Norway is a mesmerizing country, full of indescribable beauty, welcoming people and cosmopolitan cities. From sailing around awe-inspiring fjords to exploring historic city centers, Norway is a undoubtedly a unique destination. To top it all off, the hypnotizing Northern Lights are visible from many regions in the country throughout parts of the year. This insider guide to Norway should help inspire you to plan your journey to the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Located in Northern Europe, Norway makes up the westernmost part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The country’s spectacularly rugged coastline runs about 16,000 miles, and around 50,000 islands sit outside the countless fjords along that coastline. Norway shares an extensive land border with Sweden to the east, and shorter land borders with Finland and Russia to the northeast. It is bordered by the Barents Sea to the north, the Norwegian Sea and Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the North Sea to the south. One of the most mountainous European countries, Norway’s border with Sweden is largely dominated by the Scandinavian Mountains.
When compared to other countries with similarly northern latitudes, the climate in Norway is slightly warmer due to the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Current. Unsurprisingly, the southern and western portions of the country are characterized by milder winters and more overall precipitation. Oslo and the surrounding lowlands offer the warmest summers. However, the mean temperature in the capital city is still only just over 61 degrees Fahrenheit in July.
Norway also has massive seasonal variations in daylight. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun never fully descends during the summer, and it never fully rises in the winter. In the rest of the country, summer days are long, and winter days are equally as short. However, this seasonal variation is what draws countless people to the country each year to see the Northern Lights.
When packing for a trip to Norway, pack warm layers. Summer days in the southern portion of the country and along the western coastline can get warm, but jackets are still recommended. As with most European countries, pack comfortable walking shoes and anything else needed for adventure excursions in the various regions. If visiting the western fjords and Bergen, pack a raincoat.
Norway has two official languages — Norwegian and Sami. There are also two official written forms of Norwegian — Bokmal and Nynorsk. Norwegian is spoken by approximately 95 percent of the population as a first language, and while both written forms are used in public administration and schools, Bokmal is the most prevalent. There are also numerous, mutually intelligible Norwegian dialects. Norwegian is similar to the Danish and Swedish languages, and speakers of all three languages can understand each other to a certain extent.
That said, English is the primary foreign language taught in schools across Norway, and much of the population can converse in English fluently. However, it’s still polite to learn a few key phrases or words in Norwegian.
The official currency in Norway is the Norwegian kroner, which is represented by NOK. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted at most places, however it’s always wise to carry cash. If needed, it is incredibly easy to exchange NOK throughout Norway. ATMs are generally the best places to exchange currency, but make sure to always choose the option of “charge in local currency” to avoid high fees.
Tipping is not common in Norway and it is not expected. Generally, Norwegians only tip for exceptional service at restaurants and bars. Even then, the amount is totally up to the customer, but it usually ranges from about 5 to 15 percent of the total bill.
Traditionally, Norwegian cuisine was influenced by readily available ingredients and easily preservable items due to the long winters. Today, the cuisine continues to be influenced by locally sourced products, but like most countries, it has also been influenced by globalization. Traditional Norwegian cuisine includes preserved meats and sausages, wild game, seafood, bread, cheese, potatoes, and berries. Due to the expansive coastline, seafood choices are extensive. Smoked salmon is one of Norway’s most famous exports, but cod, pickled herring, and lutefisk (lyed fish) are also widely known. Lingonberries and other cold-weather fruits are staples in desserts.
The Norwegian meal structure is much like ours. It consists of three to four meals a day, including a cold breakfast, a cold lunch at work, and a hot dinner at home with family. Some Norwegians eat another cold snack sometime after dinner. Breakfast is usually an open-face sandwich and coffee, and dinner is meat or seafood and potatoes.
The Norwegian culture is extremely egalitarian and is based on respect, independence and honesty. Norwegians completely separate their business lives and personal lives. According to the principles of Jante’s Law, Norwegians see everyone as equals, as long as they treat others with mutual respect. They are extremely modest, and it is considered impolite and obnoxious to boast about your own achievements.
Greetings in Norway are casual and involve a smile, a firm handshake and eye contact. Due to the egalitarian culture, first names are usually used upon introduction. At dinner parties, confirm the dress code, be on time and offer to help. Do not talk about business, and practice formal table manners. Toasts with alcohol — but not beer — are common and expected.
Norway enjoys a low crime rate, but petty theft does occur in busy tourist locations, especially during the more crowded summer months. Avoid poorly lit areas around transportation hubs at night. Aside from this, most safety threats in Norway come from icy roads and mountaineering activities.
Also known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun”, Northern Norway is comprised if the country’s northernmost counties and the archipelago of Svalbard. Most of the region is located north of the Arctic Circle, and therefore, the Aurora Borealis is visible throughout the area from fall through mid-April.
Tromso is the unofficial “Capital of the North”, and the city center offers an impressive collection of historic wooden houses. It is also the region’s cultural capital. Even further north, the archipelago of Svalbard is becoming increasingly popular with adventure tourists. Located north of the mainland and deep into the Arctic Ocean, Svalbard offers glacier treks, extreme snowmobiling, and more.
During the winter months (November – March) visiting the Northern part of Norway might be chilly but you might also be rewarded with a stunning light show from the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Norway is said to be one of the best places to visit to view the Northern Lights.
This largely agricultural region hosts the city of Trondheim. Trondheim boasts a beautiful harbor, along with the River Nidelva lined by historic, colorful storehouses. The important cultural center is also home to the adjacent Nidaros Cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace. Located in the city center, the Nidaros Cathedral was built in 1070 and is Norway’s most important Gothic structure.
Outside of Trondheim, the Central Norway region is teeming with over 300 rock carvings and paintings from the Stone and Bronze ages. While most of these sites aren’t marked or open to the public, there are plenty of locations that are. Try visiting the sites at Bola and Bardal.
Norway’s enchanting and extensive coastline draws in visitors, and Western Norway is home to the most beguiling fjords. Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, is located in this region. Also known as the “Gateway to the Fjords”, Bergen has plenty to offer in its own right. The main harbor of Vagan is bustling with activity, and the city boasts some of the best restaurants and dining in the country. Bergen is also an excellent base to explore the surrounding area. Western Norway is highly mountainous, and the scenery is mesmerizing. The Sognefjord is the largest fjord in Norway and the second-largest on the planet, and some of Norway’s most picturesque locations are dotted along this sprawling waterway. While beautiful year round, spring provides vibrant colors and smaller crowds.
Southern Norway doesn’t possess the geography as other regions in the country, but it still attracts Norwegians and tourists. The climate is relatively mild, which makes it a popular vacation spot in both summer and winter. The island of Kristiansand is a popular beach resort area, while smaller offshore islands are immensely popular with recreational sailors and campers. During the winter months, the ski resorts of Hovden and Bortlelid attract adventure tourists.
Eastern Norway is the most populous region and home to the enticing capital city of Oslo. This cosmopolitan hub is ideally situated between the densely forested interior and the waters surrounding Oslofjord. The charming city center boasts restaurants, bars, and numerous museums. On the ferry-accessible Bygdoy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum is one of Oslo’s must-see attractions.
Norway is an extraordinary destination. From imposing mountain ranges to remarkable fjords to dense forests, this Scandinavian country is full of geographical masterpieces. The quaint fishing villages and cultured cities just add to the allure. This insider guide to the Norway should prepare you for the basics — the details are now up to you. Book your Norway vacation today!