Norway may not have been on your radar as a must visit destination before you started reading this overview – but I bet it will be by the time you are done!
I recently had the pleasure of having my favorite colleague from Norway join me for a video chat and that colleague would be Mats Fredriksen from Lost in Norway – which is a destination management company / tour operator based in Norway. Mats presented us with a fabulous look at what Norway has to offer as far as culture, gastronomy, adventure and so much more.
But don’t take my word for it – read on to see just why this small country made such a huge impact on me! On your marks, get set, go!
Company Background: Mats first made it clear that Lost in Norway doesn’t focus on the entire country – but rather six destinations where you can explore mostly everything that’s considered a highlight – or something you would want to experience – in the country. But that doesn’t mean they won’t create itineraries for you elsewhere – it’s just that their main focus is on the six we are going to explore below.
Country Background: As Max referred to it – it’s a magic little kingdom that is a hidden gem in Northern Europe. And he pointed out that a lot of Americans love Norway due to the fact that a lot of Norwegians left to become Americans in the past and thus there is are deep connections between the two countries. Fun Fact: He had twenty-five families looking to reunite with their Norwegian roots just last summer alone! The country itself is very small – just five million residents – but it is an exceptionally long country – with the second longest coastline in the world – only beaten by Canada. As for its topography – the roads in Norway were built by Germany during World War II and hence they didn’t have time to blast through the mountains and fjords – so you’ll find many of them zig zagging through the mountains making for some interesting drives!
Destinations: As I previously stated, Lost in Norway focuses on six major destinations within the country where they offer their experiences. Let’s check them out!
Oslo: Mats advised that the best way to travel to Norway is to fly into Oslo – as it is a major hub and easily accessible to the rest of the country by train, bus or flight. It has the distinction of being the only major city in the country and has a population of about 700,000 residing within the city and 1.5 million residing in the Oslo region.
- Arts and History: There is a lot of art in the city as well as Viking history – but of course Viking history can be found throughout Norway. Some key places to visit include the Viking Ship Museum – housing Viking era burial ships as well as Vigeland Park which features works of arts from Gustav Vigeland. Gustav was a famous Norwegian sculpturer and this is an amazing venue in which to view his sculptures as there are over 200 on display there. Not far from Vigeland park – a little farther north – is Holmenkollen – a ski recreation area since the late 19th century that houses a famous ski jumping hill – the Holmenkollbakken – that has been hosting competitions since 1892.
- Hidden Gems/Gastronomy: Mats pointed out that there are numerous fabulous hidden restaurants and that some parts of Oslo even remind him of New York City due to this very fact. His favorite thing to do there is a food walking tour as the local guides take you to places that have a lot of heart and soul and you get a taste of authentic Norwegian cuisine. One popular Norwegian food? Brown cheese – which is made out of goat milk and is very sweet, so it is often served on toasted bread with strawberry jam. And – since it is so popular you will find it in every hotel in Norway! And you know my thoughts on gastronomy – it is the easiest way to have cultural immersion!
- Accommodations: Amerikalinjen is a new property that opened in Oslo. The name means American Line and it was named this because of its past. It was originally the headquarters that took Norwegians by boat to America and opened in 1919. Last year when it turned 100 years old it was re-opened as a hotel. Fun Fact: All of the rooms have a small story about a Norwegian that went to the United States to become a citizen! This boutique hotel is quite amazing and its location next to the train station makes the rest of Norway very accessible
Bergin: There are three ways to get to Bergin from Oslo. You can travel by car – which is about a six to eight hour ride depending on how many stops you make, you can fly – which is about a forty minute flight or you can take the train – which Mats assured us it the best way to go!
- History: Bergin is special to Norway as this is where its story starts. The story goes that a long, long time ago there was a Viking – Harald – who happened to be in love with a princess. Now, he was a ruler of a small kingdom and she refused to marry him until he become the king of all of Norway. So that is what he set out to do. And he decided he wouldn’t cut or groom his hair until he connected all of Norway into on region – under his reign. And since it took him ten years to accomplish this he became known as Harald with the Messy Hair! Side Note: Once he accomplished this feat and got the princess, he finally cut his hair and then became known as Harald Fairhair.
- is the historic harbor district that is the site of the last remaining 62 wooden houses of Bergen and it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by the Hanseatic League in the 1300’s right after the black plague and the city was run by them for over 400 years. Fun Fact: The dialect in Bergen is different than the rest of Norway because of these founders. They have a unique “R” – more like the German “R”. Now, thanks to those houses being made of wood, Bryggen has been damaged by a number of fires through the centuries and has been rebuilt after every fire – in fact, there were 37 major city fires there. Needless to say, eventually they decided to start using brick to build their structures and a lot of the architecture you see there is from the 1800’s. Now how’s that for a great travel as a living classroom experience?!
- Popular Areas: Bergen is known as the City Between the Seven Mountains and the residents are immensely proud of those mountains. One popular mountain – Mount Floyen – has a funicular railway called the Fløibanen that will take you to the top. It goes up about every ten minutes and the trip takes about seven minutes. Once you arrive the view is amazing up there! Another mountain – Mount Ulriken – is the tallest of the mountains and sits beside Mount Floyen. To get to its top there is an aerial tramway – or a cable car – that can take you.
Stavanger: Stavanger is known as The Oil City due to the fact that a lot of the oil workers live here. To get to Stavanger you can take the train from Oslo (in fact the only train to here is out of Oslo), you can drive, you can take a flight or you can take a boat ride from Bergen. Stavanger is home to many different soft adventures.
