Travel to Norway

Travel to Norway

Gaze at postcard-perfect fjords or stand in awe at Viking heritage sites. This Scandinavian kingdom delivers the world’s most harmonious and attractive cities!

A massive country that stretches from Arctic islands to fast-growing metropolises, Norway has endless enticements for you. Norway’s cities include the big, bustling capital of Oslo— by some counts, growing faster than any other major European city — as well as Bergen, Haugesund, and Narvik. Norway’s numerous fjords, steep-walled inlets shaped by glaciers, are perhaps the country’s greatest claim to fame, but there’s plenty more to explore. Some outstanding destinations include the enormous medieval cathedral of Nidaros in Trondheim, Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, the Arctic hub of Tromsø (great for viewing the Northern Lights), and the polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer, and walruses of the remote Svalbard archipelago.

Despite that fact that most of Norway's best sights are located outdoors doesn't mean it lacks noteworthy cultural attractions. Norway actually has six World Heritage Cultural Sites including the almost 900-year-old Urnes Stave Church. Wooden stave churches are a fundamental part of Norway's architectural legacy. In addition to the Urnes Stave Church, consider visiting the medieval Heddal Stave Church in the town of Notodden or the incredibly well-preserved Borgund Stave Church, which was built at the end of the 12th century near the picturesque Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway.

Most of the country's best cultural attractions are located in the South, where the vast majority of the Norwegians reside. Its capital city of Oslo is home to several excellent museums including the open-air Norwegian Folk Museum and the Edvard Munch Museum.

The northern part of Norway is home to an indigenous group of Arctic people called the Sami. The Sami, who are also known sometimes as "Laplanders," inhabit parts of northern Sweden, Finland and Russia in a cultural region called Sápmi, which is primarily located north of the Arctic Circle (cold!). Norway's Sami people have been able to preserve many of their cultural traditions and languages. In Norway they even have their own Sami Parliament. Traditionally the Sami people have worked as reindeer herdsmen or fishermen. Some continue to do so today, even maintaining a somewhat nomadic lifestyle.

Planning on traveling to Norway? If you like fresh salmon, cured trout or pickled herring, you're in luck! While the traditional Norwegian diet is very seafood-heavy, there are many dishes with lamb or roasted game. Norway is also home to excellent cheeses, very nice breads, berry-filled desserts and open-faced sandwiches called "smørbrød," which are popular throughout Scandinavia.

You should try some of the traditional Norwegian dishes like smoked eel, boiled cod or reindeer steaks, but if you don't want that every evening on your trip to Norway, you'll be happy to know that larger cities like Oslo and Bergen have truly top-notch restaurants, many of which serve Continental cuisine.

Like in all of Scandinavia, alcohol in Norway is generally more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. When Norwegians do feel like having an alcoholic drink, it's usually beer. The beverage most consumed in Norway? Coffee! Norwegians have one of the highest rates of consumption in the world.

If Italy is known for its art and architecture – and France for its cuisine and winemaking, Norway's most distinguishing achievement is natural: its sensational fjords. These natural works of art were dramatically carved out of the country's western coastline by glaciers over the course of several ice ages. Today Norway's fjords are among the longest and deepest fjords in the world, and two in particular – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord – form an official World Heritage Natural Site. Many tourists choose to visit Norway's fjords by cruise and scenic train.

Norway arguably has more varieties of natural habitats than anywhere else in Europe. It's also less crowded; imagine the population of Berlin's metropolitan area – in a territory roughly the size of New Mexico. Norway shares land borders with Sweden, Finland and Russia, and its northernmost territories reside north of the Arctic Circle.

In many ways Norway offers visitors a glimpse of one of Europe's last frontiers. Home to rich wildernesses, fertile valleys, fruit orchards, crystal-clear lakes and bewitching waterfalls, its beauty is exceptional. Its mountains are some of the highest in Europe. It contains approximately 50,000 islands, thousands of dazzling glaciers and over 15,000 miles of North Atlantic coastline.

As a result it is no surprise that sports and nature fans go wild in Norway. Skiing, cycling, fishing, glacial walking and hiking are extremely popular. From late fall to early spring, many travel to northern Norway above the Arctic Circle to experience the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). During the summer months, visitors come to see the Midnight Sun and the incredible Arctic wildlife. While it's desirable to spend your entire vacation in Norway, should you prefer to combine Norway with its Scandinavian neighbors (Denmark and Sweden), it is easily done.

Largest cities: Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger

Norway's long history has frequently overlapped with those of its Nordic neighbors, so much so that it's somewhat confusing! Beginning in the late 14th century, Norway (along with its territories of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands) was politically united with Denmark for almost 500 years. As a consequence of the union, which also included Sweden for a couple of centuries, Norway was ruled long-distance by a Danish monarch in Copenhagen. Not long after that union ended, Norway entered into another union – with Sweden. This time around however; Norway was able to maintain a Norwegian constitution, despite being partially-ruled by a Swedish monarch in Stockholm. The Norwegians finally gained their much desired independence in 1905. With its close historical connection to these two Scandinavian neighbors, it is not surprising that the Norwegian language is very similar to Swedish and Danish. (Visitors will also find that many locals speak very good English.)

Because we can't cover two millennia in this small section, we're going to briefly jump back in time to what is arguably the most interesting part of Norwegian history: the Viking Age! The ancestors of present-day Norwegians, Danes and Swedes were the original Vikings. Famed Viking explorer, Erik the Red – father to Leif Eriksson – was born in Western Norway. (Any fans of the History Channel's Vikings TV show?)

The late 8th century to the mid-11th century in Northern Europe was a time of Viking explorations, raids, trading and conquests. The sagas tell us how the Vikings traveled west to explore and settle Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, the Faroe Islands and Scotland's northern islands: Shetland and Orkney. The Vikings raided the coasts of England, Ireland and Normandy in France. You will likely recognize some of the towns that Norwegian Vikings established in Ireland: Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Wexford.

Interesting historical attractions to visit while on vacation in Norway include the Viking Ship Museum, which houses astonishingly well-preserved Viking vessels, the Historical Museum and the medieval Akershus Fortress; all three are located in Oslo. Outside of the capital, consider visiting the Bryggen Wharf in Norway's second-largest city: Bergen. Bergen was an important trading post of the Hanseatic League, and the city's wooden architecture from that era was made an official World Heritage Site.

From a historical point of view, it's also worth mentioning that thousands of Norwegians emigrated to the United States and Canada in the 1800s, and today millions of North Americans claim Norwegian heritage, causing many to visit Norway as a heritage destination.

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