Bergen & the Southwestern Fjords
If you could visit only one region of Norway and hope to grasp the essence of the country's appeal, this would be our choice. Cool, cultured Bergen is one of the world's most beautiful cities, with its streets of white-washed timber cottages climbing steep hillsides up from busy Vågen Harbour.
To the rest of the world, Norway is where Mother Nature has created one of her finest works of art. Against such a wonderful natural canvas, it's easy to forget that man can also be artistic, and many a visitor has been left surprised to discover that Oslo is home to world-class museums and galleries rivalling anywhere else on the European art trail.
The Far North
Norway's northernmost counties of Troms and Finnmark arc across the very top of Europe, where broad horizons share the land with dense forest. Like most of the relatively few visitors who make it this far north, come in summer to enjoy Tromsø, the region's only town of any size. The museums of this sparky, self-confident place will orient you for the Arctic lands beyond.
For those with a love of all things Arctic, this is where Norway really starts to get interesting. Heading northwards through long, slim Nordland, lush fields give way to lakes and forests, vistas open up, summits sharpen and the treeline descends ever lower on the mountainsides.
Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, Bergen is an utterly beguiling city. The beautiful Unesco World Heritage–listed Bryggen is its centrepiece, and nature, be that mountains, fjords or sea, is never far away. But you'll also discover a dynamic cultural life, one a city 10 times its size would be proud of.
The Northern Fjords
More islet-strewn coastline and ever more deeply incised fjords await as you push further northwards into the region of Møre og Romsdal. Stunning Geirangerfjord, a Unesco World Heritage Site, a must on most tours and a favourite anchorage for cruise ships, staggers beneath its summer influx.
Troms, where the Gulf Stream peters out, mitigating the harshness of winter, boasts a couple of near-superlative places: Tromsø, the only place large enough to merit the name 'city' in northern Norway, and Senja, Norway's second-largest island, a less trodden rival to the Lofotens for spectacular scenery.
Simply put, Tromsø parties. By far the largest town in northern Norway and the administrative centre of Troms county, it's lively with cultural bashes, buskers, an animated street scene, a midnight-sun marathon, a respected university, the hallowed Mack Brewery – and more pubs per capita than any other Norwegian town.
Trondheim, Norway's original capital, is nowadays the country's third-largest city after Oslo and Bergen. With wide streets and partly pedestrianised heart, it's a simply lovely city with a long history. Fuelled by a large student population, it buzzes with life, has some good cafes and restaurants, and is rich in museums.