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 midnight sun, 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 into eight seasons. “I myself think we have at least eleven”, states Riisnæs.
Riisnæs describes Norway as a living folk museum, open for everyone to explore.
“It’s the ideal country for conscious, modern travelling, and the 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.”
These are Riisnæs' 25 favourite places in Norway (listed in random order):
1. Stadtlandet and Vågsøy
A paradise for surfers, the unsheltered 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.
2. Island hopping north of the Sognefjord
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.
3. The fjord valleys leading to the Trollheimen and Dovrefjell mountains
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 gravel road Aursjøvegen from Eikesdalen to the small town of Sunndalsøra via Aursjøen and the Litjadalen valley, for example.
4. Rock formations by the Lysefjord and the Lysebotn hairpin bends
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.
5. The Ålfotbreen glacier and Nordfjord
Vingen is the largest petroglyph field in the Nordic countries and it's located in Nordfjord near Norway's tallest sea cliff, Hornelen, which towers 860 metres above the sea. This walk goes all the way down to the Hyefjord and is typical for Norway’s varied hiking possibilities featuring both fjord landscapes and inland mountains. The tour goes through distinctive geological formations from the Devonian Age, across Norway’s westernmost glacier the Ålfotbreen via the mountain cabins at Blåbrebu and Gjegnabu. Guided tours of the glaciers are strongly recommended. Just remember to bring suitable clothes as this is the wettest area in Norway, with 10 times more rain than Bergen.
6. From the top of the Hardangervidda plateau down to the fjord
One of the many fantastic walks that include both mountains and fjords in Hardanger, 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.
7. The innermost part of the Sognefjord
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.
8. Norway’s best-preserved sailing ship town: Skudeneshavn
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.
9. Adventures in the wilderness: Lyngsalpene mountain range
Lyngen, known as “The alps by the ocean”, has a given place on the international extreme wilderness map. It is a paradise for both traditional and modern adventures in nature: from fishing, hunting and classic mountaineering to extreme skiing, diving and hang-gliding
10. The fishing village Hamn in Senja
11. On the border with Russia
In Finnmark, the northeast corner of Norway has a number of interesting attractions. On the border with Russia you can visit several churches, like Oscar II’s Chapel in Grense Jakobselv and the Protestant Church and St George’s Chapel in Neiden, as well as the Finnish-Norwegian fishing village of Bugøynes. From Kirkenes, you can drive along the border on the road that goes from the Bjørnevatn Lake to Øvre Pasvik National Park. Varanger has one of Norway's largest nesting sites for Arctic birds, and in Ytre Jarfjord you can find interesting activities like red king crab safaris. Further west you will find the Treriksrøysa cairn, the point where Norway, Sweden and Finland meet.
12. The outermost Lofoten islands
On the islands Moskenesøya, Værøy and Røst in Lofoten, you can experience a unique mixture of breathtaking scenery, formed by thousands of years of fishing activities, and modern-day demands of tourism. Here you will find art galleries and fresh spices like chilli, ginger and garlic. See the midnight sun in summer or chase the northern lights in winter. Between February and April, fishermen hunt for skrei, the migrating cod that comes to the coast of Northern Norway to spawn every year.
13. The island kingdoms of Træna and Myken
These two island kingdoms far out to sea have been settled for more than 6,000 years, and have a rich cultural heritage and ancient monuments to explore. Træna is located 61 kilometres off the Helgeland coast and offers everything from art and culture to saunas and cosy cafes. You can jump on the local ferry and visit the island Sanna, where the famous rock formation Trænastaven soars above the ocean. Træna is also where the success story of salmon farming in Northern Norway started and the Træna festival has achieved international cult status.
Further out, you'll find Myken, a small island where only 11 people live permanently. Still, it has a modern Whisky distillery (!).
14. Gjesvær – a classic fishing village
Gjesvær is a classic Finnmark fishing village with three distinctive bird cliff islands called Stappane not far offshore. The area has Norway’s biggest puffin colony of more than 350,000 birds. This is Norway’s northernmost archipelago, comprising over 100 islands and islets. The northernmost point is mentioned in Snorre’s history of the Norse kings from the 13th century. You can also explore landmarks that predate the Viking Era.
15. The unknown Vistenfjord
The Vistenfjord, located on the coast of Helgeland between the Vega Islands and the Seven Sisters mountain, is often referred to as “the unknown fjord”. It is one of Northern Europe’s most varied natural biotopes, with traces of hunting and fishing activities dating back 9,000 years. There are permanent settlements both by the mouth of the fjord and at Bønå, where a local sheep farmer come fisherman and his family run a wilderness centre offering a variety of outdoor pursuits.
16. Røros and the Circumference
The traditional mining community of Røros is situated on a high mountain plateau. One of Europe’s biggest copper deposits was discovered here, which created great wealth – at least in Copenhagen. This is where most of the copper ended up, where it was used as roofing for monumental buildings, for example the Stock Exchange with its famous dragon spire. Røros itself may be the only mining town in the world that is almost exclusively built of wood – see it for yourself on a guided tour of the mines and the town. Røros is also one of Norway’s leading regions for locally produced food and you can try the delicacies on a food safari.
17. The medieval Nidaros Cathedral
In the Middle Ages, the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim was as important for pilgrims as Santiago de Compostela. Although the interior was stripped of many of its art treasures during the Reformation, it still has a special place among Europe’s cathedrals – not the least because of its sheer size. In fact, it is by far the biggest cathedral in Europe to be located so far from Rome.
18. An exotic offshoot of the Setesdalen valley
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.
19. The archipelago of Southern Norway
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.
20. The North Sea Cycle Route from Mandal to Hafrsfjord
The coast road from Mandal to Hafrsfjord is part of the North Sea Cycle Route (Shetland, the Orkney islands, Scotland, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway). More than 6,000 kilometres long, it is the world’s longest waymarked cycle route. The prime cut of the North Sea Cycle Route is arguably the 250 kilometre long stretch from Mandal to Hafrsfjord via Lindesnes and Lista, Hauge and Egersund, with a beautiful and varied coastal landscape.
21. Norwegian industrial history in Rjukan
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.
22. The canoeing paradise of Velmunden
Lake Velmunden/Fjorda, located 396 metres above sea level between the lakes Randsfjord and Sperillen, is Eastern Norway’s undisputed canoeing paradise. There are countless canoeing routes to explore, and the youngest members of the family can play in an almost totally unspoiled landscape of islands and lakes. Those who are interested in cultural history can visit the old Finnish settlements, a testimonial to the immigration that was a result of the famine in Norway’s neighbour country 400 years ago.
23. The Oscarsborg Fortress
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.
24. The untamed wilderness of Femundsmarka
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.
25. The historic Telemark Canal
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
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