You need only have a quick glance at a map of Norway to guess where the main attractions are: that jagged coastline is home to Norway’s world famous Fjords. Almost 22,000 kilometers of dramatic coastline, glacial melting waters plunging down cliffs into fjords more than 100 kilometers long, tens of thousands of islands and skerries, and none of it is off limits. If the outdoors is where you feel comfortable, and if you would rather not stand in line to look at nature, welcome to Norway!
Located on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northwest Europe, Norway’s geography is a constant reminder of the last Ice Age. In the central high plateaus of Southern Norway, the alpine terrain culminates at the peaks of Glittertind (2470m.) and Galdhøpiggen (2469m.). Several glaciers, most famous of which are Jostedalsbreen and Svartisen (“The Black Ice”) are present day remains of ice that carved the many deep fjords and left behind fertile valleys with meandering rivers. Although home to the northern tip of Europe–Nordkapp, or North Cape–the country enjoys a mild climate for its latitude, in part due to the warm currents from the Gulf of Mexico. Apart from its awe inspiring fjords (the biggest of which are Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord), popular sights are the Lofoten islands, the beautiful Sørlandet (the South Coast), and the many charming towns and cities, most of which are found along water’s edge. Norway is home to 4.5 million people, and occupies an area of 323.759 square kilometers.
The principal cities are Oslo, the Capital of Norway; Bergen, the historic port city on the West Coast, and Trondheim, the Viking Age Capital and home to Northern Europe’s only medieval Gothic Cathedral. Tromso, the “Gateway to the Arctic” is a lively city, centrally located among Northern Norway’s spectacular scenery.
If you want even more adventure, head for the Arctic islands of Svalbard (a.k.a. Spitsbergen) where Polar Bears frequent the (usually snowcovered) streets of Longyear City.
Oslo is the capital of Norway with approximately 500.000 inhabitans, or a little over 10% of the country`s total population. About one third of the total population of the country lives around the Oslo Fjord area.
Oslo – The city of the Nobel Peace Prize, was founded in the year 1000 and has celebrated its 1000 years anniversary in the year 2000. Oslo City is locted as far north as St. Petersburg, Anchorage in Alaska and Kap Farvel in Greenland. Even though the city is situated so far north, its climate is temperate in the autumn and warm in summer. The winters last from 3 to 5 months with a very good skiing conditions in the hills around the city.
You need at last three days to explore this city. Oslo has a number of parks, museums, churches and other beautiful places: It’s a fun place to explore on your own. Hours can be spent strolling along Karl Johans Gate (the main street) to the Royal Palace and perusing the Edvard Munch Museum. The works of various other Norwegian painters can be viewed at the National Gallery. Other attractions in Oslo include the Vigeland Museum in Frogner Park
Well known because of the Olympics, Lillehammer is ut a small town with a population of only 6,000 people. The city lies at the northern end of Norway’s biggest lake, Mjøsa at a distance of 160 km from Oslo. It is surrounded by farms, forests and small settlements. The intimate and cosy main walking street, “Storgata”, has well preserved wooden buildings and is located in the heart of Lillehammer.
Lillehammer was founded as a trading post in 1827 and granted full market town status in 1842.Lillehammer is an important year round tourist destination. During the winter, Lillehammer is a skiing Eldorado for ski enthusiasts. Here you will find one of northern Europe’s best cross-country ski resorts. In 1994, the city successfully hosted the Winter Olympics. During the summer is Lillehammer’s main atttraction, Maihaugen, The Sandvig Collections. Maihaugen is one of Europe’s biggest open air museums. It boasts 140 examples of working farms, a 13th-century stave church and a variety of houses. Other attractions are the Olympic Park, Norwegian Olympic Museum, Lillehammer Art Museum, the paddle steamer, Skibladner, and Hunderfossen Family Park.
