Things to Do in Norway
Thanks to its spectacular setting among a series of islands and skerries laced with waterways and scalloped inlets, Tromso is the epicenter of day trips out into the fjords bordering the Norwegian Sea. These long, narrow sea inlets are characterized by steep, mountainous slopes carved out by glaciation during the last Ice Age.
Norway’s stylish, innovative new arts center opened in 2008 at Bjørvika, with views stretching out over Oslo Fjord. It is home to the national ballet, opera and orchestral companies but audiences probably come as much for the sublime waterside setting of this gleaming white auditorium as they do for the performances. Designed by Norwegian architect Tarald Lundevall, who also built the National September 11 Memorial Museum & Pavilion in New York, the opera house is constructed of marble, granite and glass and won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award for Contemporary Architecture in 2009. Inside there are three main stages, combined able to seat audiences of up to 2,000; all this is supported by a staff of 620 led by artistic director Tom Remlov in a labyrinth of more than 1,000 studios and workshops.
Acoustics are second to none and the repertoire includes modern dance and classical ballet, jazz, chamber and Baroque concerts, plus light-hearted operettas and serious opera. Open-air concerts are held on the opera house’s sloping roof in summer and there are sometimes small recitals in the foyer. The Argent restaurant is currently the place to lunch in Oslo.
Mount Fløyen (Fløyfjellet**)**towers 1,310 feet (399 meters) over Bergen and offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding landscape from its summit. A popular hiking destination, the mountain features a funicular railway and a network of scenic walking and biking trails that run throughout the area.
Norway’s second-longest fjord, Hardangerfjord stretches nearly 124 miles (200 kilometers) inland from the Atlantic. Highlights include a massive glacier covering more than 77 square miles (200 square kilometers) and Troll’s Tongue (Trolltunga) rock, hanging 2,300 feet (701 meters) above Ringedalsvatnet Lake in Odda.
Set on Oslo’s Bygdoy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset) houses an extensive collection of Viking-era artifacts discovered around Oslo Fjord. The museum is best known for its Viking ships, which have been painstakingly reconstructed and elegantly displayed in pristine white galleries.
Norway’s cosmopolitan capital lies at the head of Oslofjord, a narrow body of water 68 miles (107 kilometers) in length that leads out to the strait of Skagerrak and eventually to the Baltic and North Seas. The fjord’s islets are its main attraction, home to sandy beaches, cycling and hiking routes, and historic lighthouses.
Tucked in the folds of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Geirangerfjord, the small coastal town of Geiranger is the gateway to Norway’s mighty fjords and a popular stop for cruise ships. Disney fans will recognize the town’s dramatic backdrop: Its jagged sea cliffs, pine-covered valleys, and iridescent waters served as inspiration forFrozen.
Set on the banks of Oslo Fjord, Akershus Castle (Akershus Slott)—also known as Akershus Fortress (Akershus Festning)—was built in 1299 as a residence for Norway’s royal family. Over the years it has served as a fortress to protect Oslo against sieges from rival Swedish forces, as a Renaissance castle, and as a full-fledged 19th-century prison.
Along with the Kon-Tiki and Norwegian Folk museums, the Fram is another of the crowd-pullers on the Bygdøy peninsula. It’s found in a new and extraordinary pyramidal structure with a vast portrait of Roald Amundsen projected on to the façade, which houses the most famous Norwegian polar-exploration boat of all time, the icebreaker Fram.
Fram was veteran of many Arctic voyages when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen – the first man to reach both North and South Poles – gained worldwide fame by sailing her to Antarctica from 1910 to 1912, where he beat the UK's Robert Scott in a race to the South Pole.
The museums displays have also been given a spruce up and now feature dioramas capturing the horrific conditions of polar exploration in the early 20th century, a recreation of Amundsen’s Antarctic base put together from photos and written witness, and displays on the Northwest Passage through the Arctic ice floes, all brought to life with the use of multimedia, interactive maps, and black-and-white images. Kids will love all the tales of nautical daring and the "dark walk" simulator, in which they experience temperatures below freezing, but the highlight of a visit is boarding Fram to explore the ship’s cramped confines and learn of the hardships of polar exploration.
Stretching from Oslo Central Station to the Royal Palace, Karl Johans gate is Oslo’s main thoroughfare. Named after King Charles III John (Karl Johan), the street is home to many of the
city’s top attractions, including the Royal Palace, Stortinget, National Theatre and Central Station.
During Oslo’s short summer, residents flock to the beer gardens lining the street for al fresco drinks. Come winter, a pond along the street transforms into an ice skating rink. Throughout the
year, restaurants, cafes and bars lining the street fill up with both locals and visitors. Much of Oslo’s best shops can be found along the street and the smaller streets branching from it.
