Norway travel guide

Norway travel guide


2 minute summary

Continental Europe's largest ice cap is here. Ditto its highest and largest plateau. And the world's longest ice-free fjord, northern Europe's highest peak plus four of the world's highest waterfalls. You get the picture – or hundreds of them. Norway is a geo-blockbuster, laced with colourful myth (all those trolls...) The earth itself plays tricks here. Strange lights float magically around valleys that may just be remarkable 'natural batteries'. Wonderfully-named Fata Morganas muddle senses, turning sharp Nordic light into startling mirages over land and sea. The Northern Lights dancing above Arctic snowfields seem almost everyday...
Norway's bestiary is equally unforgettable: polar bears and walrus, snowy owls and king eider, 2m-wide king crab, Ice Age musk ox. Any Norway travel guide will make a place for human markers too – ancient Sami, bold Vikings, medieval merchants, hardy farmers and brave Arctic explorers. Norway is rich in every way.
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What we rate & what we don't


Our best & worst of Norway holidays

Underrated

Aquavit Alesund Winter festivals Ferries

Aquavit

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!

Alesund

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.

Winter festivals

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.

Ferries

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.

Rated

Fjords Lofoten Islands Stave churches Spitsbergen

Fjords

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.

Lofoten Islands

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.

Stave churches

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.

Spitsbergen

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!

Overrated

Whale meat Troll merchandise Black Metal Fjord cruisers

Whale meat

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.

Troll merchandise

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...

Black Metal

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.

Fjord cruisers

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.

Food, shopping & people


Travel like a local on your Norway holiday

Eating & drinking in Norway


Much of the salt cod devoured in Iberia, South America and the Caribbean is caught and salted in Norway.

Reindeer is a classic Nordic meat, either roasted (reinsdyrstek) or in a hearty Sami stew (bidos). You may also wish to try elk/moose (elg).

Grilled or smoked Norwegian salmon (laks) is not only delicious but relatively cheap too!

Amber-coloured cloudberries (molteboer) are delicious in sauces or jam.




In 1934, a huge landslip into Korsnaesfjord created a 65m tidal wave that claimed 40 lives in local villages.

People & language


Most Norwegians speak English, from very useful standard to excellent. Basic Norwegian, however, includes God dag (hello), Ja (yes), Nei (no), takk (thanks) and Vaer sa snill ('veyr saw snil') for please.

Written Norwegian comes in two (similar) forms: Bokmal (literally, 'book language' – the main city choice) and Nynorsk ('new Norwegian' – commoner in rural spots).

Friluftsliv is a concept dear to Norwegian hearts – literally 'free air life', an appreciation of how simply being out in natural clean air is good for the soul.

Gifts & shopping


Linie aquavit is a memorable taste of Norway, uniquely mellowed by a long sea voyage in casks to Australia and back!

Traditionally-made wool jumpers will keep you snug – though top makes don't come cheap.

Little marzipan pigs are a quirky Norwegian Christmas sweet treat.

Since the 18th century, Norwegian rural crafts folk have painted colourful Rosemaling designs onto wooden objects – a flowing mix of stylised floral motifs with geometric elements and nods to architecture and landscape to brighten up any mantelpiece.

Fast facts


While most Nobel prizes are awarded annually in Sweden, the Peace Prize is administered by Norway and presented in Oslo.

How much does it cost?


Meal for two, three courses, mid-range
restaurant (without alcohol): £75

Half-litre (around a pint) of beer: £7

Cup of coffee: £3

Minipris cut-price advance intercity
train ticket to almost anywhere in
Norway: £23

A brief history of Norway


Once Norway led the way in Europe courtesy of Viking might. Today, oil wealth does the trick, as North Sea black gold has filled its national coffers since the late 1960s. With Nordic good sense, successive governments developed Norway's infrastructure, paid off the national debt, then spent the past two decades building up the world's largest sovereign wealth fund to ensure the well-being of Norwegians long into the future. Admirably, the fund only invests outside Norway (to avoid stoking inflation at home), and invests within strict environmental and human rights guidelines.Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Topbox: Víctor Vélez] [Aquavit: m_e_mccarron] [Alesund: Norman Miller] [Winter festivals: Kristoffer Trolle] [Ferries: Norman Miller] [Fjords: Leo-setä] [Lofoten Islands: melenama] [Stave churches: zoetnet] [Spitsbergen : claumoho] [Whale meat: Kent Wang] [Troll merchandise:  olivier bucholz] [Black Metal: Bruno Bergamini] [Fjord cruisers: Norman Miller] [cloudberries: Randi Hausken] [jumper: mararie] [COFFEE: Matteo Piotto]
Self guided biking tour in Norway, Arctic Coast

Self guided biking tour in Norway, Arctic Coast

Biking under the midnight sun from Tromsø to Lofoten

From NKr12250 9 Days ex flights
Northern Lights and whale watching holiday in Norway

Northern Lights and whale watching holiday in Norway

Look to the sky for the Lights - to the sea for the whales!

From NKr8900 5 Days ex flights
Self guided cycling holiday in Norway, Sunnhordland fjords

Self guided cycling holiday in Norway, Sunnhordland fjords

Experience the amazing Fjords south of Bergen - Norway

From NKr9450 7 Days ex flights
Arctic diving & Polar Bear Watching Expedition

Arctic diving & Polar Bear Watching Expedition

Awe-inspiring for divers & non-divers

From €3020 8 Days ex flights
Mountain peaks hiking holiday in Norway

Mountain peaks hiking holiday in Norway

Walking tour through peaks in Valdres & Jotunheimen

From NKr6600 5 Days ex flights
Spitsbergen polar bear watching cruise

Spitsbergen polar bear watching cruise

Venture into the staggering realm of the King of the Arctic

From £2399 8 Days ex flights
Norway wildlife holiday, walking safari

Norway wildlife holiday, walking safari

Camping wildlife holiday and horseback riding

From £400 7 Days ex flights
Norway wildlife holiday

Norway wildlife holiday

Whale watching in Vesterålen Islands in the Norwegian Arctic

From £705 5 Days ex flights
Fjords walking holiday in Norway

Fjords walking holiday in Norway

Discover a world etched with beauty

From £1999 8 Days inc UK flights
Lofoten Islands summer photography holiday, Norway

Lofoten Islands summer photography holiday, Norway

Amazing Photogrpahic trip in the beautiful Lofoten Islands

From £2950 9 Days ex flights
Norway self guided cycling holiday, Rallarvegen route

Norway self guided cycling holiday, Rallarvegen route

Rallarvegen/Navi's Road - most popular cycleroute i Norway.

From NKr4150 3 Days ex flights
Norway self guided cycling holiday, Hardangerfjord

Norway self guided cycling holiday, Hardangerfjord

Spectacular view of the fjords, mountains and glaciers

From NKr10750 7 Days ex flights
Norway cross country skiing holiday

Norway cross country skiing holiday

Ski trail, from Rondane National Park to Lillehammer.

From NKr12800 9 Days ex flights
Spitsbergen wildlife cruise in the Arctic

Spitsbergen wildlife cruise in the Arctic

Venture to an intoxicating land of ice and tundra

From £5500 13 Days ex flights
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