Norway is a wildly beautiful country of snow-capped mountains and deep glacier-carved fjords. The astounding scenery of the southwestern Fjordlands and the mysterious Northern Lights of the Arctic are the main draw cards for tourists.
But there are many other incentives to visit this sparsely inhabited country. It offers remote wilderness and outdoor activities, fairylike forests, historic towns and charming fishing villages, friendly people, and the lure of the Arctic Circle. It also boasts some of the most scenic bus trips, boat cruises, and train rides in the world.
'The Land of the Midnight Sun', with its long summer days, is not only for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It offers a rich cultural heritage from the Vikings, the traditional nomadic Sami people of the remote northern regions, and world-renowned artists such as Edvard Munch.
Principle cities of interest are Oslo, the pretty capital; the historic trading port of Bergen, gateway to the Fjordlands; and hilly Tromsø, within the Arctic Circle, the centre of the Northern Lights activity. They are pleasant, low-key cities that offer a good range of museums, historical sites, and unique architecture.
Norway's greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age when the sleek Viking ships crossed the Atlantic, subjecting Europe to numerous raids. Traditionally, Norwegians are explorers and their influence is evident in the world-shaping history of the Vikings. It's also seen in more recent personalities like polar explorer Roald Amundsen and the legendary Pacific crossing of Thor Heyerdahl on his wooden raft, the Kon-Tiki.
Today, Norwegians hold onto many of their cultural traditions, most notably the art of storytelling that takes place around the fireside and whiles away the long winter hours. Trolls figure prominently in their folklore, some friendly and helpful, and some decidedly naughty, conveniently serving as a source of blame for all of life's troubles.
Norway is one of the best adventure-tourism destinations in the world, with an intriguing folk culture to match its dramatic landscapes. It is an expensive country to visit but provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences that truly reward the investment.
Norway is a famously good destination for outdoor adventure tourism, with fantastic skiing, cycling, hiking, climbing, river rafting, and even scuba diving opportunities. The spectacular scenery is popularly enjoyed on cruises and train rides, with much of the tourist activity centring on the famous and extensive network of fjords.
Sognefjord is the largest of the fjords and lures many tourists to Norway with its dramatic vistas and the natural and cultural wealth along its banks. Many visitors start their fjord explorations in Bergen, but Tromsø also offers some glorious fjord cruises.
Tromsø is the gateway to the Arctic and the main attractions in the north are the phenomena of the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun, which keep travellers arriving year round. Like all the main cities in Norway, Tromsø also boasts some good museums, as well as the unique Arctic Cathedral.
Oslo, the capital, is a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city, surrounded by glorious countryside and promising many sightseeing opportunities for rainy days. The heritage of the Vikings and the great Norwegian explorers can be investigated in Oslo, as well as some of the country's best art galleries. Other popular urban destinations in Norway include Stavanger, Trondheim, and Bergen, the gateway to the fjords which also boasts the historic neighbourhood of Bryggen.
Vigeland Museum and Park is Oslo's most visited attraction, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Norway. It is a vast green area of duck ponds, trees, and lawns that is a monument to the celebrated Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. He spent 40 years creating the life-size statues that decorate the walkways and open spaces.
There are more than 200 works presenting the human form in a variety of poses and conveying a range of emotions. At the centre of the park is the most impressive piece, the Monolith, a gigantic mass of writhing bodies carved from a single column of stone and believed to be the largest granite sculpture in the world at a height of 46ft (14m).
Surrounding the column are groups of human sculptures in various forms of interaction with each other. The most famous and most photographed piece is the Angry Boy, a fat child stamping his foot. There are many more sculptures to be seen in the park and in the nearby Vigeland Museum, featuring a display on the development of the artist's work and his sketches and plaster originals.
Visitors should note that although the attraction is commonly called Vigeland Park, the collection of sculptures is technically in a middle section of Frogner Park. Guided tours are available for the museum.
