Oslo - the city among the hills. Oslo lies at the end of the Oslofjord and is surrounded by green hills and a vast forest area called Oslomarka. Both winter and summer, Oslo's nature lovers are enthusiastic users of these woods as well as the fjord. The name Oslo may actually have meant at one time «the meadow of the gods». Besides its functions as the capital city, Oslo is also the business and cultural centre of Norway and is considered one of the world's foremost shipping cities.
Many large and important cultural institutions are located in Oslo, providing its inhabitants and guests a rich and diverse selection of concerts, theatre and opera, museums and galleries. With all its sidewalk cafés, restaurants and well-appointed shops, Oslo has as much to offer as any other European city.
Interspersed among the cities and towns around the Oslofjord and further south along the coast are many idyllic sites and places where people have weekend homes. Tønsberg, Norway's oldest city founded in 871 AD, is today a bustling administrative, trade and shipping centre. This Vestfold city boasted the country's largest fortress during the Middle Ages, one of the king's royal residences, and a Franciscan cloister, plus being one of Norway's three Hanseatic cities in the late Middle Ages.
The three counties along the Oslofjord, Akershus, Østfold and Vestfold, are all small in area but this is where many of the large agricultural areas are, and 1/5 of the population lives here. Akershus is influenced by its proximity to the capital, and many of the city's suburbs are found here. Besides agriculture and forestry, activities in these counties are based on industry, business and service. The new international airport - Gardermoen - is in Akershus country. Vestfold has been famous for shipping already from Viking times, and it is here that the Viking ships Oseberg and Gokstad were found buried. But doubt Østfold still has the greatest concentration of historical monuments in eastern Norway.
Telemark county is rich in traditions and folk art and is one of Norway's oldest tourist districts. The area has vast forest and mountain areas and many small farms. The county is also rich in hydropower, which has supported several different industries. Morgedal, a mountain village that has the distinction of being the cradle of skiing, is today the home of an adventure park called Norwegian Ski Adventure. The Bandak Canal stretches inland from the coast and is the only watercourse in Europe that has been awarded Europa Nostra's highest award for restoration and preservation. A trip through the canal on your own boat or on the old «Victoria» is a true adventure.
The Olympic city Lillehammer is situated in Gudbrandsdalen Valley in Oppland county, a district famous for winter sports. It was also the home of one of Norway's greatest authors, Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset, who wrote Kristin Lavransdatter. A Norwegian literature festival named after Sigrid Undset is held annually and is open to guests. Valdres is another large valley much visited by tourists. It too is rich in folk art and old buildings. There are still active mountain farms in the area, especially up around spectacular Jotunheimen to the far north of the county. Jotunheimen is popular both summer and winter.
Mjøsa, Norway's largest lake, extends into both Oppland and Hedmark counties. Hedmark stretches along the Swedish border from Mid-Norway and south past Kongsvinger. There is more farmland in Hedmark than any other county. Much of the county is also covered by forest, which you can have no doubts about when you drive Higway 3 out of Oslo or take the train north towards Trondheim going through Østerdalen Valley. Forestry is an important industry well-documented at the Forestry Museum at Elverum.
Norway's longest river, the Glomma or Glåma, which begins a little north of the county border with South-Trøndelag, runs through Østerdalen Valley and feeds into the Oslofjord at Fredrikstad.
Hamar on Lake Mjøsa has cathedral ruins and the «Viking ship» athletic stadium. These ruins of one of the country's loveliest churches is a symbol of the Christianising of Norway nearly 1000 years ago. The unique athletic stadium, Olympia Hall, which was built for the 1994 Winter Olympics, is a symbol of the architecture and ideals of our time.
Each has its own qualities and attractions. Geirangerfjorden has many superb waterfalls. Sognefjorden is the world's longest fjord. Broad and mighty with lush, green farm areas on both sides of the outer portion, the inner portion is often narrower and has steeper mountainsides that plunge straight into the water. Hardangerfjorden is equally varied along its course, but it is the exquisite flowering of the fruit orchards that make it extra special.
In Lysefjorden you
will find the majestic mountain formation called Pulpit Rock, where only the
most daring among us venture out to the edge. The farms of the fjord
district are small and not easily operated. There are, however, handsome
manor estates and beautiful wooden hotels in Swiss or dragon style that were
built in the very early days of tourism.
Southern Norway, which comprises two counties - Aust-Agder (East-Agder) and Vest-Agder (West-Agder) - is the closest we come to a Norwegian Riviera.
The hallmark of southern Norway is its coast with the grassy holms and skerries that guard the mainland from the harsh Skagerrak. This area has more sunny days per annum than anywhere else in Norway, making it a veritable holiday paradise for Norwegians. Many local communities gain a whole new life when their populations double several times over during the summer. That is when all the vacation homes, hotels and pensions fill up with happy vacationers who come to swim, sail, scuba dive, fish for crab and mackerel and listen to the screams of the seagulls. Others wander inland into the hills, do some mountain climbing or go river rafting.
Kristiansand is southern Norway's largest city, and its weathered old homes and pulsating summer atmosphere make it a very charming city indeed. Way out in the Kristiansandsfjord you will find Flekkerøy, Oksøy and other islands plus Grønningen lighthouse, besides the coastal skerries that teem with life in the summertime. Kristiansand's most popular attraction, for children especially, is the zoo and Kardemomme by.
With their white-painted houses nestled between flowering gardens and sun-bleached rocks, the little white southern towns of Lillesand, Tvedestrand, Risør, Brekkestø, Gamle- and Ny Hellesund are like pearls strung together on a necklace. When Norwegians mention the word «idyllic» it is usually this southern coastline they have in mind. Lyngør island at the edge of the open sea is peppered with closely-built wooden houses that line a cozy, sheltered harbour. It has been designated Europe's best-preserved village.
