Questions about Norway: A Definitive Guide for Travellers
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Questions About Norway
Odyssey Traveller specialises in crafting unforgettable experiences for mature-aged travellers, providing adventure and educational programs to small groups since 1983. Odyssey has built up a reasonable knowledge bank to answer questions about Norway that travellers are likely to ask, as they make their plans to tour independently, or with us as part of a small group tour. We hope that this list of frequently asked questions and the answers we provide will help you with planning your next holiday.
Read on, but please do not hesitate to contact us via the website, or through email or chat if you have more questions about Norway or our other tours.
Found in the northwestern region of Europe, the Kingdom of Norway is one of the four countries that makes up the Scandinavian Peninsula. The west coast of Norway is bordered by the Norwegian Sea and Norway shares land borders with Sweden, Finland and Russia to the east.
Jan Mayen, a volcanic island in the Arctic Sea, and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The area of Norway, including these territories, is 385,203 sq km.
From about 10,000 BC, once great inland ice sheets had melted, humans migrated into the territory that we now know as Norway. For centuries, Vikings ruled this area, voyaging throughout the seas ad invading neighbouring countries. Overtime, loose national identities started to develop, including a group of people who saw themselves as Norwegians. Eventually in 885, Harald Harfagre (sometimes known as Harald Fairhair) united Norway into one kingdom, becoming the first king.
In the 14th century, Norway and Denmark entered into a union as a result of a royal marriage. Norway had lost some of its political power during this time with the Black Death having halved the population. In 1397, Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden. Sweden left the union in 1523 and Norway remained the junior partner in Denmark-Norway, with Copenhagen as the capital city.
As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was handed over to Sweden in 1814. While Norway initially resisted this cession, it eventually accepted a technical union with Sweden but retained its own constitution, parliament and institutions. The union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905 after the results of a referendum although Norway still celebrates its independence day based on the day their constitution was signed at Eidsvoll on 17 May, 1814.
If you would like more of an insight into Scandinavian history and the role of the Vikings, read our article on the topic here.
The English name Norway is thought to have come from an Old English word Norþweg, first mentioned in 880, which meant ‘way leading to the north’. This is probably how the Anglo-Saxons referred to the Norwegian coast which led to the Atlantic Sea.
The native name (Norge in Bokmål and Noreg in Nynorsk) is thought to have come from the word nór, meaning narrow water or inlet, potentially making reference to Norway’s fjords.
In 2017, Norway was named the world’s happiest country according to the World Happiness Report and has remained towards the top of these rankings ever since.
The report uses six main factors to measure a country’s degree of happiness: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust (perceived absence of corruption in government and business), perceived freedom to make life decisions and generosity (recent donations).
One of the reasons Norwegians are thought to be so happy is their high standard of living and strong welfare system. If you find yourself sick, unemployed or struggling to make ends meet, there is a safety net to fall back on. Education is accessible for everyone, inequality is low and there is little crime compared to other European nations. Commentators argue that these factors make for a more harmonious and safer society all round.
Norway also has a wealthy and stable economy due to its oil and gas exports. As well as this, it has significantly boosted its economy over the years through the exporting of petroleum while also having one of the largest reserves of hydro-power, minerals, natural gas, freshwater and seafood.
To add to this, Norway is rich in natural beauty and there are plenty of breathtaking sights to take in from rugged mountain ranges, to verdant forests and spectacular fjords.
As well as being known for its happiness levels, Norway is also known for its beautiful scenery, love of winter sports and of course, the Northern Lights. Here is a breakdown of some of things that help make Norway the amazing place it is.
- Fjords – while Norway is known generally for its epic natural landscapes, Norwegian fjords are simply breathtaking and most likely like nothing you have seen before. Geologically, a fjord is a a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created when a glacier retreats creating a U-shaped sea undersea valley. Norway is home to nearly 1,200 fjords, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage-listed. Some fjords worth visiting include Geirangerfjorden, Lysefjord and Sognefjord (Norway’s longest and deepest fjord stretching 204km with a depth that reaches 1308m). As well as being some of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders, the fjords are also Norway’s most iconic landmarks.
