Inland from Norway's southern coast, quiet mountain valleys such as Setesdalen and the magnificent peak of Gausta, close to Rjukan, are wonderful places. Another highlight is the lake-studded Telemark region, connected by a canal with pretty Seljord – home to the Nessie-esque Selma the Serpent.
Kristiansand, Norway's fifth-largest city, calls itself 'Norway's No 1 Holiday Resort'. That can be a bit misleading: sun-starved Norwegians do flock here in the summer, and there's a petite town beach and flash marina, but it tends to serve more as a gateway to the villages of Norway's southern coast and the inland region of Setesdalen.
Arendal, one of the larger south coast towns, has an undeniable buzz throughout summer, with the outdoor restaurants and bars around the harbour (known as Pollen) filling up with holidaymakers, and a full calendar of festivals. Large enough to have an array of amenities but not too big to overwhelm, it's a nice place to spend a few days.
Larvik is one of the largest towns along Norway's south coast. It's a workaday port but has the region's most glamorous hotel, a new cultural centre and good museums. Along with that, you'll find Norway's most accessible excavations from the Viking era and Bøkeskogen, Norway's largest beech forest.
The Telemark Canal
The 105km-long Telemark Canal system, a series of lakes and canals that connect Skien and Dalen, with a minor branch from Lunde to Notodden, lifts and lowers boats a total of 72m in 18 locks. The canal was built for the timber trade between 1887 and 1892 by up to 400 workers. Today, taking a slow boat along the canals is one of the highlights of a visit to southern Norway.
Snaking around the base of cliffs and hills and overlooking a moody ocean, the white-on-white town of Risør is one of southern Norway's prettiest. The focus of the town falls on the U-shaped harbour full of colourful fishing boats and private yachts, and surrounded by historic houses dating from 1650 to 1890.
The riverside town of Evje, surrounded by forests and rolling hills, serves as the southern gateway to Setesdalen. It's famous among geologists for the variety of rocks – a mineral park and the chance to prospect for your own rocks are among Evje's primary attractions. This town is also a first-class base for white-water rafting and other activities.
One of the favourite summer retreats for Norwegians, Kragerø has narrow streets and whitewashed houses climbing up from the water's edge. Kragerø has long served as a retreat for Norwegian artists, and Edvard Munch spent a few restorative fishing holidays here, calling Kragerø 'the pearl of the coastal towns'.