Places to go in Norway
Widely travelled journalist and discerning adventurer, Jens A. Riisnæs,
put together a list of his 25 favourite places in Norway. Many of them off the beaten track.
Eastern and Southern Norway
An exotic offshoot of the Setesdalen valley
Tovdal to Åraksbø – the wooded and hilly landscape of Southern Norway at its most beautiful. Tovdal is one of the most beautiful and varied forest and low-lying mountain biotopes in Southern Norway. Canoe hire and more at Hillestad. The walk from Dale via Rjukan waterfall, Stuvestøyl, Videstøyl, along the Juvass stream, across Skuggefjell mountain and down to Åraksbø in Setesdal, home to one of Norway's oldest buildings – Haugeburet dating from 1219 – is one of the finest inland walks in Southern Norway.
Velmunden/Fjorda is Eastern Norway's canoeing paradise – between the Randsfjord and Sperillen Lakes. Here, the youngest members of the family can play at being Indians in an almost totally unspoiled landscape of islands and lakes, with countless canoeing routes to explore. A good area for canoeing, with a varied landscape 1,300 feet above sea level. Those interested in cultural history can visit old Finnish settlements, a memorial to the immigration from the east that resulted from the famine in Norway's neighbouring country of Finland 400 years ago.
The coast road from Mandal to Hafrsfjord
The coast road from Mandal to Hafrsfjord is part of the North Sea Cycle Route (Shetland, the Orkney islands, Scotland, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway), and, at more than 3,728 miles, it is the world's longest waymarked cycle route. With its beautiful and varied coastal landscape, the 155-mile-long stretch from Mandal via Lindesnes and Lista, Hauge and Egersund is the "prime cut" of the North Sea Cycle Route.
The Southern Norway archipelago
The Southern Norway archipelago from the Ryvingen Lighthouse to the Jomfruland Island consists of thousands of small and large islands and skerries, with literally tens of thousands of areas of smooth rocky shore that are so popular with sun worshippers in summer. An amazing area for sea kayaking, both for beginners and the more experienced. The landward islands are so sheltered from the ocean that canoes are also a great way of getting around.
Military history in the middle of the Oslofjord. A beautiful island in the middle of the narrowest section of the Oslofjord, but primarily an interesting monument to Norway's military history. It was from this fortress at dawn on 9 April 1940 that the cannons and torpedoes were fired that sank the German heavy cruiser the Blücher thus giving Norway's King Haakon VII and the Government the time they needed to flee further north, from where they were evacuated to London to continue the fight against the Nazi occupation.
A wilderness area near the border with Sweden. A wilder and tougher wilderness experience than Velmunden. An alternative to Alaska and the Yukon. Together,Femundsmarka and Gutulia national parks on the Norwegian side of the border and Töfsingdalen on the Swedish side, and adjoining areas, form one of the most distinctive high mountain biotopes in Scandinavia. The great botanist Carl von Linné explored the area in 1734, encountering falconers on his travels.
Rjukan with the power station and the "heavy water" museum
The dramatic and beautiful Rjukandalen Valley with its waterfalls long tamed for hydroelectric power and power stations represents the essence of Norway as a modern industrial nation. The Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum in beautiful Vemork power station in Rjukan shows how the power of our waterfalls was tamed, laying the foundation for the transformation of Norway from a nation of poor fishermen and farmers into a rich and prosperous industrial country in just a few generations.
The Telemark Canal
The Telemark Canal from Skien, the town where Henrik Ibsen was born, to Dalen, the gateway to West Telemark, is an interesting canal journey. In the space of a few hours it takes travellers by boat through a classic system of locks from one of Norway's big industrial towns, Porsgrunn/Skien (altitude 0 feet), to Dalen, innermost on lake Bandak, one of Telemark's many classic fjord lakes. From there, it is not far to places like Morgedal "the Cradle of Skiing", Nutheim art hotel in Flatdal, or the southern approach to the Hardangervidda plateau, via the Møsvatn Lake.
Western Norway (Fjord Norway)
Ålfotbreen glacier and Nordfjord
The walk from Vingen, the biggest petroglyph field in the Nordic countries (near Norway's tallest sea cliff, Hornelen, 2,821 feet), up through distinctive geological formations from the Devonian Age, across the Ålfotbreen glacier (Norway's westernmost glacier), via the mountain cabins at Blåbrebu and Gjegnabu and down to the Hyefjord is one of the finest walks in the world (like dozens of other walks in Norway that take you from the coast and fjords across high mountains and glaciers). Norway's wettest area – 10 times more rain than Bergen! (NB: guided-tours of the glaciers are strongly recommended!).
On the coast north of the Sognefjord
The Solund archipelago and Værlandet. If there is one area in Norway where the term "island hopping" really means what it says, this is it. The area has phenomenal scenery, and many small communities, which means it is easy to get around using scheduled boat services. But sea kayaking is best of all! Kayaking enthusiasts from all over the world have long since discovered this island paradise at the mouth of the Sognefjord. In summer, they have competition for the wide open spaces from many other kinds of pleasure boats.
