It can’t be a coincidence that Norway is ranked highly every year on the UN’s World Happiness Report: It’s easy to feel inspired and content in a country full of such natural beauty. But Norwegians are pragmatic thinkers—they know that if they don’t take an active role in conserving their environment, it won’t be around for future generations.
For years, the Norwegian Tourist board and other government organizations have partnered to recognize innovations in sustainability, award certain areas of the country for dedication to sustainable travel, and inspiring still other parts of Norway to follow their lead. Here are just a few of the most environmentally conscious places to visit in Norway.
The quaint, traditional town of Rorøs may still be off the radar for many travelers, but it tops most lists of Norway’s sustainable destinations. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its been committed to reducing the environmental impact of tourism and teaching its visitors about traveling sustainably for years. Its efforts culminated in its receiving a Sustainable Destination certification in 2013, and since then it has not wavered from its initial purpose. The town center’s authentic wooden buildings are full of shops dedicated to local artisanal crafts, and the town is at the forefront of a local slow food movement, championing the area’s distinctive products and creating dishes to showcase them.
These remote islands in the Arctic Ocean are so far from civilization, it would be difficult for them to be anything but sustainable. With practically as many polar bears as people (a few thousand each), the island’s industry is centered on the town of Longyearbyen. Two-thirds of the island consists of nature reserves, including national parks and bird sanctuaries, so anyone who lives here has to have a deep appreciation for island wildlife and geology. Sustainable tourism has taken over from whaling and hunting as one of the island’s main industries, and that means encouraging visitors to take part in local activities like kayaking, dog-sledding, and snowmobiling, or to try out a surprisingly vibrant Nordic dining scene.
This little-known archipelago just below the Arctic Circle consists of 6,500 islands with varied terrain, home to 230 bird species as well as harbors, coves, meadows, and forests. The islands boast not one but two designations: they’re on the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and they have a Sustainable Tourism certification. Both attest to their level of dedication in preserving age-old methods of living and traveling: fishermen and farmers have lived and thrived here for 1,500 years, and they’re not about to change what has worked so well. Hiking, cycling, boating, and fishing are just some of the low-impact, environmentally friendly activities these islands are known for, and they also have a lively dining scene, focusing on local delicacies like cod tongues and “Vegagomme” (Vega curd).
You may recognize this as one of Norway’s most popular outdoor activity destinations, but it may surprise you to know that the Lygnenfjord region is also a certified sustainable destination. It includes the Lyngesalpene mountain range, as well as pristine glaciers and fjords that require increasing amounts of attention and care in our modern era. Nature activities like whale safaris, hiking, fishing and ice climbing emphasize just how important it is to preserve the environment for future generations. The Sami culture is especially celebrated here, showing respect to the people who have been gatekeepers of the environment since long before Norway was even a country. Modest mountain cabins, camping sites, and fishermen’s rorbuer are a more frequent sight than big flashy hotels, and foodie travelers can look forward to scrumptious local delicacies like Lyngen lamb, Lyngen shrimp, and seasonal mushrooms and berries.
Juvet Landscape Hotel
Set inside a nature reserve, this hotel was built meticulously to comply with conservation authorities. A design was agreed upon that minimized the number of rooms and completely eliminated the need for rock blasting or any terrain adjustments. The result is a property consisting of not one main building, but many tiny ones, each of them built to accommodate differences within the natural landscape. Steel rods support light wooden frames, and glass walls allow in light, warmth and spectacular views. What’s more, almost the entire construction process employed area builders, carpenters, and craftsmen, proving that sustainability is about respecting not only nature, but also local expertise. (For more inspired boutique hotels, check out this list.)
Manshausen Sea Cabins
On a 55-acre island in the middle of the Grøtøya strait near Bodø, Manshausen island was once a major part of the area’s all-important fishing trade. Now, thanks to its beautiful location, it has unsurprisingly become a hotspot for tourists looking to enjoy the Norwegian coast at its most relaxing and remote. Designed by architect Snorre Stinessen, the Manshausen sea cabins exude Scandinavian charm, with light-wood and glass exteriors including full-length windows that let in the light and the tranquil surroundings. The main house, where visitors can take their meals or relax in the library, is a holdover from the 1800s that has been modernized for the 21st century.
Skåpet Mountain Lodge
The Norwegian Trekking Association has made it their business to built sustainable mountain lodges that complement the terrain and offer much-needed shelter for hikers in some of the country’s most remote destinations. One of their newest, at Soddatjørn in Forsand, Rogaland, is making waves for its innovative design: it looks like something beautiful dropped down from outer space! Designed by the Estonian firm KOKO architects, Skåpet offers several sleeping cabins arranged around the main building, with solar panels, a sauna above a mountain stream, and glazed facades that allow for spectacular views of the mountains.
Rabot Tourist Cabin
Another Norwegian Trekking Association lodging, this remote cabin (you can only get to it on foot or on skis) sits close to Okstindan glacier in northern Norway, buffeted by harsh winds and snow for much of the year. As such, it has been built to withstand such feats of nature without disturbing its delicate surroundings: Architecture firm Jarmund/Vigsnæs Arkitekter have shaped it to reflect the craggy mountains and sharp-edged glaciers, even building the two chimneys to mimic the peaks directly behind them. With no electric outlets, the cabin uses solar panel energy for indoor lighting, as well as two fireplaces for heating. Most elements have been created with local materials and local craftsmanship.
Bonus: Svart Hotel
It hasn’t been built yet, but this one will be worth waiting for. Resembling a mothership out of a sci-fi movie, this circular hotel at the base of Norway's Almlifjellet mountain will actually produce more energy than it consumes (up to 85 percent!). Designed by the international architecture firm Snøhetta, it will be a way for guests to make a visibly positive impact on the Arctic environment. Solar panels provide energy to the hotel and store extra for later use, while recessed terraces allow for cooling and shading in summer. What’s more, the hotel is built on poles directly above Holandsfjord, harking back to the age-old sustainable fishermen’s cottages known as rorbuer, making it a shoe-in for a place on our list of Norway's best unique lodging options.