Shipping was the original economic base for this region. Many of its men were sailors, fishermen or boat builders. This traditional coastal culture is the foundation for Norway's leading position in today's international shipping. Shipwrecks and a monument to those who fell in the battle of Lyngør in 1812 are some of the many historical memorials here.
The typical southern Norwegian, allegedly born with webbed feet and a special kind of good-naturedness, is immortalised in the writings of two of the region's best-known authors, Vilhelm Krag and Gabriel Scott.
Central Norway's two counties, Nord-Trøndelag (North-Trøndelag) and Sør-Trøndelag (South-Trøndelag), are the two most important agricultural counties in the country. Trondheim is the heart of the area and Norway's third largest city. It is a green city with wide streets and modern buildings standing side-by-side with picturesque wooden houses and narrow lanes.
In the middle of town is the beautiful Stiftsgården, one of the royal residences and the third largest wooden building in the Nordic countries. The Salmon River Nidelven winds gently through the centre of the city.
Beyond the wide, open spaces of these counties towards the Swedish border in the east and the Dovre plateau to the south, stretch expansive mountain plains and majestic mountains. The northern part of the coast is strewn with both large and small islands and the sea is quite rough here. Further south are the islands Frøya and Hitra, which are now connected to the mainland by tunnels. From here, the Trondheimsfjord reaches 130 kilometres inland to Steinkjer, the administrative centre of Nord-Trøndelag. There are several good salmon and sea trout rivers in this country including the famous Namsen.
These two Trøndelag counties are full of Norwegian history. People say that if you took everything about Trøndelag out of all the history books, you would only have the book covers left. One of the many historic sites is Stiklestad in Nord-Trøndelag, where King Olav Haraldsson (later St. Olav) fell in battle on July 29, 1030 (Olsok Day). Every year around Olsok, the story of Olav is re-enacted on a beautiful outdoor stage. The play, the music and the setting make it an unforgettable event. The Stiklestad National Culture Centre has a folk museum and a resistance museum with many fascinating exhibits. The old stone church there dates from 1180.
St. Olav was buried in Nidaros, which was what Trondheim was called for several hundred years. Nidaros Cathedral was erected over his grave, and during the Middle Ages it was a pilgrim site on par with Santiago de Compostela in Spain. For four centuries, pilgrims came seeking consolation, help and miracle cures. This national shrine is also where Norwegian monarchs have been crowned - - the two last of whom chose to be anointed rather than be crowned.
The mining town of Røros in Sør-Trøndelag is Norway's only mountain city. It was founded in 1644 after copper ore was discovered on the Røros plateau and mining operations commenced. The region's author, Johan Falkberget, has captured the special atmosphere of this city due to its unique history and natural setting. All traces of the since discontinued mining operations, and all of the approx.100 preserved timber houses are some of the cultural keepsakes on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Today, modern industry, trade and tourism characterise this old mining town, along with the agriculture and reindeer industries of the surrounding area. Now the challenge to the town's inhabitants is whether they can preserve their past within a modern society.
North-Norway comprises Nordland, Troms and Finnmark counties. It is the Land of the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights. Although summer nights vary with the weather, you'll still sense the gentleness of arctic light no matter what the weather. People simply forget to go to bed, preferring to visit with each other far into the night.
In the middle of winter, on the other hand, the lights at dawn turns to dusk without ever becoming daylight. That is when you can see the Aurora Borealis sending cascading light and flames across the heavens for up to 20 hours per day. Regardless of the season, it is certainly its extreme light conditions that fascinate about this region and make it such an exciting place to visit.
Northern nature is very diverse. While the coastal landscape of Finnmark is stark with mountain plateaus tipping down towards the sea, there are also forested valleys with lush river banks and small farms. The coastline of Troms and Nordland is livelier and more vegetated, but the mountains seem more unapproachable. The entire coast from the Arctic Circle to east Finnmark is called «bird rock channel», because there are thousands of birds of all species in the air, in the sea, on the islands and in the mountains. Part of this channel, the island archipelagos of Lofoten and Vesterålen is a remarkably beautiful place to visit.
Finnmark was the site of one of the oldest settlements in Norway, the Komsa culture, which seems to date back to 8000 BC. The Sami live mainly in Finnmark, although their settlements extend as far south as Mid-Norway.
Fishing and farming have been the region's principle industries and have formed people's way of being and their outlook on life. They are typically open, direct and hospitable with a lusty sense of humour that most certainly has been an asset when the going gets rough. North Norway has many cities, some of which bare the mark of reconstruction after WW II. Tromsø, the region's largest city, is very charming and absolutely worth a visit.
The region offers many challenges to outdoor lovers - summer, winter, land or sea. Choices include sea or inland fishing, whale safaris and scuba diving. If you want to move under your own power, there is more than just mountain climbing; there are plenty of hiking opportunities in gentle terrain too. As for accommodation, the choice includes everything from first-class hotels to youth and family hostels to the very unique experience of staying in a fisherman's cabin or rorbu with a rowboat moored right outside your door.
The Coastal Express Voyage has been called the world's most beautiful sea voyage. You can cruise the entire coast on an express boat from Bergen to Kirkenes in Finnmark. You may also extend the trip to Svalbard by air or by boat.
This Arctic island archipelago is under Norwegian sovereignty, but there are both Norwegian and Russian settlements there. Mining and research are the primary activities, in addition to tourism on a small scale. Since the tundra climate makes the natural balance of Svalbard extremely vulnerable, there are strict limits on what people are allowed to do. Activities include hiking, glacier walking, dog sledding and snow scooter safaris.