Explore Norway

Norway Travel Guide

Norway is a wildly beautiful country of snow-capped mountains and deep glacier-carved fjords. The astounding scenery of the southwestern Fjordlands and the mysterious Northern Lights of the Arctic are the main draw cards for tourists, but there are many incentives to visit this sparsely inhabited country. It offers remote wildernesses and outdoor activities, fairylike forests, historic towns and charming fishing villages, friendly people, and the lure of the Arctic Circle. It also boasts some of the most scenic bus trips, boat cruises and train rides in the world.

'The Land of the Midnight Sun', with its long summer days, is not only for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, but offers a rich cultural heritage from the Vikings, the traditional nomadic Sami people of the remote northern regions, and world-renowned artists such as Edvard Munch. Principle cities of interest are Oslo, the pretty capital; the historic trading port of Bergen, gateway to the Fjordlands; and hilly Tromsø, within the Arctic Circle, the centre of the Northern Lights activity. They are pleasant, low-key cities that offer a good range of museums, historical sights and unique architecture.

Norway's greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age, when the sleek Viking ships crossed the Atlantic, and Europe was subjected to numerous raids. Traditionally Norwegians are explorers, and their influence is evident in the world-shaping history of the Vikings, and seen in more recent personalities like polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and the legendary Pacific crossing of Thor Heyerdahl on his wooden raft, the Kon-Tiki. Today, Norwegians hold onto many of their cultural traditions, most notably the art of storytelling that takes place around the fireside to while away the long winter hours. Trolls figure prominently in their folklore, some friendly and helpful, some decidedly naughty, conveniently serving as a source of blame for all of life's troubles.

Norway is one of the best adventure-tourism destinations in the world, with an intriguing folk culture to match its dramatic landscapes. It is an expensive country to visit but provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences that truly reward the investment.

All visitors to Norway must have sufficient funds, return or onward tickets and all documents needed for further travel. Passports should be valid for at least the period of intended stay. Some European countries require only their National Identity Card if coming as a tourist to Norway. The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Vigeland Park

Address: Kirkeveien Oslo

Vigeland Park is Oslo's most visited attraction, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Norway. It is a vast green area of duck ponds, trees and lawns that is a monument to the celebrated Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, who spent 40 years creating the life-size statues that decorate the walkways and open spaces. There are more than 200 works presenting the human form in a variety of poses and conveying a range of emotions. At the centre of the park is the most impressive piece, the Monolith, a gigantic mass of writhing bodies carved from a single column of stone, and believed to be the largest granite sculpture in the world at a height of 46ft (14m). Surrounding the column are groups of human sculptures in various forms of interaction with each other. The most famous and most photographed piece is the Angry Boy, a fat child stamping his foot. There are many more sculptures to be seen in the park and in the nearby Vigeland Museum, featuring a display on the development of the artist's work and his sketches and plaster originals.

To avoid confusion, visitors should note that although the attraction is commonly called Vigeland Park, the collection of sculptures is technically in a middle section of Frogner Park.

The Kon-Tiki Museum

Address: Bygdoynesveien 36, Bygdoy Peninsula Oslo

Situated on the Bygdoy Peninsula, the Kon-Tiki Museum contains the iconic balsawood raft, the Kon-Tiki, on which Thor Heyerdahl made his famous journey across the Pacific in 1947 to prove the theory that the first Polynesian settlers could have sailed the 4,300 miles (6,923km) between Peru and Polynesia. The museum also contains the original reed raft, Ra II, on which Heyerdahl sailed across the Atlantic in 1970. Besides the rafts there is a huge stuffed whale shark, artefacts from his expeditions and exhibits from his visits to Easter Island, as well as an intriguing collection of archaeological finds from Easter Island, Galapagos, East Polynesia and Peru.

For travellers interested in the seafaring adventures of Norwegian explorers this museum is a gem: seeing the craft used to make the famous expeditions is thrilling and the voyages can be tracked through news articles and other memorabilia. It is a speciality museum and may not appeal to everybody visiting Oslo, but for those who enjoy such things the Kon-Tiki is an informative and interesting museum which generally scores high with tourists. The museum is located just opposite the Fram Polar Ship Museum, and the two attractions are best combined. Entry to the Kon-Tiki Museum is free with the Oslo Pass.

The Viking Ships Museum

Address: Huk Aveny 35, Bygdoy Peninsula Oslo

Situated on the Bygdoy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum houses three 9th-century Viking ships that were excavated from ritual burial mounds in the south of Norway. Their excellent condition is due to the clay in which they were embalmed. Viking ships were used as tombs for royalty who were buried with everything they might need in their life after death. The biggest and best preserved of the ships is the Gokstad, and the finest is the Oseberg, a richly ornamented dragon ship with an intricately carved animal head post, that was the burial chamber of a Viking queen. The elegantly carved sleigh used by the Viking royalty, and a hoard of treasure was found on the buried ship and is displayed at the back of the museum.

