Norway, Sweden, Finland


Norway is Europe’s great parkland: a dramatic mix of mountains, seas, forests and fjords. While the country has tidy cities, historic buildings and distinctive artists, nature is clearly its prime attraction. We think it’s one of the loveliest countries in the world, summer or winter, andthe prime travel destination in Scandinavia.

The country has astonishing variety: The serene rural landscapes around Oslo are nothing like the deep fjords along the western coast, and the countryside along the zigzagging roads to Bergen could not be more unlike the stark, barren land around Alta or the sunny coves of the south coast


Norway is first and foremost a maritime nation, and most of its population lives along the coast or on the hundreds of coastal islands, where the weather is moderated by the Gulf Stream. The most spectacular fjords are scattered along the west coast, where Norway meets the Barents, Norwegian and North seas. The country’s eastern border abuts Sweden, Finland and Russia. The interior of Norway, which is much colder than the coast, is dominated by rugged mountains and pine forests. Part of Norway lies above the Arctic Circle.

The Sami people reside in the northern part of the country. The Sami, known to many as Lapps (although this expression is extremely impolite and offensive and should never be used) have their own language, heritage and ethnic line that differ from the rest of Norway. The Sami have traditionally been nomadic reindeer herders who move with their herds. Unfortunately, as the modern world encroaches and country borders restrict movement, many Sami people have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyles to take regular jobs. Some have moved south to Oslo. The Sami Parliament resides in Karasjohka and deals with issues pertaining to the needs of its people. The Sami are intelligent hunters and are known for their extremely beautiful handicrafts.


The country’s national identity is hard to separate from the Vikings or Norsemen who set out by sea to conquer the world—and met with a surprising degree of success. The Norse explorer Leif Eriksson may well have been the first European to visit North America, around AD 1000 (predating Columbus by about 500 years). It’s thought that he landed in Labrador and Newfoundland, and perhaps as far south as New England. He established a settlement known as Vinland, believed to have been at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.
The Black Death reached Norway in 1349, killing an estimated two-thirds of the population and leaving the weakened nation easy prey for its powerful Scandinavian neighbors. For more than 500 years, Norway was governed by Denmark or Sweden, who treated it as a rustic, uncultured backwater. It was not until 1905 that the country finally regained its independence. This relatively recent transformation to nationhood helps explain the deep-rooted patriotism of most Norwegians. When Norway was overrun by Germany during World War II, resistance was fierce—everyone from schoolteachers to fishermen organized to fight against the occupation.
Contemporary Norwegians take pride in the cultural accomplishments of such Norwegians as playwright Henrik Ibsen, artist Edvard Munch and composer Edvard Grieg. Being devotees of the outdoors, they are equally proud of their present-day athletic heroes and heroines, be they soccer players, skiers, skaters or runners.

The Norwegian standard of living is among the highest in the world, in part because the country is almost self-sufficient in its energy needs (more than 95% of which are supplied by hydroelectricity, with some use of biomass and wind power. Plus, it’s among the world’s largest oil exporters, thanks to its North Sea reserves.

Among the other achievements of modern Norwegian society is a deep-down and thorough appreciation of the equality of women—both in theory and in practice. (Norway was one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote.)


The country’s main attractions are fjords, the midnight sun, beautiful countryside, cruises, open-air museums and very friendly people.

It’s hard to imagine a traveler who won’t enjoy Norway. The only people who should think twice about going there are those on a tight budget—it’s one of the most expensive countries in Europe.


In Norway, whales and environmentalism don’t go hand in hand. Since 1993, Norway has defied bans on whale hunting with small hunts, believing the tradition to be an important part of their national identity.

Norway often ranks first in the United Nations’ annual ranking of the best places to live worldwide, based on quality of life and living standards.

The little village of Lyngor, on the country’s southern coast, has been named one of the best-preserved villages in Europe by a multinational group of tourism officials. Built over three islands (there are no cars allowed), Lyngor has for centuries been an important anchorage for ships trading up and down Norway’s coasts.

If you’re on one of the coastal steamers when you cross the Arctic Circle, the crew will perform an elaborate initiation ceremony with free sherry to those willing to be doused with ice water by King Neptune.

