Northern Norway cabin in snow against night sky and northern lights

Travel Guide: Norway, the Land of Dancing Lights and Midnight Sun

While recently browsing Netflix, I came across Norwegian show Ragnarök and guess what, my quarantined soul decided to binge watch yet again !! Based in a fictional town of Edda in Norway, it’s based on an old Norse legend wrapped in a complicated high school drama. Spectacular panorama combined with mysterious mythology definitely served as a perfect recipe for me to add Norway to my Jacuzzi List. So here’s a little something about my new favorite scenic paradise on earth. For someone far east and further down south like me, Norway is all the more dreamier mainly for the dancing northern lights which is a once in a lifetime experience. Norway is one of the best locations in the world to see the northern lights. Northern Norway falls right in the middle of what is called the “Northern Lights Belt”, a zone which is known for its auroral frequency and intensity. But there is so much more to Norway that you have to see to believe. Well in present case, read to believe !

Natural Fjord laden landscapes to snow covered mountains, midnight sun to dancing lights, cascading waterfalls to breathtaking lakes, words can’t possibly do justice to the scenic fairyland that this Kingdom of Norway is. The epic coastline that Norway boasts of is incredibly long, stretching all the way from the Oslo fjord down to the sunny south, in and out of the many western fjords and then stretching out for many, miles northward before bending around the top of the Scandinavian peninsular to meet with Russia. Among one of the happiest, freest, prosperous, just, developed, democratic and transparent countries in the world, there would be hardly any international ranking report in which Norway doesn’t top the charts. Norway is a unitary constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government with Monarch being the commander-in-chief of the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard is a Scottish penguin. Yes, you read that right ! Brigadier Sir Nils Olav has held the title since 2005, but the involvement goes back to 1972 when the regiment adopted a penguin from Edinburgh Zoo. The name ‘Nils Olav’ and ranks in the Norwegian military have been passed down through three king penguins since 1972. The current holder is Nils Olav III. Norway can also be conveniently called international skiing capital of the world as it has the credit of inventing the sport of Skiing – both modern and ancient. The island of Rødøy, in northern Norway, is home to rock carvings of a skier that dates back 4000 years. Finnmark is home to the oldest preserved ski ever found, at an incredible 2,300-years old. As for modern day skiing, Sondre Norheim is said to be the father of the sport. In the late 19th-century, he began using stiff ski bindings so he could swing and jump with less risk of falling. His new ski design – the Telemark ski – led to the modern skis we love so much. I am sure it’s no wonder Norway is the star of Winter Olympics, having won the maximum number of medals so far.

Booklovers might rejoice in the fact that most of the hangout places graced by the fictional detective Harry Hole are for real. I would also like to drop the sweetest fact about Norway. Freia chocolate factory in Oslo has served as the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Amazing isn’t?

Tales of Time

Norway History
Photo by Mikita Karasiou on Unsplash

Norway certainly has had an interesting history. There have been people inhabiting the land since prehistoric times especially in the north. But of course most people associate Norway with its Viking Age, from the 8th to the 10th century AD. The story of this Scandinavian paradise dates back to 11000 BC with the first inhabitants belonging to Ahrensburg Culture, which is named after the village of Ahrensburg, 25 km (15.53 mi) north-east of Hamburg in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where wooden arrow shafts and clubs have been excavated. The oldest finds are stone tools dating from 9,500 to 6,000 BC, discovered in Finnmark (Komsa culture) in the north and Rogaland (Fosna culture) in the south-west. Around 3000 BC this region saw human settlements near the coast as well in the southern part. Indo-European peoples settled Norway’s coast in antiquity, establishing a permanent settlement near the present capital of Oslo around this time which can be termed as the Bronze Age. Dependent on fishing and farming, early Norwegians developed a seafaring tradition that would reach its apex in the Viking era, when Norse warriors regularly raided the British Isles, the coasts of western Europe, and even the interior of Russia. Viking seafarers raided, traded, and colonized all across Europe and the Atlantic, from the British Isles to Iceland to even eastern Canada. Did you know that the Vikings founded cities like Dublin and Reykjavik, and first settled Normandy?  The Kingdom of Norway was founded all the way back in the year 872, when several different kingdoms were merged by the Viking king Harald Fairhair. The Kingdom has existed ever since, though it of course has changed shape and has often been part of larger kingdoms with Denmark and/or Sweden. Norway separated (peacefully) from Sweden in 1905, and has been sovereign even since. Building its fortunes as a major maritime transporter of the world’s goods as well as a world leader in specialized shipbuilding, it ventured into offshore oil and gas exploration in the 1970s and by 90s, it emerged as a major petroleum exporter in the world. 