Trondheim is Norway’s Silicon Valley (or, perhaps Fjord). But this present day high-tech center is also a very old city, celebrating its 1000th anniversary in 1997. St. Olav (King Olav Haraldsson) was buried here after falling in the battle of Stiklestad on July 29th, 1030 AD. The Gothic cathedral Nidarosdomen was built over his grave, making Trondheim the fourth most important pilgrim city in the entire Catholic Church. For four centuries pilgrims came to seek comfort, help and miraculous cures. Norway’s monarchs have also been crowned in this national shrine, right up to King Olav who chose a simpler ceremony in 1957.
From 1153 to 1537, Trondheim was the seat of the country’s archbishop and the spiritual centre of an area including Greenland, the Faroe Islands, the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Man. A great deal of Norwegian history has taken place in Trondheim and the surrounding areas. The city also lies in one of the country’s most important agricultural districts.
After the city burnt down in 1682, General Caspar Cicignon of Luxembourg was made responsible for the rebuilding. His Renaissance city plan laid the foundation for modern Trondheim. It is now a green city with a mixture of wide streets and modern buildings as well as picturesque wooden houses and narrow alleyways. In the middle of town you will find the lovely Stiftsgården, which is one of the king’s royal residences and the third largest wooden building in a Nordic country. The calm and beautiful river Nidelva winds through the heart of the city. Since the river has been cleaned up, salmon is again a frequent guest.
The heritage of St. Olav is celebrated at the annual Olav Days around Olsok (July 28) with concerts, lectures, and exhibits, walking tours and religious services. At the old Ringve farm, summer concerts are held at the National Museum for Music and Musical Instruments, a fascinating place with a fine collection of old instruments. From Ravnkloa down by the harbour, you can go by motorboat out to the old Munkholmen cloister ruins. Directly beside Nidaros Cathedral lies Erkebispegården, the oldest Nordic non-secular building, which also houses a military museum.
Stavanger is a charming, typical southern Norwegian city, and an exciting mix of old and new. Its proximity to the North Sea oil fields has made it the fast growing and wealthy oil capital of Norway. But its narrow lanes and white timber houses are all in well preserved traditional style, from classic style to funkis. It is a modern city with a wide variety of shops, cafes and restaurants. Contrast characterises this city, the people who live there, the surrounding landscape – and the weather! All this makes Stavanger a pleasant and very charming city.
Stavanger is Norway’s fourth largest city. A city charter was obtained in 1125 when construction of the beautiful medieval cathedral began, but the area has been populated for over 10,000 years.
Stavanger is also the centre of higher education in Rogaland county. It has a number of cultural institutions including international, British and French schools because of the great influx of foreigners connected to the oil industry and to the “Emigration Centre for Genealogical Studies and Contact Between Norway and North America”. The Canning Museum is the only one of its kind in the world and testifies to what has been an important industry for Stavanger.
Among the many other attractions are the theatre and the symphonic orchestra that has its home in the beautifully situated Kulturhuset. By boat you can reach the lovely islands of Kvitsøy, where the fjord meets the open sea. If you travel into Lysefjord, you will come to the strange and magnificent mount formation called Pulpit Rock. Utstein monastery outside of Stavanger is Norway’s best preserved. Magnus Lagabøter built it in the year 1200. Originally a royal residence, it was later a Danish style manor. Concerts are held in the chapel, and during the summer months you may be fortunate to hear famous musicians perform here.
Tromsø — affectionately nicknamed “the Paris of the North” — is a lively city, located spectacularly on an island in Northern Norway, and surrounded by mountains, fjords and islands in all directions. It is the largest city in the region (2004: pop. 62,000), and residents will frequently point out that their outpost is home to the “World’s Northernmost” brewery, university, planetarium, and mountain cable car, to name a few.
The city’s most famous landmark is the Arctic Cathedral (“Ishavskatedralen”), whose unique architecture is evocative of snow and icebergs. Its stained-glass windows are among the largest in Europe. The Tromsø Museum has a good permanent exhibit on the Lapps (or “Sami” people) who are the indigenous people to the Northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Polar Museum exhibits artifacts relating to arctic hunting and fishing, while the new Polaria Experience Center focuses on Arctic nature and environment, and features a “walk-through” seal aquarium.
