Background information for Norway, including geography, history, wildlife, winter sports, the Nobel Peace Prize, Christmas, the royal family and more.
11,000 years ago: First signs of human settlement in Northern Norway
800–1066: The Viking era
1030: Olaf Haraldsson is killed at the battle of Stiklestad. He was the driving force behind Norway's conversion to Christianity, and was later canonized, and known as St Olav
1349: The Black Plague kills half of Norway's population
1450: Norway becomes a subject of the Danish Crown. It will remain under its authority for almost 400 years
1814: Secession from Denmark. The peace treaty of Kiel gives Norway to Sweden. The Norwegian constitution is written
1825: First wave of Norwegian immigrations to the USA. The big exodus starts
1905: The union with Sweden is dissolved and Norway becomes independent
1960s: Oil is found in the North Sea, a discovery that will change the fortunes of the country significantly
1972: Norway votes against EU membership (it will do so again in 1994)
1994: The winter Olympics are held in Lillehammer
Norway has the highest concentration of fjords in the world, and nowhere on earth are there more fjords than in Fjord Norway. Formed when the glaciers retreated, and seawater flooded the U-shaped valleys, the fjords have made Norway famous. Two of these, the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord, feature on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Sognefjord, the longest, and the Hardangerfjord, famed for its cherry and apple trees, are among the most visited. But the Lysefjord just outside Stavanger (home to the famous Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock), and the Nordfjord further north are also very popular holiday destinations. National Geographic Magazine has named the fjords "the best unspoiled travel destinations in the world". And the respected American newspaper Chicago Tribune has included Norway's fjords on its list Seven Wonders of Nature.
The Northern lights (aurora borealis) are a common natural phenomenon, most commonly observed above the Arctic Circle between late autumn and early spring. The northern lights belt hits Northern Norway in the Lofoten Islands, and follows the coast all the way up to the North Cape. This means that no other place on earth offers better chances of spotting the lights, and one location in this area might be as good as another.
In summer, meanwhile, over the Arctic Circle the sun does not set, meaning visitors to Northern Norway enjoy 24 hours of daylight this time of year – a phenomenon known as "midnight sun".
Famed for their boat building and navigation skills, the Vikings also had a reputation as raiders. They were, however, also traders, explorers and settlers, and the legacy from the Viking Age (AD 800-1050) lives on in Norway. The Viking Ships Museum in Oslo is home to the world's two best-preserved wooden Viking longships, both dating from the ninth century. Lofotr Viking Museum in Borg, in the Lofoten Islands; Karmøy Kulturopplevelser in Rogaland; and Stiklestad National Culture Centre in Nord-Trøndelag are all good places to learn more about Viking history.
The Sami are the indigenous people of Norway. Known for their colourful clothes and their huge herds of reindeer, the Sami have been living in northern Scandinavia for over 10,000 years. Today they have their own parliament in Karasjok (population: 3,000 inhabitants), the Sami capital of Norway, a town boasting a thriving Sami culture. Reindeer herding is still central to Sami culture, providing meat, fur and transportation - reindeer sledding is popular in Finnmark in winter.
Norway's success in the Winter Olympics is unrivalled, and the country has a total of 329 medals (118 gold, 111 silver and 100 bronze) to its tally. The best ever games for Norway were the Lillehammer winter games in 1994, when Norway, which was competing on home turf, topped the medal table, having won 26 medals, of which 10 gold. Most famous winter sports athletes of recent years include cross-country skiers Marit Bjørgen and Petter Northug, snowboarder Terje Håkonsen and Alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal.
Wildlife enthusiasts will be spoilt in Norway, where moose, reindeer, deer, lynx and foxes all roam freely. You might see wolves in the most remote areas of eastern Norway, black bears in the Pasvik Valley in Finnmark, Polar bears on Svalbard, and even musk ox, a descendant of the last ice age, in Dovre. Norway is also home to two of the world's best bird cliffs, Røst and Runde. The Varanger Peninsula in Northern Norway is another good spot for bird-watching, with lots of migratory birds in season. Whale-watching meanwhile is a popular activity off the coast of Vesterålen.