People, Cultures and Religion

Photo by Simon Williams on Unsplash

Due to its extraordinary location, Norway has managed to maintain cultural and demographic homogeneity, thus avoiding characteristics of geographic crossroads. The nucleus of the population is Nordic in both appearance and heritage. However they weren’t the first inhabitants to settle in this arctic territory. The original inhabitants are Sami people who arrived in Norway at least 10,000 years ago, perhaps from Central Asia. A small number of them still continue to practice traditional reindeer herding on the Finnmark Plateau. Formerly subject to widespread, even official ethnic discrimination, the Sami are now legally recognized as a distinct culture and have been granted some measure of autonomy through the Sami Parliament and the Finnmark Act. Sami has also been recognized as an official language along with Norwegian. 

As for religious affiliation, 90% of Norwegians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran national church, the Church of Norway, which is endowed by the government. The largest groups outside this establishment are Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Lutheran Free Church members, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, and Baptists. Asian immigration has also brought in presence of Islam and Buddhism to the region. The national costume, the bunad, is characterized by double-shuttle woven wool skirts or dresses for women, and a colorful three piece suit for men. 

Norway has preserved much of its old folk culture, including a large body of legends concerning haugfolket (pixies), underjordiske (subterraneans), and vetter(supernatural beings).  Storytelling and folklore, in which trolls play a prominent role, are still common. If this interests you further, you can read more about Norwegian Art and Culture here.