The fjord valleys leading to the Trollheimen and Dovre mountains
The valleys of Todalen, Innerdalen, Sunndalen, Litjdalen, Grødalen and Eikesdalen. A cluster of valleys that extend all the way from the ocean into high mountain country (Trollheimen and Dovre). Phenomenal opportunities for walking and climbing, but also for amazing cycling and driving experiences, including the new gravel road from Eikesdalen via Aursjøen down the Litjadalen valley to the small town of Sunndalsøra.
Innermost in the Sognefjord
The Lustrafjord with Norway's mountaineering centre at Turtagrø and the Hurrungane mountains, and with Veitastrond and the Jostedalen valley "tucked in behind" the Jostadalsbreen glacier. The area can also boast Norway's oldest stave church, Urnes, which is located in an enchanting setting on a promontory in the Lustrafjord. The best of the Sognefjord region with countless outdoor pursuits between fjord and glacier.
From the top of the Hardangervidda plateau down to the fjord
Hårteigen and Husedalen/the Munketrappene steps. One of the many fantastic walks that include both mountains and fjords. From Eidfjord, innermost in the Hardangerfjord, up the wild and beautiful Hjølodalen valley to the mountain cabins of Viveli, Hedlo and Hadlaskard, via Hårteigen, whose summit is the Hardangervidda plateau's great landmark and highest point, to the mountain cabins Torehytte and Stavali, and then down one of Norway's most beautiful valleys, Husedalen, which has three large, yet very different waterfalls.
Norway's best-preserved sailing ship town, Skudeneshavn
Skudeneshavn is the coastal town in Norway that has succeeded best in preserving its old white wooden houses and buildings. It grew and flourished during the great age of sail in the 19th century. Skudeneshavn's more than 200 intact wooden buildings from the 1850s are lovingly restored and maintained by their proud owners, many of whom are from Stavanger, just a ferry crossing away.
Stadtlandet and Vågsøy (Nordfjord)
A paradise for surfers that also has Norway's oldest monastery ruins and three lighthouses you can stay in. Hoddevika has established a reputation as one of the more exotic surfing destinations in the world (against some incredibly stiff competition!). On the island of Vågsøy, there are three different lighthouses you can stay in: Hendanes, Kråkenes and Skogsnes lighthouses – all of them with spectacular panoramic views.
The Lysefjord with the Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen), the Kjeragbolten boulder and the Lysebotn hairpin bends
Together with the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, the Lysefjord is Norway's most photographed fjord, especially because of the spectacular rock formation, the Pulpit Rock, and the impressive Kjeragbolten boulder, which is probably the world's number one destination among BASE jumpers. The most fascinating road and ferry route between Kristiansand and Stavanger goes via the hairpin bends down to the Lysefjord.
Røros and the surrounding area
A mining community on a high-mountain plateau. The location of one of Europe's biggest copper deposits, which created great wealth, in Copenhagen in particular (where most of the copper ended up, as roofing for many monumental buildings, including the Stock Exchange with its famous dragon spire). Røros itself is probably the only mining town in the world almost exclusively built of wood.
Like Santiago de Compostela, the Nidaros Cathedral was one of the world's most important pilgrimage destinations in the Middle Ages. The interior of the cathedral was stripped of many of its art treasures in connection with the Reformation, but it is by far the biggest cathedral in Europe to be located so far from Rome, and the building itself therefore occupies a special place among Europe's cathedrals.
The area bordering on Russia, with its churches (Oscar II's Chapel in Grense Jakobselv, the Protestant Church and St George's Chapel in Neiden), the Finnish-Norwegian fishing village of Bugøynes, the border road from the Bjørnevatn Lake to Øvre Pasvik National Park and the Treriksrøysa cairn where three countries meet. Interesting nature experiences in Ytre Jarfjord such as red king crab safaris.
Gjesvær Fishing Village
A classic Finnmark fishing village with three distinctive bird cliff islands (Stappane) not far offshore, including Norway's biggest puffin colony of more then 350,000 birds. Landmarks for seafarers that predate the Viking Era. Norway's northernmost skerries comprising more than 100 islands and islets. The most northerly point mentioned in Snorre’s history of the Norse kings.
The outermost Lofoten islands – Reine Sørvågen, Å, Værøy and Røst
A unique mixture of breathtaking scenery (moulded by thousands of years of activity by fisher-farmers) and the cosmopolitan demands of modern-day tourism. Here, you will find art galleries, as well as fresh chilli, ginger and garlic.
Træna and Myken Islands
Island kingdoms far out to sea. Lighthouse accommodation (Myken, with panoramic views), fish and a festival (Træna). The islands have been settled for more than 6,000 years. Rich in cultural heritage and ancient monuments. And from the modern era: the success story of salmon farming in Northern Norway started on Træna. The Træna Festival has achieved international cult status.
"The Alps in the ocean" – a paradise for traditional and more modern ways of enjoying the wilds of nature, from fishing, hunting and classic mountaineering to extreme skiing, diving and hang-gliding. The Lyngen Alps has one of the wildest landscapes in the world, it now has an established place on the international extreme wilderness map.
