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The historic stronghold of Vikings, a land of fjords, a seaside paradise—Norway is everything you are thinking, and more as well. This gem of Scandinavia is an ever-popular destination for tourists seeking a European vacation a bit off the beaten path, and they don’t go home disappointed. For those that would revel in the great outdoors and everything to do in it: skiing, boating, mountain climbing, skating, hiking (and so on!)—this is the place to be. You’ll encounter vibrant, populous towns thrumming with shopping, dining, and active nightlife, as well as sleepy fishing villages dotted by small restaurants and ice cream shops. There’s truly something for everyone here.
Norway is, first and foremost, a land of gorgeous scenery. The aforementioned fjords are showstoppers, but that’s not to discount the rugged mountains, deep blue lakes, and miles of flowering fields that adorn the country. To the far north, where the Svalbard Islands touch the Arctic Circle, glaciers and enormous expanses of isolated tundra make a playground for polar bears and reindeer! The midnight sun is in full effect during the longest days of summer, and the weather varies between sun-kissed mildness and deliciously frigid.
No survey of Norway is complete without mention of its rich history and engrossing culture, however. A long and storied civilization has given rise to fascinating old towns, engrossing museums, and lovely churches, homes, and buildings bordering on ancient. Big city sophistication gives way to Old World charm all within a short distance!
Norway Top Attractions
There’s so much to explore in Oslo! The Norwegian capital is one of the largest in Europe, but one of the least-populated. Consequently, there’s a thrilling variety of outdoorsy diversions unmatched anywhere in continental European big cities! You can hike, ski, or go sailing. The forests are green and deep, perfect for biking. Plus, there’s clean freshwater lakes begging for a swim! Realistically, however, most come to Oslo for the history and culture. Munch’s iconic “The Scream” is in the National Gallery; many of his other masterpieces are in his eponymous museum. Learn more about the winners of the prestigious prize at the Nobel Peace Centre, catch a show at the majestic Opera House, or marvel at the loveliness of the Royal Palace or city University. The old palace/fort of Akershus is a must-see, along with the Nordic-ly delightful City Hall and the recently-restored beauty of Oslo Cathedral, which was damaged by terrorist fire in 2011.
The fjords of Norway are headliner attractions, and Bergen is where to find them! Steep stone cliffs carved by glacial erosion, many of which are beribboned by waterfalls, drop perilously to the shimmering sea below. Hike the fjord walls, or hire out a sailboat, kayak, or zodiac to cruise the tranquil waterways below. Situated close to the North Sea, Bergen proper consists of a busy, dense city center surrounded by lovely mountains and lakes. Check out the historic fish market (just about every type of fresh seafood you can imagine, and some you can’t!), check out the Bergen Art Museum, and visit the magnificent stone ruins of Bergenhus fortress, Norway’s best-preserved ancient fortress. You also won’t want to miss the historic wooden houses of Bryggen, which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once the capital of Norway, Trondheim now rounds out the ranks of her three largest cities. A young, buzzing population enlivens the city center, fueled by the universities in the area. Bus and walking tours are the best way to take in the sights and sounds of the old part of town, parts of which have restrictions against to automobiles. One must-see item on your tour schedule should be a visit to Nidaros Domkirke, a resplendent cathedral that’s the largest medieval building in Scandinavia. In July and August there is a festival in honor of St. Olaf, patron of Trondheim. The Archbishop’s Palace is Scandinavia’s oldest secular building, as well as the home of the national royal jewels. The nightlife is vibrant here. Countless cafes, bars, pubs, and restaurants dot the streets, and the excitement in the air is palpable.
The most prominent of the Svalbard Islands is Spitsbergen. These islands constitute the northernmost tip of Europe, touching the Arctic Ocean. This is the most rugged part of Norway, an isolated tundra punctuated by craggy, flattop mountains. Those looking for the hallmarks of the great north: polar bears, reindeer, whales, and walruses—will find what they seek here! Cruising in on the frigid waters is by far the most popular (and practical) way to explore this icy wonderland. You’ll also have a front-row seat for viewing the endearing antics of humpbacks, orcas, and beluga whales as the cavort! Icebreaker ships are meant for tough work, but cruising on one as a passenger is completely luxurious. There’s nothing quite like gazing out on a snowbound Arctic evening from the warmth and opulence of your cruise cabin!
Breezy coastal loveliness is served in generous helpings in Stavanger! Some of the oldest settlements in the country are found here, in the country’s 4th-largest city. The expansive harbors were once a major hub of European trade, and today the museums on oil and canning are surprisingly fascinating gatekeepers of a bustling, prominent past. You’ll stretch you legs on climbs of Pulpit Rock and then Kjerag and the marvel at the unusual sight of palm trees on Flor & Fjære. Go ice skating on Stokkavannet in the winter, or hit the waves of Solastranden Beach in milder weather. From active sports to interesting cultural diversions, everything you could want is waiting in this region.
Situated between Oslo and Stavanger is the summer holiday destination of Kristiansand. Like many Norwegian destinations, chill is in the air here… but, unusually, Kristiansand specializes in a different kind of “cool.” The sea is as balmy here as it gets anywhere in Norway, and the sheer dropoffs of the fjords make a stunning background for sailing, swimming, and all sorts of pleasurable outdoors activities. There’s a definite sophistication to Kristiansand, which boasts the nickname, “the coolest Riviera.” You’ll be enchanted by the quaint charm of the Fiskebrygga, the historic fish market that’s now an adorable boardwalk. Stroll the streets of Posebyen, where the small edifices of the oldest buildings in town can be found! The lawns and gardens of Ravnedalen are the perfect place for a picnic.
|Primary Airports: Oslo Airport (OSL), Bergen Airport (BGO), Stavanger Airport (SVG)|
|Government: Constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy|
|Currency: Kroner (NOK)|
|Population: 5,019,000 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC +1|