It’s given the world skiing, Vikings, fjords, Norse mythology, and a parcel of notable explorers and creative artists. It’s also celebrated as the Land of the Midnight Sun, where, in the far northern summer, the sun never sets. Norwegians would say you need all that daylight just to begin to sample all their country has to offer.
Tucked away on the far western and northern reaches of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway’s mountainous, often sparsely populated landscape stretches far above the Arctic Circle. Those who visit enjoy some of Europe’s most stunning scenery, along with outdoor recreational activities that include hiking, climbing, rafting, skiing, and even glacier walking and reindeer sledding.
Most tours begin in Oslo, a modern city of 600,000 residents with a medieval hilltop fortress, a royal palace (Norway is a constitutional monarchy), and a harbor facing an island-dotted fjord. While Oslo might seem a bit staid at first, some of its major attractions -- such as the Munch Museum, devoted to the 19th century expressionist painter Edvard Munch known best for his anguished work “The Scream” -- and sculptor Gustav Vigeland’s writhing, nude figures that line the walkways of an outdoor park, might give you another impression.
Similar ships to those displayed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum once carried Viking explorers like Eric the Red and Leif Ericsson off to raid distant lands, reaching the coast of North America five centuries before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. (Modern Norwegians, while descendants of the marauding Vikings, have mellowed considerably; the country’s violent crime rate is among the world’s lowest.)
Other Oslo-area maritime-related museums include the Kon-Tiki Museum, celebrating the exploits of Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed from Peru to Polynesia on a log raft, and one showcasing the Fram, an expedition ship used by Roald Amundsen on his 1910 voyage to the South Pole.
Bergen is a must-stop on any Norway tour. Situated on the North Sea coast, it’s the very picture of a seafarer’s city, with a busy harbor where you can sit out in summer and dine on herring and other fresh seafood.
With its colorfully painted peaked-roof wooden houses gleaming in the sun and its mountainous backdrop, the medieval wharf area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bergen’s cultural cred is enhanced by serving as home for Edvard Grieg, Norway’s most famous composer, while playwright Henrik Ibsen, author of “A Doll’s House” and “Hedda Gabler,” began his theatrical career here.
Bergen is also the gateway to some of Norway’s most spectacular fjords -- long, deep, glacier-cut inlets (often flanked by sheer cliff sides) that are among the world’s great natural wonders. The Songefjord, leading to the village of Flam, is the most famous.
Bergen serves as the starting point as well for the Hurtigruten ships that make their way year-round up and down the Norwegian coast for some 1,300 miles. Along the way, the half-passenger, half-cargo vessels make numerous port stops, some very brief -- others allowing for hours to tour cities like Trondheim and Tromso -- to drop off and pick up transient passengers as well as food and supplies. The latter provide a lifeline for isolated Norwegian villages that are otherwise virtually cut off from the rest of the country.
The fjord-rich, island-speckled western coast continues hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle and peaks at the North Cape, continental Europe’s northernmost point, before heading farther west to Kirkenes. The Hurtigruten has been called the world’s most beautiful voyage, and it’s certainly a contender.
We should also mention the Norwegian island of Svalbard (Spitsbergen) here, hundreds of miles north of the North Cape in the polar regions and an adventurer’s and wildlife-lover’s dream, reached by small-ship expedition cruises, including Hurtigruten.
There’s a reason Norwegians tend to do well in Olympic ski competitions: this is where the sport was born, as evidenced by Norwegian rock art depictions dating back some 4,000 years. With Norway’s glaciers and snow-capped peaks, you can usually find places to ski here year-round -- or go glacier-walking, if you prefer. Hiking and climbing among waterfalls, mountains, and meadows are other favorite outdoor pastimes.
With so much to see and do in Norway, it’s vital to pick the group tour that’s right for your preferred level of physical activity, cultural immersion, and budget. Let Stride’s easy to use tools help you find the Norwegian fjord in your very near future.
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