From its majestic mountains and famous fjords to its modern yet picturesque cities, Norway is simply one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Picture-perfect landscapes beg to be explored by foot, car, bike or boat. Whether taking in the breathtaking wonder of the northern lights or the summer sun glistening on a massive glacier, Norway is a great adventure in any season. A nation with a rich and storied past, Norway invites cultural expeditions too. Some of the best places to visit in Norway offer architectural gems in rural villages to historical artifacts in metropolitan museums.
Located on Norway’s west coast, Ålesund is the gateway to the iconic northwestern fjords and surrounding alpine mountains. The city of Alesund owes its present-day picturesque appearance to a city-wide reconstruction after a fire in 1904 destroyed most of the town. The city was rebuilt with stone and brick in the architectural style of the time, and stands today as a perfect example of Jugendstil design, Northern Europe’s version of Art Nouveau. Visitors can learn more about the style at the Jugendstilsenteret, or Art Nouveau Center. A hike up the 400 steps to the viewpoint Fjellstua is worthwhile as well. The mountain peak offers stunning views of Alesund and the surrounding islands.
The largest city in Northern Norway, Tromso is renowned both for its large number of 18th-century wooden houses and for the beauty of its natural surroundings. Most of the city is situated on the island of Tromsoya where visitors can explore several fine museums and stroll through stunning birch tree forests. Trips up Storsteinen Mountain in the Fjellheisen Cable Car offer visitors amazing views of the surrounding fjords and mountains. The arctic aquarium Polaria and the Polar Museum are popular attractions in this city located 350 km (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. Tromso is one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights.
There’s something for everyone in the northern city of Trondheim. Founded in 997, Norway’s third largest city was the country’s capital during the Viking Age and the nation’s religious center during the Middle Ages, making it the ideal destination for those who want to explore Norway’s history. From Sverresborg, a restored 12th century castle, to the Nidaros Cathedral, the northernmost Medieval cathedral in the world, the city abounds with remnants of the past.
Jotunheimen, or Home of the Giants, is Norway’s premier national park. Located in the nation’s south central region, the park encompasses several mountain ranges, including Norway’s 29 highest peaks. The park is also home to Vettisfossen, which at 275 meters (900 feet) is the highest waterfall in Norway. Mountain lodges and well-marked trails in the area offer visitors easy access to glacier hikes, summit tours, mountain climbing and skiing. Tour companies and trekking associations offer outdoor adventures for visitors of every age and skill level.
Svalbard is a group of islands located between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. The islands are under Norwegian rule since 1920. Its settlements are the northernmost permanently inhabited spots on the planet, far more northerly than any part of Alaska and all but a few of Canada’s Arctic islands. The combined permanent population is less than 3000, nearly all of which is concentrated in the main settlements of Longyearbyen and Barentsburg on Spitsbergen. Svalbard’s visitors come mostly to experience Arctic nature at its rawest and most powerful. The islands feature untouched glaciers and craggy mountains, but also amazing wildlife such as polar bears, caribou, reindeer, polar foxes, whales, seals and walruses.
Norway’s capital and most populated city, Oslo is a vibrant modern city with a confident attitude and laid-back atmosphere. Hugging the horseshoe-shaped shores of the Oslofjord, Oslo is one-third city and two-thirds forests, parks and green spaces, making outdoor activities like hiking and biking popular pastimes. From its 19th-century city center with its museums, lively bars and restaurants to the Nobel Peace Center located in the city’s former railway station, Oslo is culturally rich as well. The city’s 50 museums range from the Munch Museum, which features “The Scream” and other works by Edvard Munch, to the Folkemuseet, an outdoor museum that includes more than 150 historic buildings from all over Norway, including a Stave Church.
Located in the southwest region of Norway, Stavanger is one of the few places in the country with long sandy beaches, making it the ideal summer destination for those who want to mix sunbathing with their Scandinavian explorations. The city’s harbor is a popular stopping point for cruise ships touring the fjords, and many of Stavanger’s attractions are just a short stroll from the shore. The Rogaland Kunstmuseum boasts an excellent exhibition of Norwegian art, the Stavanger Cathedral is the country’s best Medieval church and the Gamle Stavanger district transports visitors back in time to 18th-century Scandinavia.
One of the most popular places to visit in Norway, Lofoten is a group of islands in the northern part of the country. With its postcard looking small fishing villages nestled in fjords, dotting a very rugged coast with abrupt peaks rising directly from the ocean, the archipelago is often described as one of the most scenic parts of Norway. Although the archipelago is located well above the Arctic Circle, at about the same latitude as Greenland it enjoys a relatively mild climate due to the circulation of the Gulf Stream. Temperatures up to 23°C in the summer are not uncommon although it remains a subarctic destination and the weather changes fast.
Norway’s second largest city, Bergen has been the nation’s leading western port since the Middle Ages. Today, its 15th-century waterfront in the Bryggen district is both a working port and a tourist destination for visitors eager to sample fresh fare at seaside restaurants. Although Bergen makes a great home base for explorations of the scenic fjords around the city and the neighboring islands, there’s plenty to see within the city as well. A quick trip up Bergen’s popular funicular is a good way to get oriented in the place known as the Gateway to the Fjords.
Norway’s famous fjords are found throughout the country and not limited to a particular region or location. However, the most dramatic and famous fjords are largely found in West Norway, approximately from Stavanger to Molde. Although the western fjords vary slightly in appearance they are generally relatively narrow, surrounded by steep rock faces, tall mountains and extremely deep. The most famous fjords include Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord.