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Norway's rough hewn landscape is like an unpolished diamond, all jagged edges and untapped potential, with the promise of gleaming beauty and elegance within. Travel those rugged and seemingly impenetrable regions and the effort of your journey will be richly rewarded with staggeringly gorgeous scenery, charming convivial towns and a wealth of culture to explore.
You might be planning a holiday to Norway in search of the Northern Lights, to challenge yourself on mountain trails or to discover some of the countless ravishing fjords and islands which clutter the coast - whatever your passion, you can't fail to agree that this is simply one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.
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Top things to do in Norway
Norway has bountiful attractions, but there are a few highlights that are considered the most popular things to do when visiting. Read on to discover them.
Explore the fjords
A quick glance at any map of Norway will instantly explain why this is a country famous for its fjords. The entire coast is a jagged riot of rocky, mountainous land laced with waterways carved by glaciers, more than a thousand of which are designated as fjords. Cruising through calm waters either by ferry, kayak or stand-up paddle board surrounded by soaring cliffs and waterfalls is a wonder, as is the sight of marine life and birds in this pristine environment. Some of the most popular include Sognefjord, Norway's longest; Nærøyfjord; Geirangerfjord; Hardangerfjord and Lysefjord, but there are literally hundreds of lesser visited fjords waiting for you to discover. Our local partners know them better than anyone and can advise you on the ones they would recommend the most.
Discover the Lofoten islands
Straight out of a fairytale, this collection of islands is the jewel in Norway's sparkling crown. Rugged mountains rise sheer from the sea, sheltering fjords and pretty little fishing villages with red clapboard cottages on stilts clinging to the shore. Arctic nature has an elemental beauty that is abundant here, best enjoyed by getting out into the wilds to appreciate the varied wildlife, epic landscapes and clean, sweet air. The Lofoten archipelago is on the fringes of Europe and takes some getting to, but you will be rewarded by the awe-inspiringly beautiful scenery, viking heritage and the untainted purity of nature.
Experience life in Oslo
Impeccable environmental credentials and a brilliant flair for modern architecture and design make Oslo a truly trailblazing city. Around 50% of the capital's buildings are powered using energy recouped by waste incineration, and it is at the forefront of similar sustainable technologies on the global stage. Oslo is also packed with fascinating museums and galleries, don't miss the Viking longship museum for deep dive into Norway's traditional seafaring prowess. Relax in the city's contemporary spaces and waterside promenades, enjoy the sophisticated dining scene and admire the harmonious Scandinavian culture and society.
Heading out into the cold waters off Norway's spectacular coastline and watching these majestic creatures as they blow, breach and roll not far from the railing of your boat is truly a bucketlist experience. And if you go at the right time of year, you have a 95% chance of seeing them - far better odds than your average wildlife seeking excursion! The most common type of whale in Norwegian waters is the sperm whale, but you can also see orcas, pilot whales, fin whales and humpbacks. The official whale watching season in Norway runs from October to mid-January, but usually you're in with a reasonable chance of spotting a humpback or two until the end of March, particularly in the more sheltered waters near the fjords. If you're after orcas and porpoises, then you should head to the Lofoten islands sometime between the end of May and September. Speak to our local partners and they can give you the best advice on where you want to head when for your optimum whale sightings.
Breezy, bustling Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords. It's a friendly place with lots to see and easy access to some of Norway's most majestic scenery. Bergen thrived as part of the Hanseatic league, and relics from those heady days of trade remain at the historic, picturesque wharf of Bryggen where today you can dine on fresh seafood at the numerous fish stalls in the market. Ascend via cableway or funicular to the top of nearby mountains to appreciate the maritime activity at the busy port, the colourful cityscape, and Bergen's amazing surroundings from on high.
Lesser-known highlights of Norway
While the fjords and the scenery are the major draws to Norway, have you considered these lesser-known highlights to be included on your trip?
Hiking in Norway
Norway's dramatic terrain and unsullied beauty make it perfect for hiking, and there are excellent trails in many areas, from simple day hikes to serious treks with challenging sections. The Reinebringen peak makes the perfect panoramic destination for a short day hike in the Lofoten islands, and while the ascent is hard work, the views are incredible from the top. Named by National Geographic as one of the 'world's most thrilling hikes' is Besseggen, featuring shimmering alpine lakes surrounded by snowy mountains. Pulpit Rock is the photogenic climax of the Preikestolen hike high above Lysefjord, while Trolltunga's breathtaking isolation overlooking Ringedalsvatnet lake is the toast of Instagram.
Located around 350 kilometres north of the Arctic circle, Tromsø is the largest town in northern Norway and the third largest in the Arctic Circle. The city spans an island in the strait of Tromsøysundet, with bridges connecting it to the mainland to the north and south. There is loads to do here during both summer and winter, with a busy cultural calendar, great nightlife, a fabulous setting and easy access to natural wonders nearby. Winter has the added appeal of the northern lights, while in summer you can bask under the midnight sun.
Home of the Giants
Jotunheimen is Norway's largest national park, and it's a stunner. A vast glittering glacier competes with countless waterfalls and blue-green lakes for your attention, while panoramic hiking trails weave through Jotunheimen's mountain ranges - do you dare to climb Norway's highest peak, Galdhøpiggen, which soars to 2,469 metres? Or maybe you prefer to camp out on Jostedal glacier, hike the glorious Bessemer trail or complete a multi-day hut-to-hut trek? The potential for adventure is as high as the peaks.
Best time to go to Norway
Norway occupies a jagged strip of Scandinavia which runs from the Arctic north to the more temperate south. When you consider that one third of the country is within the Arctic circle and one third of the land is above the treeline, you get a sense of the geographical diversity. The climate varies hugely according to latitude and elevation, though the gulf stream ensures some of the northerly regions are relatively mild considering their location.
Depending on what you want to do, Norway is a year round destination offering something different in every season. Read on for a bit more of a breakdown season by season:
Spring (March to May) is a popular and colourful season and many locals claim this is the best time to visit Norway, bringing with it the dazzling colours of new growth, wildflowers and regular blue skies. May is particularly lovely in the fjords where meadow grass is lush and flower speckled, orchards are in full blossom and waterfalls are still full of snowmelt. The days are lengthening, too so you can enjoy long hours of daylight especially in the north.
Visiting Norway in summer (June to August) means higher temperatures, more sunshine and higher footfall, though Norway is rarely overrun with tourists. The midnight sun is a highlight in the northern regions from mid May to late July, and even if you don't go right to the far north the days are still long and light lingers late. Inland water such as lakes and shallow fjords heat up making summer the best time to visit Norway for wild swimming, and in the south maximum summer temperatures regularly hit the mid twenties.
If you choose to take your Norway holiday in autumn (September to November), you can expect crisp weather, beautiful autumn colours and fewer crowds. This can be a great time to visit Norway for city sightseeing and also for hikers, as landscapes change colour and iconic viewpoints such as Pulpit Rock and Trolltunga are much less busy. October heralds the beginning of the aurora borealis season as well so look out for it on your autumn trip.
Winter (December to February) is usually very cold and snowy, especially in the north which can make driving difficult and some travel can be interrupted by extremes of weather. However, winter is the best time to spot the northern lights, and experience the famous Scandinavian 'hygge' vibes in cosy towns and cities well set up for the long dark winter. If you are a fan of winter sports such as skiing, dog sledding and snowshoe hikes, this is the best season to visit Norway.
Interesting facts about Norway
Part of the draw to Norway is the mystery that surrounds it - a land of hidden fjords and dancing skies - but did you know any of these interesting facts about it?
- The Norwegian language has two written versions, both are taught in school and widely used though often one will be dominant in a given region. These different versions are known as Bokmål and Nynorsk.
- Oil and gas are mainstays of the Norwegian economy but not much of it is used domestically. Much of Norway's power is generated by hydroelectric installations.
- Norway actually has a short 120 kilometre stretch of land bordering Russia in the far north.
- Norway comes second in the global ranking of nations with the highest per-capita coffee consumption, after Finland.
- The longest road tunnel in the world is found in Norway. Connecting two small towns, the Lærdal tunnel is a whopping 25 kilometres long. To keep drivers alert, lighting varies along the tunnel’s length.
There are lots of wonderful books, plays and films out there that will put you in the mood for a Norwegian adventure, but here are some of the top reads we've pulled out to get you started:
"Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson
A melancholic tale about adolescence, family, love and loss which depicts the Norwegian landscape beautifully... Trond's friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But what began as a joy ride on "borrowed" horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day―an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.
"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen
A stunning and dramatic play created by one of Norway's most famous writers. Set in the latter years of the 19th century, the play follows the protagonist, Nora, as she realises that to her husband she is little more than a plaything.
"Fellowship of Ghosts: Travels in the Land of Midnight Sun" by Paul Watkins
This travel book explore the effect of landscape on human consciousness. The author, long captivated by the beauty of mountains, sets off into Norway's ice-clad peaks and dark fjords with only a tent and a rucksack. On his travels, he stops at rustic inns, follows the paths of other solitary travellers, navigates punishing weather and confronts the magisterial presence of the past among these mountains.
"The Norse Myths" The Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library
Discover 32 classic myths that bring the pre-Christian Scandinavian world vividly to life. Gods, humans, and beasts engage in prodigious drinking bouts, contests of strength, greedy schemes for gold, and lusty encounters. Included are tales of Odin - the wisest and most fearsome of all the gods - Thor, and the exquisite magic-wielding Freyja.
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