Hamn i Senja
Hamn i Senja is a picturesque fishing village with an industrial history. Electric power was introduced here as early as 1882. It was supplied by one of the world's two first hydroelectric power stations, built for the local nickel mines. This old fishing village is a great base for exploring the island of Senja.
"The unknown fjord" on the coast of Helgeland between the famous island of Vega and the Seven Sisters mountains. One of Northern Europe's most varied natural biotopes, with traces of hunting and fishing activities dating back 9,000 years, and permanent settlements not just near the mouth of the fjord but also at Bønå, where a local sheep farmer come fisherman and his family run a wilderness centre offering a variety of outdoor pursuits.
Located on Norway’s west coast, Ålesund is the gateway to the iconic northwestern fjords and surrounding alpine mountains. The city of Alesund owes its present-day picturesque appearance to a city-wide reconstruction after a fire in 1904 destroyed most of the town. The city was rebuilt with stone and brick in the architectural style of the time, and stands today as a perfect example of Jugendstil design, Northern Europe’s version of Art Nouveau. Visitors can learn more about the style at the Jugendstilsenteret, or Art Nouveau Center. A hike up the 400 steps to the viewpoint Fjellstua is worthwhile as well. The mountain peak offers stunning views of Alesund and the surrounding islands.
The largest city in Northern Norway, Tromso is renowned both for its large number of 18th-century wooden houses and for the beauty of its natural surroundings. Most of the city is situated on the island of Tromsoya where visitors can explore several fine museums and stroll through stunning birch tree forests. Trips up Storsteinen Mountain in the Fjellheisen Cable Car offer visitors amazing views of the surrounding fjords and mountains. The arctic aquarium Polaria and the Polar Museum are popular attractions in this city located 350 km (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. Tromso is one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights.
There’s something for everyone in the northern city of Trondheim. Founded in 997, Norway’s third largest city was the country’s capital during the Viking Age and the nation’s religious center during the Middle Ages, making it the ideal destination for those who want to explore Norway’s history. From Sverresborg, a restored 12th century castle, to the Nidaros Cathedral, the northernmost Medieval cathedral in the world, the city abounds with remnants of the past.
Jotunheimen National Park
Jotunheimen, or Home of the Giants, is Norway’s premier national park. Located in the nation’s south central region, the park encompasses several mountain ranges, including Norway’s 29 highest peaks. The park is also home to Vettisfossen, which at 275 meters (900 feet) is the highest waterfall in Norway. Mountain lodges and well-marked trails in the area offer visitors easy access to glacier hikes, summit tours, mountain climbing and skiing. Tour companies and trekking associations offer outdoor adventures for visitors of every age and skill level.
Svalbard is a group of islands located between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. The islands are under Norwegian rule since 1920. Its settlements are the northernmost permanently inhabited spots on the planet, far more northerly than any part of Alaska and all but a few of Canada’s Arctic islands. The combined permanent population is less than 3000, nearly all of which is concentrated in the main settlements of Longyearbyen and Barentsburg on Spitsbergen. Svalbard’s visitors come mostly to experience Arctic nature at its rawest and most powerful. The islands feature untouched glaciers and craggy mountains, but also polar bears, caribou, reindeer, polar foxes, whales, seals and walruses.
Norway’s capital and most populated city, Oslo is a vibrant modern city with a confident attitude and laid-back atmosphere. Hugging the horseshoe-shaped shores of the Oslofjord, Oslo is one-third city and two-thirds forests, parks and green spaces, making outdoor activities like hiking and biking popular pastimes. From its 19th-century city center with its museums, lively bars and restaurants to the Nobel Peace Center located in the city’s former railway station, Oslo is culturally rich as well. The city’s 50 museums range from the Munch Museum, which features “The Scream” and other works by Edvard Munch, to the Folkemuseet, an outdoor museum that includes more than 150 historic buildings from all over Norway, including a Stave Church.
Located in the southwest region of Norway, Stavanger is one of the few places in the country with long sandy beaches, making it the ideal summer destination for those who want to mix sunbathing with their Scandinavian explorations. The city’s harbor is a popular stopping point for cruise ships touring the fjords, and many of Stavanger’s attractions are just a short stroll from the shore. The Rogaland Kunstmuseum boasts an excellent exhibition of Norwegian art, the Stavanger Cathedral is the country’s best Medieval church and the Gamle Stavanger district transports visitors back in time to 18th-century Scandinavia.
One of the most popular places to visit in Norway, Lofoten is a group of islands in the northern part of the country. With its postcard looking small fishing villages nestled in fjords, dotting a very rugged coast with abrupt peaks rising directly from the ocean, the archipelago is often described as one of the most scenic parts of Norway. Although the archipelago is located well above the Arctic Circle, at about the same latitude as Greenland it enjoys a relatively mild climate due to the circulation of the Gulf Stream. Temperatures up to 23°C in the summer are not uncommon although it remains a subarctic destination and the weather changes fast.