Raised platforms allow visitors to view the inside of the ships' hulls. The museum is small and not interactive, but the ships are fascinating and make an impact the moment you see them. The museum is considered a must in Oslo and a visit is one of the best ways to get a taste of the intriguing Viking culture. Most of the displays have some explanation in English, but there is also free wifi in the museum which can be used to get additional information in English. Entrance to the museum is free with the Oslo Pass.

Bryggen

Address: Bergen

Bryggen (also called Tyskebryggen), the site of the old medieval quarter of the city of Bergen, is a charming, compact area of brightly coloured wooden homes that traditionally housed the city's merchants. Steep cobbled lanes are lined with a vivacious blend of cafes and artisans' workshops. The Hanseatic wharf area, with many buildings dating from before the 17th century, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered to be one of the most important examples of a medieval settlement in the world.

Bryggen was once the working area of the merchants and is the oldest part of Bergen, characterised by a maze of lopsided wooden buildings with pointed gables facing the harbour. The Bryggen and Hanseatic Museums as well as the 12th-century St Mary's Church are all in the Bryggen area. At one end of the wharf is Bergen's famous fish market, a colourful market also selling flowers, fruit, vegetables and souvenirs. Because of its predominantly wooden buildings, Bryggen has struggled with fire throughout its long history, and many of the structures have been rebuilt several times. One of the unexpected advantages of the destruction caused by fire was the discovery of a wealth of runic inscriptions, which are now housed in the Bryggen Museum.

Hanseatic Museum

Address: Finnegardsgate 1A, Bryggen Bergen

The Hanseatic Museum is housed in one of the oldest and best-preserved wooden buildings in Bryggen, the former home of a wealthy merchant. Furnished in the 18th century style, it provides a glimpse of the working and living conditions of the Hanseatic merchants during the Middle Ages. The austere layout and maze-like rooms are saturated by the smell of fish and leave a lasting impression. Although a number of historic houses remain in the medieval district, the Hanseatic Museum is the only house left in Bryggen that has retained its original interior.

A short walk away, next to St Mary's Church, is the Schotstuene, a museum consisting of three assembly rooms and a kitchen once used by the Hanseatic merchants. Cooking was conducted in the Schotstuene as it was the only place in Bryggen where it was permitted to use fire; as a precaution it was kept removed from the other buildings. The ticket price for the Hanseatic Museum includes entry (on the same day) to the Schotstuene. The Hanseatic Museum is best visited on the guided walking tour which begins at the Bryggens Museum. For many travellers, the Hanseatic Museum is one of the best historic attractions in the city, and if you only visit one museum in Bryggen it should probably be this one.

Bryggens Museum

Address: Dreggsallmenning 3, Bryggen Bergen

This fantastic archaeological museum was built around the remains of the oldest buildings discovered in Bergen, dating from the 12th century, and the ruins have been incorporated into the exhibits along with excavated tools, ceramics and even skeletons. In 1955 parts of historic Bryggen were destroyed by fire and the subsequent excavations revealed some fascinating objects, which are now on display in the museum. Bryggens Museum houses various artefacts and traditional costumes and imaginatively attempts to recreate life in the Middle Ages with displays of domestic implements, handicrafts, runic inscriptions and items relating to seafaring and trade during medieval times.

The Bryggens Museum is the starting point for a wonderful historical walking tour through the UNESCO-listed district. This tour is really good value for money as it includes entry to two other museums as well. The guided tours are offered in several languages and depart every hour or so, depending on demand. The Bryggens Museum also houses temporary art and history exhibitions. The museum itself doesn't require much time to explore and is best seen as part of a wider exploration of the historic area.

St Marys Church (Mariakirken)

Address: Dreggen 15, Bergen Bergen

Bergen's oldest surviving building, the beautiful stone Church of St Mary's, dates from the beginning of the 12th century. The interior is decorated with old frescoes and a splendid Baroque pulpit that was donated by the Hanseatic merchants in 1676. The twin towers of the church are distinctive among the low red-tiled roofs of the old quarter. St Mary's is constructed mainly of soapstone and the architectural style is predominantly Romanesque. The church is the only one surviving of 12 churches and three monasteries built around the time of Bergen's foundation. Its survival is mainly due to the fact that it was the chosen place of worship for the wealthy German merchants of Bergen, whose patronage ensured it never fell into ruin. Like many buildings in Bergen, St Mary's has been damaged by several fires through the centuries and has therefore been repaired and renovated, but even considering these slight alterations, the structure remains remarkably intact and has ultimately changed very little through the ages.

