Travel - Destinations
By: - at September 18, 2013

Top 15 Interesting Places to Visit in Norway

If you want a unique, once-in-a-lifetime vacation getaway, Norway offers opportunities like no other country in the world. Located in Scandinavia, Europe's farthest northern region, Norway offers culture, scenery, and history that is unmatched by a majority of the other countries on Earth. From the urban delights of Oslo to the remote wonder of Geirangerfjord or Svalbard, from taking in culture and history or exploring the wide outdoors, there's something for everyone in this delightful country.

map of norway

Here are some of the top places you should visit if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel here.

15)  Frogner Park (Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park)
Located in Oslo, Frogner Park features 212 sculptures by renowned Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Sometimes called Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park, the collection in Frogner Park is the world's largest sculpture park by a single artist. The park and nearby Vigeland museum are the result of a unique arrangement between Gustav Vigeland and the city of Oslo.

Frogner Park (Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park)
By Nickrds09 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-no], via Wikimedia Commons

The city agreed to provide a studio and residence for the artist and a future museum to house his work. In exchange, the majority of Vigeland's existing and future works would be donated to the city. This agreement provided the artist with the means to hone his art, and ensured that the people of Norway and visitors from around the world would be able to enjoy his work publicly.

Monolith at Center of Sculpture Park
Monolith at Center of Sculpture Park

Frogner Park is Oslo's largest park, and is a popular place for locals to meet friends for a stroll or a picnic. When you visit the park, be sure to take a moment to take in the Monolith and all it's beauty. The monolith is a 14 meter tall sculpture carved from a single stone, and one of the most famous of Vigeland's works.

Frogner Manor - Located Inside Frogner park
Frogner Manor - Located Inside Frogner park

You can also visit the nearby Vigeland Museum to see the original plaster casts of Vigeland's sculptures and to view more of his work.

14)  Geiranger Fjord Ferry
Norway is famous for the fjords that perforate its coastline. One of the most famous is Geiranger Fjord, located in western Norway and marked as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sheer cliffs rise out of the water along the fjord's length, with no habitable shoreline. Multiple waterfalls tumble down the cliffs, and there are magnificent rock formations and incredibly steep mountains to tantalize visitors. Along the fjord there are several abandoned mountainside farms, a testament to mankind's ingenuity in making a living in the most unlikely places.

Geiranger Fjord
Geiranger Fjord

The access paths to some of these farms are so precipitous, you'll wonder why and how these farms were ever founded. Some of these farms have been restored, and can be visited. The town of Geiranger sits at the very end of the fjord.

Geiranger Fjord Ferry

The best way (and in many places, the only way) to view the beautiful scenery of Geirangerfjord is to take one of the ferries that run between Geiranger and Hellesylt. The ferries offer multilingual tours of the area, and are set up to accommodate photographers with wide outside decks. Different seasonal tours are available, depending on the time of your trip. The ferry tours are can be either an hour or two hours long, giving visitors a peek into historic Norwegian farming life on the coast and dousing them with gorgeous scenery.

13)  The Oslo Opera House
Completed in 2008, the Oslo Opera House is a center of both architectural and dramatic arts. The building itself, constructed of marble and glass, is a beautiful new landmark for the city of Oslo. It is sure to please sight-seers and opera-lovers alike. The building becomes part of the landscape, with a one-of-a-kind white sloping roof that you can walk onto directly from the plaza in front of the building. The top of the roof affords beautiful views of downtown Oslo.

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House
By Oikema 0 (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Opera House is dedicated to bringing culture to a wide audience, and is the largest cultural building constructed in Norway since the 14th century, when the Nidaros Cathedral was built at Trondheim. In addition to being designed for visual beauty, the main auditorium is one of the most advanced technologically in the world. It offers amazing acoustics and incredible flexibility for putting on many different types of shows. The 2013 season will see 330 performances in the Oslo Opera house, ranging from debut opera and ballet productions to classical opera and ballet performances to large concerts and off-Broadway productions. The technology is not all contained indoors, either. The Opera House incorporates a large array of solar panels, enabling the Opera House to produce some of its own power. Guided tours of the building are available, in addition to coming and seeing a performance. If you have the chance, both are excellent things to do in Oslo.

12)  National Tourist Route Road Trips
If you like to get off the beaten path and prefer not to follow someone else's idea of a specific tour, then you can easily explore the country yourself. Norway has many scenic roads, a number of which have been designated as Scenic Tourist Routes. These roads are part of the national road system, used by Norwegians on their daily business, as well as tourists and visitors who want to see the country. But the Scenic Tourist Routes have been chosen because they showcase the best of Norwegian natural beauty, whether running along the coast or into the far north.