Norway’s second largest city, Bergen has been the nation’s leading western port since the Middle Ages. Today, its 15th-century waterfront in the Bryggen district is both a working port and a tourist destination for visitors eager to sample fresh fare at seaside restaurants. Although Bergen makes a great home base for explorations of the scenic fjords around the city and the neighboring islands, there’s plenty to see within the city as well. A quick trip up Bergen’s popular funicular is a good way to get oriented in the place known as the Gateway to the Fjords.
Norway’s famous fjords are found throughout the country and not limited to a particular region or location. However, the most dramatic and famous fjords are largely found in West Norway, approximately from Stavanger to Molde. Although the western fjords vary slightly in appearance they are generally relatively narrow, surrounded by steep rock faces, tall mountains and extremely deep. The most famous fjords include Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord.
The 20km chug along Geirangerfjord, a Unesco World Heritage Site, must rank as the world’s loveliest ferry journey. Long-abandoned farmsteads still cling to the fjord’s near-sheer cliff s while ice-cold cascades tumble, twist and gush down to emerald-green waters. Take it from Geiranger and enjoy the calm as you leave this small, heaving port or hop aboard at altogether quieter Hellesylt. Prime your camera, grab a top-deck open-air seat and enjoy what’s literally the only way to travel its secluded reaches.
2. Lofoten Islands
Few visitors forget their first sighting of the Lofoten Islands, laid out in summer greens and yellows, their razor-sharp peaks poking dark against a clear, cobalt sky. In the pure, exhilarating air, there’s a constant tang of salt and, in the villages, more than a whiff of cod, that giant of the seas whose annual migration brings wealth. A hiker’s dream and nowadays linked by bridges, the islands are simple to hop between, whether by bus, car or – ideally – bicycle.
3. Hurtigruten coastal ferry
So much more than merely a means of getting around, the iconic Hurtigruten coastal ferry takes you on one of the most spectacular coastal journeys anywhere on earth. On its daily journey between Bergen and Kirkenes, it dips into coastal fjords, docks at isolated villages barely accessible by road, draws near to dramatic headlands and crosses the Arctic Circle. In the process, it achieves in five or six days what would take months on land: it showcases the entire length of Norway’s most glorious coast.
4. Northern lights
There is no more uplifting natural phenomena than the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Visible throughout the long night of the Arctic winter from October to March, they dance across the sky in green or white curtains of light, shifting in intensity and taking on forms that seem to spring from a child’s vivid imagination. While there’s no guarantee that the northern lights will appear at any given time, if you are lucky enough to see them, it’s an experience that will live with you forever.
5. Bryggen, Bergen
Set amid a picturesque and very Norwegian coastal landscape of fjords and mountains, Bergen lays a strong claim to being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. A celebrated history of seafaring trade down through the centuries has bequeathed to the city the stunning (and Unesco World Heritage–listed) waterfront district of Bryggen, an archaic tangle of wooden buildings. A signpost to a history at once prosperous and tumultuous, the titled and colourful wooden buildings of Bryggen now shelter the chic boutiques and traditional restaurants for which the city is famous.
6. Hiking the Jotunheimen
The high country of central Norway ranks among Europe’s premier summer destinations. Although there are numerous national parks criss-crossed by well-maintained hiking trails, it’s Jotunheimen National Park, whose name translates as ‘Home of the Giants’, that rises above all others. With 60 glaciers and 275 summits over 2000m, Jotunheimen is exceptionally beautiful and home to iconic trails such as Besseggen, Hurrungane and those in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway’s highest peak. Jotunheimen’s proximity to the fjords further enhances its appeal.
The subpolar archipelago of Svalbard is a true place of the heart. Deliciously remote and yet surprisingly accessible, Svalbard is Europe’s most evocative slice of the polar north and one of the continent’s last great wilderness areas. Shapely peaks, massive icefi elds (60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciers) and heartbreakingly beautiful fjords provide the backdrop for a rich array of Arctic wildlife (including around one-sixth of the world’s polar bears, which outnumber people here), and for summer and winter activities that get you out amid the ringing silence of the snows.
8. Kystriksveien (coastal route)
The lightly-trafficked coastal route through Nordland is for those with leisure to savour its staggering beauty. You might well not have time for the full 650km but a sample is all but mandatory if you’re progressing northwards. It’s not one to be rushed. The frequent ferry hops off er compulsory, built-in breaks and stunning seascapes, while both inland glaciers and accessible off shore islands – such as Vega, famous for its eider ducks, or Lovund, home to 200,000 puffins – are seductive diversions.
9. Oslo-Bergen Railway
Often cited as one of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys, the Oslo-Bergen rail line is an opportunity to sample some of Norway’s best scenery. After passing through the forests of southern Norway, it climbs up onto the horizonless beauty of the Hardangervidda Plateau and then continues down through the pretty country around Voss and on into Bergen. En route it passes within touching distance of the fjords and connects with the incredibly steep branch line down to the fjord country that fans out from Flåm.
10. Pulpit Rock
As lookouts go, Preikestolen has few peers. Perched atop an almost perfectly sheer cliff that juts out more than 600m above the waters of gorgeous Lysefjord, Pulpit Rock is one of Norway’s signature images and most eye-catching areas. It’s the sort of place where you’ll barely be able to look as travellers dangle far more than seems advisable over the precipice, even as you fi nd yourself drawn inexorably towards the edge. The hike to reach it takes two hours and involves a full-day trip from Stavanger.
11. Stave Churches
All over southern and central Norway you’ll come across wooden stave churches. They come in all forms, from the monumental to the pocket-sized and cute, but no matter what form they take there’s something about them that will stir up hazy memories of childhood. For the stave churches of Norway, many of which come surrounded in stories of trolls, are without doubt the very definition of fairy-tale churches, and none more so than the spectacular Heddal Stave Church.
There’s no finer way to explore the Arctic wilderness than on a sled pulled by a team of huskies. Blissfully free from engine noise and the din of modern life, accompanied by a soundtrack of yelping dogs and the scrape of the sled across the snow, dog-sledding (from half-day excursions to multiday expeditions) takes you out into the trackless world of Norway’s far north and allows you to immerse yourself in the eerily beautiful light of the Arctic winter.
Norway is the last refuge for some of Europe’s most intriguing wildlife. While you may stumble upon polar bears (in Svalbard only), Arctic foxes, reindeer and other species during your explorations of the Norwegian wild, dedicated safaris in the Norwegian interior will take you within sight of the otherworldly musk ox, as well as the rather loveable elk (moose). Along the coast, Norway’s bird life is abundant and filled with interest, while whalewatching outings are a staple of the Nordland coast, especially around Lofoten and Vesterålen.
Snug, tidy Ålesund owes much of its charm to a devastating fire that ripped through its wooden structures a century ago, destroying everything except the jail and a church. From its ashes rose a brand-new town, mostly of stone and mostly designed by young Norwegian architects who had trained in Germany. Strongly influenced by the Jugendstil (art nouveau) movement of the time, they designed buildings rich in ornamentation, with turrets, spires, gargoyles and other fanciful elements based on local motifs.
15. Sami culture
Snowmobiles have ousted sleds and nowadays only a minority of Sami live from their reindeer herds or coastal fishing. But the Sami culture, transcending the frontiers of Norway, Sweden and Finland, lives on and strong. The affairs of the Norwegian Sami are regulated by the Sami Parliament, its building a masterpiece of design in mellow wood. And Sami identity lies secure in the language and its dialects, traditions such as thejoik (a sustained, droned rhythmic poem), and handicrafts such as silversmithing and knife making.
Tromsø, a cool 400km north of the Arctic Circle, is northern Norway’s most significant city with, among other superlatives, the world’s northernmost cathedral, brewery and botanic garden. Its busy clubs and pubs – more per capita than in any other Norwegian town – owe much to the university (another northernmost) and its students. In summer, Tromsø’s a base for round-the-clock, 24-hour daylight activity. Once the first snows fall, the locals slip on their skis or snowshoes, head out of town and gaze skywards for a glimpse of the northern lights.
Oslo is reinventing itself. This is a city aiming to become nothing less than a worldrenowned centre of culture. It’s already bursting at the seams with museums and top-notch art galleries, but now it’s got itself a brand-new, glacier-white opera house that could make even Sydney envious. This is only the start of a project that will transform the city’s waterfront over the next decade and in the process make Oslo one of the most happening cities in Scandinavia.
Collection of tips and advice for first time visitors to Norway (partly applies to Sweden and Finland). Keep this in mind when planning a trip to Norway.
1. Norway has less than 5 million inhabitants, but it is a large country and sparsly populated. Foreign visitors typically underestimate distances and traveling time. Norway's mainland spans about 15 degrees north-south, same as the distance NY City to Miami. From the southernmost point to the border with Russia there is about 3000 kilometers. Norway is larger than Germany and mainland about 3 times longer, Norway is slightly smaller than California but 3 times longer. Norway's gross coastline is an incredible 25,000 kilometers when fjords are included (longer than the continental US coastline and thus one of the longest in the world), and around 100,000 kilometers when islands are included. Norway is both an eastern and a western country, as the eastern most town on the mainland is further east than for instance St.Petersburg, Kiev and Istanbul. Whereas the city of Bergen is further west than Cologne, Geneva and Milano.
Finnmark, the largest and most northerly county, is larger than countries like Denmark, the Netherlands or Switzerland but there is only 70,000 inhabitants. Kautokeino, the largest administrative district in Finnmark, is about the size of Lebanon or Jamaica.
Topography along the coast, fjords and mountains is complex, and public transport is often limited to one bus a day. It is not possible to "see" Norway in a few days. Visitors coming for a few days need to focus on one or two cities or one region. For instance, driving north-south may take several days (not including sightseeing and detours).Many first time visitors make too tight and detailed schedules months ahead, and do not allow time for the unexpected (in terms of attractions, transport difficulties etc).
Because the country stretches far North, a crucial question is how much to the North? This depends on days, wishes, itinerary. Norway is full of great places to visit, while proceeding to the North you can go to Ålesund, Trondheim, Lofoten Islands, even North Cape at the Northernmost tip. One can even visit Svalbard near North Pole which is a guite demanding trip though.
