Exploring Norway & its Experiences Round the YearRashmi S
Norway “the Land of Midnight Sun”, is a country which has 20 hours of Sunlight during the summer and 20 plus hours of darkness during winter.
Norway is a 12 month destination for travellers and offers different experiences in different times of the year. Whether it is about exploring the Fjords or hunting the Aurora Borealis, Norway never ceases to amaze people. Well, how can we forget about modern skiing, which originated from this country. There is more to Norway, beyond the Northern Lights and Fjords. Let’s take a look at the various experiences.
Travelling to Norway and not experiencing the Fjords would be a sin. The gateway to Fjords in Norway is a city called Bergen.
- Naeroyfjord: A UNESCO world heritage, it is an arm of the longest fjord in Norway, the Sognefjord. It is 17km long and it is very narrow in places – the narrowest point is only 250 meters wide. We would also recommend spending a few nights at Gudvangen, a small village at the end of the fjord.
- Sognefjord: This is the longest fjord in Norway. It is 204 km long and is also called King of fjords. While visiting this fjord, one must not miss a walk up the Jostedals Glacier.
- Geirangerfjord: This UNESCO world heritage site is a S shaped, 20 km long fjord. The view almost looks like mountains towering straight up from water and waterfalls dropping into the fjord. It is also known as “the Pearl of the fjords”
- Hardangerfjord: A little ahead of Bergen is Hardangerfjord, and along with it the other must experience are i the Folgefonna glacier, the Voeringsfossen waterfall as well as The Barony of Rosendal. For people hard-pressed with time, this is a quick option.
- Lseenysefjord: This place is easily accessible from Stavanger and can be seen from a boat only. The mountains are very steep for roads. The other huge attraction here is Pulpit Rock, the unique rock formation towering 604 metres above the fjord. Walk up to the top of the Pulpit rock takes about two hours each way. If Pulpit rock is in the agenda, a 2 nights stay at Stavanger is recommended. The Pulpit rock can be reached either by boat or bus. The hiking season for Pulpit rock is from April to October.
- Aurlandsfjord: It is right next to Naeroyfjord, and is located towards the end of Sognefjord. It is also home to Flam which is also known for Flam Railway. The other high point here is the Aurlands Valley, also known as the Grand Canyon of Norway.
- Nordfjord: Not very far away from Sognefjord, is the Nordfjord, which also offers opportunity for Glacier walks at Jostedalsbreen and Birksdalsbreen glaciers. This experience can be seen via cruise. The other specialty of this place is Stryn village, a year round winter sports resort.
- Trondheimsfjord: This 170km long fjord culminates in the 3rd largest city of Norway, Trondheim. There are a lot of islands along the fjord and they are all connected via ferries.
- Oslofjord: If you are in Oslo, this is a must. It is an inlet in the south-east of Norway. Packed with idyllic archipelagos, beaches and middle-sized cities, the Oslofjord is The Greece of Scandinavia and perfect for night clubbing and island hopping in the summer months.
Also known as the Northern Lights, aurora is a collision between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. It is named after the ancient Greek goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and Boreas, the Greek name for the north wind. If you are thinking about the Northern lights in Norway, do check out the following places
- Svalbard/ Spitsbergen: Spitsbergen, meaning pointed mountains is the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. Located just 800 miles from North Pole, it borders the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian Sea, and the Green land sea. Here you will find untouched arctic wilderness and unique wildlife in a setting that is both rugged and fragile at the same time. Experience the northern lights, enjoy dog sledding and stay at former radio station. And if you are lucky, you may just spot the Polar bears
- Tromso: Apart from being a young and vibrant town with lots of student population and great night life, Tromso is also very well connected by flights. Besides, the temperature in Tromso is comparatively mild due to the Gulf currents. This place also has a rich 11000 years old history
- Alta: It is also called the town of Northern lights as the first Northern lights observatory was built here at the end of the 19th century. Alta enjoys a good, dry and stable climate, with many nights with clear skies. The plus for this place is the fact that it is not as commercial. The other key experience in Alta that should not be missed is the Igloo hotel/ Snow hotel which is available only for a few months every year
- Kirkenes: This tiny Arctic town is located close to the Russian Border and is an ideal destination for hunting Aurora Borealis. The town has a mixture of Norwegian, Sami and Russian population. An interesting feature of the town is that the street signs are both in Norwegian and in Russian. It is a quiet and peaceful destination, and makes one feel that they are in the vicinity of the Arctic circle. The other big draw in Kirkenes is the Ice Hote. Imagine an overnight stay at a place where everything is made up of ice.
- Lofoten: This place has amazing landscape, but the winter here is as surprising. If Northern Lights is a big part of the agenda, it is better to hunt the lights in an alternate location as it may get difficult to get the clear skies. But the beauty of this place is very inviting. The mountains rise steeply from the fjord offering a superb view. The beaches of Flakstadoy and Vestvagoy are some of the most popular locations for shooting the northern lights.
The Midnight Sun
Midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs in summer months in places north of the Arctic circle or south of Antarctic circle. The sun remains visible throughout the night, or one may say that these are the days which never end and there is no hurry to head back home. These are some of the places to experience the midnight sun.
