Norway is the longest country in Europe - and with over 60,000 miles of coastline and endless countryside to explore, it should come as no surprise that this Scandinavian nation offers an abundance of places, attractions, and activities to enjoy. The towering mountains, dramatic fjords, arctic tundra, and historic towns draw travelers from around the world. From the reindeer of Finnmark to metropolitan Oslo, you'll find that each of the country's many regions has unique features that make them all worth a visit. Read on to learn more about Norway's top ten regions, listed in no particular order.
The capital and cultural hub of the country, Oslo is a must-see on any Norwegian itinerary. Most visitors are shocked to find how small and walkable the city is, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to do. The standout attractions include the Viking Ship Museum, which houses the world’s best-preserved Viking ship, as well as the National Gallery, where Edvard Munch’s expressionist masterpiece “The Scream” still hangs. Families will want to visit the Oslo Reptilpark (Reptile Park), an homage to all things small and scaly, and a favorite with kids.
If you happen to have pleasant weather, then a stop at the Vigeland Sculpture Park is well worth the time. The gardens here are peaceful and lush, making it as much a local picnic spot as an art fixture. For those a bit more daring, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump now lets visitors experience the full effect of ski jumping by ziplining nearly 1200 feet from top to bottom.
2. Bergen and the Sognefjord
Appropriately dubbed the gateway to the fjords, Bergen is arguably Norway’s most historically significant city. Back in its founding days, it served as an immensely important German trading port and, despite having burned down several times, the wharf maintains a distinctly German feel. Guests can literally taste history in the form of salted dried cod with a visit to the Hanseatic Museum or take in the breathtaking views during the cable car ride to the top of Mount Floyen.
Just outside the city, though, lies the impressive Sognefjord. Norway’s deepest and longest fjord, pictures don’t even come close to capturing the beauty that the crystal clear waters, striking cliffs, and varied sea life come together to create. Do not leave without taking at least a brief boat ride, as nothing compares to seeing this area from the water.
3. Alesund and the Geirangerfjord
Anyone with an interest in art or architecture will find Alesund completely mesmerizing. Though not always a common stop on your standard itinerary, this quaint city is rapidly gaining notoriety as the perfect meeting of Norwegian culture and nature. Famous for its stunning art nouveau architecture, the colorful and distinct buildings line the easily walkable downtown.
If you want the most picturesque view though, be sure to head to Fjellstua. The 418 steps are absolutely worth it! Perhaps even more appealing to visitors is the fact that Alesund is a short jaunt (two hours or so) from Norway’s most iconic fjord, the Geirangerfjord. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the fjord is dotted with wondrous waterfalls and historic mountain farms. And whether you bike, kayak, or simply hike through the area, it never fails to impress.
4. Finnmark (North Cape, Alta, Kirkenes)
Located in the most northerly part of Norway, the Finnmark region (as well as the northern portions of Finland and Sweden) is home to the indigenous Sami people. And while centuries ago, few ventured to this remote area — which depended almost exclusively on reindeer and fish — nowadays visitors can experience the way of life in a more modern way. Cozy lodges not only offer traditional Lappish food but give visitors the chance to experience dogsledding excursions, reindeer safaris, or traditional ice fishing.
Of course, anywhere up here will have the midnight sun in the summer months (and the famous "blue season" from November to January). While here, fish for king crabs in Kirkenes, near the Russian border. Stay at a hotel made completely of ice in Alta. Visit the small town of Hamningberg, an old fishing village that escaped ruin in WWII. Hike to the natural arch of Kirkeporten, looking over the watery plateau of the North Cape, the northernmost point of Europe. Or just take in the sunset over the Barents Sea — here, you're free to take it slow.
Considering its far more northerly location, Svalbard is often either overlooked or just not possible to include on most trips. Only accessible by boat from May through September due to sea ice conditions (though traveling via plane is still a very viable option), the voyage is well worth the effort: it's one of the few places on Earth where you can still see polar bears in the wild. As many as 3,000 bears still live in this arctic wilderness, along with a variety of other wildlife including whales, reindeer, and seals.
And if that's not reason enough to go, there are plenty of activities to entertain such as dog sledding, glacier treks, and snowmobile safaris. Not to mention you get 24 hours of sunlight during the summer — and the Northern Lights from September to March.
6. Tromsø and the Lyngenfjord
If you're hankering to see the Northern Lights and you've heard that they're fading in the coming years, make your way up to Northern Norway and Tromsø, the region's largest city. Here in the Arctic Circle, the auroras will be just as bright. With plenty of culture (don't miss the Northern Norway Art Museum), tons of restaurants offering "Arctic" cuisine, and bustling nightlife, Tromsø might just be the best of both worlds. Of course, there's plenty of outdoor activities in both seasons, too — think hiking and kayaking in summer (try them at night under the midnight sun), and dog sledding, spending a night in a Sami tent, chasing the auroras, or going on a whale safari in winter.