The church is an active place of worship and those wanting to attend services will find them listed on the website below. Sightseeing visitors are also welcome.

Tromso Museum

Address: Lars Thoringsveg 10 Tromso

The Tromso Museum is northern Norway's oldest and largest museum with exhibitions devoted to the cultural and natural history of the region. It is located on the university campus, just outside the city, and is run by the university. There is a comprehensive display relating to the traditional culture and music of the Sami or Lapp people and their nomadic, reindeer-herding way of life, and for many people this is the highlight of the visit. The Tromso Museum is possibly the best place in Norway to learn about the fascinating Sami culture and history. There are also daily films about the Northern Lights, which is particularly good for those visiting outside of the months when the Aurora might be seen. Apart from the Northern Lights display, there are numerous other science and nature exhibits, including things like earthquake sensors, which the kids will enjoy testing. Most of the exhibits have some information available in English. There is a good cafe for refreshments when you need a break.

The bus ride to the museum is scenic and many travellers find it a fun part of the visit, but it is also possible to walk the distance and it is a pleasant stroll if you have the inclination.

Arctic Cathedral

Address: Hans Nilsens vei 41, Tromsdalen Tromso

The spectacular design of the white and ultra-modern Arctic Cathedral is visible from afar, situated on a small hill on an island and linked to the mainland by the spindly Tromso Bridge. It is an architectural masterpiece, made up of eleven large triangular sections representing the eleven faithful apostles and symbolising northern Norwegian heritage, culture and faith. It bears an interesting resemblance to the Sydney Opera House in Australia, but its colour and shape can also be likened to an iceberg. The cathedral has one of the largest stained glass windows in Europe, and the interior is decorated with grand chandeliers that are made up of many prisms of colour and lights, representing hanging ice formations.

Built in 1965, the church is not technically a cathedral, despite its commonly used name. The actual Tromso Cathedral is the only wooden cathedral in Norway and is also worth a visit. Travellers should note that the church is usually only open for two hours in the winter months, in the late afternoon, and opening hours can fluctuate so it is best to check the official website to confirm opening hours before visiting. Look out for the wonderful midnight music concerts in the church.

Polaria

Address: Hjalmar Johansens gate 12 Tromso

Polaria is an information and experience centre for the whole family, combining interactive experiences with information about the arctic environment. There is a panoramic film about the arctic wilderness of Svalbard, an Arctic Walkway that creates a snowstorm experience and the Northern Lights spectacle. As the Northern Lights are famously unpredictable it is nice to know that you can at least see the effect recreated at Polaria, even if the lights elude you in real life. The bearded seal pool is especially exciting at feeding time, and an aquarium provides a close look at arctic sea mammals and life in the freezing waters. Feeding and training of the seals takes place daily at 12.30pm and 3.30pm in the winter months, and at 12.30pm and 3pm in the summer.

There is a little gift shop for those wanting souvenirs. Polaria is best suited to families and is a good option for those travelling with kids in Tromso; a visit will only take about one to three hours and ideally should be timed to coincide with seal training and feeding. Those wanting a more grown-up investigation of arctic history, particularly the explorers and seal hunting tradition, should visit The Polar Museum, which is housed in a converted warehouse by the harbour.

Lillehammer

Address: Bergen

Lillehammer is best known for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics, and the area does offer excellent opportunities for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding; in fact, Lillehammer is considered Norway's oldest winter sports resort. The situation of Lillehammer is picturesque, overlooking Lake Myosa and surrounded by mountains. The village transforms from season to season: a beautiful frozen world in winter, and a lush green valley in summer. In the cold, snowy months, visitors can find some of the best cross-country ski trails in northern Europe at nearby Nordseter and Sjusjoen, and a great ski centre at Hafjell. Lillehammer itself is a very small ski resort, with only about 630 feet (192 metres) of vertical descent. In the warm summer months some wonderful hiking can be enjoyed.

This small town has other attractions as well, including Maihaugen, the largest open-air museum in Norway; the 12th-century Garmo stave church; and the PS Skibladner paddle steamer. The picturesque main street of Lillehammer is not to be forgotten, lined with charming 19th-century wooden houses. There is a wide selection of shops, restaurants and accommodation in Lillehammer.

Sognefjord

Address: Bergen

Sognefjord is the largest fjord in Norway and the third longest in the world, stretching 127 miles (205km) from the coast to the village of Skjolden. Sheer cliffs rise to heights of 3,300 feet (1,000m) and more above the water.

In addition to some of the most dramatic and magnificent scenery in the world, Sognefjord contains or provides access to many of Norway's most famous tourist attractions, including three popular national parks, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and much more. Sognefjord offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences for visitors: travellers can see, touch and even walk on the largest glacier in Europe in the Jostedalsbreen National Park; investigate numerous heritage treasures, like the UNESCO-listed Urnes Stave Church in Luster, the oldest church in Norway; marvel at the thundering waterfalls, wild rivers and pristine mountain lakes that feed into the fjord; and explore the steep mountains on either side of Sognefjord, which boast an impressive network of hiking, climbing and skiing trails.