Before 1900, more than a million Norwegians departed for the New World. Only Ireland sent more immigrants to the U.S. during those years. If you are of Norwegian ancestry and are interested in tracing your family tree, contact the Norwegian consulate nearest you for information on how to trace your roots. In Norway, contact the Norwegian Emigration Center (Kulturbanken, Domkirkeplassen 3, 4005 Stavanger) for information on Norwegian families who relocated to the U.S. and Canada. You can also request a search through the website:

There is no midnight sun in Oslo, but you can experience “white nights,” as they do in St. Petersburg, Russia; Sitka, Alaska; and northern Scotland (all at similar latitudes). To see the sun at midnight, you must be north of the Arctic Circle.

Morgedal, in Telemark county, is where modern skiing was born in the 19th century. Rock carvings have been found that show Norwegians skiing 4,000 years ago.

Fagernes is reputed to be the home of trolls, who lured unsuspecting prey into the Valdres Mountains.

Norway’s royal family likes to see itself as a monarchy for the common man. The royal children attend state-run schools, and the family uses the public transportation system.


Cruise ships dock in four different quays, all close to the city center. Sondre Akershus kai near Akershus Castle, a short walk from city hall, is used if there is only one cruise ship docking. It is the only one with facilities.

Oslo Cruise Terminal features Norwegian souvenir shops, a kiosk, restrooms and a money-exchange facility.

There is no permanent taxi stand, but taxies do drive by. Nearby are the terminals for the ferries serving Denmark and Germany. Stena Line and DFDS (ferries to Denmark) share a terminal at Revier quay on the other side of Akershus Castle, and the Colorline terminal (ferries to Germany) is located at Hjortnes quay near Aker Brygge.


Norway has long been established as a cruise destination. Perhaps one of the best ways to see the country is by spending some time, or possibly even your entire visit, on an organized cruise. A large range of cruises exists to suit different budgets, from relatively humble tours to grand, luxurious cruises. If you’re looking for a more private and lavish experience, you can hire an antique yacht of considerable size, with a full crew (if your budget can stretch that far).

Shore excursions vary depending on the cruise line and port. In Oslo, most cruises include a tour of the city taking in highlights such as the Royal Palace, City Hall and Akershus. Other options may include the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the Kon Tiki Museum and the Hadeland Glassworks, an hour away from Oslo. In Bergen, the tour will certainly include the World Heritage site along the buildings at the harbour of Bryggen, perhaps a visit to Bergen Aquarium or a breathtaking ride on the funicular railway at Mount Floyen.

We recommend contacting the Norwegian Tourist Board, which maintains a substantial list of operators ( Cruise Norway, a company created by Norwegian port authorities, operates a website dedicated to delivering information about cruises in Norway, as well as major port towns en route (


Norway offers some of the most pristine nature in Europe: mighty glaciers, steep, snow-dusted mountains, clear blue fjords, pine-forested hills and Arctic tundra. From the sweeping views of the Preikestolen plateau and the glaciated landscape of Svalbard to the stunningly beautiful Geiranger Fjord and the unique landscape of the windswept Lofoten Islands, Norway offers some unforgettable natural sights. There is also the allure of catching the dazzling Northern lights in the winter, and staying up all night under the midnight sun in the summer.

But Norway’s towns and cities also have a variety of great sights. The capital Oslo is the country’s only metropolis with plenty of exceptional attractions including the Vigelandspark, where the intriguing sculptures of the artist Gustav Vigeland are displayed, the Munch museum showing a great collection of the artist’s work, the fabulous Kon-Tiki Museet which is home to Thor Heyerdahl’s famous vessel, and the supreme city view from the new, marble slated roof of the Oslo Opera House.

Bergen, the country’s second biggest city, gives an insight into Norway’s past through its historic buildings and great museums. A visit to the famous old harbor quarter with aged timber warehouses from the days when Bergen was a Hansiatic trade port is a must for any visitor.


Norway is a paradise for hikers and skiers. It has the best Nordic skiing in the world and some pretty impressive downhill stuff. The country also has a tradition stretching back 1,000 years called allemannstretten (every man’s right) to walk or ski in wilderness areas, fields and pastures. This is backed up by the Outdoor Recreation Act
Frilftsleven) giving Norway the world’s most liberal access legislation. In effect, anyone can walk or ski almost anywhere.