National Tourist Route Road Trips
By Arsenikk via Wikimedia Commons

The Scenic Tourist Routes are marked by special signage, so you can make your own adventure through Norway. You can follow the route from Lillehammer through the "king" and "queen" of valleys, the Gudbrandsdalen valley and the Romsdal valley, viewing Norway's incredible alpine summits and the highest rock face in Europe, the Trollveggen (Troll Wall). Or you can follow the Kystriksveien route, a 650km. long scenic route which crosses into the Arctic Circle. You can take a car trip along these roads, but to get in closer touch with the landscape, consider taking a cycle ride on some of these roads. Depending on the time of year some of the routes are closed, so check that your intended route is open before you plan your journey. Following one of these Scenic Tourist Routes can be a great way to get to all the places to visit on your itinerary.

11)  Holmenkollen Ski Jump
Only 20 minutes from the center of Oslo, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump is the most modern ski jump in the world. Opened in 2010, it is an imposing structure, 60 meters tall and constructed of 100 tons of steel. It is the only steel ski jump in the world, and was designed with athletic competition in mind, with top-notch facilities for athletes, officials, the press, and audience, in addition to the world-class ski-jump itself.

Holmenkollen Ski Jump
By Shyamal (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you are not a ski-jumper, you can still visit the top of the tower. The platform at the top of the ski jump affords outstanding views of Oslo and Oslofjord. The structure is lit up at night, making it an all-hours attraction. At night, the size and beautiful curves of the ski jump lit up against the sky make it a worthy attraction for viewing, all on its own.

In the base of the structure is the new Ski Museum, which offers visitors a view of the history of skiing over the past 4000 years. The explorations of Norwegian polar explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen are also highlighted in depth in the museum. The facilities for visitors also include souvenir shops, a café, and a ski simulator.

10)  Lofoten Islands
Lofoten is something of an anomaly. Located above the Arctic Circle, this group of islands is nevertheless unusually warm for its latitude and is famous in Norway for its natural beauty. This makes it an ideal place for those from warmer climes to come and experience the reality of never-ending sun during the polar summer. Take the ferry across from Bodø on the mainland, and take in the sight of the rugged islands rising out of the ocean like a sea monster from Viking legend.

Lofoten Islands During Summer Season
Lofoten Islands During Summer Season

With its remoteness, you'll be amazed that people came here to make their living. But in fact, the islands are commercially active as fisheries, taking advantage of the yearly runs of Arctic Cod through the region. Today, fishing vies with tourism as the main economic force in the archipelago, and there are many things to do for a visitor. The qualities of light in this arctic region still draw artists and photographers, as well as sight-seers from around the globe.

Lofoten Islands During the Summer

The islands are well-linked by bridges and ferries, so it is easy to explore the whole archipelago. Travel by car, or on foot or by bicycle, the roads and trails take visitors through sheltered bays as well as beautiful small villages. If some of the docks smell redolent of the fishing industry, the clear air of the rest of the islands is unmatched. This set of islands near very top of the world is well worth a visit.

9)  Viking Ship Museum
Though modern culture plays fast and loose with historical authenticity, the Vikings still live large in the imagination of many modern people. Whether you see them as brave explorers, incredible seafarers, or merciless invaders (and there is some truth in all of these), they left a cultural legacy that is still valued in Norway as part of their history. The best place to explore this history is at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The museum displays important Viking ship discoveries from Oseburg, Gokstad, Tune, and other burial sites around Oslofjord. The two most well-preserved wooden Viking ships from the 9th century are on display here, as well as a range of other Viking artifacts, including smaller boats, carts, tools, textiles, and household utensils.

Inside the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway
Inside the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway
By Hofi0006 via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to traditional museum displays, the Viking Ship Museum provides a range of other activities to enable the visitor to get a taste of the world of the Vikings. There are boat trips and sailing courses available. Some of these, such as the "evening on the fjord" trip, include visitors as crew aboard a boat modeled after a Viking ship, sailed by an experienced master who is knowledgeable about sailing and working with Viking-style ships. There is also a section of the museum devoted to children, with activities that are geared toward helping children understand Vikings culture. Kids can dress like Vikings and take part in a range of Viking crafts. Young ones can watch a film about the Sea Stallion which is the modern reproduction Viking ship which is taking its maiden journey as an active sailing ship, as well as the opportunity to view other reproductions of Viking ships in the harbor. The Viking Ship Museum truly brings history alive, for adults and children alike.

