Norway Holiday Planning Guide
Take a trip up north and visit Norway, the land of fjords, northern lights, unspoiled nature, and friendly communities. Norway is a haven for those who enjoy an outdoor vacation, with numerous resorts for downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as countless trails for hiking in the summer or dog sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter. Norway's cities combine historical and modern architecture and feature a selection of museums, art galleries, and performance venues. Meanwhile, traditional ways of life, local customs, and crafts are celebrated in many open-air and ethnological museums across the land. Even though the country has a modern and elaborate system of roads, Norway continues to foster its ancient connection with the sea. Take to the waters yourself with tours of the fjords and scenic coast or a whale watching trip.
Places to Visit in Norway
Regions of NorwayEastern Norway
: The eastern region of Norway is a favorite among visitors, offering the full scope of Scandinavian experiences from scenic landscapes and traditional villages to the enticing capital of Oslo.Western Norway
: Home to the country's best seafood, famous glaciers, and coastal fishing villages, this region offers a plethora of outdoor Norway vacation ideas, from hiking and cycling to skiing and snowboarding.Northern Norway
: The northernmost tip of Europe draws travelers with its arctic outdoor adventures, views of auroras, round-the-clock summer sunshine, and vibrant cities--all worthwhile additions to your Norway holiday.Southern Norway
: While visitors enjoy lake and river destinations inland, a majority of life in the south of Norway revolves around the coast, from larger cities like Kristiansand and Arendal to small port towns with serene surroundings.Central Norway
: Known for its natural beauty, the center of Norway is home to all things mountain-related, from rafting and climbing to winter sports, as well as a rich cultural heritage, like its traditional wooden churches and original capital, Trondheim.
Cities in NorwayOslo
: An ideal holiday for museum-lovers and urbanites, the country's capital is a fast-growing cultural center with over a thousand years of history to explore on foot or by bike. Plus, it makes a great jumping-off point for tours of Norway.Bergen
: A great base city for day trips to the fjords of Norway's west coast and outdoor attractions, Bergen also enjoys a reputation as a destination for underground music, though it offers a number of museums and family-friendly attractions as well. Tromso
: Tromso, a university town with a famous historical center, boasts one of the highest concentrations of wooden houses in Europe, a lively bar scene, and access to see the northern lights, which tops many Norway itineraries. Stavanger
: Though filled with hip galleries, lush parks, and wooden houses in its historical old town, Stavanger is most visited by foodies wanting to check out its famous culinary scene during their gastronomic tour of Norway. Trondheim
: Situated along the southern coast of a major Norwegian fjord, the oldest city in the country is beloved by travelers for its walkable historical center and famous Nidarosdomen church.Geiranger
: One of the country's most visited ports, the stunning village of Geiranger serves as a gateway to scenic fjords, nature tours, and outdoor adventures.
Things to Do in Norway
Popular Norway Tourist AttractionsThe Vigeland Museum / Vigeland-museet
: In addition to being a beautiful green space in the middle of Oslo, Vigeland Park hosts artist Gustav Vigeland's lifework, including over 200 sculptures made of bronze, granite, and iron.Mount Floyen and the Funicular (Floibanen)
: During your trip to Bergen, hop on this iconic funicular and ascend along Mount Floyen to the top, taking in panoramic views along the way.Viking Ship Museum
: Add a dose of Viking history to your Norway vacation with visit to Oslo's Viking Ship Museum. You'll see three authentic Viking vessels built over a thousand years ago--the Soeberg, the Gokstad, and the Tune--and discover well-preserved artifacts dating back to the 800s. Fish Market
: Taste Norwegian cuisine and mingle with Bergen locals at this lively market in the city's central wharf, where fishermen and vendors have flocked since medieval times. The Flam Railway
: Enjoy some classic Norway sightseeing, including the Rjoandefossen Waterfall and other natural attractions, with a ride along the Flam Railway. The historical train tour brings you all the way to the top of Mydral Mountain.Fram Polar Ship Museum
: Step onto an actual ship sailed by Nobel Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen at the Fram Polar Ship Museum, which delves into the polar voyages of storied Norwegian explorers Orro Sverdrup, Ronald Amundsem, and Nansen himself. Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Ski Jump Tower
: While the Holmenkollen Ski Museum offers a glimpse into 4,000 years of ski history in Norwegian culture, the Ski Jump Tower allows visitors to ride down a thrilling zipline or try the Kollen Ski Simulator to see what it's like to ski one of the most challenging slopes. Bryggen
: A World Heritage Site and one of the most visited of Norway's attractions, Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf dates back to the 11th century and boasts a fascinating blend of pubs, restaurants, galleries, shops, and medieval wooden buildings.The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
: The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Oslo gives tourists a chance to experience local culture through large collections of artifacts, including the over 150 historical buildings from throughout the country that make up the site's open-air museum. Pulpit Rock
: A natural formation dating back more than 10,000 years, Pulpit Rock has become a fantastic hiking destination that offers expansive views of Lysefjord.