- The North Cape: A place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Arctic Ocean and their frigid waters mix…Nordkapp – the North Cape – in Western Finnmark, Northern Norway. Here, the summer sun doesn’t set between the middle of May and the end of July. Watching the midnight sun over the Barents Sea from the North Cape Plateau is a great experience. The other interesting experiences here are the bird cliff of Gjesværstappan, home to hundreds of thousands of puffins, gannets and cormorants, fishing for giant king crabs. This place is accessible by flight (Honningsvag airport) or by road from Lakselv airport or Alta Airport ( 3-4 hours). Or one can take the Hurtigruten cruise.
- Mount Ronvikfjellet in Bodo: The city of Bodo is squeezed between mountains, hills and the sea. This place is accessible by flight (Bodo airport) , by road and of course by the Hurtigruten cruise. The best option is ofcourse the cruise. Go golfing or kayaking under the midnight sun or fish in the world’s strongest tidal current.
- Lofoten: This place is blessed with a great landscape, but the midnight sun here really transports one to another world. Located almost 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, the summer sun doesn’t sink below the horizon for nearly two months. It is also called as late summer twilight. The best places to view the midnight sun on Lofoten are on any sections of coastline or mountains with a clear view to the north. A post dinner hike till dawn here is a great way of experiencing the Northern Lights
- Nupen: Also known as one of the most “romantic places in Norway”, Nupen offers a great view of the midnight sun as it descends towards the water. It is located outside Harstad in Kvaefjord.
- Narvik: In bright summer nights, Narvik looks like a landscape draped in yellow, orange and red colours from the glowing sun. Though the sun shines upon the entire city in the night, Narvikfjellet offers the best possible view. The Cable Car in Narvik is 656 metres/2152 ft above the fjord
- Tromso: Also known as the Capital of Arctic, this is also The Cable car is open past midnight in summer, with the sun above the Peak of Ringvassoya Island.
- Mount Komsafjellet in Alta: Ok, not really a mountain at 212 meters height, but it is located on a peninsula into the fjord, and almost appears like one . The midnight sun view in summer is magnificent from this place.
- Finnmarksvidda Plateau: This is a huge plateau, of more than 22 000 square kilometres. Apt for people who want to spend some me time with nature, to see wildlife or want to go on a hiking trail. Its northern location, it is a great place to experience the midnight sun
- Viewpoint Salen in Hammerfest: This is one of the northernmost cities in the world, and one of the oldest in the Norwegian north. There is an old cabin at Salen, which offers a panoramic view of the city and surrounding islands – and is also a great place to view the midnight sun
- Longyearbyen: What is exciting about Svalbard is that the midnight sun here lasts for 4 months. And if you are lucky, you can spot Polar Bears. Most people here are armed here, because polar bears are a real threat – hence it is advised to not venture out without a guard.
This is not about visiting the big cites, but really about small villages and towns with pristine beauty, museums narrating the Norwegian tales, amazing food and the overall Arctic appeal. Along with the cruise there are ample opportunities for Kayaking, hiking etc. Norwegian cruises range from 7 to 14 days. Bergen features in most of the itineraries, and there are other stops like Flam, Stavanger, Geiranger, Alesund etc. The Hurtigruten ships operate throughout the year and they go upto the Arctic circle covering islands like Svalbard, Kirkenes, Honnigsvag and Lofoten islands.
Whale watching in Norway
- The Lofoten and Vesterålen: Far in the north of Norway, are perfect places for whale watching all year long: While you can rely on seeing sperm whales in summer, orcas and humpbacks crowd the fjords full of fish in winter. Sperm whales are best spotted between June and August, occasionally also pilot whales, minke whales and various dolphins show up. During winter, one can see a lot of orcas and humpbacks and even the finback.
- Tysfjord near Narvik: This is a great destination for whale watching during winter
- Tromso: A great place to watch Humpback whales and killer whales, and what must be mentioned here is the breath taking landscape. This place is a real treat, as one also gets to see a group of whales chasing their prey.
Dog Sledding or Husky Rides
All love playing with dogs and it may appear a little difficult to think about a ride. But then dog is a trustworthy animal. Well, this experience is unique to the Arctic towns. Bond with the dogs, enjoy the cold wind in your face and sled across the frozen landscape and enjoy stunning views of the ocean and the land. Here are some of the places where one can enjoy a Husky ride.
- Lyngsfjord Tromso: The sled route here is totally uninhabited, with mountains and forest landscape. The other interesting experience here is spending a night at Sami herdsmen’s tent
- Alta: You can start with the airport transfer itself. At the outskirts of the town, is the Holmen husky lodge which offers exciting adventures
- Svalbard: Dog sledding takes you through a stunning landscape of glaciers, valleys and mountains, and into the land of the polar bear. The midnight sun dog sledding and also hunting the lights with husky ride is also a must do. One can opt for camping in the wilderness.
- Kirkenes: Approximately 1 hour away from Kirkenes, is the base for dog sledding at Pasvik. The place also has options for overnight stay at a Sami Lavvu tent.
