While Norway is a country that most people have heard of, I think its Swedish and Danish neighbors are more well-known. So what is Norway mainly known for? Well, Vikings and Fjords are the easy answers, but it’s also a country surrounded by beauty and simplicity. In some ways, its simplicity makes people, that are used to bustling cities, struggle to connect here. There isn’t high tourism, the capital city’s population is smaller than a million, and there isn’t stunning old architecture. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to see and do. So let’s explore this Scandinavian country together.
Quick Overview of Norway
- Location: Scandinavia, sharing a border with Sweden, Finland and even Russia. To the Northwest, is the Norwegian Sea, and to the Southwest is the North Sea, which is shared with the United Kingdom.
- Language: Norwegian and Sami, although a lot of locals speak English quite well, as a second language. And English is everywhere in the country, so getting around is very easy.
- Population: 5.3 million, but 70% of the country is uninhabitable, so the people are scattered in the cities, and along the west coast
- Money: the Norwegian Krone. But before you exchange your money, realize that credit cards can be used almost anywhere, including the small fee required in public bathrooms
- Transportation: Subways, buses, and trams within Oslo. Trains and planes connect the big cities.
- Religion: Evangelical-Lutheran, but interestingly, they still struggle with separating the church from the State. The Royal family is still required to be Lutheran, and until 2012, members of the government were also required to be Lutheran.
- Birthday: May 17 (1814)
- Safety: I didn’t feel unsafe in Stavanger, due to a high tourism population and it’s very clean there. While Oslo has the typical homeless people here and there, they keep to themselves and it wasn’t any problem walking around
- Fun Facts: Norwegian, Swedish and Danish share language-roots, so people from those 3 countries can understand the other enough, without knowing anything about that language. Norway is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas outside of the Middle East, on a per-capita basis. Norway has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
- History: First mention of Norway goes back to 10,000 BC, where the people mainly stayed along the coasts, to benefit from the warmer Gulf Stream. The Viking era (793-1066) unified the country, and in 1397, they entered into a union with Denmark and Sweden. In 1661, absolute monarchy was introduced, and to this day, it is still in use there, but as the more relaxed form found in the U.K., Japan and within its neighbors, in Sweden and Denmark.
Pop Over To See A Fjord: When people hear the word Norway, Fjords typically come to mind. Those stunning mountains, that dive into valleys, filled with a big body of water. And one of the most popular, and easy to see is Pulpit Rock (or Preikestolen), near Stavanger, on the West Coast. How do you get there? You can take an internal flight, that takes 50 minutes, hop on a train that takes about 8 hours, or alternatively you can rent a car and drive yourself, which takes 7-8 hours. While you can stay closer to the Fjord in Tau, staying in Stavanger provides more accommodation and food options, and is a cute port-town to walk around. If staying in Stavanger, you can take the ferry (for car, as well as foot-passengers) to Tau, then there’s a bus that goes directly to Pulpit Rock. While it’s advertised as being family-friendly, make sure you’re all a bit more fit, as there a few steeper parts, and most of the hike is walking over rocks of all sizes. It takes about 2 hours to get to the top, and then the view from there is quite exceptional. Be warned though, this is a popular hike, so crowds in summer can be high. And do keep in mind that the weather is always unpredictable. We were there only one day, and there was a thick cloud blocking our view, so it’s advisable to plan 2-3 days there.
Sunshine: As with many Northern countries in the world, daylight hours vary drastically from winter to summer. So in summer, bring an eye-mask to help block out the lingering sunlight, when trying to sleep between 23:00-04:00 (11pm-4am). And in winter, make the most of the few hours of sunlight, and maybe bring some vitamin-D pills to help get your daily dose.
Climate: An interesting thing to note, is that Norway isn’t as cold as the other countries at the same latitude, such as Alaska, Greenland and Siberia. The West Coast does get some stronger winds, but in general, it’s a milder climate year-round, due to the warmer Gulf Stream. That Gulf Stream plays an interesting role between the coast and inland. In winter, the inland, such as Oslo, is colder, due to the mountains blocking the warmer winds, and the opposite is true in summer, where inland is warmer than the coast.
