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The country of Norway

Norway is a wildly beautiful country of snow-capped mountains and deep glacier-carved fjords. The astounding scenery of the southwestern fjordland is the main drawcard for tourists, but there are many incentives to visit this sparsely inhabited country. It offers remote wildernesses and outdoor activities, fairylike forests, historic towns and charming fishing villages, down to earth friendly people, and the lure of the Arctic Circle with its famous Midnight Sun and surreal Northern Lights. It also boasts some of the most scenic bus trips, boat cruises and train rides in the world.
 
‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’, with its long summer days, is not only for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, but offers a rich cultural heritage from the Vikings, the traditional nomadic Sami people of the remote northern regions, and world-renowned artists such as Edvard Munch. Principle cities of interest are Oslo, the prettily sited capital; the historic trading port of Bergen, situated on the fjords and gateway to the Fjordlands; and hilly Tromsø within the Arctic Circle, the centre of the Northern Lights activity. They are pleasant, low-key cities that offer a good range of museums, historical sights and unique architecture.
 
Norway’s greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age, when the sleek Viking ships crossed the Atlantic, and Europe was subjected to numerous raids. Traditionally Norwegians were explorers, and their influences are evident from the Viking settlements established in Scotland, to the more recent personalities like polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and the legendary Pacific crossing of Thor Heyerdahl on his wooden raft, the Kon-Tiki.
 
Today Norwegians hold onto many of their cultural traditions, most notably the art of storytelling that takes place around the fireside to while away the long winter hours. Trolls figure prominently in their folklore, some friendly and helpful, while others are naughty characters that conveniently serve as a source of blame for all of life’s troubles
 
Basics
 
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in October).

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are in use.

Money: The official currency is Norwegian Krone (NOK) divided into 100 øre. Notes are in denominations of NOK1000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Major credit cards and travellers cheques are accepted by larger establishments. Foreign currency and travellers checks can be exchanged at banks and major post offices, as well as many hotels and travel agents, although for poorer rates. ATMs are available in all towns and cities.

Language: Norwegian is the official language, but English is widely understood.

Entry requirements for Americans: US passport holders must have a passport valid for at least period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: UK passport holders must have a passport valid for at least period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian passport holders must have a passport valid for at least period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australian passport holders must have a passport valid for at least period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South African passport holders require a visa for travel to Norway. Passports must be valid at least two months beyond the visa expiry date.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for at least the period of intended stay. A visa is not required for a stay of up to three months in any six month period.

Passport/Visa Note: All visitors must have sufficient funds, or return or onward tickets, and any documents necessary for further travel.

Health: The standard of healthcare is high. A reciprocal agreement exists between UK and Norway under which British nationals are covered for emergency treatment whilst visiting Norway as long as they hold a valid E111 form (available from UK post offices). Travellers should ensure that they have adequate travel and medical insurance.

Tipping: A 10 to 15% service charge is added to most hotel and restaurant bills and a further tip is only necessary if exceptional service has been received; waiters often receive an extra 5 to 10% tip. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped, but the fare can be rounded up if the driver has been helpful with luggage.
Safety: Norway is a safe country in which to travel, however travellers should still take sensible precautions to avoid petty-theft.

Customs: Smoking is prohibited in all public places and on public transport, unless otherwise indicated.

Communications: The international access code for Norway is +47. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City codes are not required. Most of the country is covered by two operators providing GSM 900 mobile phone networks. Internet cafes are widely available

Contacts

Norwegian Tourist Office (Norges Turistråd), Oslo: +47 2414 4600 or www.visitnorway.com
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 333 6000
Royal Norwegian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7591 5500
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 6571
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3444 (Chancery)
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 6100
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 662 1800
United States Embassy, Oslo: +47 2244 8550
British Embassy, Oslo: +47 2313 2700
Canadian Embassy, Oslo: +47 2299 5300
Australian Consulate, Oslo: +47 2247 9170
South African Embassy, Oslo: +47 2327 3220
Irish Embassy, Oslo: +47 2201 7200
Emergencies: 112/110

Airports

Oslo Airport (OSL)

Location: The airport is situated 29 miles (47km) northeast of Oslo. Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in October). Transfer to the city: An airport bus travels between the Oslo Bus Terminal in downtown and the airport, with night services connecting to every arrival (NOK90). There is also an Airport Express train and a variety of taxis that go to the city centre. Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz. Facilities: Facilities at the airport include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, a post office, left luggage, duty-free, tourist information and hotel reservation kiosk. Business facilities are available including fax and internet access. There is a selection of bars, shops and restaurants. Disabled Facilities are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance. Website: www.osl.no

Bergen Flesland Airport (BGO)