In addition, anyone can cycle, horseback ride, canoe, kayak, sail and row in all wilderness areas more than 492 ft/150 m from a house for up to two days. However, you can’t light a fire between 15 April and 15 September.

The Norwegian Mountain Touring Association owns a large number of cottages (both serviced and self-serviced) all over the country, making it possible for hikers to traverse the country on foot. This is the way Norwegians themselves prefer to experience the mountains. For information, call the Tour Information Centre at 47-2282-2282.

Angling is another top recreational activity in Norway, with salmon, trout and Arctic char being among the top catches. Norway also has 38 other species of fish and more lakes, rivers and streams than even the most dedicated angler could cover in several lifetimes.

In winter, dog sledding is very popular.


Shop for pewter, porcelain dinnerware, handmade glass, elk- or moose-leather products, textiles, furniture (especially pieces made from pine), ceramics, ski equipment, beautiful hunting knives, wonderful toys, wood carvings and woolens (fabulous sweaters—although the handmade variety are becoming hard to find except in the smallest towns, even the machine-made versions are beautiful). Also, don’t forget smoked salmon, which can be packed for traveling.

The capital, Oslo, offers the best selection for shoppers. Norwegian souvenirs can be found in the area around City Hall. The neighbourhood of Grunerlokka is also worth a visit for small independent shops selling clothes and crafts, along with the nearby food hall at Vulkan—a bustling and vibrant place where you can sample and buy many Norwegian delicacies.

Shopping Hours: In general, Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm, Saturday 9 am-1 pm. Hours may be longer in large shopping centers and on Thursday night.


Norwegian food is good, although it might seem unexciting or even bland for those who like their food well-seasoned. Seafood, various meats (including reindeer and elk steak), vegetables and delicious desserts are easy to find. Herring is served every way imaginable, and most of it is quite tasty—try it even if you think you don’t like herring. Salmon season occurs in the spring and summer, and fishermen often sell their own salmon sandwiches at fish markets—they’re cheap and delicious. Try buying a bag of freshly boiled shrimp off the boat or in the fish market. Be prepared to peel and eat on the go (and be sure to put the waste in a garbage can, as Scandinavians abhor littering).

A treat for those with Viking appetites is smalahove—boiled sheep’s head. It’s a specialty of the Voss area. And if you seebreiflabb on the menu, it’s sea scorpion. A typical Norwegian breakfast buffet will feature the ubiquitous herring, plus cured meats, dark goat’s cheese, rich butter, various kinds of milk, cereals and wonderful local jams and breads. For lunch and dinner, Norwegians like salmon (fresh or smoked), their own tasty version of a hamburger calledkarbonader (made from ground beef or reindeer meat), spekemat (salty pork or lamb accompanied by soured clotted cream, or romme), potato salad, scrambled eggs and beer.

If you get tired of Norwegian fare, you can find virtually every variety of restaurant, from French nouvelle cuisine to U.S. fast-food outlets. An influx of Asian and African immigrants means you can find ethnic restaurants in the unlikeliest of places—we spotted a Thai restaurant in the middle of the fjord country.

Do try the local lager-type beer and aquavit (a strong, spice-flavored drink). Linie aquavit is shipped back and forth across the equator by Norwegian cargo ships in order for it to mature. Be forewarned, however, that Scandinavian countries levy a very high tax on alcoholic beverages, so drink prices might be a real shock. A beer might cost more than US$10 in some places—about half that in grocery stores.



Norway is generally a safe place to visit. Nevertheless, we recommend that you take the usual precautions when traveling. Pickpockets operate around Oslo’s main train station. They often work in groups and loiter around major tourist attractions, museums, restaurants and bars.

For more information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.


Medicine is socialized—and inexpensive—in Norway. Excellent medical and dental facilities are found in large cities, with clinics and doctors in smaller towns. Water and food are safe anywhere. However, it’s not recommended to drink water from fjords, streams or rivers. Take along a sufficient supply of prescription medicine, as Norwegian pharmacies cannot honor prescriptions written outside of the country.

Ticks carrying encephalitis inhabit the forest near Bergen during summer—ask locally about precautions. Be sure to take along a sweater, even in summer. But long summer days can be surprisingly hot. Stay hydrated and remember to carry sunscreen. Don’t forget a comfortable pair of walking shoes. For health-related emergencies while in Norway, dial 113.

For more information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.


