Norway leaves visitors astounded by a land of mythical tales and incomparable natural beauty. It is a country with both modern cities and vast rural landscapes balanced perfectly. Whether you want to escape civilisation entirely and explore the fjords, or embrace a melting pot of nature and urban design in Oslo and its other major cities, Norway is an unforgettable cruise holiday destination. In this guide we will tell you everything you need to know about Norway, from where to see the northern lights to local cuisine and gastronomy.
The world’s happiest country
Earlier this year, Norway was named the world’s happiest country, beating a host of other Scandinavian countries. The World Happiness Report has been ranking the world’s nations since 2012 with the support of the UN High Level Meeting. There are 155 countries involved in the report which focuses on several factors:
- Real GDP per capita
- Perceptions of corruption
- Freedom to make life choices
- Healthy life expectancy at birth
Each country is represented by 2,000 participants who are asked to “Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top,” then to answer the question, “The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?” Each country is then measured on an overall outcome. One may rank well for freedom, but poorly for generosity, which will determine their placing in the table.
Norway knocked Denmark of off the top spot and jumped four places in the process. The report concluded that it scored highly on the main factors which constitute happiness: “caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.” Who wouldn’t want to visit the happiest country in the world?
Where you will go on your cruise:
You can get the best of both worlds on Fred Olsen cruise to Norway. Head to the cities - like capital Oslo - for a lively holiday, or venture into the wilderness of the north as you descend upon the Arctic Circle.
Oslo is at one with nature. The sea and rugged mountains border one of the fastest growing capitals in Europe, where the people are kind and welcoming. With an admirably low carbon footprint, Oslo has been named European Green Capital for 2019 as a city that focuses on sustainable food and green space. For those hoping to fit a bit of nature into their holiday, beautiful parks, waterways and islands are all within walking distance from the city centre.
A thriving food scene makes Oslo a must-visit for anyone hoping to sample some authentic Nordic dishes and you’ll never have a dull moment with an array of museums, amusement parks, zoos, gardens, shopping and galleries.
Pictures are worth a thousand words and we are sure you have seen many of Norway which have left you speechless. One of the most popular subjects is the fjords. Cascading waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, the deepest blue waters and bright green fields characterise a landscape that dates back to the Ice Age.
Many Norwegian cruises take you to the fjords, where you can marvel at a setting that has to be seen to be believed. Chocolate box villages are dotted along the shorelines posing for photos, while the waters are alive with whales, dolphins and seals, and eagles fly high above.
It may not be the biggest fjord in Norway, but it is perhaps the most striking. The waterway snakes its way inland, as dramatic waterfalls, like Seven Sisters, drop from the high cliffs on either side. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, head down Geirangerfjord towards the remote village of Geiranger and its isolated farms.
Sat 350km north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is for the adventurer in all of us. It is remote and wild, but the treasures that it will share with you are more than worth the journey. Tromsø is one of the best places in the world to witness the wonder of the northern lights. The regional capital of northern Norway, you may be surprised by the culture and number of other attractions in Tromso. It isn’t the largest city, but you can head to the museums, galleries, go on a hike or indulge in the local food before you head out in search of the lights.
It is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights
The northern lights are synonymous with Norway. Situated around the Arctic Circle you can bear witness to some of the most dazzling aurora displays. Steve Vickers is the founder of Routes North, an independent travel guide to Scandinavia, and was kind enough to tell us more about witnessing the lights in Norway: “Norway can be expensive, but it's also one of the best places on Earth for seeing the northern lights. It’s safe, it’s easy to get around, and large parts of the country are far enough north to give you a good chance of seeing the lights.
“If the weather is good and the time of year is right, you can usually see the northern lights anywhere north of Bødo – and although rare, it's not unheard of for the lights to be visible over Oslo.
“Part of what makes Norway such a great place to see the aurora is the sheer variety of landscapes. You can watch the green lights dance over dramatic mountaintops, mirror-smooth fjords and even blue-hued glaciers.
