1. Farm-to-table isn’t ‘hip’ in Norway. It’s just considered normal.
A photo posted by s_meade (@s_meade) on
To say Norway’s culinary culture is impressive would not be giving the country its due praise. High-quality, locally-sourced food is everywhere. Whether you’re eating a fish sandwich on ciabatta bread at the gluten-free café Søstrene Fryd in Ålesund, trying the famous skoleboller (“school bun”) pastries at Bakeriet i Lom — the best bakery in Norway, or slicing into a traditional salmon starter at Festningen Restaurant in Oslo, you can guarantee happy taste buds.
Norway’s status as the world’s second largest exporter of seafood gives the country credibility with dishes like cod, salmon, and lobster soup, but what you might not expect is how tasty the red meat will be. The farther from the sea and closer toward the mountains you stay, you’ll find a variety of tender and flavorful red meats that have been locally and legally hunted, including deer, veal, lamb, pork, and moose.
An added bonus is that most chefs, cooks, and servers are familiar with a wide variety of food allergies and dietary preferences and have no problem accommodating these needs. Most menus — even at smaller bistros and cafes — offer gluten-free, dairy free, or vegetarian options and substitutions. When I explained my gluten allergy at restaurants, not one person batted an eyelash or looked at me like I was insane. They just nodded and brought me a side of warm, homemade gluten-free bread before taking my order.
2. You can wear sneakers and still feel chic.
Norway’s laid-back culture and outdoorsy inclinations make it possible to dress casually and still feel pulled together. Brightly colored Nikes are a popular choice in footwear (and yes, they work with jeans) and many people, even those in urban settings like Oslo, opt to wear sneakers and windbreakers over boots and trench coats.
So rest assured knowing you don’t need to be concerned about looking like a frumpy, sensible tourist if you ditch the flats and lace up a pair of sneakers before you sightsee. In Norway, comfort is actually fashionable.
3. The natural beauty is mind-blowing.
In every direction you look in Norway, there is a view worth photographing. The country’s geographical diversity means that in one 3-hour road trip, you can ride a ferry across a fjord, drive through mountains and past gigantic banks of snow, cross over a fertile valley, and finish in a city along the sea.
Not only is Norway covered in glaciers, lakes, arctic tundra, plains, mountains, and coastline, it’s home to approximately 1,200 of the world’s most beautiful fjords — deep, narrow bodies of water surrounded by mountains on three sides.
These stunning “valleys with water” formed thousands of years ago by glacier tongues and are now scattered with waterfalls, small fishing villages, farmland, hiking trails, incredible viewpoints, and remote hotels. Two of the country’s most pristine fjords — the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord — are attractions on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and receive thousands of visitors every year.
Norway’s sublime landscapes alone merit a visit to the country. It has the kind of crisp, clean air and swoon-worthy sights that make you feel privileged to see such beauty.
4. Oslo has a killer art scene.
Oslo is quickly becoming a major artistic hub, showcasing everything from classical to contemporary art. The Astrup Fearnley Museum, a privately owned art gallery perched on the city’s waterfront, hosts changing exhibitions by leading international and Norwegian contemporary artists. You can walk its clean white hallways and see things like hanging cow sculptures, giant butterfly murals, and a room full of meticulously-stacked paint cans.
At Frogner Park, you can walk vibrant tree-lined pathways and see the diverse nude sculptures of famous artist Gustav Vigeland scattered along the bridge. The Munch Museum, which houses the world’s largest single collection of works by expressionist pioneer Edvard Munch, offers seasonal exhibitions that also showcase pieces from renowned artists like Van Gogh and Melgaard.
5. The people are a delight to be around.
The first thing I noticed in Norway was the people. And not for the reason you think — although, for the record, it’s true: Norwegians are overall pretty darn physically attractive. Rather, I was struck by the generally pleasant disposition most Norwegians exhibited. Every Norwegian I came in contact with impressed me with his or her kindness, calm demeanor, excellent manners, and cheerful attitude. Restaurant servers, storeowners, art gallery managers, and boat drivers said hello and — for whatever reason — appeared genuinely happy to have me around.
When I was lost searching for an ATM in Ålesund, an older man approached me to ask if I needed directions. When I became ill on the side of the street in Oslo, two women handed me a pack of tissues and offered to walk me to my hotel.
Whenever I apologized for not speaking Norwegian, people switched into perfect, articulate English without hesitating or inadvertently making me feel bothersome. And when I asked locals questions about Norway’s food, lifestyle, and government, they were open and enthusiastic about sharing their culture and knowledge. Norwegians are a wonderful example of locals who succeed in giving travelers a positive experience simply by being themselves.
6. It’s impossible to be bored or lazy in Norway.
Between boat rides along the fjords, biking paths, walking trails, and hiking, it’s easy to immerse yourself in Norway’s outdoor culture. If you’re staying in Oslo, you can ride the city’s efficient trams to Oslomarka, a wooded, hilly area that stretches north, east, and west over approximately 1,700 square kilometers. You can hike Preikestolen, the “Pulpit Rock,” one of Norway’s most famous and photographed viewpoints. Or you can climb Galdhøpiggen, the country’s tallest peak, to see a spectacular view of the expansive Jotunheimen National Park.
Plus, there’s also glacier walking, skiing, kayaking across a glacier lake, and scuba diving in the summer. 62 Nord, a travel company based out of Ålesund in the North, offers wildlife sea safaris where you don a toasty, waterproof full-body suit and ride in a RIB boat to visit a seal colony, see Runde’s puffin island, and cruise through the incredible Hjørundfjord.
7. Norway has some of the best historical hotels in the world.
Norway has no shortage of exceptional hotels, with some of the best falling under the historical category. Some of these hotels have preserved the original decor and structure of the buildings, while others have expanded or redesigned.
In Ålesund you can stay at the modern Hotel Brosundet, a restored cod-drying warehouse from 1904. If you’re looking for a quick getaway outside the capital, visit Losby Manor, a renovated country estate from 1850 with original decor and miles and miles of walking and biking trails. If you want to feel like you’ve entered a real-life fairytale, stay at Hotel Union Øye, a hotel from 1891 where each room is decorated differently and named after a famous guest who stayed there.
Curious to see the place where all Norway’s kings have visited and dined? Head to Kongsvinger and book a room at the Königs Winger hotel, the only fortress in the world that has been partly refurbished as a design hotel.
Did I mention that every single hotel in Norway offers free breakfast? It’s not continental, either. Norway definitely knows how to keep their tourists happy.
Top Airbnb picks