According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Norway is the best country on Earth in which to live. Its small population enjoys universal health care, comprehensive social security, subsidized higher education, and a very stable welfare net. The country has the second highest GDP in the world (after Switzerland) and the highest ranking on the Democracy Index. Still, Norway gets a tiny fraction of the tourists that visit other European states. Why, and should you go there?
We’ll start with the bad news. While Norwegians are generally able to live quite easily on their salaries, prices in their country seem quite high to foreigners. The cost of living is significantly higher there, and exchange rates generally work in their favor. If you’re an experienced budget traveler, use every trick you know in order to keep your expenses low—Couchsurfing, hitchhiking, grocery shopping, and so on. If you’re traveling with your kids or require more comforts, expect this to be a pricier than average trip.
Once that question is out of the way, however, it becomes quickly apparent that Norway is an excellent holiday location. Both its urban and rural areas have fantastic draws. In Oslo and Bergen, the two largest cities, visual and performance art are highly regarded and easy to find. Galleries, museums, theatres, concert halls, opera houses, and other places of high culture abound, and internationally acclaimed acts and exhibitions of all types are common. Outdoor music festivals occur regularly in the summer months, and there is a general sense of sophistication in the architecture, city planning, and overall urban atmosphere. The cuisine is unique in its large emphasis on seafood, and nightlife is never difficult to find.
Most visitors to Norway, however, are far more interested in the natural side of things. Outside of the cities is where the real attractions begin. The obvious starting point is the famous fjords along the coastline, the stark cliffs that National Geographic named the best World Heritage Site. Found along much of the country’s shores, these beautiful vistas have a unique beauty that is both photogenic and intrinsically pleasing, especially during Norway’s pleasant summers. The further north and into winter that things get, the nature of rural tourism in Norway changes considerably. The biggest draw is probably the chance to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights. This phenomenon of rich color swooshing through the sky is best observed between 10o and 20o from the North Pole, on clear nights with little moonlight. If you really want to see Norway, then chasing the northern lights is an absolute must. Other activities include skiing, dog sled tours, and staying in villages of native Sami people that retain much of their ancient culture. Even staying in small towns is enjoyable, because the slow pace of life and friendliness of the people is difficult to find anywhere else in the world.
Whatever you choose to do in Norway, you’re unlikely to have to deal with many tourists, especially in comparison to Western and Central European countries that get so much international traffic. You’re likely to find the people warm, well-educated, and genuinely thoughtful and interesting. With a great city life and an endlessly stunning landscape, you won’t be disappointed.