Although Norway covers the same latitude range as Alaska (and much further north when you include Svalbard), most of the country enjoys a surprisingly temperate climate. For this you can thank the Gulf Stream, which flows north along the coast. Average maximum temperatures for July hover around 16°C in the south (although they can be double that) and around 13°C in the north. In January, the average maximum temperature is 1°C and -3°C respectively. Bergen, on the southwest coast, is the wettest city, with 2250mm of annual precipitation, while Rondane and Gudbrandsdal, protected by coastal mountain ranges from the moisture-laden prevailing southwesterly winds, are among the driest districts of Norway, with less than 500mm of precipitation annually. Alta in the country’s far north receives less rain than the Sahara!
Extreme temperatures are possible even in the Arctic region. In July 1998, even Narvik rose above 30°C and Svalbard positively soared to over 20°C a month later. At the other end of the scale, winter temperatures can plummet (in January 1999, the temperature in Kirkenes dropped to a chilly -56°C) and snow up to 10m deep can accumulate in the mountains; a mere 2m to 3m is more usual in the lower areas.
The Norwegian Meteorological Institute (www.dnmi.no) has the latest weather information.
When to go
Norway’s climate should be your primary consideration. The main tourist season (which coincides with Norwegian and other European school holidays) runs from mid-June to mid-August. During this period, public transport runs frequently, tourist offices and tourist sights are open longer hours and many hotels offer cheaper rates.
That said, Norway is at its best and brightest for much of the period from May to September. Late May is particularly pleasant: flowers are blooming, fruit trees blossoming (especially in Hardangerfjord), daylight hours are growing longer and most hostels, camp sites and tourist sights are open but uncrowded. Be aware, however, that if you’ve come to Norway to hike, many routes and huts won’t be open until late June or early July. Smaller mountain roads usually don’t open until June.
North of the Arctic Circle, the true midnight sun is visible at least one day a year, and at Nordkapp it stays out from 13 May to 29 July.
At any time of the year, be aware that extremes of temperature are always possible; temperatures over 30°C in summer and below -30ºC in winter aren’t uncommon. Unless you’re an avid skier or hope to glimpse the aurora borealis, Norway’s cold dark winters can be trying for visitors; public transport runs infrequently; most hostels and camp sites are closed; and sights, museums and tourist offices open only limited hours, if at all.
The Norwegian year is also chock-full of outstanding festivals and some of them are well worth planning your trip around.