Mountains, fjords, islands, glaciers, waterfalls, woods, and tiny settlements abound in rural Norway. Natural and cultural attractions in Norway often combine, such as an outstanding mountain route surrounded by beautiful landscapes or old stave churches nestled in the most tranquil environment.
Norway offers a plethora of waterfalls of all sizes and shapes. Norway is home to a significant number of the world’s highest waterfalls, especially in the central and western highlands. Many waterfalls are unexpectedly accessible since they are often located near major highways or railroads, and others drop straight into huge fjords. Other noteworthy attractions include Nordkapp, Europe’s northernmost point, the island of Lofoten, the Jostedalsbreen glacier, and the Jotunheimen mountains.
Norway’s well-known fjords may be found across the nation and are not restricted to a single area or place. All major cities are located on the banks of a fjord. While the most beautiful fjords are less inhabited, the majority of them are readily accessible by road. The fjords expand Norway’s coastline from 3000km to 30,000km, and islands add another 70,000km, making it the world’s most complicated shoreline. National Geographic Traveler has named Norway’s fjords the greatest location in the world twice.
Norway has well over 1,000 unique (named) fjords. To the far end of the enormous Sognefjord, which is around 200 kilometers long, there are a number of arms, each roughly the size of New Zealand’s renowned Milford Sound. Some fjords are extremely narrow, such as Geirangerfjord and Nyfjord, while others, like Boknafjord or Trondheimsfjord, are vast, like bays or contained seas. Fjords are the dominating geographical characteristics in most areas of Norway; traditional districts are frequently defined by proximity to a major fjord, and the district or region often has the same name as the dominant fjord. Sogn, for example, is the region around Sognefjord. Fjords are often so deep and/or broad that they can only be traversed by ferry (especially in western Norway) (a few daring bridges or tunnels have been built). Fjords are still an impediment to roads and railroads today; only cruise passengers may travel through these enormous passageways.
In reality, there is very little continuous land in vast areas of Norway, instead a labyrinth of islands and peninsulas. These peninsulas are often linked to the real mainland via (thin) isthmuses. These isthmuses provide as a shortcut between fjords and have historically served as key transportation routes. Even today, major highways often traverse such isthmuses. In many instances, such isthmuses are located between a saltwater fjord and a freshwater lake (essentially an extension of the lake), such as Nordfjordeid (“Nordfjord isthmus”), which is located between Nordfjord and Hornindal lake.
- Western Fjords: The most spectacular and well-known fjords are mostly found in West Norway, roughly from Stavanger to Molde. Although the aspect of the western fjords varies somewhat, they are always very narrow, bordered by sheer rock walls, towering mountains, and quite deep (particularly the middle and innermost parts). These classic western fjord characteristics are particularly noticeable in the easternmost section, where the fjords meet with the highest mountains (such as Jotunheimen). Melting glacier water flows into large fjords like Sognefjorden. The western Norwegian fjords (represented by the fjords of Geiranger and Nry) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Nordland and Troms: These counties also have natural landscapes with mountain peaks, islands, and spectacular fjords. The Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest tidal current, is created by the short strait entering Skjerstadfjorden near Bod.
- Middle Norway: Trøndelag fjords, particularly the huge Trondheimsfjord, are less spectacular yet nevertheless dominate the terrain. The Trondheimsfjord connects the huge island of Hitra to the inland town of Steinkjer. This fjord’s center section resembles a tiny contained ocean.
- East Norway: The fjords in the greater Oslo area, particularly the Oslofjord, are especially important to the geography of these lowlands and flatlands, as is the Trondheimsfjord. The Drammensfjord is a vital branch of the vast Oslofjord. There are no saltwater fjords in East Norway’s interior, but there are many lakes, many of which resemble western fjords and are therefore referred to as “fjords,” such as the long, narrow Randsfjorden, which is a lake.
- South Norway contains a few fjords, although they are minor in comparison to the wild fjords of the west and the vast Trondheimsfjord.
- Eastern Finnmark’s fjords are much less spectacular, yet these long and broad fjords dominate the terrain.
Many freshwater lakes in the interior are referred to as fjords, such as Randsfjorden and Tyrifjorden; even Lake Mjsa is referred to as “the fjord” by locals. These lakes have an extended form and are usually deep, comparable to saltwater fjords. Mjsa, for example, is 450 meters deep, such that even if the water top is 120 meters, the majority of the lake is really below sea level. Several lakes in Western Norway are really extensions of the main fjord, and several were formerly part of the saltwater fjord itself. The surface of the extremely deep Hornindal lake, for example, is just 50m above sea level and is separated from Nordfjord by a narrow isthmus. These western lakes are often so similar to fjords that only the absence of salt distinguishes them.
