Norway Travel Guide
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The Kingdom of Norway, is a country in Northern Europe occupying the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, as well as Jan Mayen and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard under the Spitsbergen Treaty. The majority of the country shares a border to the east with Sweden; its northernmost region is bordered by Finland to the south and Russia to the east. The United Kingdom and the Faroe Islands lie to its west across the North Sea, and Denmark lies south of its southern tip across the Skagerrak Strait. Bouvet Island and Peter I Island are dependent territories of Norway, but not considered part of the Kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land, a claim that has been recognised by Australia, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Norway's extensive coastline, facing the North Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea, is home to its famous fjords.
Inhabited since early in the 6th millennium BC, Norway was unified according to tradition by Harald Fairhair in 872 AD after the Battle of Hafrsfjord. The Viking age saw rapid expansion and emigration, Christianity gradually manifesting itself in the 10th and 11th centuries. The country entered into the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden in 1319, remaining under Denmark when Sweden left in 1521. In 1814, Norway was ceded to Sweden following Denmark's alliance with Napoleon, for which Denmark was later penalised. Declaring independence on 7 June 1905, Norway called on a Danish prince to become King Haakon VII; the first king of an independent Norway in 586 years. However, independence only lasted until 9 April 1940, when Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany.
After the Second World War, the country has experienced rapid economic growth, particularly as a result of large oil deposits discovered in the early 1970s. Today it ranks amongst the wealthiest countries in the world, with the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation. Norway is the world’s fourth largest oil exporter and the petroleum industry accounts for around a quarter of its GDP. Following the ongoing Financial crisis of 2007-2009, bankers have deemed the Norwegian krone to be one of the most solid currencies in the world.
Norway also has rich resources of gas fields, hydropower, fish, forests, and minerals. The country was the second largest exporter of seafood in 2006. Other main industries include shipping, food processing, shipbuilding, metals, chemicals, mining, fishing and pulp and paper products. Norway maintains a Scandinavian welfare model with universal healthcare, free higher education and a comprehensive social security system. Norway was ranked highest of all countries in human development from 2001 to 2006. It was also rated the most peaceful country in the world in a 2007 survey by Global Peace Index.
Although having rejected EU membership at two referendums, Norway maintains close ties with the Union and its member countries, as well as with the USA. It is considered a prominent participant in diplomacy and international development, having been heavily involved with the failed Oslo Accords and negotiated a truce between the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil Tigers. Norway remains one of the biggest financial contributors to the UN, and participates with forces in international missions, notably in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sudan.
A unitary state with administrative sub-divisions on two levels known as counties and municipalities, Norway is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy and parliamentary democracy, with King Harald V as its Head of State. It is a founding member of UN, NATO, the Council of Europe and the Nordic Council, and member of EEA, WTO and OECD.
Oslo (Oslo Hotels & Oslo Resort Reservation Service)
Oslo sits at the head of the Oslofjord, an inlet of the Skagerrak. It is the oldest of the Scandinavian capitals, having been founded by Harald Hardrada in 1048. After being levelled by fire in 1624, the city was rebuilt in brick and stone by King Christian IV, who renamed it Christiania - a name which stuck until 1925 when it reverted back to Oslo.
Despite being Norway's largest city, Oslo is remarkably low-key. The city centre is a pleasant jumble of old and new architecture with an abundance of museums, parks and monuments. It's also a remarkably easy city to get around, with most sights within walking distance of the centre or effortlessly reached by public transport.
A must see in Oslo is the Akershus Fortress, a medieval fortress and castle built around 1300. The Akershus Castle is especially memorable and contains dungeons possessing dark little cubby holes where the prisoners were kept under lock and key; plush upper floors with banquet halls and staterooms; and the chapel, still used for royal events, which holds the crypts of King Håkon VII and Olav V. During WW II the Nazis used Akershus as a prison and place of execution, and today it's the site of Norway's Resistance Museum, which gives a vivid account of German occupation and the Norwegian struggle against it. The site is surrounded by park-like grounds, offering excellent views of the city and harbour. There are concerts, dances and theatrical productions held here during summer.
Vigeland Park is a wonderful expanse of greenery, duck ponds and rows of shady trees - the ideal place for leisurely strolls and picnics on the lawn. Its central walkway is flanked with life-size statues by Gustav Vigeland, a prolific artist who presented the human form in a range of emotions and poses. Probably the most impressive piece is a monolith of writhing bodies, believed to be the world's largest granite sculpture. For a more in-depth look at the development of Vigeland's work, check out the Vigeland Museum across from the park. Other artistic shrines include the National Theatre, with its lavish rococo hall, which was built a century ago to stage Ibsen's plays; and the Munch Museum, which contains more than 5000 drawings and paintings bequeathed to the city by Norway's most famous artist. Munch's most famous painting, The Scream, resides in the National Gallery, though it went for a short, unexpected holiday in 1994.
A 10-minute ferry ride across the harbour takes you to Bygdoy. This peninsula has some of Oslo's most outstanding attractions including Norway's largest open-air folk museum; maritime museums housing excavated Viking ships and Thor Heyerdahl's balsa raft Kon-Tiki; restored stave churches; and a couple of good beaches. Also easily reached by public transport is the Nordmarka, a wilderness area on Oslo's northern border, which is crossed by hiking and skiing trails.
The majority of Oslo's budget accommodation and eateries can be found in or close to the city centre. Karl Johans Gate, the main street, is lined with shops, and is a popular haunt for buskers. Oslo's nightlife includes the usual mix of theatres, live music, discos, clubs, pubs, gay bars and drag shows.
Risor (Risor Hotels & Risor Resort Reservation Service)
This cluster of historic white houses built around a small fishing harbour is one of Norway's most picturesque villages. It's popular with artists and tourists, and is a summer hangout for Norway's yachties. Visits to nearby islands can be made by inexpensive water taxis. One such island is Stangholmen, which has an old lighthouse with a restaurant and bar. Risør is on the curving southern coast, south of Oslo.
Central Norway (Central Norway Hotels & Central Norway Resort Reservation Service)
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.
The historic city of Bergen, with its cultured atmosphere and low skyline of red-tiled roofs, is the main jumping-off point for journeys into the western fjords. From here you can visit Sognefjord, Norway's longest (200km) and deepest (1300m) fjord; the scenic Hardangerfjord; the massive Jostedalsbreen glacier; spectacular waterfalls at Geirangerfjord; and Trollveggen, a jagged and often cloud-shrouded summit near Åndalsnes that is considered the ultimate challenge among Norwegian mountain climbers.
In addition, there are resorts, excellent national parks, and road trips through some of Norway's most breathtaking scenery. Don't miss the 470km train journey on the Oslo-Bergen railway: this scenic trip is Norway's finest, and passes through mountain ranges and the windswept Hardanger plateau.
Tromso (Tromso Hotels & Tromso Resort Reservation Service)
The 'Gateway to the Arctic' is a stark contrast to the sober communities dotting the northern coast of Norway. It's a spirited town with street music, cultural happenings, more pubs per capita than any other place in the country and many 'northenmost' claims. Snow-capped mountains provide the scenic backdrop, the town has a swag of period buildings and the Tromso Museum is a good place to learn about Lapp culture. There's also fine skiing here in winter.
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