Planning a Norway Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Norway with Kids
Norway's abundance of family-friendly attractions makes it a great vacation destination for groups of all ages. The capital city, Oslo
, has a variety museums that entertain both kids and adults, like the Viking Ship Museum
, where everyone can step aboard authentic voyagers from the adventurous past. Children can also explore the open-air collection of country homes at the The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
or engage in interactive exhibitions at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology
makes another fantastic destination for families with sights like the Akvariet i Bergen
, where even the youngest children can enjoy seeing Arctic Monkeys and crocodile feedings, and the Bryggen
, a buzzing, atmospheric spot where teenagers will love to shop and eat. If you prefer outdoor activities, the countryside offers coastal beauty in Southern Norway
, aurora viewing in Northern Norway
, and hiking in Central Norway
Things to Do in Norway with Kids
Whether you're after an active holiday or a more urban adventure, your entire family can find things to do during your holiday in Norway. Spend the day biking around Bygdøy
or have a picnic at one of the nation's many impressive green spaces, including The Vigeland Museum / Vigeland-museet
. You can tour the many fjords along the coast or head north to take in the northern lights or celebrate the midnight sun. Younger kids may prefer the array of aquariums, hands-on museums, and open-air sites to traditional Norwegian attractions.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Norway
To optimize your family's trip to Norway, consider staying in cities and using them as a base for day trips and outdoor attractions. This way, you and your family will get the best balance of nature-focused tours and activities that the country is famous for, like rafting, biking, and hiking, along with cultural sites in the city, which offer pedestrian zones and parks where kids can run free, as well as interactive, child-friendly museums (often Viking-focused). It's very safe to travel with kids within Norway, and cottage or apartment rentals make great options for families, as these can sometimes be easier and more affordable than a hotel when traveling in a group.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Norway
Cuisine of Norway
Norwegian cuisine is largely influenced by the country's fishing culture. Cod and other local catches feature as staples of the Norwegian diet, along with the game typically hunted here, like reindeer, moose, and even whale. While the national dishes still consist of the above--plus lamb, pork, sausage, and boiled potatoes--there has also been a wave of "Americanization" in recent years, as well as international restaurants springing up throughout metropolitan areas.
Shopping in Norway
Shopping in Norway offers a wide array of experiences, from upscale Norwegian boutiques and smaller traditional craft shops to international stores like Zara and H&M in city centers. If clothing is what you desire, the country's major cities, like its capital Oslo
, all contain shopping districts and malls. If you're more interested in food and crafts, head to local markets, like the famous Fish Market
in Bergen. While Norway is quite expensive, unique souvenirs are worth investing in if you cannot find them elsewhere.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Norway
History of Norway
The official history of the westernmost and northernmost Scandinavian country dates back to 872 CE, when Herald Fairhair unified the Viking Kingdoms of Norway. Viking exploration and a centuries-old fishing culture have had an enduring influence on this nation. After the founding of Norway, many Norwegians left and traveled to other locations, settling in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, and Ireland. In the 1300s, Norway and Sweden were brought together under the rule of the Norwegian king, who was elected King of Sweden. By the end of the 14th century, Denmark was absorbed as well, creating the Kalmar Union of these three unified Scandinavian countries.
In 1521, Sweden was the first to break free of the union, though it wasn't until 1814 that Denmark claimed its independence. After this period, Norway and Sweden united once again, until 1905 when "Modern Norway," or Norway as we know it today, came into being. Despite its independence, Norway has strong cultural and historical ties to other Scandinavian nations.