Location: The airport is situated 12 miles (19km) south of Bergen. Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in October). Transfer to the city: An airport bus (NOK60) services the city centre. Taxis (about NOK250) are available outside Arrivals. Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Europcar InterRent, National and Hertz. Facilities: There are a selection of shops, bars and restaurants at the airport, other facilities include a bureaux de change, ATMs, left luggage, duty-free, a post office, child facilities, tourist information, hotel reservations and business facilities with fax and internet access. Disabled facilities are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance. Website: www.lv.no

OSLO:   Set in beautiful surroundings, is the oldest of the Scandinavian capital cities, founded by a Viking king in 1048. Situated at the inner extremity of a 70-mile (110km) long fjord, the city’s boundaries encompass large areas of forest, the setting for many Norwegian tales about princesses, heroes and trolls.

Despite being Norway’s largest city, it has a relatively small population and a low-key atmosphere, with a mixture of old medieval buildings and churches, modern architecture, wide streets, a surprising number of excellent museums and galleries, and acres of parks and gardens.

The Bygdøy Peninsula, a short ferry ride across the water, is a sought-after residential area encompassing a fascinating cluster of museums, including the large open air Norwegian Folk Museum that presents a walk-through insight to the country’s geography and history. Nearby, the Viking Ship Museum, the Polar ship Fram Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum provide an intriguing look into Norway’s varied seafaring past.

Other attractions include the Munch Museum, housing a vast collection left by the city’s famous artist Edvard Munch, Vigeland Park with its interesting collection of sculptures, and the medieval Akershus Fortress dominating the seafront.

Oslo is a capital city representing national and international cultures, with a centre that pulsates with bars and pubs, busy cafes, restaurants and theatres. The main street, Karl Johans Gate, is lined with shops and is the popular haunt of street artists. The city’s thriving and vibrant character has given it a cosmopolitan atmosphere and it has become a natural choice for important events such as the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony that it hosts annually in the City Hall.

ATTRACTIONS IN OSLO:  Vigeland Park is the city’s most visited attraction, a vast green area of duck ponds, trees and lawns that is a monument to the celebrated Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, who spent 40 years creating the life-size statues that decorate the walkways and open spaces. There are more than 200 works presenting the human form in a variety of poses and conveying a range of emotions. At the centre of the park is the most impressive piece, the Monolith, a gigantic mass of writhing bodies carved from a single column of stone, and believed to be the largest granite sculpture in the world at a height of 46ft (14m). Surrounding the column are groups of human sculptures in various forms of interaction with each other. The most famous and most photographed piece is the Angry Boy, a fat child stamping his foot. There are many more sculptures to be seen in the park and in the nearby Vigeland Museum, featuring a display on the development of the artist’s work and his sketches and plaster originals.

Address: Frogner/Vigeland Park, Nobelsgate 32; Telephone: (2) 254 2530; Transport: Buses 20, 45 and 81 and trams 12 or 15 all go to the park; Opening time: The park is always open. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10am-6pm and Sundays 12-7pm (May to September), and from Tuesday to Saturday 12-4pm and Sundays from 12-6pm (October to April); Admission: Free admission to the park. The museum costs NOK30 (adults) and NOK15 (children)

The Kon-Tiki Museum

Situated on the Bygdøy Peninsula, the Kon-Tiki Museum contains the renowned balsa wood raft, the Kon-Tiki, on which Thor Heyerdahl made his famous journey across the Pacific in 1947 to prove the theory that the first Polynesian settlers could have sailed the 4,300 miles (6,923km) between Peru and Polynesia. The museum also contains the original reed raft, Ra II, on which Heyerdahl sailed across the Atlantic in 1970. Besides the rafts there is a huge stuffed whale shark, artefacts from his expeditions and exhibits from his visits to Easter Island, and an intriguing collection of archaeological finds from Easter Island, Galapagos, East Polynesia and Peru.

Address: Bygdøynesveien 36, Bygdøy; Post code: N-0286 Oslo; Telephone: (2) 308 6767; E-mail: kon-tiki@online.no; Website: www.kon-tiki.no; Transport: Bus 30 from the National Theatre or ferry 91 from Pier 3 behind the City Hall; Opening time: Daily except public holidays 9.30am-5.45pm (June to August), 10.30am-4pm (October to March), 10.30am-5pm (April, May and September); Admission: NOK35 (adults), NOK20 (children). Other concessions are available

The Viking Ships Museum

Situated on the Bygdøy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum houses three 9th-century Viking ships that were excavated from ritual burial mounds in the south of Norway. Their excellent condition is due to the clay in which they were embalmed. Viking ships were used as tombs for royalty who were buried with everything they might have need of in their life after death. The biggest and best preserved of the ships is the Gokstad, and the finest is the Oseberg, a richly ornamented dragon ship with an intricately carved animal head post, that was the burial chamber of a Viking queen. The elegantly carved sleigh used by the Viking royalty, and a hoard of treasure was found on the buried ship and is displayed at the back of the museum. Raised platforms allow visitors to view the inside of the ship's hulls.