Situated on the Bygdoy Peninsula, the Kon-Tiki Museum contains the iconic balsawood raft, the Kon-Tiki, on which Thor Heyerdahl made his famous journey across the Pacific in 1947 to prove the theory that the first Polynesian settlers could have sailed the 4,300 miles (6,923km) between Peru and Polynesia.
The museum also contains the original reed raft, Ra II, on which Heyerdahl sailed across the Atlantic in 1970. Besides the rafts, there is a huge stuffed whale shark, artefacts from his expeditions, and exhibits of his visits to Easter Island, as well as an intriguing collection of archaeological finds from Easter Island, Galapagos, East Polynesia, and Peru.
For travellers interested in the seafaring adventures of Norwegian explorers, this museum is a gem: seeing the craft used to make the famous expeditions is thrilling and the voyages can be tracked through news articles and other memorabilia.
It is a speciality museum and may not appeal to everybody visiting Oslo. But for those who enjoy such things, the Kon-Tiki is an informative and interesting museum which generally scores high with tourists. The museum is located just opposite the Fram Polar Ship Museum, and the two attractions are best combined. Entry to the Kon-Tiki Museum is free with the Oslo Pass.
Found on the Bygdoy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum houses three 9th-century Viking ships that were excavated from ritual burial mounds in the south of Norway. Their excellent condition is due to the clay in which they were preserved. Viking ships were used as tombs for royalty who were buried with everything they might need in their life after death.
The biggest and best preserved of the ships is the Gokstad, and the finest is the Oseberg, a richly ornamented dragon ship with an intricately carved animal head post, that was the burial chamber of a Viking queen. The elegantly carved sleigh used by the Viking royalty and a hoard of treasure was found on the buried ship and is displayed at the back of the museum.
Raised platforms allow visitors to view the inside of the ships' hulls. The museum is small and not interactive, but the ships are fascinating and make an impact the moment you see them. The museum is considered a must in Oslo and a visit is one of the best ways to get a taste of the intriguing Viking culture.
Most of the displays have some explanation in English, but there is also free wifi in the museum which can be used to get additional information in English. Entrance to the museum is free with the Oslo Pass.
The site of the old medieval quarter of the city of Bergen, Bryggen is a charming, compact area of brightly coloured wooden homes that traditionally housed the city's merchants. Also called Tyskebryggen, its steep cobbled lanes are lined with a vivacious blend of cafes and artisans' workshops.
With many buildings dating from before the 17th century, The Hanseatic wharf area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the most important examples of a medieval settlement in the world.
Bryggen was once the working area of the merchants and is the oldest part of Bergen, characterised by a maze of lopsided wooden buildings with pointed gables facing the harbour. The Bryggen and Hanseatic Museums, as well as the 12th-century St Mary's Church, are all in the Bryggen area.
At one end of the wharf is Bergen's famous fish market, a colourful market also selling flowers, fruit, vegetables, and souvenirs. Because of its predominantly wooden buildings, Bryggen has struggled with fire throughout its long history and many of the structures have been rebuilt several times. One of the unexpected advantages of the destruction caused by fire was the discovery of a wealth of runic inscriptions, now housed in the Bryggen Museum.
The Hanseatic Museum is housed in one of the oldest and best-preserved wooden buildings in Bryggen, the former home of a wealthy merchant. Furnished in the 18th century style, it provides a glimpse of the working and living conditions of the Hanseatic merchants during the Middle Ages.
The austere layout and maze-like rooms are saturated by the smell of fish and leave a lasting impression. Although a number of historic houses remain in the medieval district, the Hanseatic Museum is the only house left in Bryggen that has retained its original interior.
A short walk away next to St Mary's Church is the Schotstuene, a museum consisting of three assembly rooms and a kitchen once used by the Hanseatic merchants. Cooking was conducted in the Schotstuene as it was the only place in Bryggen where it was permitted to use fire. As a precaution, it was kept removed from the other buildings.
The ticket price for the Hanseatic Museum includes entry to the Schotstuene on the same day. The Hanseatic Museum is best visited on the guided walking tour which begins at the Bryggens Museum. For many travellers, the Hanseatic Museum is one of the best historic attractions in the city and if you only visit one museum in Bryggen, it should probably be this one.
