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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Norway.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Norway.
GEIRANGERFJORD FERRY TRIP – This king of fjords is a Unesco World Heritage site in Norway’s southwest and the 10-mile chug through it has to be one of the world’s loveliest ferry journeys. Long-abandoned farmsteads still cling to the fjord’s near-sheer cliffs, while ice-cold cascades tumble, twist and gush down to emerald-green waters.
KAYAKING NAEROYFJORD AND HARDANGERFJORD – Nordic Ventures runs guided tours, including one-day trips with lunch, overnight adventures with a chance to camp by the water’s edge, and three-day expeditions offering a combination of kayaking and hiking. The Voss-based company also rents kayaks if you’d rather strike out alone.
SPEED BOAT ON SOGNEFJORDEN – To see more of the fjords in less time, take an exhilarating scoot through parts of this vast fjord network in an inflatable boat (full-length waterproof kit supplied – you’ll need it). The trips, run by Fjord Safari in Flam, can include wildlife spotting, talks about the fjords’ heritage, or a village pitstop for cheese-tasting.
OTTERNES – This restored hamlet, high above the fjord between Flâm and Aurland, is a working farm and living museum. The oldest buildings date from the early 17th century and were lived in until the 1990s. There are tours and a cafe dishing up coffee, pancakes and rommegrot, a rich porridge served with cured meat.
TPREIKESTOLEN SHORT HIKE – With astonishingly uniform cliffs on three sides, plunging 604m to the fjord below, ’Pulpit Rock’ is one of southwest Norway’s most emblematic images. It’s an unrivalled fjord vantage point, with views directly up Lysefjord. The steep, two-hour, 2.4-mile trail leading there is well marked and leaves from Preikestolhytta Vandrerhjem. The final climb involves a scramble across granite slabs and along some windy cliffs (trail open all year).
AURLANDSDALEN VALLEY FOUR-DAY HIKE – This classic culture-rich and nature-abundant trek, from Geiteryggen to Aurland through a 25-mile glacial valley, follows a stream from source to sea and traverses one of the oldest trading routes between eastern and western Norway. The final section, from 0sterbo (820m) to Vassbygdi (95m), is the most scenic and also makes for a hugely enjoyable day hike (allow six to seven hours; trail open June-September).
URNES STAVE CHURCH – Norway’s oldest preserved place of worship perches in a sublime spot gazing out over Lustrafjord. The original church was built around 1130, while most of today’s structure was built a century later. Elaborate wooden carvings decorate the north wall, and ticket prices include an interesting 45-minute tour. To get here, take the hourly ferry from Solvom (open May-Sep; US$11).
BALESTRAND’S VIKING-AGE BARROWS – Just half a mile south from the small fjord-side holiday resort of Balestrand, excavation of a pair of barrows has revealed remnants of a Viking boat, two skeletons, jewellery and several weapons. One mound is topped by a statue of legendary King Bele, erected by Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. Obsessed with Nordic mythology, he regularly spent his holidays here.
TRANSPORT – Norway’s fjords principally occupy the west and southwestern portion of the country, where there are airports at Flesland (Bergen), Sola (Stavanger) and Vigra (Alesund). BA flies from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur via London Heathrow to Bergen and Stavanger. Reach Alesund on KLM via Amsterdam. Norway has an extremely efficient public-transport system. Trains, buses and ferries are often timed to link with each other. The fjords are criss-crossed by an extensive network of car ferries, but expect long queues and delays in summer.
WHERE TO STAY – A beautiful old working farm, Westerns Gard sits high above Geiranger, and features two farmhouse apartments, five pine-clad cabins and a restaurant serving homegrown produce. Preikestolen Fjellstue’s newest lodge serves up local produce.
Preikestolen Fjellstue is a mountain lodge worthy of its natural surroundings, right at the trailhead to Pulpit Rock above Lysefjord. Options include stylishly simple lodge rooms and family cottages.