8)  Hurtigruten Coastal Ferry
To get an extended look at Norway's coasts from the water, the only way to go is to book a passage on the iconic Hurtigruten coastal ferry. This is not a cruise line,  but rather the ferry is part of Norway's excellent network of public transportation. It serves coastal villages along the length of Norway from Bergen in the south-west to Kirkenes in the far north-east, only 15 kilometers from the Russian border. This ferry's route is like no other, traveling up and down the magnificent coastline of western Norway. The entire round-trip from Bergen to Kirkenes takes 11 days, and if the weather is clear there is a never-ending roll of mountains and scenery to enjoy. You can travel as much of the route as you choose, taking stops in any of the towns along the way, booking passage on the next ferry to come through in order to continue your journey.

Hurtigruten Coastal Ferry
Hurtigruten Coastal Ferry
By Aldebaran via Wikimedia Commons

Different levels of accommodation are available on board the fleet of ferries ranging from inexpensive deck-class passage, to more expensive cabins and suites. There are multiple organized overland tours available, which connect with the ferry lines. So you can easily get off the ferry, take a day or a few days exploring a section of the coast, and then re-embark on the ferry to continue your coastal journey. The ferry takes you up into the Arctic Circle on its journey to Kirkenes, so this is another opportunity to experience day-long sunshine or possibly, if you are fortunate, a view of the northern lights.

7)  Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)
The Preikestolen is a unique rock formation overhanging the Lysefjord in Rogaland, Norway. A huge cliff rises over 600 meters over the fjord, topped by a flat platform approximately 25 square meters in size. It is a natural formation, but shaped as though giants had built a huge pulpit, projecting out from the mountainside. Standing on top of the rock, you can look straight down into the fjord, 600 meters below, or take a look around at stunning views of the Lysefjord and surrounding mountains.

View Atop Pulpit Rock
View Atop Pulpit Rock

Getting to the top of Preikestolen is a hike, literally. From the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge, a good hiking track leads you up to the top of Pulpit Rock. The trek ordinarily takes four to five hours, and you should plan to spend at least an hour on the rock, resting and taking in the views on all sides. The site is open for camping year-round, though advance reservations are unavailable. Arrive early in the day if you plan on camping, to get the best choice of sites. In addition to hiking, the area also offers kayaking on the fjord  as well as a helicopter tour available from which you can view Preikestolen from above.

By Svein-Magne Tunli - (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

6)  Stave Churches
An important part of Norwegian cultural history is shown in the stave church. When massive stone cathedrals were being built in other parts of medieval Europe, Norway adapted the idea of soaring church architecture to buildings made of wood. During the Viking period, woodworking became a highly-developed craft, with Viking boats and buildings both being made out of wood. In the stave churches, craft and art come together to celebrate Norwegian skill and culture.

Only 28 stave churches remain, ranging from large structures to smaller more quaint ones. The oldest stave church is the Urnes Stave Church, built in 1150 as the private chapel of a noble family. The rich decorative style of this church, which has become known as Urnes style that includes both natural motifs such doves and elk. These real life depictions are combined with fantastic creatures of the imagination, including dragons and centaurs.

Urnes Stave Church
Urnes Stave Church
By Leo-setä via Wikimedia Commons

The largest stave church remaining is Heddal Church located in Notodden. Built in the 13th century, this church is a masterpiece of medieval architectural design. Remarkably, it is also still the home of an active congregation.

Heddal Stave Church
Heddal Stave Church

The church is open for visits, though is closed to visitors at times for regular services or weddings.

5)  Jotunheimen National Park
For those who love the great outdoors, another area you must visit is Jotunheimen National Park, which is Norway's most popular national park. It offers hiking, alpine skiing, cycling, climbing, and more for the adventurous who want to explore this lovely natural wilderness. Norway's highest mountain, Galdhøpiggen, is located within the park, and hundreds of other peaks. The area is riddled with natural streams and waterfalls, mountain ridges and mysterious valleys, as well as caves and glaciers. Jotunheimen National Park truly is a naturalist's dream come true.

Jotunheimen National park
Jotunheimen National park

The most popular hiking route through the park follows the narrow Besseggen ridge, offering views over lakes Gjende and Bessvatnet. The area is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, with habitats ranging from forested valleys to high alpine slopes and beautiful glacier-fed rivers.

