Here is a country that has midnight sun, the northern lights and some of the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine. It also has some of the friendliest people on earth.
When I was younger and getting interested in seeing the world I remember seeing magazines with articles on Norway that showed photos of the fjords and waterfalls. It was only two years ago that I was finally able to visit this outstanding country to take in the marvelous sites and people. We took a cruise from England that visited the major countries on the Baltic and included several days cruising the majestic fjords.
A trip through Norway is a trip full of contrasts. You’ll find tall peaks, a long and beautiful coastline, as well as farm country, fishing villages, major cities, the fjords and glaciers. And, let’s not forget the food. Seafood of great variety is everywhere. Drop into a smorgasbord restaurant and a third of the offering will probably be various preparations of salmon and other items from the sea. In fact, Norway is the largest exporter of salmon in the world.
The fjords are regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful tourist destinations. National Geographic says Norway is perhaps the most beautiful country in the world. I just might agree.
Cruising the fjords with the steep walls and narrow waterways with waterfalls cascading down the sides from snowmelt from the mountains above is something to behold. And there are miles and miles of this terrain that goes sometimes 100 miles inland. On board your cruise ship you don’t want to really leave your deck chair for fear of missing interesting sights. There are small farms perched on top of the fjord walls with their little summer homes overlooking the water below. These are sights you will never forget. Some of the more popular fjords are the Geirangerfjord and Sognefjord.
If you tour Norway with a rented car or by tour coach you will find that between Stavanger, to the south, and Kristiansund, to the north, a world of adventure awaits you: the fjord country is well developed with modern tunnels and roads. If you are not on a cruise ship, the ferries and high-speed boats are a good method to experience the waterways, coves and the outermost islands.
Bergen is a beautiful and interesting city of some 250,000 people. This bustling hanseatic city is the gateway to the fjords. It offers fascinating points of interest, which include the Bryggen wharf and the Floibanen Funicular. From a viewing point overlooking the city you can see 360 degrees and take in the city, the waterfront, the docks, the homes and all the activity of ships coming and going in this city by the water. The buildings along the waterfront were built 500 and more years ago. Bergen is considered a European “City of Culture” and you will enjoy a stroll through its interesting streets. Its surroundings feature seven magnificent mountains and the beautiful fjords form the backdrop to an international atmosphere. The food is varied and again, be ready for some of the best seafood you have ever experienced.
One day we were riding in a sightseeing coach around Bergen and I became aware that there was no trash on the sidewalks or streets. For most of the day I kept looking for trash and never saw any. Why can’t Americans be like the Norwegians?
The fish market at the waterfront is a great place to walk around and to sit in an outdoor restaurant at noontime and watch the world go by as you enjoy your order of food and drink. As you move about, the locals will give you a smile of friendliness and many speak some English.
At the Bergen Tourist Board office, located at Vagsallmeanning 1, you can obtain a “Bergen Card” that entitles you to free discounted admission to museums, attractions, sightseeing and cultural events, free bus travel and discounts on meals.
My suggestion in Bergen is to take a sightseeing coach to visit the major points of city interest, which will include the Old Bergen Museum and perhaps end the day with a concert at the composer Edvard Grieg’s home.
There is also the Bergen Aquarium and perhaps a cruise around the waterfront. Make sure you take time to walk some of the streets and drop into the various shops. We completely enjoyed meeting the shop owners and viewing their varied inventories.
If you are in Norway on your own, make arrangements to take sightseeing tours to selected points of interest. A company called Fjordtours at www.fjordtours.com can sell you “Norway in a Nutshell” and this will allow you to experience the fjords. The tour begins with the Bergen Railway, followed by a fjord cruise and the steepest stretch of road in Northern Europe — the Stalheimskleiva hairpin bends. The bends are such that I thought I would fall out of the coach seat at times.
Another tour is the “Sognefjord in a Nutshell” — the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, stretches more than 125 miles inward to the foot of the Jotunheimen Mountain. This area claims to be one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world. The round trip combines a beautiful boat journey on the Sognefjord, with a spectacular train journey on the Flam Railway. This railway is an experience in itself. You travel through beautiful mountainous countryside with many waterfalls, small farms and the fjords. The rail cars are Norwegian built and interesting to rail fans.
Be sure to include a tour called “Geiranger & Norway in a Nutshell” — this round trip takes you to Norway’s two most beautiful fjords, the Geirangerfjord and the Naeroyfjord. This is “a don’t miss” tour! You will experience the Rauma Railway with Kylling Bridge and Trollveggen cliff face, the most interesting city of Aalesund, a journey with Hurtigruten Cruise Lines to the magical Geirangerfjord and the popular trip from Bergen to Oslo.
I should add here that the city of Aalesund, located on the coast, is where several of the founders of some of the most popular cruise lines lived and where their families still reside. They include Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Norwegian America Cruises and others. This is another very interesting city to walk around and to visit.
Norway, of course, is not just fjords. Some Norwegians call southern Norway the Riviera; it is where there are more hours of sun than anywhere else in the country. The near-the-sea experience is still the dominant activity. Though the sea affects almost all of Norway, the maritime communities in the south are unique. Here you find the towns of Kristiansand and Arendal. In the white-painted towns of Risor, Tvedestrand and Mandal, you can still sense the glory days of the 20th century seafarers. Pleasure boats of all sizes ply the protected skerries and harbors. The smell of saltwater has to be experienced. Inland, the deep forests criss crossed with canals and lakes emerge. Telemark and the interior of Ostfold Country are famous for their cultural landscapes and their wealth of well-preserved traditions.
Eastern Norway is famous for mountain peaks and national parks, for stave churches and for urban life in the capital of Oslo and the cozy towns of Hamar, Gjovik and Lillehammer on Lake Mjosa. Here you will find northern Europe’s highest mountains and permanent snow cover, jagged peaks and beautiful formations. The wilderness in eastern Norway is as dramatic as you want it to be. Marked trails await you and make the mountains easily accessible.
The capital, Oslo, is nestled in forested hills on the shores of the Oslo Fjord. As a tourist destination, it offers a unique combination of city life and beautiful natural surroundings. This is the capital of the Vikings; Oslo is Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded here, and the city boasts Europe’s most spectacular opera house. The most famous tourist attractions are the Vigeland Park, the Munch Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum, and the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the National Gallery and Nobel Peace Center. On the outskirts of town lies TusenFryd, Norway’s biggest amusement park.
Oslo is Norway’s largest city and offers a huge selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. Every part of the city has charm and there is something for every taste. The areas around Karl Johans gate and Aker Brygge with their big city vibes are only a small part of what’s happening in Oslo. In the summer Oslo practically turns into a seaside resort. Take a dip from one of the many island beaches. The sea temperatures get up to 74 degrees. The Gulf Stream affects the sea here making it warmer. You can take a trip in a sightseeing boat in the Oslo Fjord or take some hikes in the nearby forests.
Norway is everything you might want in a summer vacation. It will top almost every other country you have visited.