From precipitous glaciers to steep-sided gorges and crystalline fjords, Norway’s natural beauty is impossible to overstate. The unspoilt wilderness of the Arctic north is one of the few places where the sun shines at midnight during the summer and where the magnificent Northern Lights brighten the skies during the long winter dark. Further to the south, the picturesque cities of Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen are brimful of buildings showing off Scandinavia’s age-old flair for design in cosmopolitan surroundings. Oslo is the present-day capital and financial centre, while the country’s second city, Bergen, is a picturesque former Hanseatic trading port and gateway to Fjordland. Stavanger is the focal point of the Norwegian oil industry and former capital, Trondheim, is a long-established centre of Christian pilgrimage, and more recently, technical research. Beautiful though the cities are, the real wonders of Norway are to be found outdoors, with ample skiing, fishing and rock-climbing opportunities for the adventurous and nature lovers alike.
With so many natural marvels to choose from, the hardest part of planning a trip to Norway is working out where to start. In the far north, the glacier-covered subpolar peninsular of Svalbard is one of the few areas where polar bears can easily be seen and was made famous as the home of the polar bear kingdom in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Elsewhere, a ferry trip along Geirangerfjord has to rank among the world’s prettiest voyages with pine-topped cliffs giving way to icy green water, regularly topped up by the waterfalls that cascade down the fissured sides of the ravine. Away from Norway’s scenic splendours, the UNESCO-listed Bryggen waterfront in Bergen is a colourful jumble of picturesque wooden warehouses overlooking the busy harbour. Oslo’s waterfront is no less beautiful and has a brand new, ice-white Opera House that could give Sydney’s version a run for its money. Waterfronts and fjords aside, one of the highlights of a trip to Norway has to be getting to grips with the indigenous Sami people whose territory forms part of the northern tip of Norway as well as neighbouring Sweden and Finland. The traditional sleds might have been dispensed with in favour of snowmobiles, but the culture lives on in the form of the joik (a rhythmic poem) and handicrafts such as leatherwork and smithery.