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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.
It’s midnight on a midsummer night, also known in some parts of the world as the summer solstice. And I’m floating in the infinity pool on the top deck of the new Viking Sky. The midnight sun is high in the sky, and it’s not going anywhere tonight. That’s because I’m cruising through the Arctic Circle in Norway. It’s brisk outside, but not in this heated pool with its panoramic views of deep blue fjords and snow-capped peaks. I’m on board for the launch of this dazzling new 930-passenger cruise ship. At the christening ceremony in Tromso, Viking uses a bottle of aquavit instead of champagne to smash against the hull, and a singer performs a pull-at-the-heartstrings rendition of ‘Let it Go’ from the Disney movie Frozen, whose setting was inspired by Norway.
Viking Sky fully embraces its Norwegian heritage, from the heart-shaped waffles at Mamsen’s – an onboard cafe named after Viking CEO and founder Torstein Hagen’s mother-to the garden under the grand staircase, which is filled with lichen and other plants from across the country. In true Nordic style, every creature comfort has been considered. All the staterooms have cashmere throws, mini-bars stocked with free champagne, and a pair of binoculars for watching the passing scenery. Even the starting-level cabins feel like suites: each one has a generously sized sitting area and a spacious verandah.
A culinary journey – For such a small ship, there are a surprising number of choices when it comes to food. At the Chef’s Table, the menu changes regularly, exploring different regions of the world, from Norway to China. My favourite is The Kitchen Table, an innovative concept where a small group of guests get to source the food with the chefs. In Bergen, we head to the fish market and find king crab from the Arctic and cured salmon. That night, we sample the bounty we sourced that morning. The only way it could be fresher? If we had caught the seafood ourselves.
Scandinavian discovery – In fact, Viking guests can catch their own king crab on a thrilling shore excursion in Honningsvag, one of Norway’s northernmost towns. Suited up in a weather-proof jumpsuit, I head out in a tender in search of these massive creatures that can weigh up to 10 kilograms. In the middle of the frigid Arctic, deep-sea fishermen pull up nets full of crabs, then cook them over an open fire. I eat king crab while sitting on a reindeer pelt in a Sami tent.
This is just one of the many immersive experiences that Viking offers throughout Norway. In Molde, I explore the Atlantic Road, one of the world’s most exciting drives. In the Lofoten Islands, I visit a beach so white you’d think you were in the Caribbean. In Geiranger, a tiny town famous for its fjords and waterfalls, I ride an e-bike 450 metres up a mountain. The best reward at the end of any journey? Coming back onto Viking Sky and taking a dip in the infinity pool. It doesn’t get more relaxing than that.
With the possible exception of, say, San Marino, attempting to see a country in 24 hours is a tail order. So it’s pretty impressive how much the Norway in a Nutshell trip manages to squeeze into a single day – a greatest hits of the land’s majestic scenery, Narnia-like in its midwinter cover of ice and snow Striking inland from Bergen or Oslo, it traces the best of the west’s fjords and mountains by boat, bus and train.
Cruising up the Naeroyfjord, travellers pass canyon-steep cliffs etched with frozen waterfalls, handfuls of painted houses huddling at their base; while the Flam Railway twists through the mountains, climbing nearly 1,000 metres in an hour – via 20 tunnels and countless valley-wide views – to the snowy white-out of Myrdal. Another highlight is the Bergen-Oslo railway, ferrying passengers to their base or on across the country (highly recommended) in a film-reel of snowy plateaux, frozen rivers and forest. If you want to linger a bit longer, there are also overnight options and extra activities to try – from a fjord rib safari to husky sledding in the mountain town of Geilo.
It’s the sauna that clinches it. We’re t lying to single out just what it is that makes skiing in Norway so darned civilised. My daughter, Ella, 10, says it’s the traditional, turf-roof wooden cabin we’ve rented for the week. From its wraparound terrace to its steep, carved staircase, these traditional log huts are wooden inside and out, making them feel dolls’ house-cosy. My dad, meanwhile, is sold on the ski-in/ski-out ease of the place. It’s the end of the season, so there’s not quite enough snow cover to make it right to our door, but Trysil’s tree-lined slopes are flanked by cabin-style, self-catering accommodation and a scattering of hotels set almost entirely on-piste. So, joyfully absent is the arduous schlep home at the end of the day — carrying kids’ skis and poles — that characterises a classic ski holiday in the Alps.