- Sightseeing and Activities: Graffiti is big here. So much so that they host a graffiti festival every year and invite graffiti artists from all over the world to repaint the city. This was started about ten years ago as a response to the graffiti popping up all over – instead of punishing the graffiti artists they made it an organized event to showcase their talents. There is also a guided to tour available that takes you through the graffiti sites and tells you about the artists who created them.
The town also contains a historical section called Old Town. Here you will find numerous wooden buildings from the turn of the 18th century with most of them being small, white cottages. The area also has many galleries and arts and crafts shops.
You can spot The Swords of Stavanger on the coastline – which is a monument composed of three gigantic bronze swords that are in homage to a Viking battle of the past.
Pulpit Rock is extremely popular tourist attraction. Preikestolen (which means pulpit rock) is actually very steep cliff with a very flat top. One nice thing about Pulpit Rock is that you can take guided tours to the top that will take you off the beaten path, so it’s not so crowded on the way up. And here is a great time to point out that Norway is very conscious of over tourism and implemented tours like these to get a handle on it. Fun Fact: Pulpit Rock was featured in a scene from the last Mission Impossible movie.
The Fjords: I’m quite sure you heard of the term fjord before – maybe you aren’t sure exactly what a fjord it? No worries! According to dictionary.com a fjord is “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, as in Norway, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley.” You’re welcome! In Norway there are numerous fjords – all breathtakingly beautiful – each with their own history.
The most popular ones are Sognefjord Fjord and Hardanger Fjord, and both are close to Bergen which is why Bergen is referred to as the Gateway to Fjords. Mats told us he is actually from a small village in Sognefjord and that those magnificent views meant nothing to him growing up. That all changed once he started working in travel and began to appreciate them in different way. He also is in awe of the history of it all – the fact that glaciers formed these fjords as they were retracting, and the result was this gorgeous landscape.
- Wellness, Nature and History: In Sognefjord you find that there are many small fjord arms. One of those is Naeroyfjord (accessible by train from Oslo to Flam which is close to it) which is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most beautiful and wildest arm of the Sognefjord – and is in the running for the most beautiful fjord in the world!
Via Ferrata is a steel cable that runs along the mountainside that enables you to climb it as they did in the old days. However – if you are not up for that kind of adventure there is a cable car that goes to top. Your reward is a restaurant that is 1000 meters above sea level (0.62 miles) with incredible views The views are an amazing part of the wellness that resides in Norway as they are a spiritual experience that really bring you back to being one with nature.
History: Also, in Sognefjord you can visit Urnes Stave Church a 600-year-old wooden structure. Side Note: According to Wikipedia a stave church is “A medieval wooden Christian church building once common in north-western Europe.”
Alesund: Alesund is known as The Adventure Capital – soft adventures that is! It is also a great place to recharge your batteries and make a spiritual connection to nature – offering a host of meditational views – which used to be inaccessible – but thanks to cable cars it is easier for those who don’t hike to reach them and thus to take advantage of them.
- Sightseeing and Activities: Opportunities to canoe and kayak abound here! There are several tours within the city and also several tours that take you outside the city. One of those outside the city takes you to a place called Strand – which is one of Mats favorite places. Here this is a tour operator called Bonseye that has a llama farm. In the summer they will take you by boat through the wonderous fjord and then up to the farm where you get a delicious meal, and you get to meet all of the animals. And we cannot forget Runde Island – boasting the largest population of those adorable Puffins each year!
Tromso: So because Norway is so long it actually has two high seasons – one in the northern part of the country and one in the southern part of the country. Turns out that Tromso is good for both seasons! Why? Well in the winter from September to March it is a great opportunity to spot the northern lights – with the end of January to March being the best time thanks to not much rain or snow. And in the summer? The chance to experience the midnight sun – which means no darkness as the sun does not set – which runs from mid-May through to mid-July.
Sightseeing and Activities: This is also the most professional destination in Norway according to Mats as everything is interconnected. There are lots of activities that are created around northern lights viewing such as snowshoe hiking under the northern lights, eating dinner at a reindeer camp and catching a glimpse of the norther lights, evening dog sledding with the northern lights or – my favorite – renting a small cabin about two hours south that features a glass roof so you can lay in bed and watch the northern lights!
You can go whale watching in Tromso too! It is seasonal and the highest chance of seeing them is from November 1st through to the end of January.
And all my dog lovers out there – you must visit Tromso’s wilderness center to see and pet 300 adorable huskies!
Accommodations: The hotels tend to be smaller hotels in small villages and can be likened to a 3- or 4-star property – however Norway does not use star ratings. Mats was quick to point out – proudly – that the level of service is always 5-star in any of the accommodations he uses.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing travel the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Norway. Norway is open to more travellers from all over the world. It is quite easy to visit if you have a digital, valid COVID certificate (by EU/UK/Schengen standards). With a valid certificate, you don’t have to quarantine, but you will have to take a test on arrival or within 24 hours after arrival.
Thoughts? I know you just added it to your list! Wink, wink. Besides the awe-inspiring views the mountains and fjords offer Norway is very accessible. It’s super easy to get around the country via train or ferry making it a country that you can see in just one trip there. And remember – Mats is my on the ground contact and together we can curate the perfect itinerary for your Norwegian adventure!
For more details on things to see and do in Norway, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!