Norway is a place of great extremes – in temperature, in light and darkness, in cost, and most significantly in beauty. Few countries can boast the immensity of natural beauty that Norway has to offer. It’s small population has resulted in vast, unspoiled vistas, while its unique geography provides some amazingly beautiful mountainous landscapes, and the worlds most accessible polar region. Natural beauty also comes in the form of a diverse range of unusual wildlife, such as whales, polar bears and reindeer; and in the famous and unique Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Another national phenomenon is that of the ‘midnight sun’, making Norway one of few where over the summer, the sun never sets below the horizon.
Norway is also one of few places world-wide to offer year round skiing, as well as a host of other adventurous outdoor activities, while for those who desire a less active break, Norway also has popular and cosmopolitan European cities – the bustling capital, Oslo, and the famously attractive city of Bergen, European City of Culture for 2000, and the train journey between the two cities is said to be one of the most attractive in Europe.
The far northern end of Norway makes up a large part of Sami Land, better known as Lapland, which reaches across the top of Norway, Sweden, Finland and even as far as Russia. The area is named after the indigenous people, the Sami, though many people visit the area for its more famous (though fictional) inhabitants, Santa and his elves!
Norway, like much of Scandinavia, is very expensive, and even the most frugal traveller can expect to fork out $30 a day for basic costs, and everything must be paid for, from museum entrances, to coffee refills and toilets. The best budget options for accommodation are camping, or shared cabins, but these can be some way from the centre in larger towns and cities. These remote little wood huts are suprisingly cheaper than you think, and offer warmth and luxury, something you’ll be grateful for given Norwegian weather. The other option is to stay in the homes of locals, which can be arranged through Tourist Offices.
The national currency is The Norwegian Krone, made up of 100 ore, and abbreviated to NKr or Kr. Exchange rates are approximately as follows:
£1 = NKr 12
$1 = NKr 8
1 Euro = NKr 7.5
Check with your local currency exchange bureau for up to date exchange rates.For up to date currency information, check the Currency Converter.
The population density of Norway and Lapland are remarkably low, being home to a fraction of the population of England. The people of Norway are predominantly Nordic, descended from Northern and central European tribes who migrated Northwards thousands of years ago. Over fifty per cent of all the Sami people in Lapland actually reside in Norway, and are its largest ethic minority. They traditionally survive by herding reindeer, hunting and fishing, though this fascinating way of life is being rapidly diminished by encroaching Westernisation.
Transport in Norway, both bus and train, is notoriously expensive, but highly efficient, while hiring a car is a viable option only if the cost can be divided between a number of people. The roads are of high quality, and constantly improving, but this is funded by the numerous road tolls and expenses are further increased by expensive petrol. As you travel further north, particularly into more sparsely populated areas of Sami Land, transport becomes more limited, and is predominantly by plane, boat, dog sled or snow mobile!
A popular way of travelling the length the country is by the Hurtigren coastal steamer, which links 33 towns, and runs daily from Bergen. The journey is expensive, but does offer the budget option of sleeping on deck, for the determined shoe-string traveller.
Eating, like all else in Norway, is very expensive, and the food is infamously simple, but as interest in tourism increases, as does the availability of high quality national food. The two most common foods are cheese (such as Jarlsberg) and fish. Fresh fish is readily available, but unique to Norway are the enormous variety of preserved and dried fish dishes, some of which require you to have quite an adventurous palate. In Sami Land you will have to develop a taste for reindeer meat, a staple present in almost all of their meals.
Drinking in Norway is not really an option for the budget traveller, mark up on alcohol can be as much as 300%, but as a non-EU country, duty free can be bought on the way in, and this is probably the best way to fuel your parties while travelling. A more popular past time in Norway is the drinking of coffee, which above any alcoholic beverage comes close to being the national drink. However, if you insist on tasting a local drop, try aquavit or akevitt, a strong spirit produced from potatoes, flavoured with caraway, and aged in sherry barrels.
The official language of Norway is Norwegian, which is split into two languages, Bokmal, andNyorsk, both are very similar and understood by all Norwegians, but often result in two authorised spellings of place names. Like much of Scandinavia, many people speak good English, though this does diminish in more rural areas. The Sami have their own language, said to be one of the most difficult in Europe, but it is rapidly dying out due to lack of use.
Norway has one of Europe’s coldest climates, and suffers much rain, but is fortunately made more temperate by the Gulf Stream. In the main cities, such as Oslo and Bergen, average monthly temperatures very rarely drop below zero degrees, but inland areas temperatures reach greater extremes, and in the Sami Land frequently drop as low as -30 degrees centigrade during the Christmas tourist season.
The main tourist season in Norway is June to mid-August, and is the best time to visit as this is when the temperatures are most manageable, the days are at their longest (this is the period of the midnight sun for the more northern reaches), and when tourist attractions are open the longest hours. However, if you’re here to see Santa at Christmas time, you can expect long hours of darkness, as well as the extreme cold, though there is the added bonus of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
For most Norwegians dress is casual but fashionable, with an emphasis on protection from the elements, a trend the traveller is well advised to follow. It is essential to pack warm clothing, including many layers, and preferably down clothing if you are planning to travel out into the wilderness, or are visiting in the winter months. Don’t forget your waterproofs too, particularly if you’re planning to visit Bergen, where it is said to rain 300 days of the year!
Risks are minimal, and similar to those of much of Western Europe. Particular care should be taken to ensure fish is fresh and well cooked, and vitamin supplements are advisable, as fresh vegetables can be hard to find cheaply. Water is possibly the only cheap thing in Norway, as all tap water is drinkable, however, if you’re going trekking it’s best to always purify river water before drinking it.
More adventurous travellers planning to trek in the Northern wilderness should be aware of the risks of hypothermia, and be able to spot the symptoms, as well as other important survival skills. Course are available for those considering this option.
Most residents of European countries, the US the UK, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries can travel to Norway for up to three months without a visa, but your passport must be valid for three months beyond your intended stay.
By Guilia Vincenzi
March Globe Guide
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