While Norway is a very modern country with plenty of well-organized tours and transport services, abundance of space and long distances makes it ideal for the self-reliant traveller. Travellers willing to invest the extra effort and venture into the unknown will be rewarded.
Advice: Plan trip according to type of transport available and travel times. Do not make too detailed and tight schedules (particularly in winter). Get a good map to start and sketch some rough initial itineraries.
2. The main attraction in Norway is the country itself, landscapes and nature. Norway has an abundance of fjords, islands, coastline, forest, lakes, mountains and waterfalls. Even the national anthem mentions the "ruggedness" of the country in the first lines: "Rising storm-scarr'd from the ocean, Where the breakers foam. ...." As a tourist, the biggest mistake to do in Norway is to rush from city to city. Norway has a number of nice and interesting cities, some of which has a justified reputation (such as Bergen), but even the most important cultural treasuries are in remote rural districts. Norway cannot be "seen" by visiting two or three major cities. Attractions are not limited points on the map, but include largely everything along the route. And, somewhat confusing perhaps, the greatest landscapes are not necessarily in the national parks.
Advice: Slow down, take time to enjoy areas between the cities. Make flexible and generous schedules.
3. Norway is very far North, but it does not have an arctic climate. The south-west coast (Bergen) has a mild humid climate like Britain and the Netherlands. The east (Oslo and "eastern valleys") has a kind of continental climate, and summers can be quite warm (20-30 dg C). For the typical summer visitor, rain is a the issue rather than cold weather. The nordic sun can burn your skin even if it is not warm, particularly on snow fields, in the high mountains and near water surfaces. Bring sunglasses (UV-filter) and protect your nose and lips in the high mountains. Most visitors come during summer when there is endless daylight and pleasant temperatures, but Norway also has a very long skiing season from November to April (or even May in some places, a handful of ski resorts operate only May to September).
Note however that climate and weather differs substantially from north to south, and from east to west. Even within a couple hours driving there can be a change from deep frost to mild weather. However, most settlements and all major cities are close to the sea and therefore enjoys the warm Gulf stream. Spring is generally in May, in April large parts of the inland and the north is still in deep winter. Driving car in winter conditions (November to March) is only for the experienced. In case of wind and heavy snow fall mountain passes can be closed on short notice or drivers can be instructed to form a line right behind the snow plow.
Note that the hiking season in the higher mountains starts relatively late (July-August is the best time) because of the large amounts of snow in central mountain areas. Along the coast and at lower altitudes hiking season is much longer. Also note that it can be relatively cold in the mountains even in summer, temperatures generally drop 1 degree Celsius for every 100 or 150 meters increased altitude.
Advice: Get specific climate and weather information about the places you plan to visit.
4. Fjords are the perhaps Norway's most famous attraction, and many tourists rush to Geiranger and Flåm where the most famous (and UNESCO-protected) are. Fjords are however found all over the country (fjords is the predominant feature of the landscape in most of Norway), although the typical ones are in West Norway from Stavanger to Kristiansund as well is in North Norway (until about Tromsø).There is actually no need to go to Geiranger, Flåm or Lysefjorden (pulpi rock) to experience the magic of fjords.
Advice: Visit the fjords that best fits into your overall plan rather than making a long detour to the more famous ones.
5. The midnight sun is of course a nice experience, and can be seen anywhere North of Bodø (not only at North Cape) around mid summer. About half of Norway lies above the arctic circle. There is absolutely no need to go to North Cape to experience the midnight sun. The effect of the midnight sun can however be seen further south, notably by the very short nights at midsummer (sometimes called "white nights"). Even as far south as Oslo it is hardly dark at all (one can read outdoor at midnight). This is a crucial aspect of the Norwegian (or Nordic) summer and for some more interesting experience than the midnight sun itself. For this reason, some claim that the midnight sun is somewhat overrated.
Advice: If you are determined to see the midnight sun, include it as a bonus in a visit to the great landscapes of north Norway.
6. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and many things are accordingly expensive (particularly personal service, such as restaurants and taxis, as well as some food items). Note that service and taxes (VAT) is always included in the price offered, nothing is added to the bill. Air transport is relatively cheap if the traveller are flexible with regard to time and date. However, the most important things are free of charge: everyone has right of access to wilderness (including beaches) even if privatly owned. Some state institutions (such as the national gallery) has no admission fee.
Advice: Adjust type of transport and accommodation as well as activities to prices. For instance, always consider public transport rather than taxi.
7. Health & Safety standards are very high and visitors generally don't have to worry about personal security. For instance, tap water is not only drinkable but usually of very high quality (better than bottled). During summer there is virtually 24 hour daylight everywhere, which adds to safety. Keep a safe distance to glaciers, waterfalls and ocean waves (this is where accidents happen).
Advice: Don't worry, but respect forces of nature.
