The idea of ‘Norway’ often invokes images of reindeer herds, dazzling Northern Lights, igloo hotels, and the impossibly beautiful Fjords. Yet, did you know that Norway also holds some of Europe’s prettiest cities and villages?
As you can imagine, the people of Norway enjoy their nature year around. After all, the country boasts access to amazing hiking trails, cycling, white water rafting in the summer months. And in the winter, of course, it’s all about dog-sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling. Yet, Norway has more to offer than its gorgeous natural sights. In fact, Norwegian cities are bursting at the seems with cultural beauty and activity, including breathtaking museums, architecture, and delicious culinary traditions. As travelers often note, Norwegians are serious about their food!
So, if you are planning a trip to Norway, you may want to consider a visit to some of these lovely cities; in fact, you may even want to plan your trip around the calendar of festivals that take place in some of Norway’s most beautiful cosmopolitan areas. Let’s take a look at some of Norway’s most popular cities!
The capital of Norway, Oslo is on the country’s southern coast at the head of the Oslofjord. Many people connect Oslo with green spaces and spectacular museums, but most of Oslo’s attractions are quite laid-back. If you’re a history buff, you must visit the Royal Palace where you can learn all about the history of Europe’s most famous royals. Architecture enthusiasts will also enjoy the grandiose structure of the palace. The interesting part about this palace is that many members of the royal court work here, and foreign heads of state regularly stay on-site during official visits.
I also wasn’t kidding when I said Oslo has many museums: the Fram Museum offers a glimpse of Norway’s polar history; the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design offers travelers an opportunity to view extensive collections about art and architecture; the Viking Ship Museum provides a fascinating glimpse into Norway’s deep Viking roots; and the Holmenkollen Ski Museum is, as you might guess, completely dedicated to skiing (and it also enjoys the distinction of being the world’s oldest museum). At the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, visitors can learn about traditional Norwegian architecture, early farm life, and Scandinavian culture. The Vigeland Museum is an art museum filled with sculptures, portrait busts, sketches and more!
Apart from the world of museums, Oslo is also home to Vigeland Park, known as the world’s largest sculpture park featuring works by a single artist. Its highlight is its 200 plus bronze, granite and wrought-iron sculptures created by the park’s namesake, Gustav Vigeland. Outdoor buffs will also enjoy kayaking and canoeing in the Oslo Fjord or taking a cruise around the gorgeous cliffs. Water vistas are also available from many parts of the city including the Oslo Opera House.
Norway’s second largest city, Bergen lies in the mountains overlooking the sea. Though it is a large city, it also has a small-town charm and vibe. Its residents observe many cultural traditions, and the friendly locals will be happy to give you recommendations to the surrounding attractions. The city is young, as around 10% of the population are students. Bergen also has its roots in the Viking era; in fact, this city was the center of prosperous trade between Norway and the rest of Europe. The Hanseatic Wharf is the most obvious remnant from that time, and is home to many of the city’s restaurants, pubs, craft shops and historical museums. Bergen is also well known for the seven mountains surrounding the city center, as well as its sprawling fish market, and for being home to one of Norway’s most popular cultural events, the Bergen International Festival, held every year.
Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway and is home to more than 30,000 students. Among the most visited sites is the popular Trondelag: the Nidarosdomen cathedral is an impressive sight and serves as the national sanctuary of Norway built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Some of the museums in Trondheim also have exciting exhibitions like the National Museum of Decorative Arts, the Trondheim Museum of Art, and the Archbishop’s Palace Museum. Norway’s national museum of popular music, Rockheim, can also be found in Trondheim.
If you veer away from the city center, Bymarka offers an ideal recreation area for walking and jogging, a network of trails leading to viewpoints and refreshments. Trondheim is also known for its shopping, particularly in historic Bakklandet, where you can buy handmade clothing made from scratch or by adapting old garments. Local food is also a strong focus here in the city, and many local establishments serve a wide range of locally brewed beers, often offered with specialty dishes that are specifically developed to accompany the beer.
Stavanger is a beautiful old town with lots of history. It also has quirky museums and stunning nature, all of which are quite easily reachable from the city center. Old Stavanger (Gamle Stavanger) is a small historic area that has lovely restored wooden buildings from the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. More than 170 houses have been restored, and a visit to this historic quarter with its white wooden houses and colorful flowers is not to be missed! Also, I’m partial to narrow cobbled streets with old fashioned street lanterns that make me feel like I’m stepping back in time—so if you want to feel the authentic Norway, this is a great place to spend some time!
The Norwegian Canning Museum located in Stavanger is an old canning factory where you can learn the importance of the canning industry, as well as partake in some fun hands-on activities. You can thread sardines, for example, lay them in cans, and maybe even taste some depending on when you visit! In addition, the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which was built as a replica of an oil platform, will surely catch your eye immediately with its special architectural design. It also provides visitors with a plethora of information about oil and the importance of the petroleum industry in Norway.
For the nature buffs, Lysefjord is a beautiful fjord you can see while taking a lovely on a boat tour, and the Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen, is one of the most popular hikes in Norway. The world’s longest staircase – Florli 4444, is also a day trip from Stavanger, and it is an unique experience if you decide to climb it! If you’ve ever seen a picture of a round rock stuck in the mountain crevice, often with a person standing on top of it, that’s the Kjeragbolten hike and another popular day trip from Stavanger. Although, it is important to note that this is a strenuous hike that takes about 6 hours to complete and can only be done in summer.
Tromso is ideal if you want to see the northern lights, and the city will offer a mix of outdoor activities, nightlife, and local food options. Tromso is the largest city in Northern Norway and is located 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle. As it bills itself as the gateway to the Arctic, there’s definitely a very polar vibe to this small city. Popular activities include a visit to a Husky home, the Northern Lights cable car excursion, a tour on the Fjords, a visit to the Ice Domes, the Arctic Panorama Cable Car excursion and the five-hour polar fjord cruise.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Norway adventure today!
Written by Preethi Chandrasekhar, follow her for more travel stories.