Address: Huk Aveny 35, Bygdøy; Telephone: (2) 213 5280; Transport: Bus 30 from the National Theatre or ferry 91 from Pier 3 behind the City Hall; Opening time: Daily 9am-6pm (May to September), 11am-4pm (October to April); Admission: NOK40, concessions available

FJORDLAND

Fjordland is Norway’s most important tourist destination with its breathtaking scenery of high mountains, spectacular fjords and glaciers. These are the alluring images of Norway, a wild and rugged landscape and deep, peaceful waters.

Carved by glacial ice in river valleys, the fjords are diverse in character, each with individual qualities and attractions as they wind their way inland, some with lush green fields alongside and others with steep mountains plunging straight down into the deep water. Geirangerfjorden is a tiny S-shaped fjord with magnificent waterfalls, sheer, rugged sides and striking scenery. Sognefjord is the best known of the fjords, the longest and deepest, with several charming villages such as Balestrand and Flåm, and old stave churches along its shores. Surrounded by towering mountains is the narrowest and most impressive branch of the Sognefjord, the beautiful Nærøyfjord. To the north lies the Nordfjord, dominated by the vast ice plateau of the Jostedalsbreen glacier that trickles down into the surrounding valleys, giving the water its distinctive blue-green colour.

A highlight of the region’s attractions is the Flåm Railway, with the steepest track gradient in the world that took 20 years to build. In a masterful piece of engineering the railway twists and turns its slow way down through numerous tunnels, dropping 2,952 ft (900m) to the valley below and ending at a tiny arm of the Sognefjord. Along the way the train passes magnificent mountain scenery and is regarded as one of the most exciting train rides in all of Europe.

Bergen is the gateway to the Fjords, an attractive city with a delightful natural setting and is a superb base from which to explore the area.

The historic city of Bergen was medieval Norway’s capital, and is today an international tourist centre and gateway to the Fjords. It has a spectacular setting on a sheltered harbour of the North Sea, situated among seven hills that form a delightful backdrop to the brightly painted wooden houses along the waterfront, and is one of Norway’s most enjoyable cities.

Bergen’s history is closely linked to the sea. It became a major trading port of the medieval merchants of the Hanseatic League, who dominated European trade during the Middle Ages. The hub of the city’s social life is around the Torget, the picturesque harbour-side market plaza that is surrounded by an assortment of cafes, restaurants and pubs, and home to the vibrant fish market. Flanking one side of the harbour is a colourful row of old wooden houses, part of the historic wharf area and the remaining influence of the Hanseatics, from where narrow cobbled streets wind their way up between the quaint houses of the picturesque old neighbourhood.

The city centre is divided into two parts: the old Hanseatic town along the wharf area and the modern centre stretching inland from the harbour. It has a pleasant, slow pace and a cultured atmosphere with numerous interesting museums, galleries, an aquarium and surviving medieval buildings. A cable car and a funicular carries visitors to the top of two of Bergen’s hills, Mount Ulriken and Mount Fløyen, to enjoy splendid views over the city and coast. Mount Fløyen is covered in forest with a well-marked series of walking trails. Boat trips to the fjords are very popular and the excellent ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ package tour provides a spectacular glimpse of Norway’s scenery in a day, for those short on time.

Bryggen

Bryggen, the site of the old medieval quarter, is a charming, compact area of brightly coloured wooden homes that once housed the city’s merchants. Steep cobbled lanes are lined with a vivacious blend of cafes and artists workshops. The Hanseatic wharf area, with many buildings dating from before the 17th century, has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, and is considered to be one of the most important examples of the civilisation of a medieval settlement in the world. This was once the working area of the merchants and is the oldest part of Bergen, characterised by a maze of lopsided wooden buildings with pointed gables facing the harbour. The Bryggens and Hanseatic Museums as well as the 12th century St Mary’s Church are all in the Bryggen area. At one end of the wharf is Bergen’s famous fish market, a colourful market also selling flowers, fruit, vegetables and souvenirs.

Hanseatic Museum

The Hanseatic Museum is housed in one of the oldest and best-preserved wooden buildings in Bryggen, the former home of a wealthy merchant. Furnished in the 18th century style, it provides a glimpse of the working and living conditions of the Hanseatic merchants during the Middle Ages. The austere layout and maze-like rooms are saturated by the smell of fish and leave a lasting impression.

