Holly Cave explores the blissful country, famed for its luscious landscapes, snow-capped mountains and antique folklore heritage.
So close to home, Norway’s incredible scenery is often overlooked. Bursting with myths and legends dating back to the Vikings, this glacier-sculpted landscape with its cobalt seas, snow-capped mountains and crystal clear waterfalls will stun you with its beauty.
Norway’s rugged slopes rise steeply out of the North Atlantic Ocean, but the waters penetrate deep inland, meaning you don’t have to travel far to find one of the country’s famous fjords. Many visitors are amazed by the extent of Norway’s coastline. Including its fjords, the land/sea boundary stretches 25,000 kilometres – that’s longer than the coastline of the United States – making it one of the longest in the world. Norway’s many islands factor into that figure, extending an estimated 100,000 kilometres. While the most famous, UNESCO protected fjords are located around Geiranger and Flåm, with such seawater inlets scattered throughout Norway. Sailing through the dramatic scenery is an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetime.
It’s a long, long way to the far north of the country. Whether you head this far will depend on how much time you have. But you don’t always need to make it to the furthest reaches of the North Cape or to the island of Svalbard near the North Pole to catch a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights. While these places tend to offer optimal viewing conditions, the swirling, flickering colours of the Aurora Borealis can often be seen all over Norway.
The pretty Lofoten Islands are a good choice, situated just inside the Arctic Circle. Not quite so far north, they are warmed by the Gulf Stream and offer an excellent position for sky gazing. During the day, you can sail between local fishing communities, explore the fjords by ferry or bicycle, visit the Lofotr Viking Museum, and/or take a marine safari in the hope of spotting a killer whale.
Viewing the Northern Lights is not always guaranteed, but to maximise your chances, head there between October and March, avoid the full moon and move into the wilderness, well away from bright and artificial lights. Slightly inland, Narvik is a great base in the north of the country. Skiers flock to the steep slopes of Narvikfjellet, and the Polar Park Arctic Wildlife Centre draws in visitors to see its pack of wolves. A programme designed to educate the public about these wild creatures allows visitors to get up close and personal. You can even learn how to howl alongside them.
A little further north is the city of Tromso: the 'Capital of the Arctic.' This lovely city has a lot to offer visitors, from the world's northernmost botanical gardens to concerts in the iconic and daringly modern Arctic Cathedral. Midnight Sun Concerts are held here yearly in the summer and are perennially popular. Tromso is packed with wonderful museums and galleries, and a short trip outside city limits will bring you to quaint little villages comprised of traditional wooden buildings, such as Lyngseidet. A huge range of tours can take you on a variety of outward bound activities, from dog sledding to snowshoeing and zipping between the trees on a snowmobile.
Many ocean cruises transport passengers all the way up to the unforgettable desolation of the polar ice cap. In the summer months, you’ll be sorely tempted to rouse yourself in the middle of the night and creep out on deck to watch the golden glimmer of the midnight sun on the sea. Half of Norway lies above the Arctic Circle, so in midsummer the midnight sun can be seen anywhere north of Bodø. On the longest days of the year, it is not uncommon to be able to read a book at any time of night without turning on your bedside lamp.
Norway widens out at its southern end like a drop of water. Bergen and Stavanger sit along the west coast and across from them lays Oslo in the east. Between these cities, you will find the fertile valley of Setesdal and the vast, reindeer inhabited mountain plateau of Hardangervidda.
The latter is perfect for hikers and cyclists and is crisscrossed by well-marked paths. Norway’s most popular cycle route is the 100 kilometre long Rallarvegen (the Navvies’ Road). Excursions take visitors to admire the country’s largest glaciers, mirror-like lakes and waterfalls. Oslo offers a glimpse of Norway for many visitors.
Sitting at the tip of Oslo Fjord, this eclectic city is visually impressive and packed with things to do. Don’t miss out on a comprehensive insight into the country’s cultural roots at the amazing National Gallery, or simply wander around the open air Folk Museum. A cruise along the waterfront allows you to take in the Opera House, with the ski jump simulator at the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Ski Museum an additional must see.
GTW recommends that you focus on one or two regions, depending on what you most want to see. Norway is a vast country and much of it remains remote and uninhabited, which is part of what makes it such an exhilarating destination. It is also worth bearing in mind that Norway isn’t the cheapest of destinations. Thanks to its vast oil reserves, it’s one of the world’s richest countries and some visitors are still surprised by the cost of short taxi trips and the price of food in restaurants, for example. Yet accessing the country’s beauty is always without charge. National parks and even privately owned land is opened to all. Plus, the main galleries and museums have no admission fees.