More Things to Do in Norway
Oslo’s Royal Palace was designed by architect Hans Linstow and built in the early 19th century for King Charles III, who reigned over a united Norway and Sweden. He died before work was completed on the vast Neo-classical edifice and it was his son Oscar I who finally moved into the palace in 1849. Today it is the official city residence of King Harald V and his wife Queen Sonja, and is open during the summer for guided tours of parts of its 173 palatial rooms.
A dozen of the palace’s ornate staterooms are included on the tour, including the Council Chamber, King Haakon VII Suite, Bird Room — delicately decorated with 40 species of bird — the Mirror Hall, Great Hall — where lavish balls still take place under dripping crystal chandeliers — and the Banqueting Hall.
The colorful Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place outside the palace daily at 1.30pm; it’s short in winter but in summer takes a full 40 minutes of pageantry, with the King’s Guards on horseback, bands, square bashing and parades along Karl Johans Gate.
The Royal Palace is surrounded by the manicured gardens of Slottsparken, also laid out by Hans Linstow. As well as lakes, leafy promenades and picnic spots, the park is dotted with statues of Norway’s great and good, including King Carl Johan and Queen Maud, mathematician Nils Henrik Abel and women’s rights defender Camilla Collett — the latter two both by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, whose lifework can also be seen in Oslo’s Vigeland Park.
The Kon-Tiki Museum is home to a variety of boats and other artifacts from the famous Thor Heyerdahl’s expeditions. Thor Heyerdahl is a Norwegian expeditionary and ethnographer who famously sailed by raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. The museum includes the very raft used during that expedition.
The museum also houses permanent exhibits on Ra, Tigris, Kon-Tiki, Fatu-Hiva, and Easter Island and even has a cave tour (that is 100 feet/30 meters in length) and an underwater exhibition with a life-size whale shark. For those who are not well acquainted with Norway’s topographical landscape, there is a recommended widescreen film that takes the viewer on an aerial tour of the country’s coastline and settlements.
Once you’ve soaked in all the exhibits the museum has to offer, the restaurant offers a lunch menu which includes authentic Norwegian cuisine, including the highly recommend Kon-Tiki Fish Casserole and Tapas buffet.
Home to the Oslo City Council and numerous galleries and studios, the Oslo City Hall (or Rådhuset) showcases the city’s political and cultural sides. It is widely considered one of Oslo’s architectural gems, winning the 2005 vote for Oslo’s "Structure of the Century."
Planning for City Hall began in 1915 and served a dual purpose: not only establishing an Oslo City Hall, but also replacing the old Oslo harbor slums. The building exemplifies a changing mentality in Norwegian architecture at the time, combining native romanticism, functionalism, and classicism.
Once inside, the building contains the Festival Gallery, complete with a stunning view of the harbor side, the East Gallery, with Petr Krohg’s stunning mid 20th century frescoes, “The town and its surroundings,” Banquet Hall, and Central Hall, with a mural of Oslo’s patron saint, St. Hallvard.
Found in a dockside wooden warehouse dating from 1837, which served as Tromsø’s Customs House until the early 1970s, the Polar Museum celebrates the city’s history as the epicenter of Arctic exploration and of Norway’s controversial sealing industry. The museum opened in 1978, on the 50-year anniversary of polar explorer Roald Amundsen setting sail from Tromsø on his ill-fated last expedition. The permanent displays showcase the harsh lives of the indigenous Sami peoples in the Arctic during the 16th and 17th centuries and highlights the desperate need to survive that fueled the hunting and trapping of seals, polar bears, reindeer, whales and walruses almost to the point of extinction for their meat and skins. A number of gruesome hunting tools and traps are on display among the stuffed polar bears and animal furs.
The museum also pays homage to Norway’s great explorers: Fridtjof Nansen—who opened up the Arctic Circle in the 19th century—and Amundsen, who beat British explorer Robert Scott in the epic race to the South Pole in December 1911. A vast collection of memorabilia relating to his voyages includes a model of the airship Norge, in which he flew over the North Pole in 1926.
Comprising of more than 200 bronze, granite, and cast iron sculptures by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is the world’s largest such complex made by a single artist. Located within Frogner Park, it is also one of Oslo’s top attractions, drawing more than a million visitors a year.
Winding its way through lush river gorges, climbing steep peaks, and passing dramatic waterfalls, the FlåmRailway (Flamsbana) is one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys. Running 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) between the Norwegian towns of Flåm and Myrdal, the train is among Norway’s most popular tourist attractions, offering incredible views over the UNESCO World Heritage-listed fjords.
Climbing and outdoor sports enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Norwegian Mountaineering Centre (Norsk Tindesenter), housed in a striking building designed by Reiulf Ramstad Architects. Explore exhibitions on the history and development of mountaineering, then tackle Norway’s highest indoor climbing wall.