King Harald V, the King of Norway, and Queen Sonja have two children: a son, Crown Prince Haakon, who is married to Crown Princess Mette-Marit, with whom he has two children; and a daughter, Princess Martha Louise, who is married to Ari Mikael Behn, with whom she has three children.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is chosen by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and the prize is the only one not awarded in Stockholm. The Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, during which the laureate delivers his or her acceptance speech, takes place every year on 10 December in Oslo City Hall, the date on which Alfred Nobel died in 1896. Recent laureates have included US president Barack Obama, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and women rights champions Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman.
After being part of the Danish autocracy for 400 years, Norway got its own constitution, signed in Eidsvoll on 17 May 1814, and joined a loose union with Sweden. Despite full independence having had to wait until 1905, Constitution Day remains Norway's official National Day. Today it is celebrated with children's processions (not military parades) and festivities throughout Norway. Traditional "bunads" (national costumes) are worn by many Norwegians on the day.
Outstanding freshwater and deep-sea fishing make Norway a special destination for anglers. Ever since the first British anglers or 'salmon lords' found their way to Norway in the first half of the 19th century, Norway has been one of angling's spiritual homes. Here, you will find everything needed for a great fishing holiday: a wide range of well stocked waters, a pristine environment and not least big fish. A trip to Norway offers a great chance to hook up with an outsized salmon, trout, pike, cod or halibut and many more species besides. With 83,281 kilometres of coastline, over 400 salmon-bearing rivers and countless other fishable rivers, streams and lakes, and little pressure on most fisheries, the fish thrive and grow large.
Crossing the Arctic Circle and standing at the North Cape, Europe's northernmost point, are must dos for many travellers to Northern Norway.
The run-up to Christmas is a special time in Norway. Candles light up homes during the cold, dark winter months. Most Norwegian towns and cities have Christmas fairs and markets, seasonal concerts and performances at this time. Oslo's largest Christmas market is the one at the Folk Museum on Bygdøy. Bergen, meanwhile, is famous for its Gingerbread Town, which is erected on Torgallmenningen every year. The mining town of Røros in Eastern Norway, is a truly magic place to visit in December, and Tregaarden's Christmas House in Drøbak is a must-see as Scandinavia's only permanent Christmas shop. Typical Christmas food includes ribbe (roasted pork belly), pinnekjøtt (salted and dried, sometimes smoked, lamb ribs) and lutefisk (stock fish softened in water and lye before cooking).
System of government: Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy
Head of government: Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Population: 5,137,679 inhabitants (as of 1 July 2014)
Capital city: Oslo
Most important cities for tourism: Oslo (925,228 inhabitants), Bergen (247,731), Stavanger/Sandnes (203,771), Trondheim (169, 972), Kristiansand (64,692), Tromsø (72,066), Ålesund (44,417).
Languages: Norwegian bokmål, Norwegian nynorsk and Sami
Religion: Church of Norway (Protestant Christianity)
Currency: Norwegian kroner (NOK) 1 krone = 100 øre
Time zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) +1 hour
National day: 17 May
Area: 385,155 square kilometres
Coastline: Norway's coastline stretches over 25,148 kilometres; without fjords and bays, the length would be only 2,532 kilometres
Largest lake: Mjøsa, 362 square kilometres
Longest river: Glomma, 600 kilometres
Highest peak: Galdhøpiggen 2,469 metres
Largest glacier (also mainland Europe's largest): Jostedalsbreen 487 square kilometres
Longest fjord: The Sognefjord 204 kilometres
Most famous waterfall: Vøringsfossen 182 metres
|New Year's Day||1 January||1 January|
|Palm Sunday||20 March||9 April|
|Maundy Thursday||24 March||13 April|
|Good Friday||25 March||14 April|
|Easter Sunday||27 March||16 April|
|Easter Monday||28 March||17 April|
|Labour Day||1 May||1 May|
|Ascension Day||5 May||25 May|
|Constitution Day||17 May||17 May|
|Whit Sunday||15 May||4 June|
|Whit Monday||6 May||5 June|
|Christmas Day||25 December||25 December|
|Boxing Day||26 December||26 December|