While you're taking it easy in the city, leave time to experience the Lyngenfjord and the Lyngsalpene mountain range. Glaciers, valleys, and narrow waterways will fill your gaze here, and crowds are few and far between. Tour the world's northernmost distillery, hike at 1 AM up to Engnes (on the northern tip of Skjervøy), or float along the waters on a dinner cruise, sampling some of the world's freshest seafood.
7. Lofoten Islands
Of all the destinations within Norway, the Lofoten archipelago would have to be the most uniquely beautiful. Maybe this is due to the charming fishing village homes or the remote and untouched feel it maintains, but regardless, its accolades rightfully lure thousands of nature lovers north to these stunning islands each year.
Due to its location above the Arctic Circle, getting here is not always simple. Be prepared to fly, road trip, or take a boat to your final destination. Once you are there though, activities abound. Visitors can do everything from hiking, fishing, and skiing to ocean rafting, scuba diving, and even catching waves - this region is said to have the best surfing in the country. After an exciting day, one of the many small villages will be happy to host you in a cozy rorbu, a traditional fishing cabin located right on the water’s edge.
The Fjord Coast really spans the length of the country, but with capital letters, it largely refers to the area from Bergen north up to Alesund, where the intricate waterways and villages spill out into the North Sea. If you're after some of the most beautiful scenery the planet has to offer and a more authentic look at the country and its people — and you're not averse to a good splash — the Fjord Coast is probably your cup of tea.
Here it's all about the outdoors. Hike up the Hornelen, the highest sea cliff in all of Europe. Go a little lighter than expert level on one of the North Sea trails. Island hop from Solund, Norway's westernmost isle (be sure to check out the Utvær Lighthouse), until you hit the interior. Rent a boathouse and do nothing but watch the water. Search for Viking-age rock carvings in Vingen and Ausevika.
To get around, consider traveling via express boat from Bergen (Norled is the company to look for) if you're not renting a car. Otherwise, the region has a pretty extensive bus system, in addition to the coastal steamer Hurtigruten operating daily. Try to plant yourself in Kalvåg or Værlandet to get around the islands — plus, this way, you'll likely have those sea views from your window.
9. Stavanger Region
Pulpit Rock and the Lysefjord? That's the Stavanger region. Hope you're not afraid of heights! Solastranden Beach is another outdoors hotspot, as is the Fjøløy Lighthouse and the gargantuan "Swords in Rock" on the Hafrsfjord. There's no doubt about it: The Stavanger region is beautiful.
But the city has tons of appeal, too. Stavanger (and the smaller, nearby Sandnes) were recently designated a European Capital of Culture — here you'll find massive food festivals, street art, state-of-the-art museums, and all kinds of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. As you're wandering the fairly compact city, check out Old Stavanger — it's 170 white wooden houses, Europe’s best-preserved wooden house settlement. Here you'll get all the sophistication of Oslo and the history of Bergen, while being a bit more off the beaten track.
10. "Top of Fjord Norway"
We covered Fjord Norway from Bergen to Alesund — now let's talk about what's a bit further north. And before you think, "Colder temperatures? Pass!" know that this area is actually sunnier than Bergen and the surrounding region. So not only do you have enjoyable days, but you get the added bonus of lighter crowds, shorter lines, and experiences that your friends back home surely haven't had (and those same epic fjord views).
In Trondheim (Norway's third-largest city, though still fewer than 200,000 people), be sure to visit the Nidarosdomen cathedral, not quite 1000 years old. Go kayaking on the Nidelva river or pick a museum to while away an afternoon before taking a ride on the world's northernmost tram, Gråkallbanen. Then take your pick of the city's many amazing restaurants — good food is around every corner here.
Trollheimen, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: land of the trolls. There are spectacular mountains and plenty of hiking trails for a good complement to any city adventure. Rent a hut, tour the waterpark, or stay in one of the many mountain lodges. However, for even higher mountains (Norway's highest, actually), head to Jotunheimen. Trek up the tallest peak, Galdhøpiggen, walk along the narrow Besseggen ridge, and leave time get familiar with the waterfalls, lakes, glaciers, and valleys of the national park with the same name.
Dovre-Sunndalsfjella National Park is up here as well. Caribou, musk ox, eagles, and falcons will steal your gaze from time to time, as will the fjord views (which you somehow won't be used to by now). This alpine ecosystem is generally untouched, and there's plenty of cozy mountain lodges in the area to get away from it all and to feel like a true local.