The historic wooden Utne Hotel was built in 1722 and offers smart, modern interiors, as well as older public spaces with beautiful original woodwork, enhanced by attractive antiques, local textiles and paintings.
Think Norwegian fjords and you might imagine crowds of shuffling retired cruise passengers – but it isn’t necessarily so. Hit the trail in Stavanger’s wild backyard and the paths seem never-ending: wending deep into forests, skirting fjords that shine opalescent like gemstones, cresting moonlike rockscapes and inching their way along clifftops and granite formations so peculiar they look like freaks of nature.
Even if you’ve never heard of Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen as they say in Norwegian, you’ve probably seen it – you know, that immense fist of rock that punches vertically above a cyan-blue slither of a fjord? One of Norway’s biggest natural icons, the rock draws day-trippers in their thousands come summer. Some are content to merely gaze on its magnificent proportions from a boat as they cruise on by. Others want to get that bit closer and hike the path to its plateau, so they too can enjoy the top-of-the-bean- stalk views from its knife-edge ridge to the fjord below and grey, muscular mountains beyond.
This picture – the picture of a million postcards – is clearly etched in our minds as we board the boat in Stavanger that is going to take us across the Lysefjord to the trailhead. But the Nordic weather gods are unleashing their worst on this midsummer day. Dark storm clouds are gathering overhead and the mist is creeping inland, rendering the jagged spurs of land but silhouettes. On such a dull, rain-spattered day, the water is near-luminous – going through a spectrum of blues from azure to brightest turquoise. Up on the deck, cagoule-clad tourists are huddling under umbrellas that continuously buckle in the wind, eager for a glimpse of the sheer granite cliffs that razor hundreds of metres above the inky fjord, and posing for selfies in front of the rainbow-laced waterfalls that thread down their rock faces. Mist hangs in the pleats and folds of the mountains like a gossamer veil, and clapboard cottages crouch on the shoreline, dwarfed by their surrounds. Rain cannot detract from Lysefjord’s loveliness.
Pouring out of the boat, we make our way to the trailhead close by, kitted out in waterproofs and walking boots. Fog obscures the view as we begin our steady march uphill through pine and birch trees, over twisted roots and rocks that are slippery underfoot given the recent rain. In the gloomy, monochrome light, the approach to Preikestolen has a sense of mystery, with ragged mountains and lichen-swathed forests that look like a figment of Tolkein’s imagination.
Get orientated – Svalbard is the icy desert at the top of the world. Nestled midway between Norway and the North Pole, this remote ‘Land of Cold Coasts’ comprises three main islands and many smaller ones, flung out into the Arctic Ocean 640km from its European motherland. The largest isle is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeoya; other islands include Barentsoya, Prins Karls Forland and numerous islets and skerries. Spitsbergen is the only permanently inhabited isle. If it weren’t for the Gulf Stream, thick sea ice would entrap the archipelago.
In fact, this warming current keeps Svalbard much milder than its latitude would suggest, and means that – in summer – seas are navigable by cruise vessels. A voyage here might yield sightings of the archipelago’s 19 species of marine mammals, while on land you may spot Arctic foxes, reindeer and snow bunting. The biggest draws, though, are the islands’ 3,000 polar bears, the world’s largest land carnivore.
Getting there – Norwegian flies Gatwick-Longyearbyen (on Spitsbergen), via Oslo, from £198 return. Total flight time is about five hours. There is no regular ferry service between Svalbard and Norway. On Spitsbergen there are no roads between settlements and internal transport is either by snowmobile (winter) or boat (summer). Strict rules apply to the movements of visitors.
The visit – Svalbard is ideal for a summer high-seas adventure. From mid-April the skies shine bright all day (in Longyearbyen, the midnight sun lasts from 15 April to 26 August), providing lots of light for outdoor activities. By June the sea ice has melted sufficiently to allow boats to cruise the floe-dotted seas. This makes June to early September the best time to embark on expeditions to glimpse walruses and polar bears on the pack ice and whales in the water.