The Northern Lights Planetarium features shows that are tailored to local phenomena, especially its namesake, the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), and the Midnight Sun. “Fjellheisen,” the Mountain Cablecar will take you 420 meters above the sea, where you can enjoy a nice meal at the restaurant and delight in the view of Tromsø.
Fishing, subsistence farming, and trade of Arctic goods were the traditional occupations in Tromsø. While education, administration, and high tech industries have displaced them, the locals’ outlook on life is still colored by their roots. Residents are typically open, direct and hospitable with a good sense of humour that most certainly has been an asset when the going gets rough. The city offers a number of excellent restaurants (Emma’s Drømmekjøkken deserves a mention), and has many cozy bars and a lively night life.
Tromsø offers many options outdoors – whether in summer or winter, on land or at sea. Choices include sea or inland fishing, whale safaris and scuba diving, skiing and hiking, mountain climbing, biking, and swimming (the local beach, “Telegrafbukta”, or Telegraph Bay, rarely gets above 14 degrees Centigrade, though). As for accommodation, the choice includes everything from first-class hotels to youth and family hostels to the very unique experience of staying in a fisherman’s cabin or “Rorbu” with a rowboat moored right outside your door.
Bergen is a 900-year-old Hanseatic city situated between 7 mountains. The city has long been Norway’s most important city for trade, shipping and industry. Ships came from the north with fish and from the south with grain, and it all traded in Bergen. During the Middle Ages, Bergen was virtually (though not officially) the capital of Norway. For a period it was also the largest city in the Nordic countries. Bergen’s trade and shipping also made it one of the significant cities of Europe. The citizens of Bergen have never forgotten this. The home of composer Edvard Grieg still shows pride in its past. Bergen has been named European City of Culture for 2000.
If you arrive by sea, Bryggen, the city’s famous Hanseatic wharf, will meet you. Fires have always plagued the city, but Bryggen has been rebuilt in the same likeness each time. That is why this old merchant quarter still looks the same as it did when the city was young. The Hanse had its huge offices on the Brygge for several hundred years; and it was a city within a city. Bryggen is not just Bergen’s profile, it is a part of our common heritage and has been placed on UNESCO’s list of cultural places worthy of preservation and is as such a World Heritage City.
It is easy to get to the top of Bergen’s highest mountain Ulriken by cable car. Or you can settle for taking the popular funicular railway to the top of Fløien from where you will enjoy a spectacular view of the city. Edvard Grieg’s splendid home Troldhaugen is certainly worth a visit, and our first internationally famous violinist, Ole Bull, once built a strange and wonderful home – Lysøen – that is now a museum. Take a walk along Bryggen to the old fortress called Bergenshus, where Håkon Håkonsson made Bergen Norway’s first capital. He had the beautiful Håkonshallen built in honour or his son Magnus Lagabøter’s wedding and coronation.
Bergen is also the gateway to the fjords. These deep, sometimes narrow, sometimes wide fjords with snow-peaked mountains towering in the water’s reflection and waterfalls cascading down their craggy sides, are attractions for foreign tourists and Norwegians alike. Boats that are both rapid and comfortable are available for trips to Hardangerfjorden, Sognefjorden and Geirangerfjorden and among the fascinating skerries along the coast.
Longyearbyen, or Longyear City, is located at Isfjorden, or Ice Fjord, where it serves as a coal-mining hub and the chief port and administrative center for the isolated island group. The only airport offering shceduled flights to mainland Norway is located nearby. Longyearbyen is the place to get your trip arranged before you head off for the wild and unknown.
While the name may seem apt to someone working in near isolation from civilization, Longyearbyen takes its name from the American mining entrepreneur John M. Longyear who founded the town in 1906.
There are quite a few organisations in Longyearbyen who can help you with your trip. Refer to the Practical Information section for more information.
Florø is Norway’s westernmost city, located near the world’s longest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord. It became the first city in the province of Sogn og Fjordane when it was established in 1860 in response to the the demand for a city in the fishing-region of Kinn. Florø retains a charming feel and it was selected the most pleasant city to live in by National Radio Channel 2, twice in a row. In 1998 the city received another price, as it was named the “Environmental City” by the Norwegian Minister of the Environment for its extensive efforts regarding the environment. The small-town atmosphere you will experience in Florø is very much alive and original with a charming main street and a good selection of shops.