This fantastic archaeological museum was built around the remains of the oldest buildings discovered in Bergen, dating from the 12th century, and the ruins have been incorporated into the exhibits along with excavated tools, ceramics, and even skeletons.
In 1955, parts of historic Bryggen were destroyed by fire and the subsequent excavations revealed some fascinating objects now on display in the museum. Bryggens Museum houses various artefacts and traditional costumes and imaginatively attempts to recreate life in the Middle Ages with displays of domestic implements, handicrafts, runic inscriptions, and items relating to seafaring and trade during medieval times.
The Bryggens Museum is the starting point for a wonderful historical walking tour through the UNESCO-listed district. This tour is really good value for money as it includes entry to two other museums as well. The guided tours are offered in several languages and depart every hour or so, depending on demand. The Bryggens Museum also houses temporary art and history exhibitions. The museum itself doesn't require much time to explore and is best seen as part of a wider exploration of the historic area.
Bergen's oldest surviving building, the beautiful stone Church of St Mary's, dates from the beginning of the 12th century. The interior is decorated with old frescoes and a splendid Baroque pulpit donated by the Hanseatic merchants in 1676.
The twin towers of the church are distinctive among the low red-tiled roofs of the old quarter. St Mary's is constructed mainly of soapstone and the architectural style is predominantly Romanesque.
The Church of St Mary's is the only one surviving of 12 churches and three monasteries built around the time of Bergen's foundation. Its survival is mainly due to the fact that it was the chosen place of worship for the wealthy German merchants of Bergen, whose patronage ensured it never fell into ruin.
Like many buildings in Bergen, St Mary's has been damaged by several fires through the centuries and has therefore been repaired and renovated. But even considering these slight alterations, the structure remains remarkably intact and has ultimately changed very little through the ages.
The church is an active place of worship and those wanting to attend services will find them listed on the website below. Sightseeing visitors are also welcome.
The Tromsø Museum is northern Norway's oldest and largest museum with exhibitions devoted to the cultural and natural history of the region. It is located on the university campus, just outside the city, and is run by the university.
There is a comprehensive display relating to the traditional culture and music of the Sami or Lapp people and their nomadic, reindeer-herding way of life, and for many people this is the highlight of the visit. The Tromsø Museum is possibly the best place in Norway to learn about the fascinating Sami culture and history.
There are also daily films about the Northern Lights, particularly good for those visiting outside of the months when the Aurora might be seen. Apart from the Northern Lights display, there are numerous other science and nature exhibits, including things like earthquake sensors, which the kids will enjoy testing.
Most of the exhibits have some information available in English. There is a good cafe for refreshments when you need a break. The bus ride to the museum is scenic and many travellers find it a fun part of the visit, but it is also possible to walk the distance and it is a pleasant stroll if you have the inclination.
The spectacular design of the white and ultramodern Arctic Cathedral is visible from afar, situated on a small hill on an island and linked to the mainland by the spindly Tromsø Bridge. It is an architectural masterpiece, made up of eleven large triangular sections representing the eleven faithful apostles and symbolising northern Norwegian heritage, culture and faith.
It bears an interesting resemblance to the Sydney Opera House in Australia, but its colour and shape can also be likened to an iceberg. The cathedral has one of the largest stained glass windows in Europe, and an interior decorated with grand chandeliers made up of many prisms of colours and lights, representing hanging ice formations.
Built in 1965, the church is not technically a cathedral, despite its commonly used name. The actual Tromsø Cathedral is the only wooden cathedral in Norway and is also worth a visit. Travellers should note that the church is usually only open for two hours in the winter months, in the late afternoon, and opening hours can fluctuate so it is best to check the official website to confirm opening hours before visiting. Look out for the wonderful midnight music concerts in the church.
