|Government||Constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy|
|Area||total: 324220 sq km |
water: 16360 sq km
land: 307860 sq km
|Population||4,593,041 (July 2005 est.)|
|Language||Norwegian (Bokm�l and Nynorsk) and Sami|
|Religion||Protestant state church|
|Time Zone||UTC +1|
Norway is one of the three Scandinavian countries located in Northern Europe.
Norway is divided into 19 administrative regions, called counties (fylker, formerly amter), and 434 municipalities (kommuner).
- M�re og Romsdal
- Oslo - the Norwegian capital
- Sogn og Fjordane
- Oslo - the capital and largest city of Norway, with museums of national importance.
- Bergen - old Hanseatic trading center with a rich culture and dramatic scenery, second largest city.
- Stavanger - The fourth largest city of Norway, commercially important.
- Trondheim - Once the capital of Norway, today the technological center, and with the oldest, biggest and most important cathedral in Scandinavia (Nidarosdomen).
- Troms� - City with the northernmost university in the world.
- Lillehammer - Picturesque former Winter Olympics site
- Geiranger fjord is a part of the Storfjorden.
- Lofoten - Experience the midnight sun in this traditional fishing district in the northern province with islands and mountains.
- Nordkapp - The northernmost point of continental Europe
- Sognefjorden - Glaciers, mountains and picturesque towns are but a few of the sights on the Sogne fjord.
- Svalbard - Islands far to the north of Norway, the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world
- T�nsberg - The oldest city in Scandinavia.
Norway is well known for its amazing and varied nature. The fjords in the west of the country are long narrow inlets of the sea, flanked by tall mountains. Norway was an old Viking kingdom. Economically it is known for its oil and seafood exports.
Norway has space. In this country, roughly the same size as Great Britain or Germany, only 4.5 million people live. Thus, for each inhabitant there is 65,000 square meters of land, but the vast majority of this land is a rocky wilderness which is completely unusable for any agricultural purposes. As a result, Norway has a large number of completely unpopulated areas, many of which have been converted to national parks. But even outside the national parks, much of the land is unspoiled nature which Norwegians strive to keep unspoiled.
In winter, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding are very popular. In summer, hiking and biking are obvious ways to enjoy the enormous mountain areas. For the adventurous, kayaking, wildwater rafting, paragliding, cave or glacier exploration are possible. Car tourists will enjoy driving along the fjords and mountains in the west or to the midnight sun in the north. Briefly, Norway has a lot to offer in terms of nature.
Norway is located on a large peninsula shared with Sweden in the north of Europe. In the north, it also borders Finland and Russia. A large but loosely defined northern part of of Norway and Sweden, as well as parts of Finland and Russia outlines an area known as Sapmi (Sameland), which is where the most of the Sami (lapp) people live.
Because of the gulf stream, the climate in Norway is noticeably warmer than what would otherwise be expected at such a high latitude. Almost half the length of Norway is north of the polar circle. Summers can be moderately warm (up to 30 degrees C), even in northern areas, but only for limited periods. The length of the winter and amount of snow varies. In the north there is more snow and winters are dark; on the southern and western coast, winters are moderate and rainy, while further inland the temperature can get below -25 degrees C. Some mountain areas will have permanent glaciers.
A rugged landscape shaped by the Ice Age, shows forest hills and valleys, mountains, waterfalls, and a long coastline with fjords, islands, and mountains growing directly up from the sea. Norway's highest point is Galdhøpiggen (2469m) in the Jotunheimen region that lies midway between Oslo and Trondheim, but away from the coast. In the far north (Finnmark), you will find flatter open spaces.
Norway's primary income is the petroleum industry in the North Sea. It also has several other natural resources such as fish and minerals, some industry, and a healthy technology sector. Politically, it is dominated by a widespread and continued support for the Scandinavian model, which means high taxes and high government spending to support free schools, free healthcare, an efficient welfare system, and many other benefits. As a result the unemployment rate in Norway is low.
The Norwegian people have rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in two independent popular votes in 1972 and 1994, after first having being vetoed out of membership by France in the 50s and 60s. However, being a member state of the European Economic Area and part of the Schengen agreement, Norway is still closely connected to the EU, and is integrated as a full member in most economic matters as well as in customs and immigration matters.
