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The essence of Norway's appeal is remarkably simple: this is one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
Impossibly steep-sided Norwegian fjords of extraordinary beauty cut gashes from a jagged coastline deep into the interior. Glaciers, grand and glorious, snake down from ice fields that rank among Europe's largest. Elsewhere, the mountainous terrain of Norway's interior resembles the ramparts of so many natural fortresses, and yields to rocky coastal islands that rise improbably from the waters like apparitions. Then, of course, there's the primeval appeal, the spare and staggering beauty of the Arctic. And wherever you find yourself in this most extraordinary country, these landscapes serve as a backdrop for some of Europe's prettiest villages.
The Call to Action
Enjoying nature in Norway is very much an active pursuit, and this is one of Europe's most exciting and varied adventure-tourism destinations. While some of the activities on offer are geared towards the young, energetic and fearless, most – such as world-class hiking, cycling and white-water rafting in summer, and dog-sledding, skiing and snowmobiling in winter – can be enjoyed by anyone of reasonable fitness. Whether you're here for seemingly endless summer possibilities, or for snowsports and the soul-stirring Northern Lights in winter, these activities are an exhilarating means of getting close to nature.
The counterpoint to Norway's ever-present natural beauty is found in its vibrant cultural life. Norwegian cities are cosmopolitan and showcase the famous Scandinavian flair for design through the ages. Bergen, Trondheim and Ålesund must surely rank among Europe's most photogenic cities, while contemporary Arctic-inspired architectural icons grace towns and remote rural settings alike. Food, too, is a cultural passion through which Norwegians push the boundaries of innovation even as they draw deeply on a heartfelt love of tradition. At the same time, a busy calendar of festivals, many of international renown, are worth planning your trip around.
When it comes to wildlife, Norway has few peers in Europe. Here you can watch whales – humpback, sperm and orca, depending on the season – off Andenes, Stø or Tromsø, while the interior offers up wild reindeer, prehistoric musk oxen, ponderous elk (moose) or beguiling Arctic foxes. Birdwatching, too, is a highlight, from the puffins of Bleik to the migratory seabirds of Runde and Varanger. But the real prizes inhabit Norway's high Arctic, in Svalbard, where polar bears and walruses are the poster species for a wilderness of rare, dramatic and precarious beauty.
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Around 1100 years ago, Vikings dragged up two longships from the shoreline and used them as the centrepiece for grand ceremonial burials, most likely for important chieftains or nobility. Along with the ships, they buried many items for the afterlife: food, drink, jewellery, furniture, carriages, weapons, and even a few dogs for companionship. Discovered in Oslofjord in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ships and their wares are beautifully restored, offering an evocative, emotive insight into Viking life. There are three ships in total, all named after their places of discovery: Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune. The most ostentatious and intimidating of the three is the Oseberg. The burial chamber beneath it held the largest collection of Viking-age artefacts ever uncovered in Scandinavia, though it had been looted of its jewellery. As daunting as the ship appears, it was probably only ever intended as a royal pleasure craft. The sturdier 24m-long Gokstad, built around 890, is the finest remaining example of a Viking longship, but when it was unearthed its corresponding burial chamber had also been looted and few artefacts were uncovered. There is also the third, smaller, boat, the Tune, which is fragmentary but what remains is incredibly well preserved. A free audioguide is available to download as a smartphone app. Please note: This attraction is closed for renovations until 2026
This twisting, sky-topping corkscrew of a road is the most famous stretch of tarmac in Norway. Completed in 1936 after eight years of labour, the Troll's Ladder is a stunning feat of road building, spiralling up the mountainside through 11 hairpin bends and a 1:12 gradient, and after heavy rain, waterfalls cascade down the mountainside, drenching cars as they pass. To add to the thrill, much of it is effectively single-lane, meaning traffic jams and passing vehicles are part of the hair-raising experience. At the crest of the pass, a gravity-defying platform and a series of viewpoints have been built out of rusting steel and concrete, a striking artificial counterpoint to the bare rock and natural scenery all around. Teetering precipitously over the plunging cliff and allowing stomach-churning views right down the mountain, the site was designed by top architect Reiulf Ramstad and has become one of the most famous locations on the National Tourist Route network: don't miss it. The road can be done in either direction, from Valldal or Andalsnes, a distance of about 38km. The road passes through Reinheimen National Park, established in 2006 and Norway's third largest, where wild reindeer still crop the mosses and soft grass. The pass is usually cleared and open from late May to mid-October, although it's entirely dependent on the seasonal snowfall.