Glacier Fed Stream Along the Besseggen Ridge
Glacier Fed Stream Along the Besseggen Ridge

4)  Svalbard
The archipelago of Svalbard is located halfway between the north coast of Norway and the North Pole, far above the Arctic Circle. This region is part of the wild arctic lands located towards the top of the world. It is the most accessible part of the arctic, and offers visitors one of the few chances to experience the arctic without needing to become a true polar explorer and going on an extremely dangerous expedition.

Some Reindeer Grazing on the Small Grasses That Grow in the Tundra
Some Reindeer Grazing on the Small Grasses That Grow in the Tundra

Svalbard is a world of ice, with icebergs and ice flows crowding the water and glaciers adorning the heights. In between, however, you can discover the subtle Arctic cycle of life, displayed in miniature grasses and tiny flowers. The sea provides habitat for more robust displays of wildlife, including whales, seals, and walruses. This region's climate is considered to be tundra, a type of ecosystem with very limited times of the year when the wild animals can mate, forage for food, and transverse large distances of land. Polar bears roam the islands too, outnumbering human residents and visitors.

3)  Akershus Fortress
There is far more to Norway's history than Vikings and sea voyages. The Akershus Fortress in Oslo is the greatest testament to Norway's rich historical and cultural legacy. The fortress is a series of buildings constructed over a span of 700 years and has served as a center of government for centuries, first as the seat of kings, and today as the location for many state functions of the Norwegian government. The modern city of Oslo grew out of the fortress, with the city center being established beside Akershus Fortress in 1624. It is still an important and well-recognized city landmark.

Akershus Fortress
Akershus Fortress

Several restoration projects over the years have made the fortress a cultural and historical center, as well as still being an active governmental site and also having a defense presence. Some of the original fortifications have been removed, but much of the fortress has simply been restored in order to show the range of history represented, from Norway's powerful medieval past to the present. Akershus Castle on the site is a popular attraction, and there are other museums dedicated to parts of Norway's military past.

2)  Oslo-Bergen Rail Line
To see more of the Norwegian countryside in comfort, take the train. The rail line from Oslo to Bergen is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Linking the two largest cities in Norway, this rail line is the highest in elevation in all of Europe. The scenery on this trip is unmatched; especially across the high mountain plateau of Hardangervidda, which is the highest of its kind in all of Europe. This is a popular commuter rail line as well as a tourist line, and it serves numerous ski resorts along the line, so there is plenty to do whether you travel in summer or winter.

Oslo-Bergen Rail Line
By SRS scandiline via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, if you have the chance to travel to Norway more than once, you have the special opportunity to view the scenery between Oslo and Bergen on the rail line in both summer and winter. You will be amazed at the change in the landscape between the seasons, and see some of nature's most beautiful work, in either case.

1)  Ålesund
The town of Ålesund owes its present beauty to a devastating tragedy of the past. In 1904 the town was destroyed by fire, leaving 10,000 residents homeless. The German emperor of the time sent great amounts of aid, which enabled the town to be rebuilt amazingly fast.

Aerial View of Asleund
Aerial View of Asleund

The designers of the new town, Norwegian architects who had studied in Germany, brought the Art Nouveau sensibilities of the age to their work, combining it with local and traditional ornamentation. As a result, Ålesund is a jewel of a town, nestled among scenic fjords and alpine heights. Many buildings sport fanciful turrets, spires, and gargoyles. The town is located on a peninsula, so the town center is close-packed, enabling easy walking from one place to another.

By Ranveig via Wikimedia Commons

Further expansion of the town is impossible, and many residents of the area actually live on nearby islands and peninsulas. The area offers a broad range of activities, including hiking the nearby hills, fishing on the fjord, attending local festivals, taking scenic or wildlife tours of the surrounding area, or just appreciating the beauty and atmosphere of a unique Norwegian town.

Final Thoughts
No matter if your tastes run to exploring history or experiencing the present, Norway has plenty to offer. The history of the nation is on display at multiple museum and cultural sites, but also tucked away in corners across the country, seen in the stave churches and abandoned farm sites above deep fjords. There is plenty of wild country if you want to strike out on a long hike, climbing up steep mountainsides or wandering through deep valleys, or maybe even crossing a glacier. Norway's coasts offer endless vistas of sky, mountain, and water in close communion, changing to a new aspect with every turn of a fjord. If you want to take in the best of modern culture in Oslo or explore the far edge of the Arctic, Norway has something for you.





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