Gorgeous, mostly dry summers, and mild winters mean that the fjord can be explored at any time of year, depending on desired activities and adventures. Popular activities in and around Sognefjord include cycling, fishing, hunting, hiking, climbing, kayaking, river rafting, skiing and canyoning, but those who just want to sit back and enjoy the splendid scenery can take one of the many fjord cruises or even enjoy a train trip.

Viewing the Northern Lights

Viewing the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, graces many a bucket list, and for good reason. Norway is one of a number of countries that offer this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the Northern Lights are a big draw for tourists. In theory you can see the display anywhere in Norway, but your chances increase dramatically within the Arctic Circle in the north. Tromso, and the nearby village of Ersfjorden, are two of the most popular Northern Lights destinations in Norway, and many people argue that the best way to see them is on board a traditional steamer ship cruising the fjords in the region. This is partly because the lights are even more spectacular when reflected in water.

The brilliance of the lights is related to spikes in solar activity and tour guides and avid searchers should check out the kp index, which measures electromagnetic activity in the atmosphere: a reading of two or higher means conditions are good for spotting the Northern Lights. Weather is also an important factor. Clouds can hide the display and rain and snow can dampen the brilliance, not to mention the spectators. Checking a weather forecast is therefore essential when planning.

The Northern Lights can be visible in Norway any time between September and March, but are often at their best in mid-winter, in December and January. The lights are famously unpredictable and a sighting can never be guaranteed, but determined travellers who plan well should be able to enjoy the display during their trip.

Fjord Cruises in Norway

Norway's coastline is honeycombed by a network of dramatic and beautiful fjords and for many travellers a fjord cruise is the most iconic tourist experience the country has to offer. The fjords provide access to many of Norway's top tourist attractions and the scenery is some of the most breathtaking in Europe, and indeed the world.

There are many different kinds of fjord cruises on offer all along the coast and from the innermost fjord ports of Norway, but the most popular departure point for cruises - the so-called gateway to the fjords - is the port city of Bergen. From Bergen, which is easily accessible through an international airport, many travellers like to hop on board working ships heading up to Kirkenes, in the far northeast of Norway. These ships carry cargo and passengers and stop at about 34 ports over the 12-day journey, making incursions into a number of fjords along the way. This route is a good option for those wanting to tour the coastline and travel into the Arctic Circle, where it is possible to see the Northern Lights between September and March.

Those looking for more conventional cruises tailor-made for tourists, with sightseeing and activities on offer, should consider a cruise from Bergen to Skjolden, all along Sognefjord, which is Norway's largest fjord and the longest navigable fjord in the world. Skjolden is the country's innermost cruise port and many of Norway's greatest attractions can be found along this spectacular route.

River Rafting in Norway

River rafting is a popular adventure activity in Norway, which offers both challenging whitewater for experienced paddlers and easier rapids for fun family trips. The range of mild to wild should mean that there is something for everybody. Some of the rafting trips will have age and fitness restrictions but many others are suitable for all.

The spectacular landscapes of the fjords, mountains and glaciers make rafting in Norway extremely scenic as well as thrilling. The Sjoa, in Oppland, is the most popular river in Norway for commercial rafting trips and is considered one of the best rivers for rafting in Europe. Other great options include the Jostedalselva and Jolstra Rivers in Sognefjord, the Trysilelva River in Hedmark, and a number of rivers in Setesdalen and Voss.

There are several good rafting and kayaking companies to choose from and some of the most reputable are listed on Norway's official tourism site, which can be found in the Useful Contacts section of this guide. The companies provide safety equipment like life vests and helmets, as well as all necessary equipment for the actual rafting, but it is a good idea to check what kind of clothes the operators advise you to wear depending on the trip and the season.

There are no real health risks associated with travel to Norway and the standard of healthcare is high throughout the country. A reciprocal agreement exists between the UK and Norway under which British nationals are covered for emergency treatment while visiting Norway as long as they hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Travellers should ensure that they have adequate travel and medical insurance.

Smoking is prohibited in all public places and on public transport in Norway, unless otherwise indicated. Norwegians tend to see everyone as being equal; they do not flaunt their wealth or financial achievements and frown on those who do. Travellers should note that whale meat is available legally in Norway, but that it is illegal to bring it into most other countries.

A 10 to 15 percent service charge is added to most hotel and restaurant bills and a further tip is only necessary if exceptional service has been received; waiters often receive an extra five to 10 percent tip. Taxi fares can simply be rounded up to the krone.

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