Breathe in the beauty in Lofoten — Photo courtesy of Tomasz Furmanek / Visitnorway.com
There's no doubt about it, Norway is one of the most stunningly dramatic destinations on our planet.
Whether you're summiting its steep mountains, cruising its deep fjords or exploring its clean, culture-kissed cities, this Nordic nation enchants with an impressive lineup of superlatives best experienced firsthand.
As the most mountainous and most prosperous of all the Scandinavian countries, Norway travel sometimes comes with a hefty price tag. We promise you, though, the payoffs prove well worth the journey.
In this mesmerizing land that highly values quality of life for its residents and green practices for its land, the water tastes crisper, the air smells sweeter, the evening light falls more majestically and a hushed calm pervades even the busiest of city streets.
1. Nature's magic: Northern Lights
A nighttime show enlivens Skull Fjord, Kvaløya — Photo courtesy of Gaute Bruvik - Visitnorway.com
If seeing an extraordinary green- and purple-hued light show swirl across the winter sky hangs high in your lofty “bucket list," Norway will happily help you tick that box.
You'll have the best chance of spotting the ethereal overhead spectacle from September through late March between the darkest hours of 6 pm and 1 am. For locals who call Northern Norway home, the aurora borealis has always served as captivating inspiration for art, mythology, legends and local lore.
Book Northern Lights tours to have an expert lead the way, and consider heading up, up, up to magical destinations like the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle. Here you'll be treated to the sight of unspoiled fishing villages dotted with red-and-white buildings set against a mesmerizing illuminated backdrop.
2. Awesome Oslo
Art lovers relish the Munch room in the National Gallery — Photo courtesy of Tord Baklund / VisitOSLO
Whether you enter or exit Norway via Oslo, be sure to spend a few days in this sharp capital city. Thanks to its historic and pedestrian-friendly core, days are easily filled with exploring attractions like the mural-lined City Hall, sculpture-flanked Vigeland Park and inspiration-filled Nobel Peace Center. (The Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony takes place in Oslo every December.)
Museums abound; the Bygdøy district hosts museums dedicated to ships (Viking, Fram and Kon-Tiki), the Holocaust and traditional folklife. Near the trendy, artsy businesses of the Grünerløkka neighborhood, learn about Norwegian pop music at the interactive Popsenteret.
Visitors also can't miss perusing the gallery walls of the Munch Museum or walking across the roof of the modern Oslo Opera House.
The islands in Oslofjord make for a great day trip, easily accessed from the main harbor. After cruising over to spots like Lindøya or Snarøya, enjoy park picnics that offer views of the city and harbor, or stroll among old monasteries and wartime structures.
Consider making your explorations even easier with a 72-hour VIP Oslo Pass, which grants free entry to public transportation (bus, tram, metro, ferries) and nearly all museums and sights.
3. Beautiful Bergen
Taking the Fløibanen funicular in Bergen is a cheers-worthy "must" — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
It's easy to fall for this picturesque, UNESCO heritage-listed port town, marked by its vibrant fish market, medieval wooden houses, winding and narrow back streets, eco-friendly aquarium, music and festival culture. Bergen, a seven-hour train ride west of Oslo, is a great base for exploring some of Norway's most dramatic fjords, too.
Soak in surrounding mountain and water views by riding the 8-minute funicular up Mount Fløyen, where stellar panoramic views await. At the top, enjoy meandering lake hikes, or reward yourself with a pint on the cafe's picturesque patio.
Once back at sea level, enjoy meals at local favorites like Cafe Opera, Bar Barista i Øvregaten, Pingvinen (a cozy pub with local specialties like fish pie and meatballs) or Marg & Bein (a sleek eatery with creative, flavorful dishes from pumpkin soup to ox cheek).
Home to a thriving music scene, this city claims popular DJ Kygo as its own, and live music reverberates within the walls of clubs many nights of the week.
4. Easy-breezy travel
Norway in a Nutshell helps visitors navigate the phenomenal fjords of Norway — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Thanks to the country's abundance of English speakers and an overall helpfulness among residents, travelers should have no problem navigating Norway and its modern, efficient modes of transportation. While many folks nix the idea of travel packages, Norway in a Nutshell tours prove an appealing option for those wanting to cover varied turf in a limited amount of time.
The pre-determined itineraries involve a combination of train, bus and ferry journeys that showcase Norway's magnificent coastline and spectacular fjords – the Sognefjord and Nærøyfjord, Norway's longest and deepest fjord. With Norway in a Nutshell, you have the liberty to go at your own pace; do it all in one day or take an overnight pause in dreamy spots like Flåm.