Norway is part of the Schengen countries, meaning you can travel from any other Schengen country with few or no border checks. Most citizens of industrialized nations do not need a visa to enter Norway for tourism or short business trips.
Oslo's airport is the biggest in the country and the main international hub, but it is somewhat overshadowed by its larger neighbors Copenhagen and Stockholm and serves few long-distance flights. Note that Ryanair's "Oslo Torp" airport is in fact 115 km to the south of Oslo, and you can spend as much on the coach trip (about �10 return) as on the flight!
There are also some international flights, mostly from elsewhere in Scandinavia, to Bergen and Tromso.
There are trains from Sweden and Denmark.
It is possible to enter by road from Sweden, Finland, or Russia.
Kiel to Oslo. The ferry leaves Kiel at 1.30pm and arrives in Oslo at 9.30am, the following day. The ferry terminal in Kiel is located on Norwegenkai, which is a very short walk across the bridge from Kiel's main railway station. At the Oslo end of the journey, the terminal is located at Hjortneskai, which is just west of the city. There is a bus from the terminal to the city center, which departs shortly after passengers disembark.
The return journey from Oslo to Kiel also departs at 1.30pm. A bus to the ferry dock departs opposite Oslo Sentral station at about 12.30pm.
On board the ferry are a number of restaurants, bars, casinos, cinemas and also a stage show to keep you entertained during the journey. There are various classes of cabins available, ranging from shared rooms to singles, doubles and luxury suites.
Thompson Cruise ships operate from Harwich and visit Flam, Bergen, Molde, Tromso, Lofoten Islands, Geiranger and Alesund in Norway. The duration of the cruise varies from 5 days up to 2 weeks. Sailing time from Harwich to south Norway is 1.5 days. On board the crusie ship are a number of restaurants, bars, casinos, cinemas and also a stage show to keep you entertained during the journey. There are various classes of cabins available, ranging from shared rooms to singles, doubles and luxury suites.
Norway has an excellent public transport system, but it's a big country and getting around, particularly up north, is expensive and time-consuming.
Norway's craggy coastline makes roads and trains slow, so domestic flights are very popular and, at least by Norwegian standards, competitively priced. The largest operators are SAS Braathens (http://www.sasbraathens.no), Norwegian (http://www.norwegian.no) and Wider�e (http://www.wideroe.no).
Norges Statsbaner (http://www.nsb.no/internet/en/index.jhtml?language=en) (NSB) connects major cities, as far north as Bod�, but there is no rail connection between the many cities on the coast (due to the hindrance by fjords). However, if you do travel by train, you'll travel through the most spectacular scenery in the world. Trains are generally well-maintained and comfortable with toilets, vending machines etc on board. You can buy a Stavanger to Troms�, an extensive network of catamaran expressboats shuttle between towns and cities, and connect islands otherwise difficultly accessible. Service and prices are comparable with trains. Check in advance if you want to bring a bicycle.
One option particularly popular with tourists is the Bergen all the way to Kirkenes, taking about a week for the whole journey. Cabins are expensive, but deck fares are more reasonable and there's even a 50% off discount with Inter Rail.
Most towns are reachable by bus. Access by bus includes most national parks, although buses often leave just once a day, or possibly even more infrequently.
Renting a car can be expensive, but can be essential for easy access to some of the more rural areas, if you are not too fond of walking. If you live in Europe, consider bringing your own, but if you arrive during winter, be aware that winter tires are necessary and required by law (except in major cities). Some other points to heed:
- The yield from right rule is universal in Norway.
- Some mountain roads are not wide enough for two cars to meet. Look for signs with a large M which indicates a passing point.
- Headlights are mandatory even during daylight.
Norwegian is the official language of Norway. The language is very close and mutually intelligible with the two other Scandinavian languages, Danish and Swedish. Sami is a minority language which has official status in some Northern regions.
Most Norwegians know how to speak English. Most Norwegians at age 50 and downwards speak English pretty well, an impressive amount of them even speak it fluently. Many Norwegians also learn German or French at school, however this is nowhere near the high number of people who speak English.