Norway underwent a tumultuous period during World War II, when it was occupied by Nazi forces from 1940 to 1945. Today, many decades later, Norway enjoys a strong economy and is home to five million people, making it one of Europe's most sparsely populated countries. Though it is not a member of the European Union, it is closely connected to the entity and its citizens enjoy easy travel throughout the continent. The capital of Norway, Oslo
, is undoubtedly its cultural, economic, and tourist center, while its diverse landscapes, fishing ports, and northern lights continue to draw visitors to other areas of the country as well.
Customs of Norway
Norwegians regard punctuality as a sign of respect, so it is important to be on time, whether arriving for a tour or dinner reservations. While the native people are courteous, they do not show a lot of emotion, tend to keep calm under most circumstances, and can often be very direct in their language, which can sometimes make them appear cold or aloof. This does not mean that they are inconsiderate or rude, only that they reserve a level of openness for family and friends. That being said, it is still customary to shake hands when meeting someone in Norway. Norwegians also tend to be stylish, but dress informally, typically wearing denim and not overly worried about showing too much skin. They take pride in their country and, at the same time, value individuality immensely, which makes them quite interesting to see and meet.
Holidays & Festivals in Norway
If your Norway trip happens to coincide with Constitution Day (May 17), be prepared for everything to be closed that day--you'll have the privilege, however, of witnessing parades and celebrations across the country. The Christmas season also makes a particularly atmospheric time to visit, when holiday markets take over towns and cities. Norway is an excellent festival destination, with many of the major events taking place in spring and summer in Oslo
, and Bergen
. Each year, Stavanger hosts the international jazz festival MaiJazz, the International Chamber Music Festival, and a food festival called Gladmat. Bergen's famous underground music scene is embodied by Grieg in Bergen, a ten-week concert series, while the Bergen International Festival features live music, ballet, opera, and theater, and the Bergenfest concert series boasts rock, hip hop, and folk performances. Oslo has the widest variety of festivals, from the rock-centric Norwegian Wood festival, classic Oslo Jazz Festival, and popular Ultima Contemporary Music Fest, to the medieval Oslo Middelalderfestival and the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony.
Norway Travel Tips
Climate of Norway
Though it shares a latitude with Alaska and Siberia, warm air currents keep the climate in Norway much more pleasant than some might imagine. The warmest time to visit is during the summer months, with July being the hottest. From June to August the days are long and light and the weather is warm without being humid, even when you travel north. Fall grows chilly and is quite colorful, especially inland, while the southern coast is the last area to get cold. The winter is a snowy paradise for skiing enthusiasts, with the lower inlands dropping below freezing and the coasts staying relatively temperate. Springtime can remain rather cold and wet and is also the time when there is the greatest disparity between north and south. However, this time of year is considered the best for viewing flowers in bloom, particularly from mid-May to the beginning of June.
Transportation in Norway
Getting from one place to the next on your Norway holiday should be fairly easy, thanks to an excellent transport system with clean, modern trains and buses that typically run right on schedule. In addition to the extensive bus routes in towns and cities serving both locals and tourists alike, inter-city travel is also possible on public transit. Norwegian State Railways connects Oslo with Stavanger, Bergen, Andalsnes, Trondheim, Fauske, and Bodo. From these cities, you can take regional buses to reach smaller destinations. Oslo is also well-connected with Sweden, making international travel possible sans plane. Be sure to check whether a reservation is necessary for longer train trips.
Language of Norway
The official language of Norway, Norwegian, is a tongue closely related to Swedish and Danish and is also the most widely used in the country, with 95 percent of the population speaking it. However, most Norwegian people know more than one language and are able to communicate in English, making travel here quite easy. Some native people in the north still speak Sami languages, though most have adopted Scandinavian languages into their lexicon.
Tipping in Norway
Tipping is not necessarily expected in Norway, as many restaurants and bars include service in their bills. If you are very happy with the service, you may leave an additional tip, with 10-15 percent considered quite generous. Likewise, it is not customary to tip taxi drivers, hotel staff, or other personnel. On the other hand, haggling for a better price while shopping is not as typical here as it is in some other European countries, and would be considered strange or even rude.