Do shake hands upon meeting anyone in Norway. It’s considered proper etiquette.

Don’t be surprised at the number of English-speaking people you encounter around the country—Norwegians begin studying foreign languages in grade school.

Do read about Viking history before you arrive—it will increase your appreciation of much of what you see.

Don’t speed when driving: The general limit is 50 mph/80 kph, with a limit of up to 62 mph/100 kph on motorways. If you’re driving in the south and east of the country (south of Trondelag), be aware that there is a large elk population. They are not afraid of cars and cause many accidents, so watch out.

Do explore one or more of Norway’s many islands. And take a scenic ferry or train ride to explore the countryside and coastal areas.

Don’t use the name “Lapp” or “Laplander” for the Sami people—they find it derogatory.

Do thank your Norwegian host after dinner by saying, Takk for maten (pronounced tahk for mahten)—you’ll score lots of points for this courtesy.

Don’t always expect buses and car ferries to be precisely on time—the weather and landscape are too problematic to allow that.

Don’t plan a trip to Norway outside the tourist season (June-August) if your main interest is culture—museums keep ridiculously short hours the rest of the year. Some are open as little as four hours a week.


Passport/Visa Requirements: Passports, but not visas, are required for Australian, Canadian, U.K. and U.S. citizens for visits up to 90 days. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure. Note: Visitors may enter any of the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Greenland and Denmark) without a visa and stay for up to 90 days, but they may not stay for 90 days in each country. The 90-day limit is the total amount of time a visitor may spend in Scandinavia without a visa.

Population: 5,124,383.

Languages: Norwegian, Sami.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Evangelical Lutheran).

Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+1 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts. Telephone Codes: 47, country code;

Currency Exchange

The currency in Norway is the kroner (Nkr). Each kroner has 100 ore. Notes are available in Nkr 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000, with coins of Nkr 1, 5, 10 and 20. Ore is no longer used in cash transactions, but prices are still displayed in kroner and ore. Prices are generally rounded up to the nearest kroner when paying with cash, but if you use your card you will be charged the exact price.

Currency can be exchanged at banks and bureaus de change. Traveler’s checks are accepted by all banks, some hotels and shops. ATMs are plentiful, and most major credit and debit cards are widely accepted.


With a little paperwork, non-European residents can obtain a tax refund for purchases of more than 315 kroner on regular goods and 290 kroner on foods in a single store during a single visit. Refunds usually amount to 12%-19% of the purchase price. Request a Tax-Free Shopping Check when making a purchase at one of the more than 4,000 stores displaying the Tax-Free for Tourists sign. To get a cash refund, present the check to the Norway Tax-Free Shopping representative upon departure from the country.


A service charge is sometimes added to restaurant and hotel bills. There’s no need to tip beyond this charge, but it is usual to round up the bill. Tip porters about 20-30 NKr. Tip taxi drivers a few kroner if they are handling heavy luggage


To people coming from other climates, Norway’s summers can often feel quite cool. It’s best to pack a variety of items: short-sleeved shirts, pants and shorts. The nights can be cool, so take a light sweater, a long-sleeved shirt or a jacket. Carry a hat to protect yourself from the sun.

For winter travel, plan to dress as warmly as possible and in multiple layers: undershirts, long-sleeved shirts, heavy sweaters and a coat. Don’t forget a hat, gloves and scarves.

For all other seasons, pack a mixture of what you would bring for the winter and summer.

What to Wear


Cell phone coverage is good, although it can be a bit patchy in rural areas. Pay phones are available, but those taking coins are gradually being phased out. Most of the city’s call boxes take credit cards and Telekort (telephone cards), which can be purchased from post offices, kiosks and newsstands.

Internet Access

Broadband Internet access is readily available in a plethora of Internet cafes. Connections can also be accessed through the public libraries. There is a constantly changing number of Wi-Fi hot spots available at airports, train stations and other public areas throughout major cities. In general, hotels have Internet access, but tend to levy a hefty charge for the service.

Mail & Package Services

The Norwegian mail service is very reliable, but for anything that is crucial we recommend using DHL or UPS.

Newspapers & Magazines

The Nordic Page, formerly The North Post, (monthly) is the only English-language newspaper published in Norway (, but English-language papers from abroad are readily available. The main newspapers in Oslo are Aftenposten, Dgbladet and Verdens Gang.

