitors alike is the Bergen Aquarium. You can spend hours watching all the weird and wonderful things that go on beneath the surface. In addition to getting to know the cod and the other creatures that live along the Norwegian coast, you can also meet other animals like crocodiles, snakes and lizards.
Lastly (and most importantly), visit the information center for advice about which of the fjord tours will be most appropriate for the time of year you are visiting. Several amazing cruises of differing lengths are available so you can tailor the experience to your suit your own preference.
Trondheim is Norway’s original capital city, and these days it is the country’s third-largest city (after Oslo and Bergen). With wide streets and a partly pedestrianized heart, if s a simply lovely city.
The city is packed with educational institutions, including the renowned Norwegian University of Science and Technology, as well as St Olav’s University Hospital. The large student population means that Trondheim buzzes with life. Now throw into the mix some good cafes and restaurants, as well as several excellent museums, and you’ll soon see that Trondheim offers a lifestyle where you can really kick back and enjoy for a few days.
Music fans must pass by the House of Rock. This terrific museum is devoted to pop and rock music, and celebrates mainly Norwegian artists from the 1950s to the present day. It’s location in Trondheim is appropriate; many of Norway’s most famous and successful musicians came from this hip city. Visitors can stand in awe gazing up at the huge projecting roof, featuring Norwegian record covers, which extends above an equally vast converted warehouse.
The Nidaros Cathedral is the most important Gothic monument in Norway and was Northern Europe’s most important Christian pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. Construction started in 1070 although it took many years to be completed. Today, the altar sits over the original grave of St Olav, the Viking king who replaced the Nordic pagan religion with Christianity.
Lofoten is a collection of islands that lie inside the Arctic Circle. Their staggering beauty makes them a treasure, in a way which is unique in the world. From the distance, as you cruise in on the ferry, the islands look inhospitable; jagged rocks erupt straight out of the water, while the coastline is rugged with many sheer cliff faces.
Then as you draw near, and on closer inspection, you will discover pristine bays and postcard-perfect fishing villages on every island among the fjords. The crisp arctic air is about the purest you can find.
The Lofoten archipelago sits at about the same latitude as Greenland and the northern parts of Alaska. However, it enjoys a relatively milder climate due to the circulation of the Gulf Stream, and temperatures up to 230C in the summer are not uncommon. Still, while visiting you should bear in mind that the weather can change quickly, and even in the summer it may become suddenly cold.
For a unique and educational experience, head to the Polarlight Centre in Lofoten’s town of Laukvik. The center offers a colorful presentation of the Northern Lights which takes about l hour, and the staff are on hand to answer any questions you may have. A unique service offered by the center allows you to sign up for text message alerts when the Northern Lights are visible, and this service is offered throughout your stay in Lofoten.
The Lofoten archipelago is also a popular destination for kayaking holidays. Available throughout the year, for kayakers of all ability, several companies in the area offer guided tours and trips. More experienced kayakers have the option of joining a longer sea kayaking trip of several days’ duration or a technique course if you want to develop your kayaking skills further.
Alesund has a pretty position between the high peaks of the Sunnmore Mountains and the flowing fjords. Famous for its Art Nouveaux building style, visitors with an interest in architecture will find plenty of buildings very pleasing on the eye. The myriad of turrets, spires and beautiful ornamentation on the building facades is no doubt part of the reason why it was voted as Norway’s most beautiful town in 2007 and 2009.
Take a trip to the southernmost bird cliff in Norway and visit Runde, a tiny island that is invaded every year by more than half a million nesting birds. More than 220 species have been identified on this bird sanctuary, including the usual and cute puffins.
The area around Godoy Island offers a beautiful and varied terrain for walks, both in the dramatic mountains and on the pristine beaches. At Allies Lighthouse you can buy arts and crafts to keep as souvenirs or to take home as gifts. This protected lighthouse is open for guided tours during the summer season.
Sunnmore’s fjords and mountains make a perfect backdrop for a unique and family-friendly winter adventure. If you prefer cross-country skiing, there are many great tracks to choose from. For experienced adventurers, there are completely untouched mountains where you can sometimes ski all the way from mountain summits down to the fjord.
Just 25kms away from the city of Stavanger, Preikestolen is a sight of natural beauty which has attracted and fascinated visitors for decades. Far above Lysefjorden, an almost perfectly square formation of rock is jutting out from the surrounding mountainside.
Only 25 by 25 meters, this remarkable rocky plateau towers 604m above Lysefjorden. It receives a staggering 200,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Norway.
Bear in mind that in winter and spring, there is snow and ice build-up which may make the track slippery. The best season to hike the trail is from April to October, although even then you will of course need appropriate footwear.
For those who are not able to do the walk, or who prefer not to hike, a couple of convenient alternatives are available. During summer, from June to August, a tourist ferry from Lauvvik to Lysebotn passes beneath Pulpit Rock. This is a popular route however, so booking well in advance is recommended. A more expensive alternative is to sail through the Lysefjord, and these trips run year-round.
08. Jotunheimen National Park
Jotunheimen National Park is a vast mountainous range, including 250 peaks, some of which reach over 2000m towards the heavens. Situated conveniently between Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, it is a popular spot for holiday makers with a vast offering of winter and summer activities. Northern Europe’s highest mountain range also offers untamed wildlife, surrounded by unspoilt wilderness and breath-taking nature.
Over 300kms of trails are waiting to lead hikers and bikers into areas of unimaginable beauty, while the mountains provide challenging climbs for mountaineers. Professional gear and a climbing guide is required for anyone wishing to scale the highest of the mountains.
For overnight stays, there is an accommodation option to suit every taste. You can camp in absolute solitude, shack up in a basic log cabin, or stay in the height of luxury at one of the boutique hotels.
Hunting and fishing are allowed but permits need to be purchased in advance and there are many rules which are strictly enforced, to ensure the preservation of the beautiful region.
Positioned on the very southern tip of Norway, Kristiansand is an area which is increasingly significant with regard to its historical discoveries.
Kristiansand has always been important militarily and geopolitically; over the centuries it has served as a royal residence, then as a Danish-Norwegian fortress, and later as a garrison town. Even today, Kristiansand is a gateway to and from the European continent, with a regular ferry service to Denmark.
Ravnedalen is Kristiansand’s hidden gem; an area of greenery and peaceful immersion in nature where visitors can relax on the lawn, wander amongst the trees and gaze at the swans gliding across the waters of the dam. There is a cafe which serves good food and it is also a popular venue for concerts in the summer.
The Gronningen Lighthouse is located along the coastline a short drive from Kristiansand. It came into service in 1878 and was manned until 1980, after which it became automated. The lighthouse became a heritage building in 1994 and is now open for visitors. For a really unique experience, it is even possible to arrange overnight accommodation at the lighthouse during the summer months.
Longyearbyen is the largest populated area (although it has only 2000 residents) in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. Located high in the Norwegian Arctic, it is thought to be the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. The town is the de facto “capital” of the islands, featuring an airport, a school, a shopping center, hotels, restaurants, and more.
Longyearbyen Church is the world’s northernmost church. It is always open and has coffee and cookies for visitors. This is also where you can buy postcards, books and other small items. An interesting item near the church is the 24-Hour Sundial. It is of course one of only a handful in the world that can claim to be a 24hr sundial, due to the 24hr sunshine in the eternal days of summer.
A wide variety of activities including hiking, dog-sledding, kayaking, snowmobile safaris and even coal mining are offered by Svalbard’s many tour companies. Don’t miss the gorgeous blue hues of the Esmarkbreen Glacier, which is across the bay and accessible by a boat trip which takes about 3 hours.