Stave Churches: One of the interesting things that are scattered here and there throughout Norway, are a church called Stave Churches. They are wooden churches from medieval times, and they can vary in style, but their similarity is from corner posts (called stavs in Norwegian) that hold the whole structure together. You can take out an entire wall and the structure won’t fall, as the walls don’t support the church, but rather the corner posts. You can find carvings inside the church, that come from both Christian traditions, as well as pre-Christian Viking themes of dragons, animals and symbols.
Things To Do In Oslo
From The Airport: To get to the city center, there’s an express train, that takes 20 minutes and costs NOK 160 ($18) or you can take the regional train, that takes just a few minutes longer, but is half the price, NOK 82 ($9). One thing to note, is that if you get stuck at the Oslo airport (maybe your next flight was delayed until the next day), it is very safe to sleep there in the airport. Depending on if you’re dropped off inside the baggage claim area, or if you’re still inside the actual airport, there are long benches to sleep on, soft chairs in closed-for-the-night restaurants that you can push together, and even a chapel that you can sleep in. You won’t be alone though, and even as a solo girl, me and my bag weren’t messed with all night. If that isn’t your style though, there is a pricey hotel connected to the airport, as well as a few others nearby, that are a little cheaper.
Getting Around: While Oslo isn’t an overly beautiful city, there are many great museums to see, parks everywhere, and cool places to grab a bite to eat. If you’re staying in the city center, you can walk to most places. Or if you’re staying just outside, there are reliable buses, trams and subways that are easy to use and clean. Things are a little spread out within the city, so if you take public transportation more than twice in one day, the 24-hour card is a great bargain and you can go almost anywhere, as Oslo mainly has 1 zone for fare. Just make sure to activate any ticket you buy, before you get on-board. The activation posts are typically a few steps from where you buy the tickets. The subways are very easy to use, as there are maps everywhere for each of the 5 lines, and in most stations, you just either choose “eastbound” or “westbound.” The buses have clearly marked stops, so even if you are on one with a screen that doesn’t announce the stops, you won’t have to guess where you are. The trams are quite old, but they are redoing those and hope to have everything revamped by 2024.
Experience Some History: A really fascinating place to visit is the Norwegian Folk Museum, which is an open-air museum. You can look online for a schedule of events, to make the most of your time, but it is worth planning a few hours there. While it isn’t too big to walk around, there is an English guided tour that talks about how people lived back then. Other little things you can do are a quick talk about clothing during that period, watch local dancing and even hear about death and burial traditions. The museum has original houses that are from the 1500’s, all the way to the 1950’s. A unique thing you’ll see in the museum, as well as in other parts of Norway, are sod-roofs. They are a roof, with grass and weeds growing on them. In between the roof and the outside, are up to 16 layers of birch wood, topped with sod, and then grass, all acting as a form of insulation. If done correctly, the roof can last up to 100 years.
A Ski Jump In Oslo: In the 1952 Olympics, Oslo hosted the ski jump competition, and the structure still stands outside the city. While the structure itself is impressive from almost any angle, there is also a museum that you can visit, and for the adrenaline junkies, you can even zip-line from the top. As you take the subway up to the Holmenkollen Ski Museum stop, make sure and notice the view on the left side. It’s really pretty of all of the water and mini-islands that surround Oslo.
A…Unique Sculpture Park: While Europeans are known for being more liberal with their bodies than other countries, this unique park, located in Frognerparken, shows naked sculptures in a variety of poses. The idea is to show the circle of life (cue the “Lion King” song) from childhood to old age. Whether you find it strange or not, it is quite a popular tourist attraction. And the surrounding gardens are pretty to wander around.
Um, Did You Say Trolls? Being a part of Norse mythology, trolls are a lasting legacy that you can find in the names of hikes, inside of souvenir shops and you can even visit 2 near the Holmenkollen Ski Museum. If you want to visit them yourself, face the Holmenkollen ski jump and then look 180 degrees behind you. You’ll see a hill, and they’re sitting up there watching over the ski jump. They’re really friendly, so don’t worry about them being gruff and scaring you.