FILLED WITH TOWERING PEAKS, DEEP COASTAL FJORDS, VIBRANT CITIES, AND PLENTY OF SPACES TO ENJOY NATURE’S GREATEST LIGHT SHOW, NORWAY OFFERS AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
BY ELIZABETH HAZARD
Spread along the western edge of the Scandinavian peninsula, the Kingdom of Norway is a treasure chest of wonders. Deep blue fjords are abutted by steep, forest-covered mountains, and red-sided cottages dwell on rocky archipelagoes. Shop for keepsakes at UNESCO-designated wharfs, climb on top of a massive glacier, or soak in a floating spa above the Arctic Sea. For ten years, Norwegians have been ranked among the happiest people on the planet by the World Happiness Report, attributed to the concept of koselig, which loosely translates to the feeling of coziness and comfort. The mirth here is contagious, even in the dark hours of the Polar Night. Half of the country is located in the arctic, so if you visit in winter, be prepared for little to no sunlight depending on the location (certain parts of northern Norway don’t see the sun for two and a half months). But the darker the sky, the better your odds of peeping at the Northern Lights!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Norway is a big country with a small population. Distances between day-trip destinations might take longer than expected when navigating small, windy roads with low-speed limits and limited public transportation options. Most international flights go through Oslo, Norway’s capital, and there are three direct flights out of JFK each week on Norse Atlantic Airways. Be sure to book hotels and travel reservations early, at least three months in advance (Northern Lights hotels will book up even earlier). Many Nordic establishments don’t accept cash, so come prepared to pay with credit or debit cards. If visiting in winter, don’t forget to pack serious cold-ready clothing and gear. Average February temperatures in Oslo hover around 20-30 degrees F, and get even chillier the farther north you travel.
Norway is the perfect setting for taking in the Aurora Borealis, a breathtaking natural phenomenon caused by activity on the surface of the sun. More commonly seen here than anywhere else, the light show is often visible on the stretch along the coast of northern Norway from Lofoten to the North Cape which is best seen on clear, dark nights and is most frequent in late autumn through late winter/early spring. Watch the auroras swirl and dance from an ice hotel, or embark on a lights hunting activity, from dog sledding to a snowmobile tour. You can also opt for a nighttime cruise or guided safari.
The Norwegian Fjords in western Norway are rated by National Geographic Magazine as one of the best travel destinations in the world. A Fjord is a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland. They are simply majestic to behold as their natural states have been beautifully preserved. Quite impressive is the Geiranger ord, which is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The glaciers, fjords, sea, and mountains in the Nordfjord area provide draw-dropping, beautiful scenery. The Tromso Fjords wind through inlets and islands that back onto icy summits. The waterways are made up of long networks that would have formed during the Ice Age. Fjord cruises, safaris, or hikes are all great ways to explore the grandeur of the Norwegian fjords.
Norway’s lively capital cannot be missed if you’re looking for great local food and rich culture. City highlights include the Royal Palace, Oslo Opera House, the Viking Ship Museum, Nobel Peace Center, Munch Museum, Oslo Cathedral, Vigeland Park, and the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design. Karl Johans Gate surrounds the Royal Palace and stretches between Oslo’s downtown train station and Palace Park. Here you’ll find a dizzying array of vibrant boutiques, cozy cafes, buzzy nightclubs, and luxury hotels, o erring an authentic taste of Norwegian culture.
WHERE TO STAY
Storfjord Hotel makes the promise to slow time down to wait for you. The “slow life” hideaway features breathtaking scenic views, new dining, wellness treatments, and activities like skiing, fishing, kayaking, helicopter rides, safaris, and more. The cozy, cottage-style rooms are decked out in authentic Norwegian dishes, and many feature balconies, deep soaking tubs, and fireplaces. Every room comes equipped with complimentary walking poles and fishing rods, and guests have the option to rent snowshoes and small fishing boats. Rooms begin at around $350 per night. storfjordhotel.com
SCANDIC HOLMENKOLLEN PARK
After an extensive renovation, Scandic Holmenkollen Park Hotel in Oslo recently reopened its doors to the public. Rich in history, the destination in itself is located next to the Holmenkollen National Ski Arena, widely regarded as a skier’s paradise. Refresh and relax with a dip in the pool or a visit to the refreshed spa. Waffle buffs: don’t miss breakfast at the hotel’s locally loved restaurant, Midtstuen. Rooms begin at around $600 per night. scandichotels.com/hotels/ norway/oslo
Looking to add even more adventure to your Norway getaway? Snowhotel in northernmost Norway is truly unique. A stay here finds you completely surrounded by ice and snow. If that’s too chilly for you, opt to stay in one of the hotel’s Gamme Cabins inspired by traditional fishing huts. There’s an aptly named Snow Restaurant with yummy options, or you can grab a cocktail at the hotel’s ice bar. Rooms begin at around $500 per night. snowhotelkirkenes.com
DINE AND DRINK
A world-class restaurant lives up to its motto: perfect simple. Award-winning Norwegian chef Sven Erik Renaa creates innovative dishes that celebrate the many flavors and landscapes of the region. The menu focuses on hyper-fresh ingredients from the sea, the fjords, the forest, and the mountains surrounding the area. The menu varies daily depending on the ingredients available. restaurantrenaa.no
The Michelin star-rated restaurant Maaemo consistently ranks among the top for its new Nordic cuisine. Chef Esben Holmboe Ban focuses on local traditions and uses only organic, biodynamic, or wild produce. It’s quite fitting that the restaurant’s name is Finnish for the term Mother Earth. The seasonal tasting menu is $455 per person and another $250 for wine pairings. maaemo.no
Norway is home to Europe’s first underwater restaurant, submerged along Norway’s southern coast in Baly. Guests sit 16 feet below the water’s surface in front of a 36-foot acrylic window. The restaurant is an eye-opening, adventurous experience, one that puts intrepid diners up close and personal with the wonders of the sea. The menu includes an 18-course, seafood-centric option with wine pairings. Reservations are required well in advance.
DAY TRIPS AND TOURS
SILENT WHALE WATCHING
This whale-watching cruise takes place on a hybrid boat with a silent engine to increase your chances of spotting the wondrous creatures in their natural habitat. An underwater drone and hydrophone captures both images and sounds of the killer and humpback whales. It’s a powerful, majestic experience. ordtours.com
SEVEN SISTERS WATERFALL
Take in the beauty and grandeur of the Seven Sisters Waterfall from a guided kayak tour from Geiranger Kayak Center. The tour lasts between three to four hours as you kayak down the fjord with a group of no more than eight. You’ll stop between the two famous waterfalls, the Seven Sisters and the Suitor, where you will be able to capture breathtaking images of the fjord and the surrounding areas.
NORTHERN LIGHTS HUNT
Chase the night sky in search of the Northern Lights with a small-group tour out of Tromso. Hunters warm up next to a glowing camp with a bowl of soup before the search begins. An expert guide will then take you on a spellbinding journey through the arctic to chase down one of nature’s most visually stirring phenomena. This experience includes professional photos that are emailed to you later. viator.com