5. Fabulous Flåm
Cozy into the Flåmsbrygga Hotell and be tempted to extend your stay — Photo courtesy of Thor Brødreskift
A stunning pit stop for some small cruise boats, Flåm has managed to maintain a charm well worth a visit – especially in the off-season. Located in a spectacular setting at the head of Aurlandsfjorden, this tiny village receives 500,000-plus visitors a year.
Choose to spend the afternoon lazily skipping rocks on a small beach, wandering the petite town or following a tour that takes you up on the Flåm Railway and leads you back down via bicycle. The bike path passes waterfalls, teeny villages, a river and welcoming farms where you can stop in for fresh goat cheese to refuel en route.
If staying overnight in Flåm, cozy into the lodge-like Flåmsbrygga, where the onsite Ægir Brewpub features a central stone fireplace, indulgent sheepskin rugs, tasty local brews and delicious Norwegian fare – plus a distinctly Viking vibe you won't soon forget.
6. Exquisite natural beauty
Scenery astounds in destinations like Besseggen in Jotunheimen National Park — Photo courtesy of John Fiddler / Visitnorway.com
Norway has a landscape that looks as though giants may have carved it, boasting some of the greatest variety of any European country. Think pristine waterfalls, verdant forests, dramatic cliffs and alluring snow fields that seem to stretch infinitely toward the horizon.
Folks flock to adventure sport hubs like Voss, and outdoor enthusiasts find excuses to try most any activity from hiking and kayaking to cycling, climbing and diving.
In warmer months, hikers raves about breathtaking routes like Trolltunga, Besseggen (between two green lakes) and the famous Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock). This square rock formation resembles a pulpit and stands majestically 1,981 feet above the Lysefjord. Every year, more than 200,000 visitors make the two-hour trek to the plateau.
7. Skiing wonderland
Winter wonderlands abound, from Nordmarka to spots far up north — Photo courtesy of VISITOSLO/Tord Baklund
At Norway's high mountain ski resorts, the season lasts from fall through spring. Those based at a glacier, though, often remain open throughout summer months, too. While cross-country trails and alpine resorts dot the entire country, the largest and most popular destinations can be found in the mountains in central and eastern Norway.
As Visit Norway suggests, "Try a crosscountry skiing trip in the forest, and fill your backpack with fresh oranges, and thermoses full of hot chocolate or blackcurrant cordial, a Norwegian 'matpakke' (packed lunch), and foam pads for your sitting comfort ... And before you get into your overalls and strap on the skis, talk to a local to get the details right – like what brand of chocolate to buy. Then you’ll blend in with the Norwegians in no time."
8. Unique snow and ice culture
Sami culture can be found all across northern Scandinavia and Russia — Photo courtesy of CH / Visit Norway
Get into the true Nordic culture by ice fishing, snowmobiling or going on a dogsled adventure. In Alta, many local mushers race their teams in the Finnmarksløpet, the longest dogsled race in Europe that begins and ends there each March.
For a truly unique lodging experience, book a room at the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel just outside Alta; here everything from the rooms and beds to glasses at the bar are made of snow and ice, and the venue has about 30 rooms and suites plus an ice gallery and ice chapel.
9. Festival fever
Music lovers flock to gatherings like the Norwegian Wood Festival — Photo courtesy of Gunnar Kopperud / foap / visitnorway.com
Festivals take place throughout the year in Norway, highlighting all genres of culture from music and film to literature. Highlights range from Nordlysfestivalen (Northern Lights Festival) – a week-long music festival in Tromsø in late January – to the Norwegian Wood three-day, open-air rock festival that takes place in Oslo in mid-June.
Other much-anticipated events include Øyafestivalen (in Oslo in August), Oslo Jazzfestival (August) and the Bergen Internasjonale Filmfestival (October).
10. Gateway to Scandinavia
Norway serves as a perfect excuse to explore other nearby Scandinavian nations — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiitng
One could certainly spend months exploring Norway and all it has to offer, but visiting this welcoming country brings a perfect excuse to savor the flavors of other Scandinavian lands, too. Consider hopping a train south to fall in love with the cafes and canals of Sweden's Gothenburg and Denmark's Copenhagen.
If flying to Norway from the States, consider taking Icelandair up on its free Icelandic stopover (for up to seven days). In Iceland, dip into the soothing waters of the Blue Lagoon, soak up the cozy vibes and delectable cuisine of chic capital Reykjavík, rent a car to explore the treasure-dotted Ring Road or take a "Game of Thrones" tour to glimpse where your favorite on-screen heroes have romped.
No matter what pulls you toward this magnetic Nordic land, we guarantee you'll sense the magic that keeps so many coming back for more.