The in-cabin sauna, however, gets a vote from both me and Celia, Ella’s de facto aunty and a regular travel buddy. For Scandinavians (the majority of Trysil’s holidaymakers), saunas are expected, of course. But for the average Brit, returning each evening to warm chilled toes and aching muscles in your own sauna, while you’ve got dinner in the oven and a bottle of wine chilling in the snow outside is pure indulgence. Extra indulgences we’ve opted for include a grocery delivery to our door. Local bakery Kort & Godt has brought breakfast goodies, so we’re equipped, on arrival, with the basics. “I’m really not sure about that cheese, though,” says Ella on trying brunost, the sweet brown substance that all Norwegian kids are raised on, that’s really more sugary butter than cheese. Paired with a slice of dark, dense walnut bread, however, it improves dramatically —and provides ample fuel fora morning’s skiing.
Thanks to our group’s wildly varied abilities and interests, our first morning sees us scattered to the four corners of the resort. But this being Scandinavia, nothing is more than a couple of runs or a short drag lift away — even if Trysil counts as Norway’s largest downhill area. It’s not that high, either, compared with the Alps, topping out at 3,715ft, but the climate creates a very respectable amount of powder snow. Dad shoots off to the nearest black run, Celia gamely tracking behind on the adjacent reds, while Ella and I opt fora ski lesson.
“Trysil has the world’s oldest ski club,” says Alex, our young Swedish instructor. “I prefer how professional the ski schools are here compared to Sweden. I’ve learnt so much.” At the top of a chairlift, Alex points out some ski runs in the distance — Salen, one of Sweden’s largest downhill resorts. Ski Star, which manages both resorts, plans to unite them under one ski pass, ahead of an influx of arrivals in 2018 when the new international airport is slated to open, near Salen. For now, we have the slopes almost to ourselves. Alex guides me, a rusty skier after a two-decade snowboarding hiatus, and confident beginner, Ella with expert ease, aided by the fact we can, if needed, career across almost empty, extra-wide pistes that recall the best US resorts. Snow parks, with tricks and jumps, are woven into the piste layout, encouraging kids to have fun on the slopes, not just doggedly head downhill.
Ella and I spend mornings at ski school, while Dad and Celia burn around the blacks and reds. We meet to spend afternoons skiing red and blue runs that are so well served by lifts and tracking routes there’s no risk of getting stuck on anything nasty. And this will only improve next season when a flash new chairlift replaces a couple of wind-battered drags. A ski hill set deep in Norway’s farm country, Trysil has come a long way since its original days of tractor-operated lifts.
“l wouldn’t risk this in the Alps,” says my dad, ushering us off a lift at the top if of a red run. “But here, I’m happy to take Ella right up the mountain. It’s a “real treat to be able to ski side by side with her.” Well, not quite side by side. Confidence boosted by such easily o navigable pistes, Ella’s off ahead of us on jumps and ramps, granddad in hot pursuit. This cater-for-all resort means Celia and I can dip our toes into the almost infinite cross-country terrain (magically tranquil trails through silent, snow-shrouded forest), while Ella and her granddad go for a swim in the indoor/outdoor pool at the Park Inn Trysil Mountain Resort.
By infamously pricey Norwegian standards, Trysil’s 30 ski-accessed restaurants are reasonable. Portions are generous and food hearty, often locally grown and produced. The huge moose burger and Cajun fries at Knettsetra, an old wood cabin surrounded by snowy pines — proves our favourite gourmet refuel for lunch. A blowout grownup dinner at Restaurant Pilegrimen, meanwhile, is a treat prolonged by the kids’ room with games and movies. We linger fireside over smoked duck with lingonberry, fat flakes falling outside the window, happy in the knowledge we’re just a short shush from home.
ROYAL & ANCIENT POLAR BEAR SOCIETY – Founded in 1963, this club has displays on Arctic hunting and local history. For £18, you can become a life member. Wild polar bears haven’t been seen here in Hammerfest for thousands of years, but the town was a major 19th- and 20th-century base for hunting and capture expeditions to Svalbard.
SAMI NATIONAL MUSEUM – Karasjok is the capital of Norway’s indigenous Sami people. Exhibits at its premier museum, also called De Samiske Samlinger, include traditional Sami clothing, tools and artefacts, and works by Sami artists of today. Outdoors, roam past typical Sami constructions and ancient rein deer trap ping pits.
DOG-SLEDDING – The environmentally friendly version of snowmobiling allows you to experience the polar silence like explorers of old. Engholm’s Husky, near Karasjok, offers winter dog-sled tours. If you’re lucky, you’ll be guided by Sven Engholm, one of dog-sledding’s most famous names. Tours range from an hour to multiday expeditions.