Polaria is an information and experience centre for the whole family, combining interactive experiences with information about the arctic environment. There is a panoramic film about the arctic wilderness of Svalbard, an Arctic Walkway that creates a snowstorm experience and the Northern Lights spectacle.
As the Northern Lights are famously unpredictable, it is nice to know that you can at least see the effect recreated at Polaria even if the lights elude you in real life. The bearded seal pool is especially exciting at feeding time, and an aquarium provides a close look at arctic sea mammals and life in the freezing waters.
There is a little gift shop for those wanting souvenirs. Polaria is best suited to families and is a good option for those travelling with kids in Tromsø. A visit will only take about one to three hours and ideally should be timed to coincide with seal training and feeding. These usually take place daily at 12.30pm and 3.30pm in the winter months, and at 12.30pm and 3pm in the summer.
Those wanting a more grown-up investigation of arctic history, particularly the explorers and seal hunting tradition, should visit the Polar Museum housed in a converted warehouse by the harbour.
Lillehammer is best known for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics and the area does offer excellent opportunities for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. In fact, Lillehammer is considered Norway's oldest winter sports resort.
Lillehammer is picturesque, overlooking Lake Myosa and surrounded by mountains. The village transforms from season to season: a beautiful frozen world in winter and a lush green valley in summer.
In the cold, snowy months, visitors can find some of the best cross-country ski trails in northern Europe at nearby Nordseter and Sjusjoen, and a great ski centre at Hafjell. Lillehammer itself is a very small ski resort, with only about 630 feet (192 metres) of vertical descent and wonderful hiking opportunities in the summer months some.
This small town has other attractions too, including Maihaugen, the largest open-air museum in Norway; the 12th-century Garmo stave church; and the PS Skibladner paddle steamer. The picturesque main street of Lillehammer is not to be forgotten, lined with charming 19th-century wooden houses. There is a wide selection of shops, restaurants, and accommodation in Lillehammer.
Sognefjord is the largest fjord in Norway and the third longest in the world, stretching 127 miles (205km) from the coast to the village of Skjolden. Sheer cliffs rise to heights of 3,300 feet (1,000m) and more above the water.
In addition to some of the most dramatic and magnificent scenery in the world, Sognefjord contains or provides access to many of Norway's most famous tourist attractions. These include three popular national parks, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and much more.
Sognefjord offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences for visitors: travellers can see, touch and even walk on the largest glacier in Europe in the Jostedalsbreen National Park; investigate numerous heritage treasures, like the UNESCO-listed Urnes Stave Church in Luster, the oldest church in Norway; marvel at the thundering waterfalls, wild rivers and pristine mountain lakes that feed into the fjord; and explore the steep mountains on either side of Sognefjord, which boast an impressive network of hiking, climbing and skiing trails.
Gorgeous, mostly dry summers and mild winters mean that the fjord can be explored at any time of year, depending on desired activities and adventures. Popular activities in and around Sognefjord include cycling, fishing, hunting, hiking, climbing, kayaking, river rafting, skiing, and canyoning. But those who just want to sit back and enjoy the splendid scenery can take one of the many fjord cruises or even enjoy a train trip.
Despite its northerly location, the coastal climate in Norway is temperate, thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream flowing along its coast. Summer, between late June and early August, brings long, hot days with temperatures reaching 86°F (30°C), and sea temperatures averaging a comfortable 64°F (18°C). Even in the north of Norway, summer temperatures rise to 77°F (25°C) or more. However, summer weather can be changeable in Norway and the summer months can be wet.
In winter much of Norway is snow-clad with very low temperatures in the north and the low-lying inland regions of the south. Temperatures can drop below -40°F (-40°C). In contrast, the coast enjoys mild winters, although gales and rain are common. In spring, between May and mid-June, Norway is at its prettiest, with everything coming to life and blossoming and snow melt swelling the waterfalls.
June and July is often considered the best time to visit Norway because of the warm weather and the long days, which see sunlight until nearly 10pm. These peak summer months are also the most crowded in Norway. March is the best time to go skiing in Norway, and May and September offer nice weather and slightly smaller crowds. The Northern Lights are famously elusive and unpredictable, but there is a possibility of seeing them any time between late September and March.