8. Eating cheaply
Norway's restaurants are expensive particularly for foreign visitors. Supermarkets offer good products for more reasonable prices. Budget supermarkets such as Kiwi, Rema and Prix can be found most places. Many places also have bakeries that offer freshly baked breads, cakes, salty pastries, and sandwiches usually more value for money that at restaurants. Pizzerias are very common, although of varying quality these are often the least expensive place "to fill up" (often 120-150 NOK for a pizza). In comparison to a restaurant where a main course is anywhere between 160 - 290 NOK.
Advice: Shop in supermarkets, bakeries are a great alternative to restaurants
Island Hop Around the Lofoten Islands
Find idyllic Norwegian fishing communities—characterized by old red cabins on stilts called rorbu, docked fishing boats, and racks of drying stockfish (unsalted dried cod)—scattered all over the Lofoten Islands. Surrounded by dramatic craggy mountains and with views of Vestfjord that stretch to the east of the Lofoten Islands for roughly a hundred miles, the capital of Svolvær and its tranquil harbor are a great base for island-hopping via ferries.
Sample local fish dishes such as cod, haddock, and ling. Home to the world’s largest known cold-water coral reef, the Røst Reef, the Lofoten Islands are perfect for deep-sea fishing. For sports fishermen, the islands host the World Championships in Arctic cod fishing every year. Beyond its panoramic beauty and fishing culture, enjoy soft adventure activities such as kayaking, hiking, and biking around its mountainous peaks—a testament to Norway’s unparalleled beauty.
Ride Cable Cars to See the Midnight Sun
Experience northern Norway’s grand vistas from Storsteinen (Big Rock) on Mount Fløya. Rising 1,381 feet, the ride up Storsteinen via the Fjellheisen cable car takes roughly four to five minutes. At the top, you’ll find an observation deck with magnificent views over Tromsø and its surrounding islands. During the summer, the cable car operates until 1 a.m.
The iconic Fløibanen funicular in the southwestern coastal port town of Bergen takes you 1,050 feet above sea level to Fløyen, one of seven mountains surrounding the town. It takes five to eight minutes to reach the top, and the journey itself offers spectacular views of Bergen’s port and historic architecture as you ascend. The funicular runs year-round and stays open until 11 p.m.
Hike Up a Troll’s Tongue in Skjeggedal
There’s no shortage of panoramic vistas to hike to in Norway, and the hanging cliff Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue) is one of the most scenic. The cliff is 3,609 feet above sea level and juts out of the surrounding rock formations, dangling 2,297 feet over Lake Ringedalsvatnet like a ledge. Recommended only from mid-June through mid-September, the challenging round-trip hike takes about eight to ten hours to complete and requires you to be in good shape to ascend the nearly 3,000 feet. Its remoteness means you need to be prepared for sudden weather changes and pack sturdy shoes, extra clothing, navigational tools (a map and compass), and enough water and food to last you the long trek. Travelers are advised to start the hike early in the day—with no cell phone coverage along the trail, hikers venture out at their own risk. But the photos from Trolltunga are certainly worth the journey.
Another thrilling option for hikers is the narrow Besseggen Ridge in Jotunheimen National Park, considered one of the world’s best hikes. The 10.5-mile hike across the rocky ridge that splits the green glacial lake Gjende and high alpine lake Bessvatnet provides one of the most remarkable views on Earth.
Explore Sami Culture and the Arctic Wilderness Around Finnmark
Prepare for 24 hours of sunlight if you make it up to Norway’s northernmost county, Finnmark. Sharing the same latitude as parts of northern Siberia and central Greenland, Finnmark also borders Russia and Finland, and between mid-May and August, the sun never sets.
In Finnmark, you’ll find the North Cape sea cliff, which rises more than a thousand feet above sea level; one of the world’s northernmost towns, Hammerfest; and Finnmarksvidda mountain plateau, a vast landscape of Arctic tundra, lakes, bogs, and birch forests teeming with reindeer. Visit Seiland National Park, which is one of five national parks in the region and houses two of Scandinavia’s northernmost glaciers, Seilandsjøkelen and Nordmannsjøkelen.
Finnmark is also home to the indigenous Sami people, and in the nearby county of Troms visitors can experience facets of Sami culture, including reindeer sledding and the Riddu Riđđu Festival, a folk arts, culture, and music festival that attracts over 200 performance artists every July.
Take a Hair-Raising Drive Through Trollstigen
Rent a car and drive, if you dare, along the impressive Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Route, a popular road that snakes for 66 miles through the landscape between Strynefjell and Romsdal. Along the way are harrowing cliff faces, steep mountain ranges, and waterfalls alongside deep fjords. Opened in 1936, Trollstigen (Troll’s Path) is surrounded by mountains with stately names like Kongen (King), Dronningen (Queen), and Bispen (Bishop) and has 11 adrenaline-inducing bends and a sharp incline of 9 percent.
Along the route are six rest areas where you can stop for photo opportunities and soak in the panoramic views. The most popular stop is Flydalsjuvet, with a viewing platform facing the imposing UNESCO-protected Geirangerfjord. Continuing on the route will take you to its steepest stretch, Ørnesvingen (Eagle Bend), which rises 2,034 feet above sea level, with hairpin curves along the way. Rewards include 360-degree bird’s-eye views of Geirangerfjord and the Seven Sisters Waterfall.
