Norway is the HQ of Nordic firewater, producing over 50 lip-smacking aquavits infused with earthy herbs and spices - many distilled to pair with specific foods like lobster or shrimp. With 500 years of history, it's a venerable spirit. One of the best is Linie, uniquely mellowed on slow voyages to Australia and back in gently sloshing shipboard casks!
Bergen is better known but Norwegians often vote Alesund their most beautiful town – as well as one of the country's gourmet hotspots. Dropped twixt ocean, islands and Norway's best fjords, its USP is the world's finest concentration of ravishing Art Nouveau buildings – built after fire destroyed almost all of the old fishing town one night in 1904.
On Spitsbergen locals brighten the long months of Arctic winter darkness with two unique music festivals: Polar Jazz (late Jan/early Feb) and Dark Season Blues (Oct). Sun Fest Week celebrates the island's end of winter darkness in early March. Back on the mainland in Tromso, meanwhile, February sees reindeer racing and lassoing hit the streets during Sami Week.
We don't just mean the iconic Hurtigruten coastal service which for decades has provided year-round transport along Norway's vast coastline. Far up lovely fjords, little workhorse boats are part of Norway's soul, hinterland links offering wonderful vistas and cheery ambience - and which save hikers and bikers huge distances going around the water by leisurely chugging across it.
The fjords have won galactic acclaim – well, if you believe their reputed designer Slartibartfast in The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy! UNESCO pick out Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord, but other gems include Lofoten's Trollfjord and Vestfjorden, the multi-spur Hardangerfjord, Spitsbergen's majestic Magdalenefjord, and Lysefjord - site of the famous Pulpit Rock viewpoint.
This northern archipelago drops red clapboard fishing hamlets amid blue ocean and sharp peaks, the air a pure salty distillation of coastal bliss. With bridges linking main islands, tourism vies with cod as savvy hikers and cyclists follow artists who long came for the dazzling Arctic light. Viking heritage is gloriously recalled by the Lofotr Museum on Vestvagoy.
These unique Norwegian houses of worship pay homage to Viking woodworking mastery as Christianity displaced Norse gods. An incredible 2,000 or so stave churches were built between 1150 and 1350, adorned with intertwined animal figures nodding slyly to old beliefs. Today, only 28 remain – the most famous, Urnes by Lustrafjord, Heddal at Notodden, and Borgund near Flam.
Most go in summer to an island where polar bears considerably outnumber people, Arctic foxes chase guillemots, and giant walrus roar by stunning fjords. Old mines and atmospheric research stations offer human markers amid glaciers, ice plains and sharp mountains. In the months of Arctic night, scout for aurora - or enjoy cosy bars, little museums and cracking music festivals!
Norway continues to defy global opinion over commercial whaling, killing 1000-2000 whales a year for meat – much of it aimed at curious tourists in search of novel dining. Whalers cite tradition and also claim their prime target – minke whale – is abundant. We disagree. If you want to eat something distinctly Norwegian try elk/moose.
Norway's trolls boast long history and a distinctive mythology. But the plastic gaudy troll dolls hawked in way too many shops are more ugly than the slimiest Nokken or any of their multi-headed cousins. One leading troll doll producer boasts their wares are unbreakable. We think that's a challenge worth taking up...
Norway is big on black gold (oil) - and black metal too. For those not au fait with modern sonic genres, this is a kind of music - if animalistic shrieked nasty vocals delivered by corpse-painted guys playing fast distorted guitar thrash is your idea of music. The scene has also been linked to racism, arson and murder. Nice.
Cruise ships are a common sight in Norway's most high-profile fjords. But when a liner turns up, tiny settlements like Geiranger can be ruined by crowds and noise. As for pollution, we just hope ships obey Norway's strict rules banning discharge of sewage and grey water close to land, plus cleanliness regulations for ballast.