The official currency is the Norwegian Krone (NOK), divided into 100 ore. Larger establishments accept major credit cards. Use of credit cards is widespread, with Eurocard/Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club being the most common. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks and major post offices, as well as many hotels and travel agents, although for poorer rates. ATMs are available in all towns and cities.
Norwegian is the official language, but English is widely understood.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are in use.
United States citizens require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
British Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens, and British Subjects must have valid passports, but require no visa to enter Norway. For British passports with any other endorsement no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Canadians must have a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is required for a stay of up 90 in any 180 day period.
Australians must have a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 in any 180 day period.
South Africans require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. Holders of temporary passports are not allowed. A visa is required for travel to Norway.
Irish nationals must have a valid passport but no visa is required.
United States citizens require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
All visitors to Norway must have sufficient funds, return or onward tickets and all documents needed for further travel. Passports should be valid for at least the period of intended stay. Some European countries require only their National Identity Card if coming as a tourist to Norway. The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no real health risks associated with travel to Norway and the standard of healthcare is high throughout the country. A reciprocal agreement exists between the UK and Norway under which British nationals are covered for emergency treatment while visiting Norway as long as they hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Travellers should ensure that they have adequate travel and medical insurance.
Norwegians generally earn good salaries and, while it's perfectly alright to tip, a tipping culture doesn't really exist in the country. But customers do usually round up bills to the nearest 10 or 100 NOK.
Norway is a safe country in which to travel. However, travellers should still take sensible precautions to avoid petty theft, as they would anywhere in the world. Petty theft is most common at airports and bus and train stations in Oslo.
Smoking is prohibited in all public places and on public transport in Norway, unless otherwise indicated. Norwegians tend to see everyone as being equal; they do not flaunt their wealth or financial achievements and frown on those who do. Travellers should note that whale meat is available legally in Norway, but that it is illegal to bring it into most other countries.
Business in Norway is conducted formally, with an emphasis on punctuality and direct communication. Business attire is usually smart and fashionable, though not ostentatious. Titles and surnames are predominantly used on introduction, but may be dropped later, and greetings are usually made with a handshake.
Business cards are commonly exchanged. Expect business to be conducted in a direct and forthright manner, with little small talk or socialising. It is worth bearing in mind that Norway is an expensive country and that any services from lawyers, consultants etc are subject to hefty VAT charges.
Business hours are usually 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Norwegians highly value family and believe in a healthy balance between work and leisure. They are hard-working but overtime is frowned upon and workers in Norway are entitled to more leave than foreigners may be used to.
The international access code for Norway is +47. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Norwegian residents over 18 years who have been abroad for 24 hours or more don't have to pay duty on goods worth up to NOK 6,000. This includes up to 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco products.
The amount of alcohol depends on the purchase of tobacco. In addition to tobacco, one can declare 5 litres of beer or 2 litres of beer with 3 litres of wine or 1 litre of spirits, 1.5 litres of wine, and 2 litres of beer.
Without tobacco, one may include 1 litre of spirits, 3 litres of wine, and 2 litres of beer, or 4.5 litres of wine and 2 litres of beer. The last option is having 6.5 litres of beer only. Travellers arriving from outside of the EU should confirm their duty free allowance prior to arrival in Norway.
Oslo Visitor Centre: +47 815 30 555 or www.visitnorway.com
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 333 6000.
Royal Norwegian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7591 5500.
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 6571.
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 364 3700.
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6270 5700.
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 662 1800.
United States Embassy, Oslo: +47 23 96 05 55.
British Embassy, Oslo: +47 2313 2700.
Canadian Embassy, Oslo: +47 2299 5300.
South African Embassy, Oslo: +47 2327 3220.
Australian Consulate, Oslo: +45 7026 3676.
Irish Embassy, Oslo: +47 2201 7200.
New Zealand Consulate, Oslo: +47 6677 5330.