Norway is a country at a crossroads, although given Norway’s natural wonders and significant wealth, it’s a situation in which most countries in the world would love to find themselves.
Norway is a wildly beautiful country of snow-capped mountains and deep glacier-carved fjords. The astounding scenery of the southwestern fjordland is the main draw card for tourists, but there are many incentives to visit this sparsely inhabited country. It offers remote wildernesses and outdoor activities, fairylike forests, historic towns and charming fishing villages, down to earth friendly people, and the lure of the Arctic Circle with its famous Midnight Sun and surreal Northern Lights. It also boasts some of the most scenic bus trips, boat cruises and train rides in the world.
Full country name: Norway
Area: 385,155 sq Km
Population: 4,7 million
People: 97% Nordic, Alpine & Baltic, with a Sami minority
Language: Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk). Sami is spoken by the Sami population in the north. English is widely spoken.
Religion: Christian (86.3% Evangelical Lutheran)
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Raw/ real GDP per capita: US$54,465/ 46,300 ( 2nd highest in the world)
Unemployment rate: 3,5%
Major industries: Oil, natural gas, computers, high technology, fishing, fish farming, forestry, shipping, shipbuilding and paper production
Major trading partners: EU (esp. UK, Germany & Sweden)
Visas: Scandinavian citizens can enter Norway freely without a passport. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand do not require visas for stays of less than three months. The same is true for EU and EAA countries, most of Latin America and most Commonwealth countries.
Health risks: None
Time: GMT/UTC plus 1 hour
Electricity: 220V, 50-60 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Norway is at its best and brightest for much of the period from May to September. Late May is particularly pleasant: flowers are blooming, fruit trees blossoming (especially in Hardangerfjord), daylight hours are growing longer and most hostels, camp sites and tourist sights are open but uncrowded. Be aware, however, that if you’ve come to Norway to hike, many routes and huts won’t be open until late June or early July. Smaller mountain roads usually don’t open until June.
North of the Arctic Circle, the true midnight sun is visible at least one day a year, and at Nordkapp it stays out from 13 May to 29 July.
At any time of the year, be aware that extremes of temperature are always possible; temperatures over 30°C in summer and below -30ºC in winter aren’t uncommon. Unless you’re an avid skier or hope to glimpse the aurora borealis, Norway’s cold dark winters can be trying for visitors; public transport runs infrequently; most hostels and camp sites are closed; and sights, museums and tourist offices open only limited hours, if at all.
The Norwegian year is also chock-full of outstanding festivals and some of them are well worth planning your trip around.
Norway’s dramatic scenery and extensive wilderness areas offer scope for a variety of exciting activities.
In Norway, hikers are well catered for. The Norwegian Mountain Touring Association (DNT) (tel: 2282 2800; website: www.turistforeningen.no) offers guided trips, and maintains more than 400 mountain huts, both staffed and unstaffed. Membership can be bought at a DNT office, a hut or at tourist offices.
Norway claims to be the birthplace of skiing. The country has about 30,000km (18,750 miles) of marked ski trails, winding their way through unspoiled scenery. Both cross-country and downhill skiing are available from November until the end of May. Although skiing is at its best just before Easter, when the days are getting longer, it is possible to ski for long hours in the winter, since many of the tracks are illuminated. In summer, it is possible to go skiing in several parts of Norway.
Horse riding holidays are becoming more popular. There are riding schools and clubs throughout the country with horses for hire and instruction provided. Also a number of hotels keep horses. Despite its often mountainous terrain, Norway is a popular destination for cycling holidays. Many old roads have been made into cycling routes.
Attractions - Oslo
Vigeland Park is the city's most visited attraction, a vast green area of duck ponds, trees and lawns that is a monument to the celebrated Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, who spent 40 years creating the life-size statues that decorate the walkways and open spaces. There are more than 200 works presenting the human form in a variety of poses and conveying a range of emotions. At the center of the park is the most impressive piece, the Monolith, a gigantic mass of writhing bodies carved from a single column of stone, and believed to be the largest garanti sculpture in the world at a height of 46ft (14 m).
The Viking Ships Museum
Situated on the Bygdøy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum houses three 9th-century Viking ships that were excavated from ritual burial mounds in the south of Norway. Their excellent condition is due to the clay in which they were embalmed. Viking ships were used as tombs for royalty who were buried with everything they might need in their life after death. The biggest and best preserved of the ships is the Gokstad, and the finest is the Oseberg, a richly ornamented dragon ship with an intricately carved animal head post, that was the burial chamber of a Viking queen. The elegantly carved sleigh used by the Viking royalty, and a hoard of treasure was found on the buried ship and is displayed at the back of the museum. Raised platforms allow visitors to view the inside of the ship's hulls.