Address: Finnegårdsgate 1A, Bryggen; Telephone: (5) 531 4189; Transport: A few minutes walk from Torget; Opening time: Daily from 9am-5pm (June to August) and 11am-2pm (September to May); Admission: NOK40 (May to September) and NOK25 (October to April), entrance is free for children

Bryggens Museum

The archaeological museum was built around the remains of the oldest buildings discovered in Bergen, dating from the 12th century, and the ruins have been incorporated into the exhibits along with excavated tools, ceramics and skeletons. The museum houses various artefacts and traditional costumes and it imaginatively attempts to recreate life in the Middle Ages with displays of domestic implements, handicrafts, runic inscriptions and items relating to seafaring and trade during medieval times.

Address: Dreggsallmenning 3, Bryggen; Telephone: (5) 558 8010; Transport: A few minutes walk from Torget; Opening time: Daily 10am-5pm (May to August), Monday to Friday 11am-3pm, Saturday 12-3pm, Sunday from 12-4pm (September to April); Admission: NOK30, concessions available

St Mary’s Church (Mariakirken)

Bergen’s oldest surviving building, the beautiful Romanesque stone Church of St Mary’s, dates from the beginning of the 12th century. The interior is decorated with old frescoes and a splendid Baroque pulpit that was donated by the Hanseatic merchants in 1676. The twin towers of the church are distinctive among the low red-tiled roofs of the old quarter.

Address: Dreggen, Bryggen; Telephone: (5) 531 5960; Transport: Bus 5, 6, 9, 20, 21 or 22 from the city centre; Opening time: Monday to Friday 11am-4pm (mid-May to mid-September), Tuesday to Friday 12-1.30pm (October to April); Admission: NOK10, concessions available

TROMS

Set in a magnificent landscape of dramatic snow-capped mountains with a rocky shoreline, Tromsø is a lively town characterised by unusual old wooden houses, street music, cultural events and the most pubs per capita in Norway. It is the capital of the north and a bustling metropolis in comparison to the surrounding fishing communities along the northern coast of Norway; it is also a vibrant university town.

Known as the ‘Gateway to the Arctic’ and situated within the Arctic Circle, the town is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding area and has the greatest amount of Northern Light activity on earth, making it a sought-after tourist destination from which to experience the spectacular show of the Aurora Borealis. The Midnight Sun during summer is another strange phenomenon, when continuous daylight makes people forget to go to bed, and the winters experience a few hours of bleak twilight during midday. It is these extreme light conditions that hold the greatest fascination for tourists, regardless of the season, and make it such an intriguing place to visit.

There are several museums and other places of interest, a cable car to the top of one of the surrounding hills providing fantastic views, and boat trips into the fascinating landscape of the arctic fjords.

Tromsø Museum

The Tromsø Museum is northern Norway’s oldest and largest museum with exhibitions devoted to the cultural and natural history of the region. There is a comprehensive display relating to the traditional culture and music of the Sami or Lapp people and their nomadic, reindeer-herding way of life. There are also daily films in summer about the Northern Lights.

Address: Lars Thøringsveg 10; Telephone: (7) 764 5000; Transport: Bus 28 from Storgata; Opening time: Daily 8am-8pm (June to August), Monday to Friday 8.30am-3.30pm, Wednesday evenings 7pm-10pm, Saturday from 12-3pm, Sunday 11am-4pm (September to May); Admission: NOK30 (adults), concessions NOK25

Arctic Cathedral

The spectacular design of the white and ultra-modern Arctic Cathedral is visible from afar, situated on a small hill on an island linked by the spindly Tromsø Bridge. It is an architectural masterpiece, made up of eleven large triangular sections representing the eleven faithful apostles and symbolising northern Norwegian heritage, culture and faith. It bears an interesting resemblance to the Sydney Opera House in Australia and its colour and shape can also be likened to an iceberg. The cathedral has one of the largest stained glass windows in Europe, and the interior is decorated with grand chandeliers that are made up of many prisms of colour and lights, representing hanging ice formations.

Address: Tromsdalen; Telephone: (7) 763 7611; Opening time: Daily 4pm-6pm (May), Monday to Friday 10am-8pm, Sunday 1pm-8pm (June to mid-August), 3-4.30pm (mid-August to mid-September); Admission: NOK15 (adults), children free

Polaria

Polaria is an information and experience centre for the whole family, combining interactive experiences with knowledge about the arctic environment. There is a panoramic film about the arctic wilderness of Svalbard, an Arctic Walkway that creates a snowstorm experience and the Northern Lights spectacle. The seal pool is especially exciting at feeding time, and an aquarium provides a close look at arctic sea mammals and life in the freezing waters.

Address: Hjalmar Johansens gate 12; Telephone: (7) 775 0100; Website: www.polaria.no; Opening time: Daily 10am-7pm (mid-May to mid-August), 12-5pm (mid-August to mid-May); Admission: NOK75 (adults), concessions NOK40

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