- Wildlife – Norway’s spellbinding wilderness and expansive coastline are not only beautiful, but are also home to a wide range of flora and fauna that you may have the chance to catch sight of it. The remote Svalbard is home to polar bears, walruses, Arctic foxes and reindeer and in Andenes and Tromso you are likely to see whales, puffins and seals if you’re there at the right time. Norway is one of the best places in the world to catch sight of migrating seabirds and has a rich birdlife all throughout the country.
- Winter Sports – The Norwegians invented skiing and have won considerably more medals than any other nation in Winter Olympic history, so it is unsurprising that winter sports are immensely popular. Not only can you enjoy skiing in Norway’s north, but you can also partake is dog-sledding, reindeer-sledding, snowmobiling, tobogganing and extreme skiing.
- The Northern Lights – In Northern Norway (and parts of central Norway) between late September and late March, you can witness the celestial wonder that is the Northern Lights. There are a few areas that are deemed to be the best viewing spots but generally, weather allowing, they are easy to see in this part of the country. If you would like to learn about photographing the Northern Lights in preparation, please read our guide.
Norway has two official languages: Norwegian and Sami.
Norwegian is the most widely used language in Norway, spoken by 95% of the population. However, there are two ways of writing Norwegian. These two written standards are known as Nynorsk (‘New’ Norwegian) and the Bokmål (Book Language, based on written Danish). Both Bokmål and Nynorsk are taught in school in Norway and generally if you understand one, you will understand the other.
Norwegian is a North Germanic language that is a linguistic descendant of Old Norse. Its closest relatives are Swedish and Danish and in fact, the three languages are similar that it is said you can speak Norwegian to both Danes and Swedes and they will understand you.
The Sami people are indigenous to Northern Scandinavia and though many Sami people also speak Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian, depending where they live, many also speak their indigenous Sami languages. North Sami is spoken by around 15,000 Norwegian Sami. The Sami languages are part of the Uralic language family.
With a land of such incredible landscapes, it is no surprise that Norwegian cuisine is equally captivating and colourful. Known for its wild berries, pickled fish and fresh waffles, Norway is home to some of the world’s best restaurants and there is no shortage of interesting dishes to try. Here are some things you should look out for if you find yourself in Norway.
- Fish, in every form possible – whether its poached, pickled, cured, smoked or raw, Norwegians love their fish, which should not come as a surprise given its expansive coastline. Gravad laks is made by marinating salmon in sugar, salt, brandy and dill and is served with a creamy sauce. Stokfisk, or dried salted cod, is a Norwegian staple and fiskeboller (fish balls) is made by blending a white fish with eggs, milk, and flour and forming it into balls.
- Meat – Norwegians also love their meat and it is one of the few places in the world where you can try reindeer meat, which is considered one of the leanest and healthiest red meats. Some other speciality meats you could try in Norway include deer, grouse, elk and moose.
- Cheese – cheese is also a Norwegian staple and many Norwegians enjoy dry crispbread topped with cheese, cucumber, tomato and a type of pickled herring for breakfast each morning. The most well known Norwegian cheese is probably brunost, a brown cheese that is made by boiling whey until it caramelises.
- Berries – Thanks to its cold climate, Norway is perfect for growing berries of all different kinds. The most popular edible wild berries include ones you probably know like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries but also ones you may not have heard of such as bilberries; muskeg crowberries, lingonberries and amber-coloured cloudberries, which are considered a delicacy.
The currency in Norway is the Norwegian Krone (NOK), which is sometimes mistranslated into ‘crown’ in English. There are 100 øre in 1 krone.
