When the clock strikes midnight in most countries, the sky is fiercely black, pierced only by the light of the moon. But if you happen to be in northern Norway in the summer, you won’t see a hint of darkness, for Mr. Sun never takes a break. This phenomena has nicknamed Norway the land of the midnight sun, and summer is the ideal time to head here as temperatures hit their peak in the 70s. This may feel brisk for Filipinos, but this is prime heatwave weather for the Norwegians.
Recently, the popularity of Disney’s Frozen (inspired by Norway) and The Vikings TV series has caused such a stir that tourism has skyrocketed by 40 percent. If you are considering a journey to this coastal kingdom, you won’t be disappointed.
For first-timers, the nation’s three largest cities, Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim, strike the high notes. In a single trip, you can savor natural beauty, history and traditions, modern art and architecture, and local gastronomy. For transportation, rent a car for countryside exploration or travel by train using the Eurail Norway pass. Love nature? Join a Hurtigruten cruise, a sailing line that traces the jagged coastline from south to north, and witness the midnight sun.
Oslo: Modern and Dynamic
Begin in Oslo, the biggest capital in Europe and home to more than 658,000 inhabitants. This dense, urban metropolis is the edgiest and hippest of the three. More than 50 museums will keep you occupied for days. Do visit the one-of-a-kind Nobel Peace Center, a museum dedicated to the work of Albert Nobel and the Nobel laureates. Pay homage at the Edvard Munch Museum featuring the life’s work of artist Edvard Munch, master of The Scream painting. Play a Viking at the Viking Ship Museum and marvel at the aggressive voyages of the Scandinavian people. English signage is extremely helpful.
Outdoor art from Norway’s beloved artist Gustav Vigeland is found at the one and only Vigeland Sculpture Park featuring approximately 200 bronze and stone works. Most famous is the amusing sculpture called Angry Boy depicting a frustrated child with clenched fists.
Next, Oslo’s architectural scene pulsates with change. The spanking new Vulkan borough replaces a stodgy industrial zone. Eco-friendly with sustainable hotels and commercial enterprises, the riverfront district is a harbinger in its reliance on geothermal wells and solar heating. The Tjuvholmen neighborhood touts trendy works of art along a necklace of canals. And the innovative Barcode enclave reveals a series of narrow and blocky high rises that resemble a barcode from a distance.
Rivaling the likes of the Sydney Opera House, the city’s most iconic building is the Oslo Opera House. Shaped as a white trapezoid rising out of the water, bisected by a tilted glass cube, the marble and granite monolith offers wide spaces for walking outside and within.
Meanwhile, Oslo is a foodie haven, a melting pot of ethnic cuisines. And for local tastes, the Mathallen Food Hall, opened in 2012, is Oslo’s first food emporium offering 30 stalls where you can sample iconic treats such as reindeer sausage and brown cheese, a Norwegian staple.
For a bird’s eye view of Oslo, ride up the Sneak Peak, a glass elevator and tower only open in the summer. For $20, you can gape at the skyline while suspended 23 stories in the air. At night, see Oslo from another perspective at the Akershus Fortress and dine at the Festningen Restaurant. This glittering panorama sparkles with lit bridges, golden towers, skyscrapers, and waterways.
Where to stay? The ultra mod Thief Hotel is the newest venture in Tjuvholmen, a neighborhood once sketchy and seamy. The 116-room hotel and spa is anchoring a new development that will open up the waterfront to restaurants and activities.
However, if you have a penchant for elegance and history, the Grand Hotel, over 140 years old, has stories to tell. This 273-room marvel hosts the annual Nobel Peace Prize winner in its Nobel Suite every year. Chandeliered to the hilt, the Grand is strategically located downtown, walking distance to museums, shopping, and restaurants.
Bergen: Fishing History and UNESCO Heritage Site
A train ride away from Oslo is Bergen, crowned by seven mountains. Nine-hundred-years young, Bergen represents the country’s second largest city with a population exceeding 277,000. To understand Bergen is to understand its longstanding fishing history where its port served as the epicenter of Norwegian trade.
Bergen is a city of endurance. Over the course of centuries, the city has suffered devastating fires not once, not twice, but at least 13 recorded times. Wooden buildings were brittle tinder, and a single ember would flatten entire communities. Other Norwegian cities faced similar calamities because of its reliance on wood.