SENJA – Norway’s second-largest island rivals Lofoten for natural beauty yet attracts a fraction of its visitors. A broad agricultural plain laps at lnnersida, the island’s eastern, mainland-facing coast. Birch woods, moorland and sweetwater lakes extend beneath the interior’s bare craggy uplands. Along the northwestern coast, Yttersida, knife-ridged peaks rise directly from the Arctic Ocean.
NORTHERN LIGHTS CATHEDRAL – Opened in 2013, Alta’s Northern Lights Cathedral has become one of the north’s architectural icons, with its swirling pyramid structure clad in rippling titanium sheets. The interior has an utterly modern 4.3m-high bronze Christ by Danish artist Peter Brandes. The cathedral is at its best in winter when aglow in floodlights.
Norway’s Storfjord Hotel uses time-tested methods to keep its guests cosy, with its log walls, turf roofs, fireplaces and shaggy blankets. From its hillside position, it looks over the namesake fjord, a Viking longboat ride (or car trip) in land from the port of Alesund. Cross the sea as Norse explorers did to get to Reykjavik, and you’ll find another warm welcome at Kex Hostel, set just back from the seafront of the Icelandic capital. The public spaces have a more vintage appeal than the bland exterior suggests, and its restaurant-bar is a destination in itself.
Further on across the Atlantic, the Scandinavian ice hotel concept has come to Canada, with the Hotel de Glace outside Quebec City. For three months, this frozen fantasy will sleep guests in room temperatures of around -4°C, with the aid of Arctic-standard sleeping bags. Wales is usually less frigid, but the tiny Y Bwthyn pub on the grounds of Fforest Farm is a cosy bolthole on any winter day. Set on 200 acres by the River Teifi near Cardigan, the site has a mix of tents, farmhouse rooms, cabins and golf-ball-like domes. Winters on the islands of Scotland’s west coast are milder than you might expect, thanks to the Gulf Stream. If the Isle of Mull experiences a cold snap though, hole up inside Glengorm Castle – a Scottish Baronial edifice looking out at the sea from the end of a single-track road. With the log fire in the lounge, guests should feel as insulated from the cold as the shaggy Highland cattle often seen on the grounds.
In the Alps meanwhile, skiers enjoy easy access to the slopes at Wiesergut in the Austrian resort of Saalbach-Hinterglemm. The hotel tones down the wooden chalet look of many of its neighbours, opting for a more contemporary Alpine aesthetic. Dialled one notch back towards the traditional, Huus Hotel is near the smart Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. ‘Huus’ means house in local dialect, and the rooms are comfortingly plush. For a mountain break with a difference, Georgia’s Caucasus is hard to beat. The Rooms Hotel Kazbegi stands in the shadow of Mount Kazbek – a 5,047m stratovolcano (long dormant). The former Soviet complex has been given an attractive, lifestyle-hotel makeover.
SCOTLAND – Full disclosure: Scotland will not provide your highest probability of seeing the northern lights. That said, on a clear night in the depths of winter, far from bright lights (and with no full moon), the ’mirrie dancers’ may perform. The Caithness region is as far north as you can go on the British mainland. At John O’ Groats, modern wooden chalets by Natural Retreats offer sweeping coastal views, plus the chance to dash outside when the skies erupt Even in the case of an aurora no-show, the wide landscapes and mysterious Stone Age monuments of Caithness are truly compelling.
ICELAND – Four hundred miles closer to the north pole than John O’ Groats, Iceland is also a good bet for dark skies, with only eight people per square mile on average, and huge tracts with none at all bingvellir National Park has a double claim to be the country’s birthplace: a wide valley where two tectonic plates are pulling apart, and also the old meeting place of the Alpingi – the parliament of the early Norse settlers. Just south of here, the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel brings high comfort into this wild terrain. It has big viewing windows, and also runs after-dinner tours to spot the aurora borealis.
NORWAY – Above the Arctic Circle, there is at least one day a year when the sun doesn’t rise. In northern Norway, this means a few hours of milky twilight, then a long night – hopefully illuminated with shimmering curtains and other light displays.
Sollia Gjestegaard is an aurora-spotting base with more history than most: built in 1929 as a lakeside sanatorium to take advantage of the pure air, its wooden cabins are well enough away from Kirkenestown, and just a few hundred metres from the Russian border. It even has a tent camp for guests to get further into the wild… and closer to the lights.