Northern lights and midnight sun
If you want to view the northern lights, CNN ranks Troms as the finest location to do so. Tromso is especially worth a visit in the summer to view the midnight sun. Of course, both may be enjoyed anywhere in the country’s north. Northern lights are most often north of the arctic circle (from Bod and farther north). Because the midnight sun and the midnight sun occur in the same region, both phenomena cannot be witnessed at the same time. Because the northern lights are not limited to a particular place, the only requirements are a dark night and a clear sky. Clear skies are associated with chilly weather, so tourists should dress warmly, especially from November to March. Midsummer midnight sun and, more significantly, 24 hour daylight occur during midsummer north of the arctic circle – the farther north, the longer the midnight sun season. There is a similar time in midwinter when the sun is below the horizon and there is no actual daylight (so called polar night).
While most visitors do not choose Norway because they want to stroll about in towns with museums, monuments, parks, streetside cafés, or expensive restaurants, this is an option in Oslo and some other cities. Simply going about in Norway by car, boat, rail, bike, or foot typically results in spectacular scenery. Speaking of transportation, Norway is also the place to go if you want to actually take a train trip to Hell!
The following are the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- The rock paintings of Alta
- The Vega archipelago
- Urnes stave church in Luster
- The mining town of Røros
- Bergen’s waterfront, Bryggen
While Norway’s cultural history is mainly visible in rural regions, the country’s cities also have fascinating cultural attractions, both ancient and modern. Cities with noteworthy architecture and histories include Bergen, Lesund, Kongsberg, Rros, Trondheim, and others. Norway’s cities also include interesting contemporary architecture, particularly in the capital Oslo, which has iconic structures such as the new Opera House and the University Library, as well as the new disputed downtown skyline.
Except for the local church, there are few, if any, colossal structures outside of major cities. Norway lacked an aristocracy capable of erecting palaces or magnificent manors. Wooden structures, including most churches, predominate in rural regions. Around 30 unique stave churches (from a possible 1000) and approximately 100 stone churches survived the Middle Ages. The majority of churches constructed during the Protestant Reformation are simple wooden “long” churches (rectangular shape), although there are a variety of different forms available, including the distinctive cruciform (cross shape) design with a central tower. Only a few churches have the unusual Y-shape. The octagonal form was utilized for a greater number of churches, and many landmark buildings in this mostly indigenous design can be seen in Trndelag, Mre og Romsdal, and Nordland, among other places. Also church interiors are barren protestant in style, however there are many churches with ornate interiors such as tolepainted walls, magnificent wood carved altar items, and pulpit designs. Many churches are log structures, and the logs are typically visible on the interior. The intricate architecture of stave churches is clearly evident.
Oslo was destroyed by fire in 1624 and rebuilt entirely in stone and brick (in a grid plan), and its fast growth in the 1800s distinguishes it from most other towns. Trondheim and Kristiansand were built in a rigorous “military” grid plan, while Bergen and many other timber towns to the south developed naturally into beautiful labyrinths. Lesund burnt down in 1904 and was rebuilt in an unusual art nouveau style (Jugendstil). Molde, Kristiansund, ndalsnes, Steinkjer, Namsos, Bod, Narvik, Hammerfest, and Kirkenes were all devastated during WWII and rebuilt in a less attractive post-war style, but Kristiansund is a noteworthy example of ambitious urban design. These World War II “burned towns” also house the first bold, unconventional church design.
The extensive use of wood as a construction material, even in the heart of major towns such as Bergen, Stavanger, and Trondheim, and the pleasant environment produced by the numerous small structures are typical of Norway. Some wooden towns have been destroyed by fire, such as Lesund (which was destroyed by fire in 1904 and rebuilt in the local Jugend style) and Steinkjer (bombing second world war). During the conflict, Molde, Kristiansund, Bod, Narvik, and the whole of Finnmark were devastated. The bombs had little effect on Levanger or Trondheim, and their timber beauty has been preserved. The wooden village of Rros is included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lillehammer, Skudeneshavn, Risr, Arendal, Tvedestrand, Kristiansand, Farsund, Flekkefjord, Lrdal, Brevik, and Son village are among the other towns with noteworthy wooden architecture. The wooden villages of Norway’s south/southwest coast are the country’s equivalent of “pueblos blancos.” The capital, Oslo, is not typical in that the inner city is dominated by concrete and masonry buildings, with just a few clusters of timber homes in the city center. Fire is a continuous danger to these historic towns and neighborhoods, and some of their history is destroyed each year.