You don’t have to be sporty to enjoy a trip to Norway, but if you are athletic or adventurous you’ll fit in swimmingly with the local vibe. Forever topping the Winter Olympic Gold medal leaderboards, Norwegians take full advantage of their staggeringly dramatic terrain, a pastiche of jaw dropping nature: soaring fjords that frame churning blue seas, gleaming lakes, carpet-like glaciers, chunky mountain tops, and ghostly islands. Rare wildlife abounds: polar bears, reindeer, whales and Arctic foxes, to name a few. Add in postcard-perfect, lost in time, villages, unique cities — urbane, seaside Oslo; Bergen with its timber-framed taverns; and Art Nouveau Alesund — and a buzzy, nation-wide food scene, and Norway embodies the stuff of Scandinavian dreams. Here, 10 things to do when visiting Norway.
Heart Thumping Adventure
Norway prides itself on its menu of electrifying ways to experience its spectacular nature first hand. Raise some hairs rafting a rampant river through narrow canyons and gorges, down waterfalls, and amongst stunning green space in Voss, for example, also referred to as the adrenaline capital of Norway. With activities that boost heart rates and ensure Munch-like screams, Norway’s best guides lead guests on memorable expeditions to go canyoning, skydiving, hiking, zip lining, bungee jumping, waterfall abseiling — and beyond.
The Midnight Sun and Its Brother the Northern Lights
It’s said the midnight sun (a summertime phenomenon that results in 24 hours of light daily from April to August) triggers something in the soul. Casting a glittery golden light that feels primeval, found only in the far northern realms of Norway, it compels tourists and locals to stay active outdoors all night in celebration of nature’s prodigious gifts. Less easy to encounter, but equally otherworldly, the Northern Lights, paint the sky seasonally, November through March. Spy the stunning whirls of green, purple and pink dancing with the stars from the back of a dog sled in Tromso for an unforgettable adventure.
To become one with Norway’s nature (read: its beating heart), choose from among its unique, quirkier terrain-sited places to sleep. Snooze to the sound of the sea in a lighthouse, perhaps? Norway offers 60 with hotel credentials, all of them positioned amongst salty air and dramatic shoreline. The Kråkenes Lighthouse, circa 1906, located between Bergen and Alesund has four rooms for rent. Further north, snuggle beneath reindeer blankets atop an ice cube bed, as you sip from an ice-carved chalice. Sorrisniva Igloo, the world’s northernmost ice hotel, melts each summer, but gets rebuilt by local artists each winter. A national obsession, cabins in the woods fulfill the Norwegian collective soul. Join that fixation when you bunk in a glass-made one amongst the treetops. The WonderINN Glass Cabin lies near Nordre Øyeren, a nature preserve. Thanks to its mirrored walls you can glimpse 270 bird species (and other wildlife) from inside while remaining unseen.
Most people don’t talk about Norway’s beaches. But as the world’s second-longest coastline, the elongated nation boasts an array of idyllic crescents of sand, some hidden at the foot of sky-high cliffs, others unfurling from forestland. From Oslo’s urban beaches to southern Norway’s family-friendly warmer ones to northern Norway’s wetsuit required surfing hotspots, the sandy destinations make prime picnic and camping hideaways. Note that 17 Norwegian beaches vaunt the Blue Flag certification, awarded for high quality extras — such as beach bars.
Freedom to Roam
You can hike, bike, or camp pretty much anywhere you want in Norway. Thanks to a time honored law known as allemannsretten (the right to roam), barely any spot amid nature, private or public, is off limits. Sleep on the lips of an inviting lake, beneath a forest canopy, or in the shadow of a fjord. Walk through a cow-filled meadow, picnic by a barn or shout from a mountaintop.
One of the best ways to explore Norway’s ramparts and magic places is by train or boat. For rail journeys consider Bergen Railway (Bergen to Oslo to see icy lakes, snow-capped mountains, deep fjords), the Rauma Railway (encompasses devastatingly beautiful scenery from Åndalsnes — via Dombås and Trondheim — to Oslo), and the historic Ofoten Line (a short 27 mile jaunt that rolls from the fjords into the mountains). Take a slow traveler’s perspective when you embark on a Hurtigruten cruise along the coast. Sailing since 1893 in Norway, the immersive company offers a range of cruise options and oodles of local expertise.
Savvy in Svalbard
Outdoor enthusiasts, wander list checkers, and wildlife lovers: look no further than Norway’s piece-de-resistance, the Svalbard Islands . Dotting the sea between the mainland and the North Pole, this rugged archipelago gets buried in snow most of the year. Home to polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer, and only a few humans, the former mining region specializes in high Arctic adventure activities, including ice cave spelunking, snowmobiling, ice fishing, dog sledding, and polar bear or sea life safaris aboard a small boat. While in the area, sample local dishes, including Atlantic cod, Arctic char, and Svalbard reindeer.
Two Classic Hotels
Base at Britannia, a luxury hotel in colorful Trondheim for a taste of central Norway. It was the place Norwegian explorer Fritjof Nansen briefed the geological societies of the world on his explorations into the North Arctic. Recently refurbished rooms pamper with Hastens beds and marble-sheathed bathrooms. Channel Oslo’s history at its storied Grand Hotel, where Nobel laureates wave from their balcony to an admiring world each year. Elegantly appointed with sumptuous fabrics, a grand piano and chandeliers in the lobby, the hotel has an entire floor dedicated to Norwegian women.
Bergen for Fjord Spotting
Visit Bergen, arguably Norway’s coolest city, to experience its trendy vivified contemporary culture, marked by a progressive music scene, craft cocktail, and innovative dining options, and artistic ambiance. Fascinatingly, all that hipness happens amongst historic buildings, many of them built from rough hewn timber, set catawampus along undulating, narrow cobblestone streets. The city seems all the more enchanting for its celebration of old and new. As the gateway to Fjord land, Bergen’s outskirts showcase some of Norway’s most renowned fjords: including the Sognefjord, Norway’s deepest and longest.
Eat your way around Norway on a nation-wide food crawl. Start in Kirkeness, in Northern Norway’s Finnmark region. There, join a guide in a quest for King Crabs, the world’s largest — and most succulent — crab. You’ll snowmobile across the frozen expanses, sled atop the fjord ice, then pull up the crab pods to capture your dinner. In remote, UNESCO-listed Roros, where hunting and gathering methods have remained the same for centuries, forage the forestland with a local, then nosh on specialties: reindeer meat, pancake-like pjalt, and cloudberry ice cream. Turophiles can get their cheese fix in Hol, a village between Bergen and Oslo, which produces more than 20 varieties of cheese. Longing for a restaurant? For Norway’s most extraordinary dining experience, submerge — literally — at Restaurant Under. Situated 18 feet below the North Atlantic in Lindesnes, Under features a provocative, often marine-oriented, set menu by Chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard meant to “take you beyond your comfort zone.”