There’s a freshness to Norway. Perhaps it’s because of the crisp, snowy winters that cleanse this quiet Scandinavian country every year, revitalising the cities, the countryside and its citizens for the long days of its northern summers.
Perhaps it’s the landscape; the jagged fjords that zigzag through the spearmint-blue waters of the coastline or the untouched forests that blanket the countryside, filled with edible bounty like blackberries, reindeer and sorrel which find their way onto the plates of the country’s world-renowned restaurants.
Or it may be the bustling but never-too-busy city streets and precincts, like Oslo’s pretty harbourfront, dotted with sailboats and large tubs of colourful blooms.
Whether you’re wowed by natural wonders or humankind’s great creations, Norway feels like a cool splash of water: revitalising and renewing. Here are five reasons to start planning the Nordic adventure of a lifetime.
Be awestruck by the northern lights
The silence is what most people find so staggering when they first view the eerie green gaseous trails that light up the northern night sky during the northern hemisphere’s winter months. It’s difficult to imagine how something so powerful and dramatic could slice through the universe without sound.
It’s a life-changing experience you won’t forget on one of Hurtigruten’s small group Follow The Lights tours that chase the magical Aurelius Borealis for between 14 and 18 days either northbound from Oslo, or southbound from Saariselkä in Finland. Both weave along the western Norwegian coastline and include a wealth of diversions beyond the lights, including an overnight stay in a genuine Snowhotel and the chance to explore Christmas-card pretty northern towns including Trondheim and Tromsø.
Taste Michelin-starred foraged-and-fished Scandinavian cuisine
Thanks to its dedication to fresh, foraged food, Scandinavia has enchanted the Michelin star reviewers for years. Norway is home to one of only two three-Michelin starred restaurants in Scandinavia: Maaemo in Oslo, which serves only wild, organic or biodynamic produce.
Re-Naa in the northern city of Stavanger boasts two stars and is known for its precise, artistic plating and for using produce found no further than 30 minutes from the restaurant.
And don’t discount the country’s one-starred offerings – the single starred restaurants are often the most creative, such as the extraordinary Under, which allows guests to marvel at the seabed as they eat, sitting 5.5 metres under the ocean off the coast of the town of Lindesnes.
See polar bears in the wild
The wild, Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and its island Spitsbergen is one of the best places to view polar bears anywhere on earth.
Hurtigruten Expeditions begin at the small research town of Longyearbyen, famous for its brightly coloured A-frame houses, before traversing the majestic white wonderland of these arctic islands, framed by towering glaciers and floating icebergs.
In summer, polar bears can be seen sleeping on the ice to conserve their energy, their buttery-yellow fur helping them to stand out from the bright whiteness of the ice. If you’re lucky you’ll see a mother and her cubs practising stalking seals and other prey on the icefloes.
On your journey to circumnavigate the islands, you also have a good chance of seeing rainbow-beaked puffins flying clumsily from rocky cliffs, fat walruses clumped together on the ice in their family groups and possibly blue, minke and beluga whales gliding through the ice-cold waters.
Admire one of the world’s most powerful paintings… twice
Norway’s most famous artwork is instantly recognisable; the disconcertingly startled face in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. In fact, Munch painted several versions of his masterwork and you can see two of them in two separate locations around Oslo.
But Norway has an artistic soul that goes beyond Munch. The country is dotted with galleries, museums and other creative centres. The Henie Onstad, on a forested and waterfront property just outside of Oslo, is home to a spectacular sculpture park, while the Stavanger Art Museum in the north houses more than 2600 artworks, including large collections from two of Norway’s most revered artists, Lars Hertervig and Kitty Kielland.
Explore dramatic fjords
The crinkled fjords of Norway are some of the most breathtaking on earth. Hurtigruten’s 12-day Classic Roundtrip Voyage begins in Bergen, then weaves in and out of the breathtaking Norwegian coastline to its icy north, from the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord which is flanked by towering cliffs and thundering waterfalls, to the lovely fjordtown Molde, also known as the City of Roses, which offers spectacular mountain views and, in summer, a famous jazz festival.
This trip also takes guests high into the Arctic Circle where their expedition ship sails past imposing glaciers that creak and crash as ice falls into the sea, as well as several stops that give a glimpse into the culture of the region’s native Sámi people. It can be taken in winter to maximise the chance of viewing the northern lights, or in the endless summer light of the warmer months, which is the perfect time for wandering in and out of restaurants, cultural hubs and shops at each port.
If you want to travel deeper into each destination, there are more than 70 optional excursions on each trip including mountain hikes, kayaking, cycling and guided museum visits.