1. They have VIKING SHIPS.
It’ll be pretty clear from this list that Norway is thoughtful, sophisticated, and down-to-earth, but it’s also badass. The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, part of the local university, has three Viking ships, the Gokstad being the best-preserved in the entire world. Attention, humans: Zombies aren’t real, Harry Potter isn’t real, and LOTR isn’t real; viking ships? Totally real. In a way that matches the vibe of both the city and the people, it’s like Oslo said, “Nah, guys, we’re cool only having one cathedral. We’re just gonna be awesome instead.”
2. Everything isn’t needlessly commercialized.
I was walking from the Opera House to the Grims Grenka hotel, and a shortcut was through the Akershus Fortress. It was built in 1299 and is in absolutely phenomenal condition — consider it the Julianne Moore or George Clooney of fortresses. To get there, I just…walked up the hill. No one asked me to show them inside my bag, no forlorn-looking security officers stopped me to demand a ton of money, I just climbed a few stairs and was there. To explore inside the castle is a not-so-whopping $8 (70 NOK), and in America — or any other big European city for that matter — that’s nothing. I’ve been charged $20 in California to park near a beach. Unlike pretty much every other notable city on the planet, the best parts of the city ask for nothing but to be appreciated.
3. The sunrises and sunsets.
Case in point.
4. The not-as-bad-as-you-think weather keeps away tourists half the year.
In December, daily temperatures average around 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Anyone south of I-40 might shudder at the thought, but the rest of us won’t bat an eye. And the best part is that those 28 degrees don’t come with those turbulent Kansas-esque winds. It’s a dry chill more reminiscent of Christmas, making you resent the world a whole lot less. And the touristy spots? Feels like you’ve found your own European oasis — wearing that hat and those mittens is totally worth it.
5. It’s a thoughtful, pedestrian wonderland.
The Oslo Opera House at sunrise or sunset has got to be one of the most striking man-made images in Norway. It’s built like an iceberg, in jagged white sheets that shoot up at different angles, supported by walls of glass that reflect the water from the Oslo fjord below. The roof starts on the ground, and it’s built so you can walk all the way to the top. If it’s snowy, a bonus is being able to tell who’s from warmer climates (hint: they’re the ones clinging onto the railing and still falling). The entire surrounding area (Aker Brygge), just like the roof of the Opera House, is full of pedestrians seemingly wandering everywhere. Cars don’t have jurisdiction and are few in number — Oslo is a city quite literally built for those experiencing it face-to-face. Being there, just like the fortress, it felt like an entire section of the city was meant for, well, me.
6. The way they “cheers” pierces into your soul.
None of this loud, beer-sloshing crap. A Norwegian lifts his glass, makes somehow sophisticated and skin-tingling eye contact, says, “Skål,” takes a drink, resumes said penetrating eye-contact, tips his glass to you once more, and sets the glass down. Like James Bond. Grace Kelly. Katharine Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart. Simple. Understated. And classy as hell.
7. The water is actually warm.
You know the Viking Museum mentioned earlier? That’s on what’s called “Museum Island,” and it’s not uncommon for people to go swimming there. Even further north, swimming spots can reach up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to the jetstream following Norway’s western coastline. Spots further south, like Denmark, have much colder waters, making Norway’s list of adventures even longer and more surprising than anyone unfamiliar would’ve guessed. I wouldn’t suggest it in winter when the Oslo fjord is largely ice and the sun shines 6 hours a day, but when the “Midnight Sun” is shining, it’s pool party time.
8. It has that European-city vibe without the pretension/ostentation/attitude.
There’s something about cities like Paris or Rome that seem almost exploited. Too many people and too much money have left their mark, leaving behind expensive shops, egregiously-long queues, and would-be-beautiful pictures ruined by hoards of fanny packs and matching t-shirts. Oslo, especially in winter, doesn’t have that. What it does have are those quintessential European buildings — pressed together, five stories high, beautiful nine-paneled windows with small balconies and flower boxes — lining most every street, a castle, the National Gallery (equally rivaling the National Portrait Gallery in London), parks full of statues, and shopping, shopping, shopping. It has all these things with the vibe that it’s unaware, like a timid-yet-striking woman not used to getting attention. Basically, a unicorn.
9. The transportation system trusts you — most of the time.
If you go to hop on the underground in Oslo, take a second to appreciate the ticketing gates now operating as contemporary art. Read: they don’t work. A similar merit system enjoyed by all applies to the busses, too. Once in a while, or so I’m told, you may be greeted with a surprise visit from security, but those days are few and far between. Just like the castle and the Opera House, Oslo just sort of lets you in.
10. No matter what shade you are, you’ll blend right in.
Though the “stereotypical Norwegian” still exists, that idea is fading as Norway joins the rest of us in becoming a hodge-podge of cultures. Vietnamese and Urdu are spoken as commonly as Norwegian in certain pockets of the city, and skin tone has nothing to do with being a tourist. The only thing Norwegians seem to still have a stereotypical grasp on is height. Ladies, if you’re looking for a tall, slender guy who wears suit jackets on Tuesday nights and probably to bed, this is the place to be. And, yes, I can save you a spot in line.
11. Learning their language means you basically learn two others.
Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish all fall on a dialect continuum of sorts; the main reason they’re different languages is political, not linguistic. Learn a bit of one, and you can quickly understand your neighbors, too — but for the record, practically everyone speaks brilliant English. For some, you’ll wonder if they came from the UK or America and have picked up a Norwegian accent. If you do study one, opt for Norwegian: according to Duolingo, Norwegian speakers understand their comrades slightly better than vice versa. And then when you speak Norwegian, just tell everyone you speak Swedish and Danish, too. You’re actually quadrilingual now, so go make edits to your dating profile. Congratulations.
12. It’s the “nicest country in the entire world to live.” Again.
Yep, for the 12th year in a row the UN has voted Norway to be the best place for humans to eat, sleep, and breathe. And they’re racking up these gold medals despite egregiously high alcohol prices — if a pint cost as much as it did in Vietnam, Norway would’ve topped the annual Human Development Index since the dawn of time. Personally, I consider this just an invitation to hone my non-existent moonshine-crafting skills. Norway, here I come. If you need me, you can find me behind the copper pots, basking in my new-found happiness, high wages, and standard of living. Skål, cheers, and see you there.