Discover Viking History and Explorers in Oslo
Oslo, Norway's ultramodern and hip capital city, is one of the best places to learn about the Viking age (ninth to eleventh centuries). Various artifacts excavated from graves around the country are featured in Oslo museums.
The impressive Viking Ship Museum, located on the Bygdøy peninsula, houses three original ninth-century Viking ships—the Oseberg (circa A.D. 820), the Gokstad (circa A.D. 850), and the Tune (circa A.D. 900)—alongside wood carvings, metal tools, textiles, and skeletal remains. Battle gear and other artifacts can be found in the permanent Norwegian Antiquity exhibit at the Historical Museum.
The Kon-Tiki Museum houses 20th-century Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s famous Kon-Tiki, a balsa-wood raft that he sailed 4,300 miles from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. It also includes the Ra II, a ship made from papyrus that he sailed from Africa to the Caribbean in 1970.
At Fram Museum, follow in the footsteps of polar explorers Fridtjof Nansen, whose ship sailed across the Arctic from 1893 to 1896, and Roald Amundsen, who raced to Antarctica and the South Pole in 1911.
Cruise Through Norway’s Fjords
Arguably the most popular way to experience Norway’s grandeur is by cruising its deep fjords past sheer mountain faces. Hurtigruten offers voyages that extensively cover the country’s coastline and fjords (such as Lysefjord, Hardangerfjord, and Sognefjord, with stops along the way). Lysefjord is 26 miles long and 1,384 feet deep, and its iconic Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) is a flat plateau that towers 1,982 feet over Lysefjord. The second largest fjord in Norway is the 111-mile-long Hardangerfjord. Stops along the Hardangerfjord include the municipality of Eidfjord, known for Vøringsfossen, a more than 560-foot waterfall. Nærøyfjord is 11 miles long and only 820 feet wide at its narrowest point and features hanging valleys and tapered canyons. And the grand dame and largest fjord in Norway, Sognefjord, offers the most dramatic fjord landscapes, with near vertical mountain faces rising up to 4,593 feet above sea level and dotted with tiny farming communities and waterfalls.
If you’re short on time, opt for the Norway in a Nutshell tour in southern Norway, which connects travelers to Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord, branches of Sognefjord, via a memorable ride (with spectacular views) along the historic Flåm railway.
Take a Pilgrimage Along St. Olav Ways
Similar to Spain’s renowned Santiago de Compostela, Norway’s St. Olavsleden (part of the St. Olav Ways) is an ancient, 350-mile series of paths that starts in Selånger, Sweden, and ends at the 11th-century Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. The route follows the journey of Norway’s patron saint, King Olav II Haraldsson, who stepped ashore at Selånger in 1030 and marched his army into Norway before dying in battle at Stiklestad.
Rest easy, you don’t have to hike the entire route. Many travelers take a week and only complete the 85-mile stretch between Stiklestad and Trondheim. The path cuts through birch forests and past the ruins of the 12th-century Munkeby monastery and the new Cistercian monastery, Mariakloster. It then traverses a deep valley, Hållådalen, that boasts ancient rock carvings and continues past tiny farming villages and through the village of Hell—where the Stjørdalselva River merges with Trondheimsfjord—before ending up in Trondheim. If you've walked at least 62 miles of the route, get a certificate of completion at the Nidaros Cathedral, where the remains of King Olav are currently located.
Go on Wildlife Safaris in Stø
If you’ve ever wanted to watch whales in the wild, the tiny fishing village of Stø in Vesterålen is the perfect launching spot. Various whale and seal safaris go out under the midnight sun to observe marine wildlife around Bleik Canyon. Here, deep, cold, and nutrient-rich water is pushed upward in the springtime, encouraging large blooms of plankton that attract marine life to the surface.
From late May through August, Arctic Whale Tours runs various safaris guided by marine biologists to watch sperm, pilot, humpback, minke, fin, and killer whales, as well as colonies of harbor seals basking on rocks. You can also go on bird-watching trips around Anda Nature Reserve, whose bird cliffs are home to over 20,000 seabirds, including puffins, kittiwakes, and black guillemots.
Enjoy Midnight Concerts at the Arctic Cathedral, Troms
Formerly known as Tromsdalen Church, the Arctic Cathedral is an exquisite nod to minimalist Scandinavian design. Stories about architect Jan Inge Hovig's sources of inspiration abound—it's been said to mimic icebergs, indigenous Sami tents, boathouses, and the sharp peaks of nearby mountains—but no one knows for sure what he based his design on. The impressive building features 11 aluminum-coated panels on each side of its roof and a large glass mosaic and façade.
Dedicated in 1965, the cathedral’s design and mosaic beautifully reflect soft light from the midnight sun, and its interiors are filled with oak pews and prism chandeliers. Its superb surround-sound acoustics are showcased by an impressive 2,940-pipe organ, and all summer long the cathedral puts onvarious late night concerts featuring, among other programs, traditional Norwegian folk songs performed by choirs, quartets, and orchestras.