First-time visitors to Norway will usually gravitate towards Oslo, the country’s capital. Oslo may be the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in the country, but Norway has much more to offer. Here are suggestions for six different Norwegian towns where you could base a trip, all surrounded by nature and offering plenty of cultural activities.
Located on the west coast of Norway, close to the dramatic Geirangerfjord, Ålesund is one of the most unique towns in the country. Most of the original town was destroyed in a fire in 1904 and subsequently rebuilt in the Art Nouveau architectural style that was popular at the time. Visitors can wander around and admire the brightly coloured buildings, or pop into the Art Nouveau centre to learn more. Those looking to explore the surrounding landscapes can start with a short hike up to the Fjellstua lookout point, where they can admire the views of the town and the seven islands it sits on. There are also plenty of opportunities for longer hikes and trips by boat.
Norway’s second city is known as the ‘gateway to the fjords’. Bergen is situated within a network of small fjords, and there are regular boat cruises all throughout the year where you can admire the scenery. There’s plenty of history to discover in this small town, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as ‘Bryggen’ at the harbour. Bergen is also a cultural hub, with many independent shops, small galleries, intriguing street art and eclectic bars and restaurants to discover. If you’re looking to escape the city, take the funicular railway up above it to admire the views from above or go for a long hike in the woods.
Henningsvær may only be a small fishing village, but it’s still one of the most interesting places in Norway. Nestled in the Lofoten Islands, spread over several of the tiny islands, this village is known for its traditional colourful cabins and crystal-clear waters. Even though the Lofoten Islands are located above the Arctic Circle, they experience surprisingly mild summers, with many visitors braving the sea for swimming, surfing or kayaking. This tranquil town is worth a visit at any time of year though, offering magnificent snow-covered landscapes and chances to spot the elusive Northern Lights during the winter months.
The largest town in northern Norway, Tromsø is located inside the Arctic Circle, offering midnight sun in summer and excellent chances of witnessing the Northern Lights in winter. Known as the ‘Gateway to the Arctic’ due to its location, the town is one of the most accessible destinations for anyone wishing to stay within the Arctic Circle. Historical and cultural landmarks include the Polaria aquarium and the Polar Museum, and there are ample opportunities for hiking and exploring for more outdoorsy types. A cable car ride to the top of Storsteinen mountain, a hike through the forests on the island of Tromsoya and a whale watching boat trip are all highlights of a stay in the area.
Norway’s Viking capital is an essential place to visit for anyone interested in the country’s past. Here, you’ll find a high concentration of Gothic architecture, as well as ancient castles, monasteries and fortresses. It’s not all about history, however. Trondheim is also known for the St. Olav Festival (the largest cultural event in Norway), its farmers markets and several small local breweries. Its university attracts many young people, meaning that there is a vibrant culture in the town, with lots of interesting places to eat and drink.
One of the most southerly towns in Norway, Stavanger is the perfect summer destination thanks to its sandy beaches, surf-friendly beaches and warmer climate. It’s also the perfect base for anyone wishing to hike to Pulpit Rock. The town itself offers more than just a base to explore the surrounding fjords, mountains and beaches, however. Stavanger has one of the best-preserved collections of wooden houses in Europe, as well as many intriguing galleries and museums. Anyone interested in Norwegian history or art will find plenty to do and see.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.