Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Emanuel Vigeland Museum
For a freakish sensory overload, enter the Emanuel Vigeland Museum containing his life's work and mausoleum - a specially designed vaulted chamber where you duck under a low door (and thus pay tribute to his ashes, interned above) to enter an eerie nave with almost zero lighting.
As your eyes adjust to the dark, you'll begin to discern enormous frescoes reaching up to a distant ceiling. These depict human life from conception to death (sometimes erotically). Entirely surfaced with smooth stone, the bizarre chamber has such incredible acoustics that visitors are required to wear cloth booties to deaden the echoing thuds created by the slightest footstep. Overheard cell phone user: 'Sorry mum, I'm in a pornographic church museum. I can't talk now. Call you later, bye!'
Jotunheimen National Park
This national park is one of Norway's best wilderness destinations. It has a network of hiking trails leading to some 60 glaciers and to the country's loftiest peaks (the 2469m/8100ft Galdhøpiggen and 2452m/8044ft Glittertind). The trails pass through ravine-like valleys, deep lakes and plunging waterfalls. Huts and private lodgings are along many of the routes.
Heddal Stave Church
Heddal stave church is Telemark's most visited attraction. It's an impressive structure and possibly dates from 1242, but parts of the chancel date from as early as 1147. Of great interest are the 'rose' paintings, a runic inscription, the bishop's chair and the altarpiece.
Visitors attending church services are welcome, but to avoid disruption, you must remain for the entire one-hour service.
This fascinating open-air museum contains around 150 buildings from different regions, mostly dating as far back as the 13th century. Though the buildings themselves are authentic, they're juxtaposed in a Disney-eqsue recreation of a fictive landscape. Even so, if you drink a few Aass beers and squint, you'll swear you've stepped back a few hundred years.
You'll wander past old banks, pharmacies, post offices, barns and farmhouses and see folk dancing and weaving and people dressed in festive costumes. The Old Town section reproduces an early 20th-century town and contains a petrol station, a general store, and a huge display of old toys, costumes, tools and appliances from around the country.
Akershus Slott & Festning
A visit to Oslo is incomplete without taking in the medieval Akershus Castle and Fortress. As you wander around the castle you'll find tiny rooms where outcast nobles were kept, in stark contrast to the far more elaborate dining halls and staterooms on the upper floors.
King Håkon V began construction of the earthen walled Akershus Festning (Akershus Fortress) in 1299. It is strategically positioned on the eastern side of the harbour and the parklike grounds offer excellent views of the city and Oslofjord. The grounds are the venue for a host of concerts, dances and theatrical productions during summer. The Akershus Festning Information Centre recounts the building of the fortress. In the 17th century, Christian IV renovated Akershus Slott (Akershus Castle) into a Renaissance palace, though the front remains decidedly medieval. In its dungeons you'll find dark cubby-holes where outcast nobles were kept under lock and key, while the upper floors have banquet halls and staterooms.
The chapel is still used for army events and the crypts of kings Håkon VII and Olav V lie beneath it. Tours of the castle are led by students in period dress, and provide entertaining anecdotal history; otherwise you can wander through on your own.
Norway is chock-a-block with festivals, which take place in every city, town and village. Most of these are held during the summer. Among the offerings are festivals dealing with rock music, wooden boats, film and cultural spectacles. Most notable is Norway's Constitution Day (17 May), when people take to the streets in traditional dress and attend celebratory events throughout the country, with the biggest bash in Oslo, where marching bands and thousands of school children parade down Karl Johans gate to be greeted by the royal family. Midsummer's Eve, celebrated by bonfires on the beach, is generally observed on 23 June, St Hans Day. The Sámi (Lapps) hold their most colourful celebrations at Easter in Karasjok and Kautokeino. Festivities include reindeer races, joik (traditional chanting) and concerts. By:Larm is a huge music festival celebrated in February at a different venue each year.
When to go?
Norway is at its best and brightest from May to September. Late spring is a particularly pleasant time - fruit trees are in bloom, daylight hours are long, the weather is mild and most hostels and sights are open but uncrowded. Summers are marked by the phenomena of the midnight sun, especially north of the Artic Circle. At Nordkapp, in the far north, the sun stays out from 13 May to 29 July, but nowhere in the country - even the far south, experiences true darkness between late May and late July.