Fishing boats and ships traveling along the coast had already made use of the harbour for many years before Florø received its city charter. In these years, the herring fisheries became a major industry in the region. Many consider herring — «the silver of the seas» — to be the main reason why the town was founded, which one finds again in the town’s shield. Fish still plays an important role in the coast town, but now Salmon takes centre-stage.
Several large enterprises turning out processed fish or fish feed for sea farming in considerable quantities, are based in Florø. These are successful, modern export businesses. «The black gold» – oil – is also important. Fjord Base supplies the oil extraction industry in the North Sea on a large scale. Still another cornerstone in Florø is Kværner, internationally renowned ship builders specializing in tankers. Our economy is expanding, and we are proud of our low rate of unemployment. Florø is a major industrial centre, although it is hardly apparent at first sight. On certain days, when the wind is right, you notice the smell from the fish factories. And you may hear the locals say: «I can smell money!»
Southern Norway (Sorlandet)
You might call it Norway’s Riviera; the region that occupies the Southern Coast of Norway is referred to as Sørlandet, and benefits from the mildest climate in the country. It is a charming collection of old fishing villages and beach towns, strewn along a sunny coastline. Whether strolling along the countless beaches, sailing on the fjords, or hiking, biking, or fishing, an abundance of natural beauty awaits you. The principal towns of the region are Kristiansand, Arendal, Farsund, and Grimstad.
Getting to Sørlandet
Sørlandet is situated on the main E18 route from Oslo and just over a two hour drive from Oslo Torp Airport at Sandefjord. This small and very efficient airport is served by regular flights from London Stansted by Ryan Air – ideal for anyone looking for a bargain break as it is not unheard of to be able to pick up flight for £15 including taxes. KLM also serves the airport, providing access to its worldwide network of flights.
Low cost car hire at the airport is available through NorCar .
The sunny coastal villages are a delight to explore. Inland forests and mountains are home to Europe’s most southerly herd of reindeer and a great place for skiing.
There are many places to stay, from traditional log cabins with all amenities set in the countryside to modern yet traditional fjord-side apartments. There are also numerous guest houses – all giving a warm Norwegian welcome to everyone. The geography of Southern Norway is extremely varied and ranges from coastal islands, coves and archipelagos to high mountains.
From the Skagerak (the strait between Norway and Denmark) the area stretches 250 kilometres north to Hoveden and the Hardanger plateau. Several major rivers traverse the county from North to South (most with very difficult names to remember in English). All offer great fishing possibilities for trout, arctic char, sea trout, salmon, whitefish, pike, eels and perch.
The coast has hundreds of islands with excellent opportunities for boating and fishing. Many small secluded beaches are only accessible by boat. In the region between the coastal zone and the high mountains is a broad-forested zone, where rivers and lakes give fantastic opportunities for adventure in all seasons, each with a different experience.
Narvik is a port city on the Ofotfjord in the northern parts of Nordland county, opposite the Lofoten Islands. The city of 18,500  owes its existence to the rich iron mines of Northern Sweden. It was founded in 1887 as the Atlantic port for the Kiruna and Gällivare mines, and was named Victoriahavn (Port Victoria) until 1898. Narvik is located at a bottle neck of Northern Norway, where the mainland is a narrow strip, only a few kilometers wide between the ocean and the Swedish border.
Today, the port is still key to the local economy, but has been joined by education, military bases and tourism. Popular local attractions include Killer-Whale safaris (late fall to winter), varied outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, camping and mountain climbing. The dramatic terrain with its precipitous drops from mountain ranges into deep valleys provide scenic beauty and excellent alpine skiing trails.
In World War II, Narvik fell to the Germans when they invaded Norway on April 9, 1940. To prevent the Germans from shipping Swedish iron ore, a British expeditionary force briefly occupied the port. from May 28–June 9, 1940. For the adventurous (and Scuba-certified), the waters surrounding Narvik are among the best wreck diving sites in the world, with several sunken German warships within reach.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.