The Sognefjord in western Norway is the largest in the country and the second deepest in the world, with depths reaching more than 1,000 meters at some points and cliffs rising more than 1,000 meters above the water. Stretching more than 200 kilometers from the coast to the village of Skjolden, the fjord is also the second longest in the world. There are several interesting stops for tourists along the fjord, including Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe and the Naeroyfjord, a branch of the Sognefjord that shrinks to only 300 meters across at its narrowest point. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its incredibly dramatic scenery. Notable villages include Gudvangen, which sits on the Naeroyfjord, and Flam, which is an endpoint of the Flam Railway, which climbs more than 800 meters up to Myrdal in just 20 kilometers, making it the steepest unassisted railway climb in the world. Near the innermost point of the Sognefjord are three of Norway’s famous wooden stave churches, found in the villages of Kaupanger, Urnes and Borgund.
Ersfjordbotn is a village located at the bottom of the pristine Ersfjord, just 20 km (12.5 miles) west from the city of Tromsø on the neighboring island of Kvaløya. It is a legendary spot for catching the mythical Nordlys (Northern Lights) thanks to its clean, unpolluted air, the dark winter skies of December through February and the surrounding rugged, snow-capped peaks, which shimmer with reflected colors streaming from the lights. The village is also a winter center for skiing, snow-shoeing and dog-sledding, plus a summer destination for rock climbing and hiking in the mountains as well as kayaking, sailing and canoeing on the tranquil waters of the fjord.
Sitting on a narrow strip of land between Ersfjord and neighboring Kaldfjord to the north, Ersfjordbotn is a tiny, largely wooden-built settlement with scattering of holiday homes, although many people living there now work in Tromsø and are lucky enough to enjoy one of the most spectacular commutes in the world, past wild mountain scenery and sparkling seas, while reindeer and lemmings can often be spotted on the hills. Although the northern slopes of Ersfjord are steep and virtually inaccessible, with cliffs plummeting nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) into the sea, the south side is criss-crossed with easy hiking and cycling tracks as well as climbing and bouldering routes for expert mountaineers.
Consecrated in 1697, Oslo Cathedral (Oslo Domkirke) is used for Norwegian Royal Family weddings and funerals. The public is also welcome to admire its interesting architectural details, including a 1950 tempera ceiling by Hugo Louis Mohr, stained glass windows by Emanuel Vigeland, and magnificent altarpiece with acanthus carvings.
High above the Arctic Circle and northeast of the Norwegian city of Tromso, the Lyngen Alps (Lyngsalpene) stretch from Lyngenfjord in the south up to Ullsfjord, close to the Swedish border. The 56-mile-long (90-kilometer-long) mountain range forms a spectacular landscape of deep gorges, gleaming icy glaciers, and wild, boulder-filled rivers.
Jutting out into Oslo Fjord, the Bygdøy Peninsula is a one-stop leisure destination just west side of the city center. A clutch of Norway’s most popular museums are found here along with hiking and cycling trails, beautiful – if small – beaches at Huk and Paradisbukta, plus several cafés and seafood restaurants. Come sunny days, the peninsula is full to bursting with Oslo families enjoying the peninsula’s laid-back vibe and the organic farm at the Royal Manor, which is the summer residence of King Harald V.
Altogether Bygdøy is home to the Neo-Gothic castle of Oscarshall, the Holocaust Center in the austere Villa Grande, and no less than five museums. Of these, the Viking Ship, Fram, Maritime and Kon-Tiki museums deal with Norway’s illustrious nautical heritage, while the open-air Norwegian Folk Museum concerns itself with Norway’s cultural past. It displays a colorful collection of Sami national costumes from Lapland alongside 150-odd reconstructed buildings including traditional Sami goahti and a magical 13th-century wooden stave church from Gol, a small town north of Oslo.
The tiny Arctic Norwegian island of Sommaroy lures travelers with its white-sand beaches and rugged scenery. Traditionally a fishing community, red wooden buildings raised on stilts surround the harbor and small fishing boats bob in the water. It’s an easy day-trip from Tromso, but it's never crowded and so retains a laid-back atmosphere.
Holmenkollen is an Oslo landmark hill north-west of the city center; there has been a ski jump here since 1892 but the present-day ‘S’-shaped jump at Kongeveien was constructed in 2010. The jump is 394 ft (120 m) long and it is 197 ft (60 m) high and it’s one of Norway’s best-loved visitor attractions.
There’s plenty of year-round outdoor and indoor action at Holmenkollen: climb the 250 steps to the viewing platform for vistas across the scenic Nordmarka protected wilderness; visit the world’s oldest ski museum at the foot of the jump; or grab a zip line to whizz 1,180 ft (360 m) down the length of the ski jump – a ride for real adrenaline junkies with a firm head for heights. Somewhat more enjoyable is the simulator ride that gives a bird’s-eye experience of ski-ing down the ski jump.
In winter Holmenkollen hosts the World Cup Nordic skiing events and is the springboard for Nordic or downhill ski-ing and skating in Nordmarka, which by summer it is hiking and cycling central, with locals pouring out of the city at weekends to get back to nature among the tranquil forests and lakes.
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