Unless you're heavily into winter skiing or searching for the Aurora Borealis of the polar nights, Norway's cold, dark winters are not the prime time to visit, and many hostels and camp grounds outside of major cities close.
Travel Visa Overview
Citizens of the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand need a valid passport to visit Norway, but do not need a visa for stays of less than three months. The same is true for EU and European Economic Area (EEA; essentially EU and Scandinavia) countries, most of Latin America and most Commonwealth countries.
European plug with two circular metal pins
The country is at its best from May to September, and at its worst between November and March when average temperatures are below freezing. The typically rainy climate of mainland Norway is surprisingly mild for its latitude - thanks to the Gulf Stream, all coastal ports remain ice-free throughout the year. Average July temperatures are 16°C (61°F) in the Oslo area and 11°C (52°F) in the north, though temperature extremes are always possible. In January, the average maximum temperature is 1°C (34°F) in the south and -3°C (27°F) in the north. However, it can get much colder, especially in areas away from the coast. In midsummer the north sees no night and even southern Norway has daylight from to . On the other hand, most days in winter are at best comparable to twilight.
History and Culture
Norway has held fast to many of its cultural traditions and it's not uncommon to see elaborate folk costumes worn at weddings and other festive events. Traditional folk dancing, singing and storytelling (often featuring trolls) are also popular. The country has produced a wealth of artistic talent including the painter Edvard Munch, composer Edvard Grieg, sculptor Gustav Vigeland and playwright Henrik Ibsen. Norway has also produced three winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun.
Pre-20th Centure History
Norway's first settlers arrived over 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age. These early hunters and gatherers followed the glaciers as they retreated north, pursuing migratory reindeer herds. The country's greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age, a period thought to have begun with the plundering of England's Lindisfarne monastery by Nordic pirates in 793 AD. Over the next century the Vikings made raids throughout Europe, establishing settlements along the way. Viking leader Harald Hårfagre (Fair-Hair) unified Norway around 900 and King Olav, adopting the religion of the lands he had conquered, converted the people to Christianity a century later. The Vikings were great sailors and became the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Eric the Red, the son of a Norwegian exiled to Iceland, colonised Greenland in 982. In 1001, Eric's Icelandic son, Leif Eriksson, became possibly the first European to explore the coast of North America when he sailed off course on a voyage from Norway to Greenland. However, the Viking Age came to an end in 1066 when the Norwegian king Harald Hardråda was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England.
In the 13th century Oslo emerged as a centre of power. It continued to flourish until the mid-14th century when bubonic plague decimated its population. In 1397 Norway was absorbed into a union with Denmark which lasted over 400 years. Norway was ceded to Sweden in 1814. That same year a defiant Norway - fed up with forced unions - adopted its own constitution, but its struggle for independence was quelled by a Swedish invasion. In the end, Norwegians were allowed to keep their new constitution but were forced to accept the Swedish king. Growing nationalism eventually led to Norway's peaceful secession from Sweden in 1905.
Norway stayed neutral during both world wars but was occupied by the Nazis in 1940. King Håkon set up a government in exile and placed most of Norway's huge merchant fleet under the command of the Allies. An active Resistance movement fought tenaciously against the Nazis, who responded by razing nearly every town and village in northern Norway during their retreat. The royal family returned at the end of the war.
In 1960 Norway joined the European Free Trade Association but has been reluctant to forge closer bonds with other nations, partly due to concerns about its ability to preserve small-scale farming and fishing. North Sea oil and natural gas finds brought prosperity to the country in the 1970s, as left-wing governments over two decades fostered increased central planning, economic controls, socialised medicine, state-sponsored higher education, and what the government has liked to represent as the 'most egalitarian social democracy in western Europe'. Norway has since achieved one of the highest standards of living in the world.
Although modern Norway enjoys an EU concession which grants it trading privileges as a member of the EFTA (along with other European non-EU members Iceland, Switzerland and Liechenstein), it continues to remain outside the EU and has so far refused to compromise its position on fishing, whaling and other economic issues.
While a majority of Norwegian voters remain adverse to taking directives from Brussels and hope to maintain their internal controls and subsidies, many folk - particularly urban-dwellers and people in the southern part of the country - believe that Norway cannot remain forever isolated from the larger world economy.
Norway has lead many contemporary environmental initiatives, such as the creation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (2008), where seeds are stored to protect biodiversity. The government has recently declared a goal of making Norway carbon neutral by 2030, largely by purchasing offsets from developing countries.
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