Norway is a place of supreme beauty and wild outdoor fun. It’s a country that will take your breath away with its dramatic, untouched landscapes. You’ll also find a healthy offering of bucket list experiences. They may break the bank but will no doubt go down as one of your greatest travel moments ever. And the best part is that there’s a reason to visit whatever the season. So whether you’re visiting in summer or winter, here’s our choice of the top 10 things to do in Norway.
1. Cruise the fjords
Think ‘Norway’ and you’ll no doubt conjure an image of spectacularly steep mountainsides meeting sparkling blue water. That picture you’re imagining is the fjords and a cruise along one of the narrow inlets is the quintessential Norway experience. Norway is home to thousands of these breathtaking geological formations. But it’s those in the west of the country that grace the front of postcards and feature on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
In fact, the western fjords of Geirangerfjord and Næroyfjord are Norway’s most popular natural attraction. They trace a dramatic trail from the coast to deep within the interior, like extended arms of the sea. And measure 1,308 metres below sea level at their deepest point.
Exploring the fjords at water-level is the best way to appreciate the astonishing scale of this iconic landscape. And summer is the best time to cruise the fjords with lovely weather and more ferries running. Cruises last anything from a few hours to fortnight-long affairs that follow Norway’s coastline all the way to the North Cape. Another option is kayaking for dramatic panoramas while fully immersed in the scenery.
2. Ride the Flåm railway
The Flåm railway is one of Norway’s unmissable highlights. The journey takes 50 minutes from the remote railway junction of Myrdal to the town of Flåm. And it showcases some of the country’s best landscapes, following a route through a steep and narrow valley. Along the way you’ll pass mighty waterfalls, dramatic mountain peaks and colourful farming villages.
It’s a breathtaking journey in more than one sense – the gradient of the railway line is one of the steepest anywhere in the world. There are 20 twisting tunnels that the line passes through and the elevation difference is over 850 metres. That’s quite something!
During the journey there’s the chance to stretch your legs with a photo stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall. The Flåm railway is open year-round so can be enjoyed throughout the seasons and with the changing landscapes.
3. Explore UNESCO-listed Bergen
Thanks to its location in the west of the country, Bergen serves as the ideal gateway to the western fjords. But that’s not all that Norway’s second largest city has going for it. Firstly, there’s Bergen’s enviable location facing the water and backed by forested hills. Secondly, there’s the overall small-town charm combined with the UNESCO-listed old wharf known as Bryggen.
This historic part of Bergen originated in the 12th century and is one of North Europe’s oldest port cities. The colourful wooden buildings seen today date back to the early 1700s. Yet the layout attests to Bryggen’s original medieval appearance. For visitors this is where you’ll find many of Bergen’s restaurants, bars, craft shops, museums and galleries.
And yes, unfortunately, the rumours are true. Bergen is one of Europe’s wettest cities with an average of 260 rainy days a year. But don’t let that put you off. The surrounding mountains offer plenty of hiking opportunities – just make sure you take a rain coat.
4. Visit the Arctic capital of Tromsø
The city of Tromsø serves as the cultural and social capital of Norway’s remote north. And it’s the best place to experience modern life within the Arctic Circle. Over the years Tromsø has grown from a little-used harbour to thriving fishing port and now a compact and amiable city.
It’s a great place to taste arctic culinary specialities like reindeer and char. You can also visit the world’s most northerly botanical garden. When night falls there’s a surprisingly vibrant nightlife where electro-emo is the vibe of choice.
If the great outdoors is more your thing then there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Activities range from hiking and fishing to kayaking and dog sledding. During the long winter months you can enjoy all manner of snow-based adventures. Talk of winter in the Arctic leads us perfectly to our next pick of things to do in Norway…
5. Go in search of the Northern Lights
The far north of Norway is a great place to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights as they are more commonly referred to. This natural phenomenon occurs in the magnetic polar regions where electrically charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with one another. The Vikings viewed them as a bridge between heaven and earth while in Norse mythology they were seen as the reflections of Valkyrie armour.
The skies of Arctic Norway provide the perfect canvas for these striking displays of celestial light. This is due to the latitude of the region and the deep, dark winters it experiences. The best time to catch these luminous dances are between mid-November and February.
The dramatic Lofoten Islands and Tromsø are some of the most popular places in Norway to witness the Northern Lights. When it comes to ways in which to go searching for these fabled lights, you’re spoilt for choice with snow-mobile expeditions, boat cruises and comfortable cabin stays just some of the options available.
