From dramatic peaks to craggy gorges and glittering blue fjords, Norway’s eye-catching natural beauty is hard to overstate. For all that, it is also a place of quaint villages and cosmopolitan cities, sophisticated design and thriving museums, galleries and theatres. It might be expensive but there’s no shortage of things to love.
All of Norway’s cities, even the smallest, boast some sort of public transport – whether trams, buses, trains or a metro system. Bigger conurbations such as Oslo virtually make cars obsolete, although you will need one if you plan to venture north to more remote areas. Along with intercity trains, the country also has an excellent network of domestic ferries and flights.
The earliest Norwegians, the Vikings, were impressive navigators and looking at Norway’s spectacular – and numerous – fjords, it isn’t hard to see why. Most are to be found on the west coast, along with the cities of Bergen and Trondheim, and vary wildly in length and scenery. The longest is Sognefjorden, which wends its way through 205km of pretty villages and dramatic gorges, and is fed by the even more beautiful (and UNESCO-listed) Nærøyfjord.
Further south in Rogaland is the lovely Lysefjord, a body of water best known for its sheer, rocky cliffs and for Preikestolen – a dramatic pulpit-shaped rock that has become one of Norway’s favourite selfie spots. Nearby Stavanger is one of the country’s hidden gems and, despite being the center for Norway’s oil industry, is a fascinating little city in its own right – complete with a panoply of compelling museums. Just as lovely is Bergen further north, a city best known for its riotously colourful waterfront and for being the gateway to the fjords.
But for all Norway’s natural wonders, the capital Oslo is hard to beat. A beguiling blend of striking modern architecture, crumbling castles and cobbled streets, it’s one of the greenest cities in Europe and is pitted with parks. It’s also one of the few major capitals that offers skiing as standard, with cross-country ski trails and an Olympic-sized ski jump found just a few kilometres from the city centre.
Unfolding like a swirl of purple and green ribbons across the night sky, the Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights – are hard to beat. Northern Norway is the place to see them, whether from quirky Tromsø or the further reaches of the frost-bitten Alla province. The heart-stoppingly lovely Lofoten Islands are another good place to see them, along with a native colony of sea eagles. The tiny town of Borg, meanwhile, has a fascinating Viking museum. Most remote of all is Svalbard and its snow-drenched capital Longyearbyen. During the summer, the endless days make it a prime spot for hiking, while in winter, the Aurora Borealis, icy glaciers and population of polar bears are the top draws.
Thanks to its harsh climate, traditional Norwegian cooking has long relied on the dried, whether berries, fish or pulses. While smoked, salted and cured dishes still feature heavily, the modern Scandinavian culinary movement has also swept through Norway, bringing creative cooking and a focus on seasonal eating. In summer, that means fresh berries, fish hoisted from the fjords and game such as reindeer. Winter brings hearty traditional stews such as national dish fårikål, a delicious slow-cooked supper made from lamb and cabbage. One of the best Norwegian specialties is cheese – the old-fashioned brown fromage, known as brunost, takes some getting used to but once you get over the initial caramel taste, going back for seconds is guaranteed.