Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. This article was updated on December 8, 2020.
Crossing the Atlantic for an epic Scandinavian vacation might seem like nothing more than a dream right now, but it’s never too soon to look ahead, and if what you see when you look ahead is majestic fjords and hip urban centers, then Norway might be for you. From rugged coast lines to charming Nordic villages that showcase the Northern Lights, Norway is home to many different types of beauty that draw visitors in. But for the uninitiated, this northern nation might seem vast and overwhelming. To help you get your bearings, we’ve narrowed down a few absolute highlights that should be on every Norway itinerary.
No surprise here. Norway’s capital is nicknamed the Tigerstaden, or “Tiger City,” supposedly in reference to its bustling, “grittier” identity, a stark contrast to the idyllic, serene towns speckled across the majority of the country. (A 15-foot bronze tiger greets visitors as they exit Oslo Central Station.) Many international travelers treat Oslo as a one-night stopover before cruising Sognefjord or chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø. But Oslo is the fastest growing capital city in Europe and boasts several good reasons to linger.
Culture, food and chic design shops are among them, all of which can be found along the streets of Grünerløkka, a neighborhood northeast of the city center. Check out Retrolykke Herre for vintage clothing and Scandi decor, or Berlin-inspired Liebling for coffee and stellar open-faced breakfasts. The Oslo National Academy of the Arts and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design sit on the Akerselva River. Wandering between the two, along the west riverbank, you’ll run headfirst into loads of street art, art shops and, depending on the season, pop-up vinyl sales or markets. The stylish foodhall Oslo Street Food opened in 2019 in what was formerly a public bathhouse. Sample every thing from Hungarian Langos to vegan buns, have a pint, and people watch. In summer, the outdoor steps fill with locals, soaking up the sun.
Treat yourself like royalty in the country’s old capital Trondheim, founded by Viking King Olav Tryggvason in 997. The city was formerly called Nidaros, and the ornate cathedral that bears the same name, is an outstanding jewel in the city’s landscape. Built over the burial site of the patron saint of the nation, King Olav II, it took over 200 years to complete the romanesque and Gothic structure. Head over to historic Sverresborg to pretend you’ve walked onto a Game of Thrones set at the old fort of King Sverre Sigurdsson. Constructed from 1182-1183, the site is now an open air museum with castle ruins and a folk museum, overlooking the city and fjord.
After exploring Nordic history, head over to Ladestien, for a hike or bike along the ten miles of trails on Trondheim fjord. Break for brunost (whey cheese) and waffles at the quaint Sponhuset Cafe, a welcoming house on the water, with lacy curtains and a lovely garden. If you’ve been lucky enough to score a reservation, sit down to dinner at nearby Credo, led by Heidi Bjerkan, the first female chef in Norway to be Michelin-starred. Sleep like a monarch in the newly-renovated and glamorous Hotel Brittania. Originally built in the late 19th century, the palatial hotel features two special suites with marble bathrooms, a luxury spa and a lush palm garden for afternoon tea.
Bergen is infamous for experiencing every season within a day, so whatever your plans are, dress for sun, rain and snow. As the Norwegians are fond of saying, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing (choices). The colorful wooden houses of Bryggen on the old wharf are highly Instagrammable. However, wandering off the beaten tourist path reveals the true character of a city that balances art and history, with easily accessible escapes to marka, or nature. Boarding the city’s Fløbanen Funicular lifts you from winding Bergen streets to troll-filled forests in minutes. Don’t just snap the pano of the city from the top; leave time to hike the lush trails atop Fløyen Mountain. Eclectic Bar Barista, down the street from the Funicular lower station, offers coffee, waffles, cocktails, board games and a DJ spinning records. It makes for a delightful respite from the inevitable rain.
Several guided day trips, including a blue ice walk on Folgefonna glacier, Norway’s third largest, can be arranged at the Bergen bus station. After a long day of sightseeing, warm up and rest up at the Opus XVI Edvard Grieg Heritage Hotel. In addition to the design-forward rooms and common areas, you’ll be thankful for its central location. (Learn more about this Roaming Gnome Top Pick!) Opus XVI is just a short walk from Pygmalion Økocafe & Galleri, a favorite for vegetarian and ethical eats. Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a natural lake in the center of the city, is a 5 minute walk from the hotel, ideal for an evening stroll.
4. Røros and Dovrefjell National Park
Koselig is the Norwegian equivalent of Danish hygge—in short, coziness—and it’s abundant in Røros. Stop by Frøyas Hus, grab a slice of apple cake and curl up under one of the wool blankets for which the city is so famous. Koselig achieved! Having the distinction of being one of the coldest cities in Norway may not draw visitors to Røros for its weather, but the excuses to do winter in the coziest ways are endless in this UNESCO World Heritage city. Take a sleigh ride, pulled by a long-maned draft horse, through the streets of the historic downtown or head out on a dog-sled trek through the mountains.
Meanwhile, just a 2.5-hour drive from Røros is Dovrefjell National Park, the only place in the country, and one of the few places in the world, where you might get lucky enough to spot a wild muskox. A relative of sheep and goats, this majestic animal can weigh 400–900lbs and is often mistaken for boulders in the landscape. Norwegian architectural phenoms Snøhetta have built a stunning Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre Pavilion, Tverrfjellhytta, on the outskirts of the park. There’s no better way to savor the views than from the comfort of its curvaceous wooden seating and crackling fireplace inside. If you’re driving, a stop at Dovregubbens Hall will satisfy your fairytale dreams of eating at your Norwegian grandmas’s, grass-roofed home. Wood-paneled cabins are available to spend the night.
5. Træna/Nordland County
Træna, a collection of tiny, mostly uninhabited islands on the Arctic Circle, may not be on your radar, but if you love music, they should be. Every July, this community of under 500 residents hosts Trænafestivalen: t hree days of music, drinks, food, dancing, sauna and art. Festivalgoers mostly camp out and ferry from show to show. Performances take place in breathtaking caves and against the dramatic backdrop of the midnight sun, over the ocean.
Beyond the festival, there are plenty of options for nature lovers and foodies. Sample wild-harvested seaweed on the island of Salvær, where the Northern Company has established its food lab and often holds overnight seaweed workshops. The island of Sanna offers fishing cabins and boats for rent at Træna Actic Fishing. Not far from Træna, on the nearby island of Lovund, you can visit one of largest puffin colonies in Norway. A few hours ferry ride, on the island of Myken, learn distilling from a master at a 3-day whiskey camp at Myken Distillery, the world’s first Arctic whiskey distillery.
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