- Stunning natural scenery, including dramatic, lush fjords with cascading waterfalls
- Numerous outdoor activities in the summer, including hiking, kayaking, and fishing
- Modern sport of skiing has origins here, and slopes are open from November to April
- Wooden medieval stave churches still in excellent condition
- Nice beaches near Stavanger
- Charming Hanseatic wharf area in Bryggen, with colorful 17th century wooden buildings
- Bakklandet in Trondheim, a historic section with cafes and shops
- Old Town in Stavanger, with white wooden houses and flowering gardens
- Viking ships on display in Oslo
- Traditional farmhouses in rolling valleys
- New Nordic cuisine uses regional ingredients, including whale and reindeer
- Fresh and abundnant fish, including salmon and herring
- Tremendously expensive
- Cities have less historic charm than more popular European cities such as Paris or Rome
- Not yet a foodie destination
- Norway in a Nutshell: A scenic overview of the country involving train rides and a fjord cruise
- Aker Brygge Wharf, Oslo: A promenade along the water with expensive restaurants and ice cream stands
- Bryggen, Bergen: Colorful, historic Hanseatic merchant buildings with narrow wooden alleyways featuring souvenir shops and restaurants
- Bakklandet Neighborhood, Trondheim: Former wooden worker's houses on the east side of the River Nidelva that now house restaurants and shops
What It's Like
Norway is best known for two things: It's jaw-dropping prices, and its stunning natural beauty. For those who can afford to go, Norway offers a wealth of outdoor riches -- dramatic, lush fjords; cascading waterfalls; red farmhouses in rolling valleys; and jagged mountain peaks. It also offers impressive history, and some visitors come primarily to see the wooden medieval stave churches around the country or the Viking ships on display in Oslo.
The summer months are the most popular for tourists, and the long days mean it's possible to pack in a lot of sightseeing. Visitors can partake in activities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, and beach bumming (yes, there are beaches in Norway; the ones near Stavanger are quite nice). Fjord cruises are by far the most popular summer activity; for many, seeing the fjords is on the do-before-you-die list, and for good reason. The deep inlets carved by glaciers run through steep green mountains, and dozens of waterfalls run down the cliffs, ranging from gentle trickles to roaring flows.
The wintertime brings snow and, of course, skiing, which is more than a beloved pastime of Norwegians -- it's a source of national pride. Skiing has been practiced here for thousands of years (the oldest ski discovered in Norway dates to 5100 B.C.), and the country played a major role in the evolution of the modern sport: The first-ever ski jumper was Norwegian and some of the world's first organized ski races were held here. Today, a major ski jumping competition still takes place annually at the Holmenkollbakken ski jump in Oslo, and ski slopes are usually open from November to April. It's true that parts of Norway are precisely as cold and dark in the winter as one may imagine -- temperatures can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the Lofoten Islands it's dark 24 hours a day for about a month between December and January. But the coastal areas actually have relatively mild winters, with Fahrenheit temperatures in the 20s and 30s.
All this may sound pretty great, which begs the question -- is it really that expensive? The short answer, sadly, is yes. Everything causes sticker shock, from taxis (starting at around $20 for a short ride) to cups of coffee (around $10) to dinners (around $100 a person at an average sit-down restaurant.) There is no cheap labor in this oil-rich country -- the average salary here is among the highest in the world -- and the result is that prices can be nausea-inducing for tourists without padded bank accounts (and truth be told, even then). At least free Wi-Fi and free breakfast come standard at hotels.
Those who can't afford a vacation here yet can take solace in the fact that Norway does have its downsides. Fires have ravaged many of its principal cities over the years, and many historic buildings have been lost; today, modern Scandinavian structures dominate and many cities have only one primary historic section (Bryggen in Bergen, Bakklandet in Trondheim, Old Town in Stavanger). When it comes to historic charm, Norway's cities don't hold a candle to more popular European cities such as Rome or Paris. Nor do they compare when it comes to cuisine. It's true that the food here has come a long way, and New Nordic cuisine has a following, but few visitors come to Norway for the food.
Where To Stay
For many visitors, Oslo is just a stopover city before heading to Norway's more charming metropolises. Domestic flights are the easiest way to get from city to city, and Bergen is a popular home base for leisure visitors. For those interested in seeing the fjords, most Norway in a Nutshell tours depart from both Bergen and Oslo; departing from Bergen involves less train travel. Stavanger is essentially a smaller version of Bergen, and boat tours of the Lysefjord depart right from the harbor. Trondheim is a university city and a hub for concerts and culture, but it's not as pretty as its counterparts.
For more adventurous travelers, the Lofoten Islands are gorgeous, and for about one month in the summer visitors can experience the phenomenon of the midnight sun.