Things to Do/See in Norway

GEIRANGERFJORD – Photo by M on Unsplash
  • Norwegian fjords – Norway boasts more than 1,000 fjords but here let me serve you the bests for starters. You can opt for a fjord cruise/train tour too. 
    • GEIRANGERFJORD – This Norwegian beauty was deservingly placed on the UNESCO World Heritage site list with Nærøyfjord in 2005. Geirangerfjord consistently ranks amongst the top contenders for the title of “world’s most stunning fjord”. Home to tranquil waters and mighty mountains it has powerful waterfalls including the famous Seven Sisters and the Bridal Veil.
    • NÆRØYFJORD – Also a UNESCO heritage site, it has its own distinct charm and is equally breathtaking.
    • SOGNEFJORD – Known as the ‘King of the Fjords’ because it’s the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. Its dramatic scenery of steep mountains and deep blue waters make for dreamy Instagram photo op.
  • Oslo – It is the capital and is one of the most popular cities bursting with fantastic nightlife. There are plenty of museums to keep you engaged, including a detailed look at a preserved 9th-century Viking ship, the world-famous Munch Museum, and Vigeland sculpture park containing a jaw-dropping 227 nude figures carved from stone, cast iron and bronze.
  • Bergen – home to Bryggen, an iconic series of colorful wooden houses that have been inscribed onto UNESCO’S World Heritage List. It is the starting point for cruises to the dramatic Sognefjord and also an ideal based for adventure activities like hiking, RIB boat safaris and kayaking. You will be surprised to know charming as they come; no wonder, it is the city that inspired the makers of Disney’s ‘Frozen.’
  • The Lofoten Islands – If you desire white sandy beaches and pristine emerald waters in Norway, this is the place to be. This archipelago in the Norwegian sea is where the wind, sea, wildlife and skies are at the most elemental and its people are deeply connected to their land. Orcas swim in the sea, white-tailed sea eagles soar overhead, and locals harvest soft, yellow, cloudberries and catch cod
  • Trondheim – Norway’s third-largest city sits on the Trondheim Fjord, bang in the centre of the country. It has a lively student population, street events, plenty of cafes and restaurants, and its attractions often feature on lists of the best places to visit in Norway. These include the Nidarosdomen cathedral, built over the grave of St. Olave, the patron saint of Norway, the National Museum of Decorative Arts, the Archbishop’s Palace Museum and Rockheim. Oh, and don’t miss a visit to Hell, a small town with over a 1000 people, just a walk away from the Trondheim international airport.
  • Svalbard – It has already been established as a first-rate Aurora-spotting destination. However, there’s so much more to the set of islands than the elusive lights. One of the northernmost inhabited places on the planet, Svalbard is a true Arctic haven. Two thirds of the surface are protected by national parks, reserves or sanctuaries. Nicknamed the realm of the polar bears, their population exceeds the human population. The area is perfect for sightseeing other Arctic wildlife. This includes Svalbard’s only native land mammals the reindeer and Arctic fox, as well as birds, walruses and whales.
  • Alesund – It is one of the prettiest and most colourful towns in Norway. The combination of art nouveau buildings sitting harmoniously alongside are a sight to behold. To get this panoramic view of the town and the Sunnmøre Alps you must walk the 418 steps from the town park to viewpoint Aksla.
  • TROLLTUNGA – a gravity-defying rock formation that juts straight out of the mountainside. The rock formation hangs, unsupported, more than 700 mts. above Lake Ringedalsvatnet and provides mind-blowing views that make the 10-to-12-hour hike to get here totally worthwhile.
  • TROMSØ – Known as the “Gateway to the Arctic”, Tromsø is a natural stopping point on any journey to the Norwegian Arctic Circle. Set at the heart of Norway’s “aurora zone”, Tromsø is proudly recognized as one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. In the months of May and July, the sun only sets between 3-5 hours each night. In June, nearer the summer solstice, the sun doesn’t set at all. You can catch the midnight sun here. 
  • Northern Lights – Norway has always held a fascination with the northern lights, aka the aurora borealis. And in the more distant past, Norse mythology held that the northern lights were reflections of the weapons and armor of the Valkyries, casting a strange flickering light across the land.    
  • StavangerStavanger has about 120,000 residents and is Norway’s fourth-largest city and a fascinating mix of old and new. Its history stretches back deep into the Middle Ages.

You can book tours for travelling across Norway as it makes your travel more convenient as well as fun. You get the opportunity to meet like-minded people and share your experiences. I personally felt this blog here by “girlabouttheglobe” has done a great job at summing up info on various tours and operators across Norway.

Food in Norway

Norwegian cuisine is delicious. Period. The cities and towns are full of cool contemporary restaurants that focus on local and seasonal food. The whole country has a love of foraging! As is expected, seafood in Norway is fantastic! Did you know that Norway introduced salmon sushi to the world, including Japan ? One can visit the northernmost sushi restaurant in the world, in Svalbard. You have got to try brunost, a popular Norwegian caramelized brown whey cheese. Both the Vikings as well as the local topography have had a significant influence on Norwegian cuisine. Here are some of the popular traditional dishes.

  • Kjøttkaker – It is a combination of seasoned minced meat with many minor ingredients such as rusk or onions. After shaping them into small meatballs, this delightful mix is pan-fried and simmered in gravy before being served with creamy cabbage or mushy peas.
  • Pickled Herring – It is a very simple recipe in which brined herring is treated with salt and vinegar to preserve the fish. For many visitors, the taste is quite sweet and sour, while onions and various spices can make pickled herring especially unique.
  • Lutefisk – It is one of the more traditional meals in Norway. Dried cod is soaked in lye to create this festive dish and the tradition dates back to the 16th century. After being soaked in lyre, the cod is rinsed in water several times and then the fish is served with potatoes, bacon and mushy peas.

You can read more about the interesting cuisine of Norway here

For accommodation, you can check out the respective sites below, which pick out places according to your customized preferences. 

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