Other online English-language newspapers include The Norway Post (, The Foreigner ( and News in English


Oslo Gardermoen (OSL), Norway’s international airport (, is 28 mi/46 km northeast of downtown Oslo. It is well-served by public transport, including express trains from Oslo S train station. Be aware that the so-called Oslo-Torp airport is actually in a different city, 70 mi/110 km from the capital. It is mainly the budget airlines that fly to it, and there is a lengthy bus journey from there to Oslo.

Ships and car ferries, some operating only May-October, connect Norway to other Scandinavian countries and the rest of Europe. There is excellent rail service to other parts of Scandinavia. Internal flights, trains, buses and rental cars are also excellent. Rail passes are available for unlimited travel in Norway, Sweden and Finland, and some include ferry discounts.

Even if you’re not traveling primarily by train, at least take the ride (about six hours) from Oslo to Bergen via Voss, to see some beautiful scenery (the train is called the Bergen Scenic Railway). Road standards are generally good almost everywhere in the country; the exceptions are in some major cities where heavy traffic, studded tires and extreme temperatures between the seasons have caused uneven surfaces and potholes. If you’re up to it, tour the cities by bicycle—rental bikes are available in Oslo and many other Norwegian cities at extremely low prices.

Eleven different ships ply the coast from Bergen all the way to Kirkenes in the Arctic—an 11-day round-trip that surely ranks as one of the most spectacular sea journeys in the world. Though the ships serve as everyday transportation for some of the tiny, picturesque villages en route, most passengers today are sightseers who have come to savor the stunning coastline. The ships stop at most of the same ports, regardless of whether they’re heading north or south. But they may reach the ports at different times of day (on the trip north, the boats stop at many places in the middle of the night).

Excellent shore excursions can be arranged aboard the ship; some travelers even leave the ship at one port, go overland to see interesting sights, then meet the ship again at the next stop. The newer steamers also carry automobiles, so you could go by ship in one direction and drive back. Make reservations well in advance, and don’t expect the full range of cruise-ship diversions—on this cruise, the scenery is the entertainment.





For More Information

Tourist Offices

: Norwegian Tourist Board, Akersgata 13 0158 Oslo. Phone 2200-2500. Fax 2200-2501.

U.K.: Norwegian Tourist Board, Charles House, 5-11 Lower Regent St., London SW1Y 4LR. Phone 20-7839-2650. Fax 20-7839-6014.

U.S.: Norwegian Tourist Board, 655 Third Ave., Suite 1810, New York, NY 10017. Phone 212-885-9700. Fax 212-885-9710.

Norway does not have tourist offices in Australia or Canada.

Norwegian Embassies

Royal Norwegian Embassy, 17 Hunter St., Yarralumla, ACT 2600. Phone 2-6270-5700. Fax  2-6270-5701.

Canada: Royal Norwegian Embassy, 150 Metcalfe St., Suite 1300, Ottawa, ON K2P 1P1. Phone 613-238-6571. Fax 613-238-2765.

U.K.: Royal Norwegian Embassy, 25 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QD. Phone 20-7591-5500.

U.S.: Royal Norwegian Embassy, 2720 34th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-333-6000. Fax 202-469-3990.

Foreign Embassies in Norway

Canadian Embassy, Wergelandsveien 7 (Fourth Floor), 0244 Oslo. Phone 2299-5300. Fax 2299-5301.

U.K.: British Embassy, Thomas Heftyesgate 8, 0244 Oslo. Phone 2313-2700. Fax 2313-2741.

U.S.: U.S. Embassy is at Henrik Ibsens gate 48, Oslo. Phone 2130-8540. Fax 2256-2751.

Additional Reading

We recommend reading at least one early Icelandic saga—these works are colorful, violent and entertaining. The national classic is Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson (Dover). Two other famous sagas are Laxdaela Saga (Penguin), the story of a northwestern family, and Egil’s Saga (Charles Tuttle), the biography of an ancient court poet. We also recommend reading at least one selection by Iceland’s Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Halldor Laxness. His most famous work is World Light, a trilogy dealing with the role of the poet (or skald, in Icelandic). We particularly enjoyed Independent People.

To get a taste of Icelandic culture, you might read one of the popular mysteries by award-winning author Arnaldur Indridason. Titles include Jar City, Voices and Silence of the Grave.