In addition, a wide range of minorities live in Norway, both native and more modern immigrant groups. Several languages are spoken by cultural groups without having status as official languages, like Romani, Finnish, Kvensk and Urdu.
A great introduction to Norway is the one-day right to access, which means it is possible to camp freely in most places, as long as you're on uncultivated land, you're not leaving any traces and you're out of the way.Official coins (http://www.norges-bank.no/cgi-bin/go.cgi?to=/sedler_og_mynt/mynt.html)
ATMs in Norway are called Minibank. There is usually no problem locating an ATM machine in urban areas. At the Oslo Central Station, you can withdraw euros, dollars, british pounds, swedish, danish and norwegian kroner. With a Bank Axept debit card, you can also withdraw money from most shops and gas stations. Note that most groceries and supermarkets as well as the government liqour monopoly Vinmonopolet do not accept credit cards. Taxis, restaurants, hotels, and bars usually only accept credit cards or cash.
Norway is an expensive country. While it is possible to travel in Norway with a limited expense account, some care must be taken to do so. Because labour is costly here, anything that can be seen as a "service" will in general be more expensive than you expect. Transport costs can also be a killer, because the country is large and distances long, so a rail pass or air pass can save you a lot of money.
As rules of thumb, subsisting on under 500 kr/day will be difficult even if you stay in hostels and self-cater, with 1000 kr/day allowing a more comfortable mid-range lifestyle and over 2000 kr/day needed for good hotels and good restaurants.
Opening hours in Norway are better than they used to be, but many smaller stores still close early on Saturday (1 PM or 3 PM is typical) and nearly everything is closed on Sundays. You'll often see opening hours written as "9-21 (9-18)" on doors, meaning 9 AM to 9 PM weekdays, 9 AM to 6 PM Saturday. The major exception is convenience stores, notably the big chains Narvesen, Deli de Luca and 7-Eleven, which are open from early morning until late at night every day, with 24 hour service in the biggest cities.
Traditional Norwegian "farm" food is made by whatever can grow in the harsh climate, be stored for a year until new crops come out, and contain enough energy for you to do hard work. Typical examples are variations of yeasted and unyeasted bread and other forms of bakery, porridges, soups, inventive uses of potato, salted and smoked meat, and fresh, salted or smoked fish. The regional variances in traditional food are, however, huge, and hence, what is thought to be "typical traditional" for one Norwegian might be totally unknown to another.
Finer traditional food is usually based on hunted animals or fresh fish. Steak, medallions and meat balls from game, deer, reindeer and elk are highly appreciated foods with international reputation, so are fresh, smoked and fermented salmon varieties as well as a host of other fish products. Traditional pastries like lukket valn�tt (marzipan-covered whipped cream cake) are other original contributions to international cuisine. Cheese of various types is common, but one particularly Norwegian favorite is geitost, a mild smoked cheese which bears a remarkable similarity to smooth peanut butter in color, texture and taste.
Today, Norwegians use plenty of sliced bread for almost any meal except dinner, whereas recipes for hot meals will be taken from almost anywhere in the world, including of course the traditional kitchen, but seldom the most extreme examples.
Places to eat
Eating out is expensive, with fast food starting from 50 kr and sit-down meals in a decent restaurant very easily topping 100 kr. One way to cut costs is self-catering, as youth hostels and guesthouses often have kitchens for their guests. Breakfast is often hearty and buffet-style, so pigging out at breakfast and skipping lunch is also an option.
For a cheap quick snack Norwegian-style, look no further than the nearest grill or convenience store, which will dish up a p�lse sausage in either a hot dog bun (br�d) or wrapped in a flat potato bread (lompe) for around 20 kr.
Norway is often described as a "dry" country, because alcohol is highly priced and glass of wine/beer in a restaurant is in the range of 60 kr (6�/9USD/9 Euro). Beverage is available in supermarkets. Beer can be bought at the supermarkets, however wine and stronger alcoholic beverages has to be purchased in state owned liquor stores (Vinmonopolet).