Note, eastern Svalbard tends to experience heavier ice conditions; most ships concentrate on the archipelago’s west side. Summer also sees wildflowers bloom and a flurry of bird activity. Kayaking, hiking and climbing are best from July, when most snow has melted. You can still visit in winter (November-March). The polar night means 24-hour darkness from 14 Novemberto 29 January, but dog-sledding, snowmobile safaris, glacier walking and skiing are all available. You might even see the northern lights. Don’t miss a visit to the Svalbard Museum.
Svalbard history – It’s thought that Vikings first spotted Svalbard – it was mentioned in an Icelandic document in 1194. However, it was officially discovered by Dutch explorer Willem Barents in 1596, who named it Spitsbergen after its spiky peaks. It became a whaling base from the 17th century, and was used for hunting by the Russians and Norwegians. The archipelago was placed under Norwegian sovereignty in 1925.
Walrus – Since the 1950s the walrus has been a protected species and stocks have increased. It is particularly prevalent on the Island of Moffen.
Pack ice – The seas around Svalbard can be covered by pack ice, Its extent depending on the season and conditions. The fjords of the Islands’ western coasts can generally be reached by boat from late May to late autumn. The waters north and east are rarely accessible.
Magdalenefjorden – The scenery around the popular little fjord of Magdalene on the north-west coast of Spitsbergen is spectacular. Most ships visit around here. About 60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciers.
Kvitoya – The last campsite used by the ill-fated Andree expedition was found on Kvitoya In 1930 – 33 years after Salomon Andree attempted to fly from Danskoya Island to the North Pole by hot-air balloon.
Ny Alesund – No visit is complete without a stop at this, the most northerly permanent settlement in the world and a hub for scientific research. Be sure to send a postcard from the post office and watch out for the terns who have a tendency to dive-bomb visitors!
High points – Newtontoppen (1,713m) and Perrlertoppen (1,712m) are Svalbard’s highest mountains.
Polar seagull – The polar seagull is one of 15 species of birds nesting on Svalbard, including guillemot, kittiwake, fulmar and little auk.
Longyearbyen – The capital of Svalbard Is named after the American JM Longyear, who opened the first mine on Svalbard in 1906. Longyearbyen has a population of 2,000.
Polar bear – The polar bear is the largest of the bear species. It can reach 2.8m in length. In winter its fur is snow-white, in summer it’s creamier in colour.
Svalbard poppy – There are two types of long-stemmed Svalbard poppy: yellow and white.
Foreign visitors per year: 520,000
Main town: Tromso
Languages: Norwegian, Sami
Major industries: oil and gas, aquaculture, minerals, tourism
Unit of currency: Norwegian krone (Nkr)
Cost index: glass of Arctic Beer Nkr60 (US$10), hotel double per night Nkr750-1400 (US$125-233), Sami reindeer hide Nkr500 (US$83), dog-sledding excursion Nkr1250 (US$208).
Hey, who turned out the lights? Land of the midnight sun and the wizard’s wand spectacle of the aurora borealis, Northern Norway is always light fantastic, but in 2015 all light disappeared totally for a couple of minutes when the moon blocks out the sun. Put 20 March in your diary and book your ticket to this epic blackout. The best place to witness one of the most stunning celestial events of the century? The frozen wilderness of Svalbard, an archipelago midway between Norway and the North Pole, where polar bears outnumber people. If you missed the total solar eclipse, you’ve got a long wait – the next one in Europe will be in 2026.
Not only the weather is cool north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. Base yourself in party-loving Tromso, home to the world’s northernmost university, to hit some of its happening jazz bars after a day spent reindeer sledding. Bodo, too, is both gorgeously remote and surprisingly hip, with new-wave Scandi restaurants like Smak reinventing the culinary scene, clubs like Dama Di ramping up the nightlife and London-based street artist Phlegm making a splash on the city streets. Northern Norway is where the wild things are in more ways than one.