SEPTEMBER – MARCH
Seeing the Northern Lights is a fantastic once-in-a-Lifetime experience, and it’s one you can tick off your bucket List when visiting northern Norway, with tour companies The Aurora Zone and Artisan Travel offering a range of tours. From fairy-tale fjords to dazzling glacier plateaus, Norway is the perfect place to immerse yourself in a wide range of thrilling activities including whale watching and snowmobiling. But the real highlights happen when night falls. Combine a hunt for the Northern Lights with activities such as a husky safari or a dinner cruise and you’ll have memories to last a lifetime.
♦ Discover the unique Arctic Light and polar night of Spitsbergen, where you can hunt for the Northern Lights 24 hours a day.
♦ Spend a night in the coolest accommodation in Norway – Kirkenes Snowhoteland Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel – for a night like no other.
♦ Try the delicacy of the gigantic King Crab in Kirkenes. Guests can enjoy a range of fishing expeditions to catch them and enjoy their world-renowned flavour.
The Norwegian city of Bergen is surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords. One of the peaks is Floyen, where the reward at the top – after a funicular ride and a two-hour trek through swirling mists and woodland – was blue skies and breathtaking views of the valley below. It’s a softer version of the Scottish Highlands, a gentler Lake District. Afterwards, my two children (aged six and nine) and I gobbled up griddled king prawns, crab legs and lobster at the famous outdoor fish market by the harbour. It was a typically fun-filled day trip during our week-long Norse Legends cruise on Holland America’s newly launched 2,650-passenger ms Koningsdam.
The children also went wild for kayaking at Alesund, a once thriving fishing station with Art Nouveau architecture, where we saw puffins and jellyfish; and the Seven Sisters waterfalls at UNESCO World Heritage site Geirangerfjord.
The onboard Club HAL (for ages three to 17) was a winner too, especially the pyjama and pillow-fight party, relay races and ball games (so refreshing not to see their faces stuck behind a computer screen), while tricky teens learnt how to pop and lock at high-energy hip hop lessons.
Music was a key influence on renowned interior designer Adam D Tihany’s look for the ship (each deck is named after a composer), which includes a Music Walk with three live music stages (the best is the Queen’s Lounge where B B King’s eight-piece All-Stars band play Memphis-style tunes) and the World Stage, which hosts concerts, theatre productions and screenings, such as BBC Earth programmes, which were set to live music played by the ship’s resident musicians. Our favourites from the seven main restaurants were the Culinary Arts Centre for farm-to-table food (roasted heritage carrot soup and herb-crusted beef bavette with dehydrated garden vegetables, wild mushroom puree, shallot marmalade and marrow sauce) and pan-Asian hot spot Tamarind.
And at Blend (the only purpose-built wine blending venue at sea), I learnt how to make my own concoction of red wine using bottles from Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington State’s oldest and most acclaimed winery. Ultimately, this trip is great for multi-generational gangs: not only did the children get to play with their peers from other countries (guests were mainly from America, Belgium and Holland) but we managed to pack seeing so much into a few short days.
As the year-end holiday season draws nearer, you might be wondering where to for your next winter holiday. We recommend Norway; an extraordinary city nestled within some of nature’s best wonders in the world, a vast adventure playground for the active enthusiasts, and an opportunity to witness the enthralling Northern Lights that will get most of your peers green with envy.
The bulk of your time should be spent within the Norway Svalbard islands, located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Here, you will find untouched arctic wilderness and wildlife within their natural yet rugged and fragile habitats. One fine example includes the polar bears. In addition to the thousands of polar bears living in this region, you will encounter the world’s northernmost settlements, with a population of approximately 3,000 people. Over 2,000 of these human inhabitants live in Longyearbyen, the administration centre and largest settlement of the islands. Though small, this colourful community awaits visitors with a surprising range of cultural activities and opportunities such as concerts, shows, festivals and exhibitions.
Dig deep into the rich history of Longyearbyen through various attraction visits to coal mines, local village and churches and the Svalbard Museum – featuring a complete exhibition on Svalbard’s history and present natural places in Arctic Norway. After which, uncover the future as you tour some research facilities and the global seed vault, the world’s largest seed storage, to learn of conservation efforts not only for the local community, but for the world.
Of course, no visit to the North Pole should go without Aurora Chasing. Join a snowmobile (or snowcat) tour and be captivated by the unique blue light that characterise the polar night. Northern Lights campsites are also set up in traditional Sami style to allow guest a full immersion experience. While waiting for the occurrence of the rare and mystifying Northern Lights, open fires are often seen and people gather to hear Arctic stories told by friendly and professional locals. When daylight comes, admire the gorgeous landscapes featuring snow-capped mountains and crystal-blue fjords while keeping an eye out for the arctic animals. If lady luck is not on your side, fret not. Husky sledge safari will give you an introduction to dog sledding with the famed and lovable Alaskan Huskies. At Trappers Station, there are 90 happy huskies eager to take you out for a ride.