Although debit or credit cards are accepted at most places in Norway, it is still a good idea to have a bit of cash on you. Unlike other countries in Europe that may have their own currency but accept the Euro, foreign currency is rarely accepted in Norway so you do need Norwegian currency to get by.
Norway has a reputation for being expensive, although some argue this is undeserved. Alcohol is heavily taxed and this is reflected in the price. Here are some typical prices of staples in Norway.
- 1 litre of milk: NOK 20 / 2 EUR
- Cappuccino at a coffee bar: NOK 40 /4 EUR
- Cinema ticket: NOK 150 / 14 EUR
- Meal in a budget restaurant: NOK 200 / 20 EUR
- Bottle of beer in a grocery shop: NOK 35 / 3.5 EUR
Norway truly is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth and there is so much to do and see here. With jaw-dropping glaciers, rugged forests and rocky coastal islands set against a pristine Arctic backdrop, you are sure to be awestruck wherever you may go. Here are some highlights that you must try and see for a memorable trip.
- Oslo – the oldest of the Scandinavian capital cities, Oslo was once considered the poor cousin to Stockholm and Copenhagen but has developed into a vibrant city abuzz with cultural activities in recent years. With a vivacious culinary scene, plenty of captivating museums and bucolic parks, there is plenty of fun to bad had in the nation’s capital. In Frogner Park, you will find Vigeland Park which is the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist and features over 200 pieces by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. You can also visit the Royal Palace which was built in the first half of the 19th century as the Norwegian residence of the French-born King Charles III of Norway. Today it is home the Norwegian royal family and is surrounded by the Royal Palace Park. Oslo is also recognised as one of the world’s greenest cities and was named the European Green Capital for 2019, thanks to its low carbon footprint, excellent public transport system and a commitment to sustainable food production. If you’re in Oslo, it is worth taking the Oslo-Bergen Railway which is has been labelled one of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys. It passes through forests and past fjords on its way to another beautiful city.
- Bergen – Norway’s most westerly port city is surrounded by seven mountains and considered to be one of the country’s prettiest cities. With a medieval quarter that dates back to when Bergen was an important trade centre for the powerful Hanseatic League, Bergen is full of history while also buzzing with contemporary cultural life. Enjoy the picturesque harbourside, brightly-painted wooden warehouses, art galleries and the surrounding fjords and mountains.
- Lofoten Islands – there is nothing quite like the Lofoten Islands, whose tall, craggy peaks are set against the open sky. The islands are a hiker’s dream and there are unparalleled views of the surrounding Arctic waters. Dotted with idyllic villages and sheltered bays, this is one of Norway’s most breathtaking spots.
- Svalbard – if you’ve ever dreamed of travelling to the North Pole then a trip to Svalbard might be the next best thing. This magical archipelago of snow-dipped peaks, majestic glaciers and statuesque icebergs is otherworldly in so many ways, particularly because it is said to be home to more polar bears than people. Take in the epic landscape and keep an eye out for wildlife and discover the history of this fascinating place.
- Tromso – Often seen as a the capital of North Norway, Tromso is situated inside the Arctic Circle and its amazing mountain setting makes it a spectacular place to visit, particularly in summer during the period of the ‘midnight sun’. During the time the sun often glows red at night. Tromso is known for being a lively and upbeat city, despite the polar surroundings, with more pubs per capita than any other city in the country.
- Geirangerfjord – Geirangerfjord is Norway’s most famous fjord and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is easy to see why. It is one of nature’s most incredible pieces of work, with huge cliffs and plunging waterfalls framing sparkling blue water. The scenery is undeniably magnificent, which explains why the site receives around 1 million visitors annually. One of the best ways to see the fjord is a ferry journey through it from Geiranger and cruise to some of the fjord‘s most secluded reaches.
Norway is party to the Schengen Agreement which means if you stay less than three months, you have a passport valid for six months, and you are a European, American, Canadian, Australian, or Japanese citizen, you don’t need a visa. If you are from another country, you may require a tourist visa.