Today, Bergen is a vibrant, well-to-do city of charm. That proves especially true in Bryygen, a wharf that looks the same since the 11th century. The strip of colorful shops and buildings features peaked rooftops in fairytale splendor. While over the years many have burned down, the city rebuilds it back to its original specifications, maintaining its UNESCO World Heritage status. In fact, if you wander through different boroughs, you will find more and more wooden houses, not for show, but actual residences. Bergen has one of Europe’s largest conglomerates of wooden homes. Meanwhile, the downtown is filled with cobblestone streets, statues, and old world architecture. Cafes and stores are found throughout repurposed historic buildings. A post office over a century old, is now a café with a Turkish interior.
When you visit Bergen, you can find reasonable goods cheaper than in the big city of Oslo, but popular brands are still expensive. For instance, the Oleana brand of women’s fashions is made and designed in Norway. A finely knit scarf will run $100. However, the Blaest brand, crafted in Bergen, features a line of women’s coats and jackets in the $100 and $200 range.
Not a shopper but an outdoors fan? To get to the pinnacle of the city, take a tram to the top via the Floibanen Funicular. There, a park awaits along with a restaurant and café. On a warm day, you may want to linger for the afternoon and hike the woods.
Meanwhile, Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords marking at least 300 cruise ship calls annually. Book a day cruise to skim the waters and gaze at Norway’s majestic mountains, gushing waterfalls, and multi-story glaciers. Different tours are available from speed boat packages to gentle fjord foodie cruises.
For dining, your best bet is to enjoy Bergen’s seafood and fish. The Fish Market off the pier features a series of the freshest stalls selling fresh sea bounty as well as cooked seafood and fish entrees. Visitors can sample most items in the windows. Smoked whale meat, anyone?
When it is time to catch a snooze, you will find at least 40 hotels in central Bergen and a smattering of bed and breakfasts, apartments, and youth hostels. If you crave downtown action, consider the Scandic Bergen City. Nicely appointed, this is a smoke-free hotel that includes breakfast daily.
Trondheim: Culture and Countryside
Also a train ride away from Oslo is quaint Trondheim, the country’s third largest city of 185,000 residents, nestled along the Nidelva River. Some 30,000 inhabitants are students who attend the prestigious Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the largest in Norway. From atoms to architecture, if you really want to get an overview of Trondheim, sign up for a two-hour guided walking tour at the Trondheim Tourist Information Office.
You will learn much about history and the religious life, especially if you wander the Nidaros Cathedral. Completed in 1300, the gothic church was built over the tomb of Norway’s patron saint, St. Olav, the courageous Viking king who brought the Christian faith to Norway. Take a tour and scurry up the 172 steps to the top of the tower.
Not far is the Archbishop’s Palace where you can see the Norwegian crown jewels. For a feel of what it was like to be an early settler, walk the wharves of Trondheim. These colorful preserved buildings and warehouses date back to the 18th century and continue to serve as picturesque backdrops. Another area to spy multi-color houses is the preserved town of Bakklandet.
Beloved Trondheim is also a treasured landmark for outdoor lovers. First and foremost, it is a haven for bicycle enthusiasts. It features the world’s first bicycle lift that goes up to the Kristiansten Fortress for free. An ideal ride is an easy coast through downtown Trondheim, passing parks. ancient buildings, and the Nidaros Cathedral. Pedal along the waterfront and bring a picnic lunch with you for a pleasant outing.
Next, explore Bymarka, a nature preserve dubbed a paradise for hiking. Meanwhile, kayaking along the local Nidelva River can be a serene undertaking, perfect for an evening outing.
Tucked within the Trondelag region, Trondheim is at the crux of a teeming farming community. The Farmers’ Market springs up on select Saturdays in the main square. Open every day is the brand new Trondheim Mathall, a food center that exclusively carries products from Trondelag. It operates as part grocery store, part bar and lounge, part restaurant. You will be lucky to find goods from small scale producers not found larger grocery outlets.
In terms of where to sleep, Trondheim offers more than 4,000 hotel rooms. You can also consider sleeping in a log cabin at the Valberg Family Farm, a working farm on the outskirts of town. Then there’s the budget-friendly Sandmoen Bed and Breakfast, a small apartment hotel south of Trondheim, with free waffles every afternoon.
If the sight of Viking ships, sky high glaciers, and cheerful wooden houses make your heart skip a beat, look no further. By visiting Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim, you will have a perfect Norway summer vacation Your Way.