The Sami host a week of traditional festivities in early February — the highlight is the reindeer-racing championships.
Spandex-clad runners hit the streets of Tromso at 70°N for the Midnight Sun Marathon in late June.
Bodo swings into summer at the Nordland Music Festival in August, a 10-day bash of classical, jazz, rock and folk music.
You’ll need to slip into a dry-suit and dive into the frozen sea to catch king crab in Kirkenes from December to April, but it might just be the best crab you’ve ever tasted.
Northern Norway is going to blow your mind with its heartbreakingly beautiful landscapes of glaciers and fjord-riven mountains, all bathed in crystal-clear light. Welcome to one of Europe’s last great wildernesses. Experiences like crossing the Arctic Circle as the aurora borealis comes out to play, spotting polar bears – not too close, mind – on the icy tundra of Spitsbergen and eating reindeer stew in a fire-warmed Sami lavoo tent will be etched on your memory for ever more. Spend a while lapping up the gentle island pace in Kjerringoy, watching sea eagles wheel and whales splash around in the ocean in the Tolkienesque Lofoten Islands, and hiking in the glacial grandeur of the Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park and you may never want to leave, we swear.
Where the northern lights shine so too does Sami culture. The indigenous Sami have been in Northern Norway longer than anyone, their lives shaped by the seasons and the migratory patterns of reindeer herding. Technological advances (snowmobiles and helicopters to track reindeer, for instance) aside, the Sami way of life remains rooted in tradition. They have their own language, parliament, dress and dwellings – the tepee-like, reindeer-skin-clad lavoo. If you’re lucky enough to be invited into one, you’ll probably be treated to a joik or two. Sung from the heart, these soulful, enigmatic poems are often odes to friends and family, defined more by rhythm than rhyme.
Reindeer, stewed Sami-style with juniper berries, wild mushrooms, sour cream and thyme (finnbff), or roast (reinsdyrstek), is a red-meat treat, as are elk burgers and steaks. An oddity on the Norwegian breakfast table, brunost is a cheese that is, well, not actually cheese but sweetish, brownish, fudgy whey. Yum, huh? Simply slice and layer onto dense rye bread. The fish from icy Arctic waters are top quality, and just-caught cod and salmon never taste better than simply grilled on an open fire and served by a fjord. Cloudberries (moltebcer) are the one thing that is worth braving mosquito-infested swamps for, locals say. These golden berries make wickedly tangy mousses and ice creams. Polish off a meal with aquavit, a caraway-flavoured potato liqueur.
As natural phenomena go, Saltstraumen plays in the premier league. Like the whirlpool of Nordic giants, this soul-stirring wonder is the world’s strongest tidal current, with 400 million cu metres of water rushing through a sound that links two fjords at speeds of up to 20 knots (37km/h). For a thrill, notch up the speed bouncing past it at close range in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat), with the silver-grey ripple of mountains a beautiful blur on the horizon.
“Here I stand at the North Cape, the outermost point of Finnmark. I could even say that this is the end of the entire world,” wrote Francesco Negri, the 17th-century traveller who first made it to Norway’s Northern Cape, the northernmost point of mainland Europe.
Jutting out into the Arctic Ocean, it long remained a romantic but remote winter destination, reached only by a daily, snowplough-led convoy. This year, however, there’s a new way to arrive: a snowmobile trip.
Run by experts Destinasjon 71° Nord, it embarks from Honningsvåg, a picturesque village set on the mouth of a fjord. On the evening journey, travellers fuel up with a three-course meal before donning the snuggest polar gear and setting off across the Finnmark plateau, a silent, eerily beautiful expanse of fjords and plains – illuminated, with any luck, by the northern lights.
