Few countries are as intriguing and magical as Norway, from the remote arctic tundra and breathtaking fjords to the cosmopolitan charm of cities like Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger. Few visitors venture beyond the capital and a tour of the fjords, but it’s Norway’s wilderness that makes it truly unique and special, with stunning forests, dramatic river valleys and snowy mountains that stretch for 1000 miles into the remote expanses of the arctic circle.
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It’s a country packed with wildlife and jaw-dropping landscapes, with much of it entirely untouched and unspoiled by mass tourism. Back in civilisation, the discovery of oil and gas in the 1960s has created a modern Norway that is highly educated, liberal and prosperous, with a deeply-held sense of national pride and a delightful small-town feel even in the bigger cities.
Food and drink
The best thing you can say about Norwegian food is that it’s served in plentiful portions, albeit it can taste a little bland to the well-travelled palate. One of the country’s specialities is cod with boiled potatoes, and it’s also worth trying reindeer steak, which is served with gravy and lingonberries – both are delicious, and local meat and fish will always be fresh. In the cities, you’ll find Norway has embraced a world of ethnic cooking, so there are plenty of Asian and European restaurants to tempt your tastebuds if reindeer isn’t your thing. For fish lovers, Norway is a treat, with salmon, trout and herring all featuring on local menus. It’s not a great place for vegetarians unless you’re based in the cities, so worth checking the menus of local restaurants if you’re travelling to more remote areas. Alcohol is expensive in Norway – most locals stock up on beer and aquavit in the supermarket and have a few drinks at home before going out!
You’ll find plenty of places to shop in Norway, and you can easily travel home with a suitcase full of dried fish, reindeer antlers and Christmas jumpers. But what Norway does best is design, from beautiful art to stunning interiors and furniture. But all this loveliness doesn’t come cheap, and you’ll be hard pushed to find a bargain anywhere in Norway. The best place for shopping is undoubtedly Oslo – it has a great selection of stylish department stores, quirky boutiques and independent design stores and galleries – take a wallet full of Norwegian Krone and an empty suitcase, and you’re bound to find something unique and extraordinary.
Norway is a country of just under 5 million people, of which 600,000 live in the capital city, Oslo. You’ll be hard pushed to find a country more tolerant, or with a more progressive approach to equality, and this all makes for a laid back, live-and-let-live culture that can be a surprise and delight for visitors. It’s very much a country of contrasts – the cities are clean and efficient hubs of Scandinavian cool, whilst the north is a remote wilderness where a simple and traditional way of life is still very much the norm. Norwegians are fiercely nationalistic and proud, but also hugely welcoming of visitors, particularly if you are as open, honest and friendly as they are. English is widely spoken and many Norwegians are well travelled and highly educated; it’s a lovely country to explore, and a great place to make new friends.
Like the rest of Scandinavia, Norway’s public transport network is both reliable and comprehensive, incorporating ferries, buses and trains that are designed to cope with the extreme winter weather. There may be disruptions in the north during the depths of winter, but these rarely last for long. Norway is a big country and much of it is entirely empty, so it can be worth renting a car if you’re exploring the more remote areas. Car hire is expensive, however, so it’s best to limit car hire to specific sections of your trip and using public transport for the rest of the time.
Things to watch out for
Norway can be an expensive place to visit, particularly when it comes to eating out, hiring a car, or ordering a decent cup of coffee. This is just the way things are in Norway, but you may find you can offset these expenses by saving on our accommodation, which is pretty reasonable compared to other countries in Europe. Remember that the sun never rises in parts of Northern Norway in winter, and likewise it never sets in the height of summer.