The lovely blue-green bay of Magdalenefjord in Nordvest Spitsbergen, flanked by towering peaks and intimidating tidewater glaciers, is the most popular anchorage along Spitsbergen's western coast and is one of Svalbard's prettiest corners. If you catch it on a sunny day (or a moody one with atmospheric storm clouds lurking), you'll think you've wandered into some Arctic paradise. Most visitors come as part of a multiday cruise. In the 17th century, this area saw heavy Dutch whaling; at Graveneset, near the mouth of the fjord, you can still see the remains of two stoves used to boil the blubber. There are numerous protected graves of 17th- and mid-18th-century whalers.
Nidaros Cathedral is Scandinavia's largest medieval building, and the northernmost Gothic structure in Europe. Outside, the ornately embellished, altar-like west wall has top-to-bottom statues of biblical characters and Norwegian bishops and kings, sculpted in the early 20th century. Several are copies of medieval originals, nowadays housed in the adjacent museum. Note the glowing, vibrant colours of the modern stained glass in the rose window at the west end in striking contrast to the interior gloom. Photography not permitted. The altar sits over the original grave of St Olav, the Viking king who replaced the pagan Nordic religion with Christianity. The original stone cathedral was built in 1153, when Norway became a separate archbishopric. The current transept and chapter house were constructed in 1130–80 and reveal Anglo-Norman influences (many of the craftspeople were brought in from England), while the Gothic choir and ambulatory were completed in the early 14th century. The nave, repeatedly ravaged by fire across the centuries, is mostly a faithful 19th-century reconstruction. Down in the crypt is a display of medieval carved tombstones (the majority restored from fragments since many headstones were broken up and carted away to be recycled in domestic buildings). Look for one inscribed in English and dedicated to William Miller, Shipmaster, of Dundee, Scotland, who met his end near Trondheim in the 18th century. You can wander around freely but, between early June and early August, it's worth joining a tour (a 15-minute canter or a more detailed 45-minute visit). Times vary but there are up to four daily in English. Music-lovers may want to time their visit to take in a recital on the church's magnificent (and recently restored) organ. From mid-June to mid-August you can climb the 172 steps up the cathedral's tower (50kr) for a great view over the city, but bear in mind that the staircase is extremely narrow and steep – and there's literally no turning back past fellow tour-goers once you're on your way. There are guided ascents every half-hour from its base in the south transept, with a limit of 20 people per ascent.
Opened to much controversy in 2013, Ekebergparken cemented Oslo's reputation as a contemporary-art capital and, in particular, one devoted to sculpture. A vast forested public park overlooking the city and the Oslofjord is dotted with work from the collection of property developer and art collector Christian Ringnes, with artists represented including Louise Bourgeois, Marina Abramovíc, Jenny Holzer, Tony Oursler, Sarah Lucas, Tony Cragg and Jake and Dinos Chapman, and a few traditional works from Rodin, Maillol and Vigeland. You'll need at least half a day to explore properly, and expect your visit to unfold more as a treasure hunt than a usual museum experience. While seeking out the various installations, make sure you visit the Ekeberg Stairs, a historic as well as breathtaking viewpoint, and the Munch Spot, the view that inspired The Scream (as well as a 2013 Abramovíc work). There are children's activities held in the Swiss-chalet-style Lund's House, where you'll also find a museum exploring the geological and natural world of the park, as well as an art and design shop.
The eight storm-lashed bridges of the Atlantic Ocean Road buck and twist like sea serpents, connecting 17 islets between Vevang and the island of Averøya. The UK's Guardian newspaper once crowned it the world's best road trip. For a highway that is barely 8km long, the weight of expectation may be too great, but it's certainly hugely scenic. During the autumn storms you'll experience nature's wrath at its most dramatic. In season, look out for whales and seals offshore. You can do the road in either direction: from Molde, hit the coast at Bud; from Kristiansund and the north, take the new undersea road tunnel that connects with Bremsnes. Whichever your direction, rather than driving the Rv64, which cuts across inland Averøya, choose the quieter, prettier road, signed for Kvernes, which loops around the island's southern coast and takes no longer. Several scenic overlooks are stationed along the route, with striking structures built as part of the Nasjonaleturistvegen project, which aims to promote 18 of Norway's scenic roads and enhance them with cutting-edge architecture. Key stops include the rest area and walking path at Eldhusøya, an island off the southwest of Averøya, and the glass-fronted viewing platform at Askevågen, a little over 10km north of Bud, which gives you a 360-degree panoramic view of the archipelago, the ocean and the shore. The most impressive – and longest – bridge is Storseisund, a gravity-defying marvel that seems to curl and twist on its way from Eide to Averøy island. It's starred in umpteen car advertisements. You don't necessarily need your own car to follow the road, although it does make it a lot more fun. Eide Auto buses link Molde and Kristiansund year-round. There are five daily buses from Monday to Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. It's a 2¼ hour return trip, although if you buy the day ticket you can hop on and off at will.
This private contemporary-art museum resides in an arresting, silvered-wood building designed by Renzo Piano, with a sail-like glass roof that feels both maritime and at one with the Oslofjord landscape. The collection is rich in American work from the '80s (artists such as Jeff Koons, Tom Sachs, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince are well represented), but boundary-pushing pieces by other key artists such as Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer reflect a now-broader collecting brief. Its most famous piece remains, however, the gilded ceramic sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Koons, and there are also large, challenging works by Damien Hirst. The temporary shows range from the monographic, say Dan Colen or Norwegian artist Fredrik Værslev, to thematically tight, curated surveys such as New Norwegian Abstraction or Chinese conceptual work. There are guided tours (50kr) at 2pm and 3pm each Sunday..
A slender spur of rock projecting into the void above Lake Ringedalsvatnet, Trolltunga is one of Norway's most-photographed features, and – along with Preikestolen – one of the country's most popular hiking targets. The Troll's Tongue is an epic sight, but it's a tough hike of 23km, or 10 hours return, from the trailhead at Skjeggedal, 13km northeast of Odda. The hike is usually doable from late May to early September, depending on snowfall. The trail is well marked from the car park, with distance markers along the route outlining the distance left to the summit – but the ascent is brutal in places, covering a total climb of about 1000m, so make 100% sure you're in adequate shape and have the proper gear before you decide to tackle it. En route, watch out for the Tyssestrengene waterfall (646m). If you want to tackle the walk earlier in the season, or you'd just prefer to hike with a pro, Trolltunga Active offers guided hikes. You definitely won't be alone at the top – Trolltunga is one of Norway's most Instagrammed sights – but standing on the rock and staring out into thin air is worth every step to the top. If you continue on a little beyond Trolltunga, you reach another fine vantage point, you reach Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), a smaller version of the much more famous lookout of the same name overlooking Lysefjord, near Stavanger. In July and August, Tide (www.tide.no) runs an express coach once a day between Tyssedal and the real Preikestolen car park near Stavanger, allowing you to summit both of Norway's most famous climbs in just a couple of days. It costs 695kr one way.
While downstairs houses a small and rather idiosyncratic museum, it's Ibsen's former apartment, which you'll need to join a tour to see, that is unmissable. This was the playwright's last residence and his study remains exactly as he left it, as does the bedroom where he uttered his famously enigmatic last words, 'Tvert imot!' ('To the contrary!'), before dying on 23 May 1906. Rooms have been restored and refurnished but the place feels totally and genuinely of its era. The guides are excellent, beautifully conjuring both Ibsen and wife Suzannah's daily life as well as the Oslo of the era.
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