At around midnight, adventurers arrive at the glowing globe that marks the Cape, and toast their success with champagne in the visitor centre, where there are also films and exhibits to see, before heading to bed. The journey back after breakfast the next day is just as unforgettable, speeding over undulating, fjord-pleated scenery bathed in unearthly Arctic light.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Destinasjon 71° Nord’s guided ‘Midnight Expedition’ includes dinner, midnight snacks, breakfast and one night’s stay in simple rooms; a five-hour daytime version, without these, is from £215. Quote ‘Lonely Planet Traveller’ when booking either tour for a 15% discount on the price.
Norwegian and SAS fly to Alta from various UK airports, via Oslo, with flights on to Honnigsvåg via Wideroe. It’s also a three-hour drive from Alta, via a scenic, sea-skirting road.
Before you arrive. Perched on the edge of seven fjords, it’s no surprise that Bergen found fame in recent years as the main starting port for any exploration of Norway’s fjordland. Boats – full of locals and travellers alike – depart its harbour regularly. But it’s not only tourists who saw the city’s location as a key asset.
Founded in 1070, the city’s coastal location saw it fast established as a key European trading port, and it quickly became Norway’s capital. By the 14th century, a branch of the Hanseatic League (a powerful collective of merchant guilds across Europe) had set up shop here, establishing Bergen as the country’s economic powerhouse.
The League maintained a presence in Bergen for 400 years until the city was overtaken by Oslo and fell into decline. But its legacy can still be seen today in the colourful wooden houses at UNESCO-listed Bryggen on the harbour, which have survived countless fires over the centuries.
Most travellers use Bergen as a pitstop before they catch a ship or fly home. But in addition to the city’s rich history and its young, arty vibe – fuelled by a large student population and a multitude of art galleries – there are several other towering reasons to linger. Known as the “City of Seven Mountains,” here you can lace up your boots and set off hiking directly from the centre of town …
At the airport. Bergen Airport sits 20km south-west of town. Norwegian, British Airways and others run multiple daily flights direct from the UK. Flight time is around two hours. Once there, you’ll find ATMs and baggage lockers.
Getting into town. The cheapest, most efficient way is to take the Flybussen shuttle bus, which leaves every ten minutes. It takes about 25 minutes to get downtown. Taxis are also available, but more expensive.
Other ways to arrive. The Bergensbanen, or Bergen Line train, will take you from Oslo to Bergen in about seven hours. There are four departures every day. You can opt to go during the day to gawp at the mountainous scenery (the track cuts through seemingly impenetrable rock and climbs to a whopping 1,237m high) or book a sleeping compartment and travel overnight. Another way is via “Norway in a Nutshell”: this follows the same route as the Bergensbanen, but you can leave the train at Myrdal, reaching Bergen via a combination of bus and boat through exquisite scenery.
Just a century ago, no man had ever stood at latitude 90 degrees north. Today the North Pole, a spot that fascinated generations of explorers, is a tourist destination, albeit a rarefied one, and officially part of Norway.
Sailing from the mountainous, heavily glaciated Norwegian island of Spitsbergen or from Murmansk, Russia’s northernmost port, special nuclear-powered icebreaker ships negotiate the Arctic Basin’s ever-changing panorama of wind-polished ice, navigating at speeds of up to 20 knots.
Aboard ship, a series of lectures and presentations by on-board specialists punctuate days when the sun never sets, and passengers stay on the alert for sightings of polar bears, seals, walruses, and Arctic birds. Inflatable expedition boats and helicopters are used for the reconnaissance essential to icebreaker navigation, and also to give passengers the chance to experience the area up close.
When the ship reaches 90 degrees north it finds a suitable parking space, lowers the gangway (ice conditions permitting), and allows passengers to descend for a walkabout, a barbecue, and, for the truly hardy, a quick plunge into the Arctic Sea.
Champagne flows, dancing and celebrating begin, a crew member rides his bike across an ice floe, another begins a game of Arctic golf (using Day-Glo golf balls), and everyone remembers the great names who came to this place through so much adversity. “The Pole at last!” wrote Robert E. Peary on April 6, 1909. ‘The prize of three centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last.”