End off your vacation with a relaxing city tour in Oslo, a metropolitan city with forests and fjord aplenty. As one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, you are bound to encounter eye-catching architecture popping up in town with an abundance of world-class museums, restaurants and art. Learn about the Norwegian history, culture and lifestyle within the many cultural institutions, including the Norwegian Opera &C Ballet, the National Theatre and the National Museum of Art. Despite being a seemingly bustling city, Oslo is able to maintain a relaxed atmosphere akin to a small town and that’s the charm of it.
The only stave church to have remained unchanged since the Middle Ages is Borgund Stavkirke at Laerdal in western Norway. Dedicated to the apostle St. Andrew, it dates from around 1150 and is built from almost 2,000 carefully crated pieces of wood. The interior is very simple: there are no pews or decorations, and the lighting is limited to a few small openings high up on the walls. The exterior is richly decorated with carvings: dragonlike animals in life-and-death struggles, dragonheads, and runic inscriptions. There is a 16th-century pulpit and a free-standing belfry with a medieval bell.
The earliest stave churches, built in the 11th century, had wooden wall columns that were set directly into the ground . These churches lasted no more than 100 years, since moisture in the ground caused the column bases to rot away. As construction techniques developed, it became customary to set the wooden framework on sills that rested on a stone foundation. This raised the entire wooden skeleton above ground level, protecting it from humidity. This method proved so effective that churches built in the 12th century are still standing today.
Borgund Stave Church is one of the largest and most ornately designed of the almost 30 remaining stave churches in Norway. Usually stave churches were Simple, relatively small structures with a nave and a narrow chancel. Borgund ‘s chancel also has a distinctive semicircular apse. Stave posts mark a division between the two. Th e interior is dark, since light can only filter through from small round openings (windows) under the three-tiered roof, which is crowned by a turret. An external gallery often encircles stave churches.
The introduction of Christianity to Norway around the year 1000 saw the merging of pagan and Christian cultures and beliefs. Most stave churches were erected on the sites of old temples that were destroyed in the wake of Christianity. The impact of this can be seen in the richly decorated carvings in stave churches, which unite pre-Christian and Christian symbolism. Pagan gods were represented in disguise alongside medieval Christian saints. The door frame designs (West Door) are particularly elaborate and demonstrate the skill of the carpenters who embellished them from top to bottom with intricate carvings. Wood from pine trees was commonly used, since this was most readily available. Branches and bark were removed from the trees , which were then left to dry out before being chopped down. This method meant that the wood was more weather-resistant and durable.
Many of the surviving state churches are in remote locations. High, exposed sites that were noticeable and remarkable were generally chosen to create a dramatic visual effect.
Intricate framework of the main roof.
The exterior of the church is richly adorned. The decorations on the Romanesque West Door feature vinelike ornamentation and depictions of dragon battles.
This sits atop the three-tiered roof.
There are three tiers on the roof of this tower. The first tier is decorated with dragoheads on the gables, similar to those on the main roof. These were meant to cleanse the air, purging it of the evil spirits of unlawful pagan worship.
This, along with the other roofs, is clad in pine shingles.
Twelve posts (staves) around the central part of the nave support the roof. Disappearing into the semidarkness of the roof, they give an increased sense of height.
The gables above the doorways and apse tower are decorated with plain crosses.
Simple, circular openings in the outer walls let in a small amount of light.
The interior of Borgund Church contains no ornate embellishment, only a simple pulpit and altar. This altarpiece dates from 1654.
The central nave is bordered by crosses in the shape of the letter X.
Olav Haraldsson became king of a united Norway in 1016 and went on to convert the country to Christianity. Pagan statues were torn down and stave churches were built. He died in battle in 1030. A year later, his body was exhumed and he was declared saint.
Rich ornamentation in stave churches is evidence of Norway’s Viking era, when skilled carving techniques were developed to combine art and woodworking in construction. The depiction of animals such as dragons and serpents in these carvings is thought to derive from Viking art.
c. 1150: Borgund Stave Church is built to replace the rotting existing church.
1300s: A chancel and an apse are added to the building.
1500-1620: This pulpit is constructed and the altarpiece added.
1870: The church goes out of regular service when a larger church is constructed nearby.