Norway is a dramatic country that stretches from the west, north and east shores of Scandinavia with a distance of nearly 2,000 miles separating south from the northeast. The country is stunningly beautiful, being the land of the fjords, where deep inlets of the sea cut into the coastline, sometimes almost up to a hundred miles or so. Huge mountains rise from the seabed to flank the fjords whilst inland mountain ranges, vast plains of Arctic tundra and taiga forests cover the land.
Norway has some of the world highest and most attractive waterfalls formed by raging rivers that plunge from plateaux onto the plains below them. The towns and villages, mostly found around the coast, have for centuries depended on fishing or merchant shipping from when Norway has the third largest merchant fleet in the world. Many of the towns retain the brightly coloured wooden houses around small harbours whilst the cities seem to be the only places that have developed a taste for modern architecture.
The development of Norway came from that of the Vikings and their ancestors, the Norsemen. They controlled half of Europe in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries and sent explorers to the Middle East via the Mediterranean, America, Iceland and Greenland as well as forming part of the Danelaw kingdom in the UK. Normandy was named after them and the Normans were direct descendants of the Vikings as a version of the word Norsemen. Many areas of the country still have relics of their time with longship burials, ancient Viking settlements and museums crammed with their belongings, some of which were traded from distant lands.
Getting to Norway is an easy task from the UK and many other parts of Europe. Five UK airports have flights to Oslo’s Gardermoen airport whilst Sandefjord Torp, 70 miles south of Oslo, takes budget flights from Ryanair from five regional airports in the UK and from Dublin. Rygge, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromso airports all have flights from the UK with a variety of airlines.
Within Norway the distances are huge and the terrain isn’t conducive for easy ‘point to point’ travel, so many choose to take internal flights which are quick, cheap and efficient. This is especially so with destinations in the north of Norway when weather conditions add to the difficulties. Wideroe, the national budget carrier, has a great deal in summer with unlimited travel for the cost of a return flight. An alternative is to use the Norwegian rail system. It operates on an unusual network with routes operating out of Oslo to all the major cities. There are no long distance routes along the west coast and from the main cities, only local commuter trains operate. The mainline trains are comfortable, efficient and cheap and also have the benefit of passing through some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery. Some trains have sleeper cars for longer journeys whilst most intercity trains have standard and ‘comfort’ classes.
An exhilarating way of making your way through the islands and fjords of the west coast or from city to city along the coast is to take the coastal catamaran ferries whose prices and service are similar to trains. You’ll be constantly on deck photographing the scenery as you pass and if you’ve got the time, as ferries are a slower way of travelling, you’ll enjoy the experience. An alternative to the train is to travel by bus. Favoured by students and younger travellers because of the lower cost, buses are nevertheless, very comfortable, offer a good standard of service through the journey and, whilst taking longer to get to a destination than trains or planes, you are still getting the chance to see a lot of Norway en route.
Hiring a car is another good option as it allows you a leisurely trip through the countryside. You can stop where you like and guesthouses are popular overnight accommodation stops. Roads in Norway are well maintained and there are fast motorways to get you quickly between cities. Be aware that many of these incur a toll. The difficulties for drivers come with very expensive fuel and even more expensive car hire. Once out on the roads you’ll find other drivers are generally considerate and even in the cities, where signage isn’t always what it should be, they will forgive a tourist who gets confused.
Driving in winter needs particular care; you must have either winter tyres or snow chains fitted as appropriate in winter and there are heavy fines for non-compliance as well as the chance your car will be impounded. In the north, most roads are cleared by snowploughs but sudden heavy snowfall can make driving difficult and tiring. You’ll also need to look out for large animals crossing such as elk and reindeer in the north as well as the potential for bears.
Norway has nearly fifty regional airports allowing you to see most of the country very easily. Some are accessible directly from the UK but others can only be reached by internal flights. If you decide upon an adventure in the freezing north of Finnmark, or want to visit the fjords of the western coast, take a look at our suggestions of what to do in the area around the regional airports and plan a great trip to a relatively undiscovered gem of a country.