Of the countless fjords that create Norway’s lacework coastline, Hardanger – the Garden Fjord – is generally considered one of the most beautiful. Terraced fruit orchards cover its fertile banks as it stretches 113 miles inland. Particularly famed as a destination during apple and cherry blossom time, it transforms into an undulating blanket of pink and white blooms in the late spring when visitors flock here in annual pilgrimage not unlike Washington, D.C.’s.
The perfect base for exploring this exquisite corner of western Norway is found at the foot of the steep banks of the Hardangerfjord: the small Utne Hotel, accommodating guests from all over the world since 1722. Norway’s oldest, the inviting inn was run by the same family for five generations before being purchased by a cultural foundation in 1996, thus ensuring that its beautiful historic furnishings and textiles (not to mention its hospitality and charm) would continue uninterrupted well into the future.
Its ever-present amiable innkeepers keep it cozy, snug, and country-fresh. The traditional Norwegian interior of painted wood and decorative arts is the simple, airy backdrop for family antiques and photos and works left behind by the artists who have favored this spot since the late 1800s.
Nearby is the Hardanger Folk Museum, the town’s excellent open-air cultural attraction, featuring a cluster farm made up of 19th-century buildings.
The same extreme reaches of northern Europe that provide endless days of summer sunshine promise something just as remarkable during the otherwise daunting winter months: the Aurora Borealis (“dawning of the north”) or Northern Lights, an eerie, silent display of dancing lights in the heavens above.
On most clear winter nights, Arctic winds collide with the electron-charged atmosphere of the earth, creating an aurora of these swirling apparitions around the magnetic North Pole. The predominant color is green, but, during major nighttime shows, the skies also take on fleeting pink and gray curls along the edges, with a glimmer of lilac in the center.
To learn the cold, hard scientific facts, the Northern Lights Planetarium in Tromsø, gateway to the Arctic and Norway’s self-dubbed “Paris of the North,” has the technology and film documentaries. But city lights can lessen the intensity of the spectacle: local Sami (Laplander) guides take visitors by snowmobile, dogsled, or reindeer sled to the frozen inlands of northern Norway.
The once nomadic Sami are concentrated in inland towns such as Karasjok (305 miles/485 km east), capital of the Sami region, and Kautokeino (263 miles/418 km southeast).
Enthralled by the unmatched countryside and in search of perfect salmon and trout fishing, Europeans (particularly the British) “discovered” Norway’s fjords in the late 1800s. The vertical cliff-walled Geirangerfjord, 10 miles long, was – and still is – held as the ne plus ultra: Norway at its most dramatic.
View it from the remarkable Ornevegen (Eagles’ Road), from Andalsnes to Geiranger, with its eleven hairpin, hair-raising turns – completed in 1952, it remains an astonishing feat of engineering. Stop at the Eagle’s Turn to take in the unforgettable view of the fjord winding through the valley. From Andalsnes to Valldal is another of Norway’s audacious serpentine roadways, the Trollstigveien (Trolls’ Path), which crosses one of Norway’s most desolate regions.
Not the most accessible of the fjords but arguably the most popular, tourists can choose from numerous attractions – half-day cruises, excellent salmon fishing, hiking, bicycling, visits to poignantly deserted farming hamlets inaccessible by road, and excursions to Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s largest glacier, and spectacular waterfalls with names like Seven Sisters and Bridal Veil.
A great base for enjoying the Geirangerfjord area and neighboring Norangsfjord is the Union Hotel. It’s one of the old-time “fjord castles” so popular at the end of the 19th century. Today renovated and modernized, the hotel still holds sway in the area: Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja chose to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary here in 1993. You can even bathe in German Kaiser Wilhelm’s original bath (he returned no fewer than twenty-five times) if you can wrangle Room 12.