“Our advice is to leave yourself plenty of time to see the northern lights; the weather is notoriously fickle in Norway and we'd recommend staying in the right part of the country for at least a few nights to maximise your chances of a magical encounter.”
Food in Norway is fresh, made with love and packs some serious flavour. Residents believe their country has been going through a ‘quiet culinary revolution’ for a number of years now, resulting in a rise of really high quality local and organic food. Linda Kazmerski has documented her experience of Norway on her travel blog, Tripping Blonde. Linda took the time to give us an insight into the country’s cuisine: “With Norway’s long coastline and its many fjords, fish is a must try food, whether fresh or cured. Don’t miss the grilled salmon dishes, but also be sure to try the bacalao, a dried and salted cod dish. If you’re a meat lover, opt for a traditional everyday meal, kjøttkaker, which is a fried meatball with boiled potatoes and gravy with a side of mushy peas. For a sweet treat, seek out a traditional cake like svele, grovkake, or skolebolle. For something a bit more savoury, try the heart shaped waffles with lingonberry jam and brown cheese.”
Carnivores will adore the offerings at the many restaurants, or for some regional flavour check out some of the food festivals that pop up throughout the year.
If you have worked up a thirst exploring Norway you can savour some of the purest water on offer. Bottled straight from mountain steams it will make anything you have at home pale in comparison. The milk is also regarded as some of the best in the world, as the slow-growing grass keeps cows well-fed leading to rich flavours. Or if you are after something a bit stronger, Norway has a thriving beer scene, with distilleries and breweries pouring brilliant pints across the country.
Weather – what to pack
Norway is a glorious destination regardless of when you wish to visit. During the colder winter months you will see some of the thickest snow, while the summer months allow the fjords to glisten in the sun and the vast amounts of green space really come to life. You are going to want to be warm and dry throughout your trip, but this doesn’t mean you have to drag suitcase after suitcase onto your Fred Olsen cruise.
Linda Kazmerski is an experienced traveller, so she offered some words of wisdom for anyone looking to make a trip to Scandinavia: “Norway’s weather can change at the drop of a hat, so be sure to pack one along with a few other staples that will help you stay warm and dry. When packing, opt for practicality and comfort over style. If you can achieve all three with your essentials, which includes a wool sweater, layers for protection against wind and rain, and waterproof footwear, you’ll have no problem fitting in with the locals while staying comfortable.”
Temperatures range between -20°C in the remote northern corners in January and February to around 17 °C in the summer. Your packing list will be determined by the time of year that you are visiting, as well as the activities you’re likely to do while you are there.
The colder months
Winter in Norway is at a similar time to the one we have in the UK, just significantly colder. You shouldn’t cloak yourself in six t-shirts, several jumpers and one large jacket. Instead, opt for these three layers: inner, middle and outer. The inner layer should be made up of long underwear, or thermals made from a synthetic material, while avoiding cotton which can actually cool you down. For the middle try waterproof trousers with thermal leggings. Wool is a very good insulator and you can even find some woollen padded trousers on the market. To keep yourself warm try to have a couple of thin pieces of clothing, which will trap warm air between them. Top the middle layer off with a sweatshirt of jumper.
Finally the outer layer. This should be large enough to fit over the preceding layers, but not too big that it becomes cumbersome. Try a thick jacket with a hood, in case it rains or you want to keep your head warmer. But it does always relate to what activity you are doing. If you are walking around or being active in some way this may be too much.
In the summer
Summer in Scandinavia can be rather comfortable. Mild temperatures mean that for the most part you can get away with a t-shirt, sweatshirt and thin jacket. At night however temperatures can drop, so if you are out for the day and a portion of the evening grab a hat and some gloves. It may seem surprising, but sunglasses and sunscreen are necessary especially if out on the water or in snowy areas as the UV rays will reflect of off it.
A holiday to a land of myths, Vikings, natural wonders and some of the most spectacular landscapes might seem like an impossible dream, but in reality, all you need is a Fred Olsen cruise to unlock not only the world’s happiest country, but your new favourite travel destination.
Image Credit: Yuriy Garnaev Benjamin Davies