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Country Guide - Norway

Russing Around

An unusual tradition for students graduating from high school is called russ. When a student becomes russ, or rødruss, he or she dons overalls and a beret (these are colour coded based on the kind of high school the student attended - most of the uniforms are red or blue and tend to absorb a lot of alcohol and vomit) and is permitted to raise all sorts of hell for a period that may go on for several weeks around the end of the school year.

Norway is a ruggedly beautiful country of mountains, fjords and glaciers. The 'Land of the Midnight Sun' has delightfully long summer days, pleasantly low-key cities, unspoiled fishing villages and rich historic sites that include Viking ships and medieval stave churches.

Norway prizes its stunning natural wonders and retains a robust frontier character unusual in Europe. It's not all frozen tundra, either. The temperate south includes rolling farmlands, enchanted forests and sunny beaches as well as the dramatic Western Fjords.

 

  • Full Name

    Kingdom of Norway

  • Capital City

    Oslo (pop 508,730)

  • Currency

    Norwegian Krone

  • Timezone(s)

    GMT +1

  • Daylight Saving

    March until October

  • Area

    324,220 km2

  • Population

    4,546,123

  • People

    97% Nordic, Alpine & Baltic, with a Sami minority

  • Languages

    • Norwegian Bokmål (official)
    • Norwegian Nynorsk (official)
    • Northern Sami (other)
  • Plug Types

Voltage: 230V

Frequency (Hz): 50Hz

  

Geography

Norway occupies the western part of the Scandinavian peninsula and shares borders with Sweden, Finland and Russia. Shaped like the rind on the bacon rasher of Scandinavia, Norway has a long coastline pierced by fjords and a mountainous interior that is blanketed by some of Europe's largest glaciers. Over 500 sq km (193 sq mi) of Norway lies north of the Arctic Circle, but the country's western coast usually remains ice free year-round thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

When to Go

Norway is at its best and brightest from May to September. Late spring is a particularly pleasant time - fruit trees are in bloom, daylight hours are long, the weather is mild and most hostels and sights are open but uncrowded. Summers are marked by the phenomena of the midnight sun, especially north of the Artic Circle. At Nordkapp, in the far north, the sun stays out from 13 May to 29 July, but nowhere in the country - even the far south, experiences true darkness between late May and late July.

Unless you're heavily into winter skiing or searching for the Aurora Borealis of the polar nights, Norway's cold, dark winters are not the prime time to visit, and many hostels and camp grounds outside of major cities close.

Events

The country's biggest holiday is Constitution Day (17 May), when many Norwegians take to the streets attired in traditional folk costumes. Another popular holiday is Midsummer's Eve (usually held on 23 June), which is celebrated with bonfires on the beach. The Sami people (Lapps) also hold colourful celebrations at Easter in Karasjok and Kautokeino. Festivities include reindeer races, joik (traditional chanting) and concerts.

Weather

The country is at its best from May to September, and at its worst between November and March when average temperatures are below freezing. The typically rainy climate of mainland Norway is surprisingly mild for its latitude - thanks to the Gulf Stream, all coastal ports remain ice-free throughout the year. Average July temperatures are 16°C (61°F) in the Oslo area and 11°C (52°F) in the north, though temperature extremes are always possible. In January, the average maximum temperature is 1°C (34°F) in the south and -3°C (27°F) in the north. However, it can get much colder, especially in areas away from the coast. In midsummer the north sees no night and even southern Norway has daylight from 04:00 to 23:00. On the other hand, most days in winter are at best comparable to twilight.

Activities

Norway has thousands of kilometres of well-maintained cross-country ski trails and scores of resorts with busy downhill ski runs. Alternatively, a visit to Norway could be completely taken up by mountain climbing, fishing, bird-watching and glacier hiking, but make sure to put aside some time to take a serene cruise along the breathtaking Sognefjord.

Places of Interest

  • Central Norway

    The central part of Norway takes in the country's highest mountains, largest glacier and most spectacular fjords. Unsurprisingly, this region is the top destination for almost all travellers to the country.

  • Emanuel Vigeland Museum

    For a freakish sensory overload, enter the Emanuel Vigeland Museum containing his life's work and mausoleum - a specially designed vaulted chamber where you duck under a low door (and thus pay tribute to his ashes, interned above) to enter an eerie nave with almost zero lighting.

  • Heddal stave church

    Heddal stave church is Telemark's most visited attraction. It's an impressive structure and possibly dates from 1242, but parts of the chancel date from as early as 1147. Of great interest are the 'rose' paintings, a runic inscription, the bishop's chair and the altarpiece.

  • Jotunheimen National Park

    This national park is one of Norway's best wilderness destinations. It has a network of hiking trails leading to some 60 glaciers and to the country's loftiest peaks (the 2469m/8100ft Galdhøpiggen and 2452m/8044ft Glittertind). The trails pass through ravine-like valleys, deep lakes and plunging waterfalls. Huts and private lodgings are along many of the routes.

  • Akershus Slott & Festning

    A visit to Oslo is incomplete without taking in the medieval Akershus Castle and Fortress. As you wander around the castle you'll find tiny rooms where outcast nobles were kept, in stark contrast to the far more elaborate dining halls and staterooms on the upper floors.

Visas

Scandinavian citizens can enter Norway freely without a passport. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand do not require visas for stays of less than three months. The same is true for EU and EAA countries, most of Latin America and most Commonwealth countries.

Further Reading

  • A Brief History of Norway

    John Midgaard

    Covers Norwegian history from prehistoric to modern times.

  • The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America

    Magnusson/Palsson

    Tells of the discovery of America before the arrival of Columbus.

  • The Viking World

    James Graham-Campbell

    Traces the history of the Vikings by detailing excavated sites and artefacts. The photos are excellent.

  • Kristin Lavransdatter

    Sigrid Undset

    A trilogy that portrays the struggles of a 13th-century Norwegian family.

  • Mysteries

    Knut Hamsun

    Delves into troubled aspects of the human character.

  • Summer Light: A Walk Across Norway

    Andrew Stevenson

    Affectionate, illuminating account of a walk from Oslo to Bergen, revealing the magical appeal of this wonderland.

  • Mountain Hiking in Norway

    Erling Welle-Strand

    Offers detailed information on wilderness trails, hiking itineraries and trail huts.

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