The Atlantic Road
This has been called as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. This road has also been called the Engineering feat of the century. . The eight bridges of the Road are very popular. The dramatic Storseisundet Bridge, dubbed the “Road to Nowhere” and the serpentine Trollstigen (The Troll’s Path) offers a different experience and a stunning view from the top.
Flam Mountain Railway
Welcome to the world’s most scenic train ride and also the steepest railway in Europe. Traverse through some of Norway’s best landscape, experiencing lush fjord landscapes, steep mountains, spectacular waterfalls and snow-covered mountains. A highpoint of the journey is Myrdalsberget, where the route snakes down through 21 hairpins, before following the valley floor and Flåm River.
The Flam Line is a 20.2-kilometer (12.6 mi) long railway line between Myrdal and Flam in Aurland Norway, runs through the valley of Flamsdalen and connects the mainline with Sognefjord.
Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen)
Pulpit Rock or Preikestolen has been named one of the world’s most spectacular viewing points by both CNN Go and Lonely Planet.
It rises 604 metres above the Lysefjord. It is a mountain plateau of about 25 x 25 metres, which was shaped by the expansion of ice some 10 000 years ago and looks like it has been carved with a knife. The main hiking season is from April to October.
There are many ways to get to the Pulpit Rock, bus, boat or car from Stavanger.
Celebrating Christmas in Norway
Why should you Celebrate Christmas in Tromso?
December means dark nights in Tromso, but all lit up with concerts, cafes, nightlife and streets full of shoppers. The weekend Christmas fair is great for shopping, and take care of the tired mind with Christmas coffee or local beer at a restaurant. Lets talk about the must have delicacies during Christmas. Treat your taste buds with great sea food like the shoals of Lofoten cod and also lamb roll and brawn. And then there is music in the air. Tromso’s many choirs, the mighty organs in Tromso Cathedral and the Arctic Cathedral, as well as the fun-oriented Christmas groups, all create a festive atmosphere in the dark December evenings. . From the 24th to the 26th of December the city is generally quite dead, so for these two days head to a quite resort and soak in the nature. However, between Christmas and New Year, the cafes, shops and bars open up again for the people of Tromso, and it springs back to vibrancy again. And by the way , all other experiences like Northern Lights, Husky etc is available during this period. Only one word of caution, it looks very crowded vs any other time of year.
How about Christmas in Trondheim?
Well, Tromso would be the first recommendation, but if you have a few more days at hand, Trondheim should not be missed. Trondheim is really Norwegian – small, cosy, wooden.The place is much quieter, and looks very pretty …all snow clad and lit with colorful lights. Again, please bear in mind that from 24th to 26th December, everyone stays at home and celebrates with family and friends. For these 2 days, we would suggest staying in a resort upcountry side and enjoy the nature walks etc.
Few days in the Capital city – Oslo
Oslo sits on the country’s southern coast at the head of the Oslofjord. It’s known for its great architecture, green spaces, forest, fjords and museums. Oslo offers a good mix of heritage, history and nightlife. Some of the key attractions in Oslo are the Viking Ship Museum, Akershus Fortress, Fram Museum & Polar Ship museum, Norwegian folk museum, Vigeland Sculpture park and the Opera theatre. Guided tour of the Opera theatre is a must and it allows you to savour the architecture and also get a peek at the life backstage. Oslo has good options for Skiing and winter activities. By the way, one of the key attractions in Oslo, is the island hopping at Oslofjord.
After a hectic few days in Oslo, before you head out to explore more of Norway, get rejuvenated at the Thief Spa. Inspired by Nordic and Norwegian nature – slate, moss, sea and Nordic light – Thief Spa recreates rituals from Turkish Hammam, Moroccan Rhassoul and German Aufguss.
While Oslo is the capital of Norway and has a lot of interesting experiences to offer, spending a lot of time in this city would mean sacrificing some great experiences in other towns like Tromso, Alta etc. For people who want to get immersed in the Norwegian culture and nature, a good mix would be to spend 3 full days in Oslo and then to the other towns.
Norway for Kids and Family vacation
So, Norway is great, but is it safe ?
Now that I have created good interest for Norway in your mind, would also like to share my 2 bits about safety. I am a solo traveller who happens to be a girl and who has spent more than 2 weeks in this country. I had read that the crime rate is very low in Norway and hence was positive about it. While I was very impressed by the Norwegians in general, I guess they were equally surprised to see an Indian girl all by herself in a completely different country enjoying vacation in extreme weather conditions. And yes they wanted to know a lot about my country India, and the sunny days here. People are not very aggressive, though very to the point and no hint of rude behaviour. I felt very comfortable at the restaurants and pubs. As far as tours and experiences are concerned it is very economical to join a group. The tourism office at the city centre is helpful and always offers good advice. It is easy to book from the office itself, however, during peak season, it is better to do advance bookings as most of the activities are sold out. it is absolutely safe to venture out alone, but since the geography is new and google maps tend to deceive very often , engaging a guide is a great idea.
So, are you ready for the land of midnight sun and the haven of Aurora Borealis?