You must be at least 18 years old to purchase beer/wine and 20 years old to purchase spirits (alcohol levels of 22% and above) in Norway.
Technically, you're not allowed to drink in public. This law is very strict, and even encompasses your own balcony, if other people can see you! Luckily, the law is very seldom enforced (I've never heard of anyone being fined in their own balcony, for instance), and Norwegians indeed do drink in parks. There are calls for modifying the antiquated law, and recently, there has been a debate in media: most people seem to agree that drinking in parks is allright as long as people have a good time and remain peaceful. However, if you bother others and get too intoxicated or a policeman happens to be in a bad mood, you may be asked to throw away your alcohol, and in a worst-case scenario, fined. Drinking openly in the street is probably still considered somewhat rude, and it would be more likely to bring the police's attention than a picnic in a park, and is advised against. Having a glass of wine in an establishment that legally serves alcohol at the sidewalk, of course, is not a problem.
In Norway, all alcohol with a volume percentage of under 4,75% can be sold at regular shops. This means you can get decent beer all over the place. The price varies, but imported beer is usually damn expensive. Shopping hours for beer are very strict: The sale stops at 8 pm (20.00) every weekday, and at 6 pm (18.00) every Saturday, even if the shop is open longer. This means the beer will have to be PAID before this time. If it's not paid, the person behind the counter will take your beer, and tell you "Sorry pal, too late!". On Sunday, you can't buy beer anywhere except bars/pubs/restaurants.
For strong beer, wine and hard alcohol, you will have to find a Vinmonopolet branch. The state shop have a marvellous choice of drinks, but at mostly sky-high prices. The general rule is that table wines are more expensive than in nearly any other country. Expect NOK 80-90 for a decent, "cheap" wine. They are open until 5 pm (17.00) Mon-Wed, 6 pm (18.00) Thu-Fri, and 3 pm (15.00) on Sat. Sunday? No way.
A single hotel room should cost you from around 800 kr and up (special offers are common and cheaper), but you can find reasonable cheap lodgings in camping huts (300-600 kr, space for entire family), mountain cabins (150-300 kr per person), youth hostels (150-250 kr per person), etc. Most of these will require you to make your own food, bring your own bedsheets, and wash before leaving.
Norway has a low crime rate. Crime is mostly limited to theft and vandalism. Single women should have no problems, although ordinary street sense is advised after dark, especially in Oslo.
Norwegians tend not to put up warning signs if there is no real reason; you will find few "watch your step" signs. Where there are warnings, pay attention. Every year, quite a few tourists get hurt, even killed, in the mountains or on the seas, usually after given unheeded warnings. For example, do not approach a glacier front unless you know what you're doing.
When hiking, ALWAYS make sure to bring a map and a compass, and make sure someone knows where you're going, and when you get back. While a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit may offer some help and convenience, do not rely on it exclusively. While a map is failsafe, a GPS is not. Make sure you bring some food and plenty of warm clothing (be prepared for a sudden change in weather).
Smoking is strictly not allowed in restaurants, bars or other public places indoors, and violations might force the establishment to deny you service, or else they'll risk getting fined bigtime by the county or the police. You'll have to go outside with all the other smokers.
Norwegians are usually sincere and polite, treat them the same way. To get to know Norwegians, it is usually up to you to break the ice (sometimes literally). They can be very direct, sometimes seeming rude, but that's usually not intended! Another habit is also addressing people with first given even in many formal occasions, which may also be confusing to strangers.
Learning even a few Norwegian phrases will make you a big hit, but try to learn something else than just the swear words.
Cellphone coverage is universal in urban areas. Even in the most remote mountain cabins, as long as they are staffed, you will usually be able to send a postcard. As many as 66% (2004) of Norwegian homes are connected to the internet in some fashion, which make Cybercaf�s hard to find outside major cities, due to a relatively small market.
- Visit Norway (http://www.visitnorway.com/) - official Norwegian tourism site
- Norway - the Official Site (http://www.norway.info/) - official Norwegian information portal
- Norway - National Tourist Routes (http://www.turistveg.no/index.asp?lang=eng) - official portal about unique drives through the most spectacular countryside Norway has to offer