Widely travelled journalist and discerning adventurer, Jens A. Riisnæs, lists his 25 favourite places in Norway, many of them off the beaten track.
“I wanted to list some not so obvious parts of Norway that are equally rewarding as the more well-known destinations. These are all tours I have personally done and would like to do again,” Riisnæs tells, while alleging that Norway now also has the advantage of being a high-tech society, a laboratory of the future mixed with historical elements from all the way back to the Stone Age.
“From the very start of tourism, Norway has been among the world’s top destinations”, claims Riisnæs. “When it comes to natural beauty, we compete with few other countries. We also have the fjords, the summer light, the northern lights, the Gulf stream and a change between the seasons like no other country in the world. The Sami people traditionally divide the year in eight seasons. “I myself think we have at least twelve”, states Riisnæs.
“The country is in many ways a living folk museum – open for everyone to explore. This applies well to travel trends where the hunt for authenticity is increasingly important to the discerning tourist. It’s the ideal country for conscious, modern travelling,” claims Riisnæs.
“Norwegian cuisine has improved a lot in recent years. The cooking has always benefited from fresh, natural ingredients. Now we also have the know-how to utilize them to the highest international standards.”
The wooded, hilly landscape from the valley of Tovdal to the village of Åraksbø represents Southern Norway at its most impressive. Tovdal is one of the most varied forest and low-lying mountain biotopes in Southern Norway. One of the finest inland walks in the area goes from Dale down to Åraksbø in Setesdal, home to the old building Huageburet that dates from 1219. Along the way you pass the waterfall Rjukan, Stuvestøyl, Videstøyl, the Juvass stream and the Skuggefjell mountain. Canoes are available to rent at Hillestad. Find out more about the Setesdalen valley.
Oscarsborg Fortress was built on a beautiful island in the narrowest section of the Oslofjord. Today, it is primarily an interesting monument to Norway’s military history. At dawn on 9 April 1940, the fortress fired the cannons and torpedoes that sank the German heavy cruiser the Blücher. This gave Norway’s King Haakon VII and the Government the time they needed to flee further north, from where they were evacuated to London to continue the fight against the Nazi occupation.
The Southern Norway archipelago consists of thousands of small and large islands and skerries, from the Ryvingen Lighthouse to the Jomfruland Island. There are literally tens of thousands smooth rocky shore areas that are hugely popular with sun worshippers in the summer. It is an amazing area for sea kayaking, both for beginners and the more experienced. The islands close to the main land are sheltered from the ocean, which makes canoes a great way of getting around.
This wilderness area near the Swedish border is a tougher alternative to Velmunden; more on a par with Alaska and the Yukon. The national parks Femundsmarka and Gutulia, on the Norwegian side of the border, and Töfsingdalen on the Swedish side, form one of the most distinctive high mountain biotopes in Scandinavia. When the great botanist Carl von Linné explored the area in 1734, he encountered falconers in the area. More about hiking in Femundsmarka.
The dramatic Rjukandalen Valley and its powerful waterfalls represent the essence of Norway as a modern industrial nation. At the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum in the Vemork power station, you can learn how the power of the waterfalls was tamed for hydroelectric power. The process lay the foundation for Norway’s transformation from a nation of poor fishermen and farmers into a rich and prosperous industrial country in just a few generations. Learn more about Rjukan.
The Telemark Canal stretches from Henrik Ibsen’s birth town Skien to Dalen, close to one of Telemark’s classic fjord lakes Bandak. Visitors can explore the canal, which was constructed with an intricate system of locks, in a few hours. From Dalen it is not far to other interesting attractions – for example Morgendal, known as “the cradle of skiing”, the art hotel Nutheim in Flatdal and the Hardangervidda plateau via the Møsvatn Lake. Find more information about Telemark.
Todalen, Innerdalen, Sunndalen, Litjdalen, Grødalen and Eikesdalen are a cluster of valleys that extend from the ocean into the high mountains of Trollheimen and Dovre. The area has phenomenal opportunities for walking and climbing, but also for cycling and driving. Try the new gravel road from Eikesdalen to the small town of Sunndalsøra via Aursjøen and the Litjadalen valley, for example.
One of the many fantastic walks that include both mountains and fjords goes from Eidfjord down to Husedalen, a stunning valley with three distinctive waterfalls. On the way you will experience the nature in the innermost part of the Hardangerfjord and pass the wild Hjølodalen and the mountain huts in Viveli, Hedlo and Hadlaskard; the Hårteigen mountain, which is the highest point and a great landmark on the Hardangervidda plateau; and finally Husedalen and the Munketrappene steps.
Deep down in the Sognefjord you will find the Lustrafjord with the Hurrungane mountains and the mountaineering centre at Turtagrø, as well as Veitastrond and the Jostedalen valley that are tucked in behind the Jostadalsbreen glacier. The area also boasts Norway’s oldest stave church Urnes, which is located in an enchanting setting on a promontory in the Lustrafjord. This part of the Sognefjord has the best the region can offer, with countless outdoor pursuits between the fjords and the glaciers.
Skudeneshavn is a coastal town that flourished during the great Age of Sail in the 19th century. Today it is known for having preserved its more than 200 old white wooden houses tremendously well. Many of the buildings were built in the 1850s and are lovingly maintained by their proud owners, many of whom are from Stavanger just a ferry crossing away.
Together with the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, the Lysefjord is Norway's most photographed fjord. This is hardly surprising considering the spectacular rock formations the Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) and Kjeragbolten, the latter of which is a prime destination for BASE jumpers. The most fascinating road and ferry route between Kristiansand and Stavanger goes via the Lysebotn hairpin bends down to the Lysefjord. Learn more about the Lysefjord in Ryfylke.
A paradise for surfers, the peninsula Stadtlandet and the island of Vågsøy also have Norway’s oldest monastery ruins and three lighthouses that offer accommodation. The village of Hoddevika has even established a reputation as one of the more exotic surfing destinations in the world (against some incredibly stiff competition!). The three lighthouses, all of which boast panoramic views of the sea, are called Hendanes, Kråkenes and Skogsnes.
If there is one area in Norway where you can go “island hopping” in the full sense of the word, it is the area north of the Sognefjord. The Solund archipelago and Værlandet have phenomenal scenery and lots of small communities, which means it is easy to get around with scheduled boat services. Best of all, however, is sea kayaking! Kayaking enthusiasts from all over the world discovered this island paradise a long time ago. In summer, numerous pleasure boats join them in the wide open spaces. Get to know the Fjord Coast.