6. Experience the Midnight Sun
On the flip side of that, if you visit between May and July you’ll be treated to endless days of sunshine. During this time of year the sun barely sets in the Arctic Circle. Consequently, this phenomenon is known as the midnight sun. How much sun you get depends on where you are in relation to that imaginary line. It might just be one night without darkness. Or if you’re in the far north it could be up to five months without a sunset.
It’s these long days and stunning nights that makes the summer such a popular time to visit Norway. As you’d expect, there’s loads of time for sightseeing and outdoor adventure. It’s also a highly photogenic season with startling blood red skies and a glowing sun that barely dips below the horizon.
Standard activities transform into wholly unique experiences at this time of year. You can take midnight walks, go kayaking and even play a round of golf or two. If you want to dance around a bonfire under the midnight sun, come to Norway for the summer solstice. It’s a great excuse for a 24-hour party.
7. Take a glacial walk on Jostedalsbreen
There’s no doubt that glaciers are an incredible sight to behold from afar. But how better to confront the vast force of nature that a glacier contains than by stepping foot onto one? On a glacier walk you’ll come face-to-face with the deep crevasses and jagged pinnacles that characterise a glacier.
Norway has around 1,600 glaciers but the most famous of them is the mammoth Jostedal glacier – the largest in continental Europe. You’ll find this icy behemoth tracing pathways through the beautiful Sognefjord in western Norway. And with 50 glacier arms, there are plenty of opportunities to explore these constantly changing landscapes.
The magnificent Nigardsbreen is a popular choice and considered to offer the best glacier walking in the area. Guided walks range from easy 2hr jaunts, suitable for all the family, to challenging half-day hikes. There’s also the option to go kayaking on remote glacier lakes on the east side of the Jostedalbreen.
8. Travel along the famous ‘Road of Trolls’
Trolls feature heavily in Norwegian folklore as spirits of the underground that run the gamut between playful helpers to fearsome trouble-makers. You might not catch sight of one on your visit to Norway but you can do the next best thing and travel along the Trollstigen (“The Trolls’ Road”).
It’s one of the country’s best-known roads, tracing a spectacular 55km-long route through deep valleys hemmed in by colossal mountains and crossing a bridge over the Stigfossen waterfall. The road reaches an icy plateau-pass that clocks in at 850 metres in height, and gets the adrenaline pumping with its jaw-dropping incline and eleven hairpin bends. There are a handful of viewing platform where you can take in the full extent of this incredible landscape.
The Trollstigen is just one section of the “Golden Route”, a journey that takes visitors from the breathtaking Geirangerfjord to the small town of Andalsnes. It’s very much seasonal and closed between October and April when the weather makes it too dangerous to travel.
9. Do an arctic boat safari
The remote and downright hostile Svalbard archipelago provides the setting for some of the wildest experiences you can find in Norway. Top of the list has to be heading out by boat to explore the ice-covered fjords and search for whales, seals and walruses. And if you’re lucky, you may even catch sight of a polar bear, the symbol of the arctic wilderness.
Boat trips range from half-day long excursions to nearby fjords, to week-long itineraries that circumnavigate the islands of Svalbard. You’ll get to see isolated bays, striking glaciers and, on some itineraries, the Russian settlement of Barentsburg.
Yet that’s not all that’s on offer in this part of Norway. In addition, the vast, glaciated landscapes are ideal for husky sledding while the summer brings a surprising array of migratory birds thanks to the abundance of food. Species include the instantly recognised puffin and great white pelican.
10. Dive into Norwegian culture in Oslo
The cosmopolitan capital of Norway leaves many visitors thoroughly charmed by its offering of world-class museums, innovative architecture and thriving culinary scene. In recent years the city has transformed itself to compete with Stockholm and Copenhagen as Scandinavia’s most likeable capital.
As the commercial hub of the country, Oslo is the best place to get to grips with contemporary Norway and its cultural offerings. Whether that’s in the form of fine art, food or furniture design, there’s definitely enough to keep you going for a long-weekend.
And it’s a handsome city too with a gorgeous setting that incorporates forested mountains, rippling waters and dozens of pretty islands. In fact, Oslo’s favourable location at the end of the Oslofjord ensures there’s unlimited opportunities for outdoor adventure, from summer hiking to cross-country skiing in the winter.
Want to experience these top things to do in Norway? Check out our range of Norway tours.