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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Norway 101: Fjords and Coastlines

The very north of Europe showcases some of the world’s most unique nature. From powerful waterfalls to towering mountains, the natural wonder of Norway’s fjords is one of travel’s most vibrant delights. Created over millions of years by glaciers, the fjords share Norway’s 25,000 kilometer coastline with little communities and several major mid-sized towns.

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Getting Around

There are two good ways to explore the Norwegian coastline. First, there is a popular route that combines a series of trains, ferries, and busses that create a loop along some of the most popular and scenic fjords. The second, and maybe easier way, is to take a cruise on one of the many lines that criss-cross the southern fjord area. Check out Holland America and Windstar for the lines that are perhaps most familiar with these itineraries.

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The Southern Capitol, Oslo

Dynamic Oslo is an interesting European capitol. Dotted with some solid attractions that will fascinate and entertain. With three easy to reach areas that encompass plenty of art, history, and atmosphere, Oslo wins the atmosphere award.

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The National Museum

The doors to this state of the art museum swung open in 2022 and did not disappoint. Headlining the place was native son’s Edvard Munch’s The Scream. However, the galleries, full of more than just framed art, held plenty of lovely treasures from the world of fashion, impressionism, design, and medieval relics. The slick, scandinavian design allows the art to be the star here. Additionally, each gallery has some sort of interactive activity for the kiddos.

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The Akershus Fortress

Just opposite the newest attraction is perhaps Oslo’s oldest, the Akershus Fortress is not only an historic piece of Norway’s past but also functions as a working base for today’s military. Throughout the complex smaller museums and attractions pop up to make this a destination that’s a must. Of particular interest is…

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The Norwegian Resistance Museum

We all know how WWII affected the European continent but it’s sometimes hard to focus in on areas that weren’t on the front pages every day. Norway is definitely one of those countries. The story of how Norway fell to occupation and how it had to wait its turn for its eventual freedom from the third Reich is far more interesting than meets the eye. While this facility is dated (go ahead and remodel this one, Norway!), the story is fascinating. From the tiny ham radios to the red caps worn by citizens to show their solidarity, the items and stories, especially Vidkun Quisling’s traitorous one, were well thought. I would have bought 20 red knit hats to show my support for the resistance if I could have.

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The City Hall

A municipal building in almost any other city would normally be a hard pass. However, Oslo’s magnificent City Hall has tales to share and art to be proud of. Start outside with the great Norse myths of the past that surround the walkways. Inside, pass through security and enjoy the main hall. Full of murals that tell the more recent history of the country, the amazing artwork chronicles industry, youth, mythology, and nature. The rooms upstairs function as government chambers and ceremonial spaces that are used by both government and crown alike.

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Nobel Peace Prize Center

While Stockholm reigns supreme over most of the Nobel prizes, Oslo holds on tight to the Peace Prize. The small museum dedicated to that most virtuous of virtues highlights each of the past winners digitally and begs the visitor to ponder the question “what is the opposite of conflict?”

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More time?

Look into the reason we call tiki bars over at the Kon-tiki Museum in the Bygdoy district. This district also houses The Fram (a museum about two arctic explorers), The Viking Ship Museum, and the Norwegian Folk Museum (150 historic buildings in an outdoor park). With even more time, the excellent Vigeland Sculpture park allows you to stroll through all kinds of emotions that the sculptor installed in Frogner Park. By the way, Oslo also sports a palace to tour as well. Whew! That’s a lot!

sculpture of two old men in vigeland park in oslo fjords norway
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Gift Shops

One thing that Norway seems to misunderstand about the visitor is the joy of a well thought gift shop. We all want to gather a few little treats to bring home and share or simply remember our travels. While there are plenty of t-shirts and troll key chains, Norway seemed to miss the mark when it comes to locally crafted art and design. Bring out the patterns and prints that make Norway an under rated force of design. Somebody’s gotta take on IKEA!!! I highly suggest a field trip to Amsterdam to inspire you, dear Norway. I digress and move past the capitol to…

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Bergen

Norway’s second largest city has a consolidated historic center that is easily accessible by foot. Enjoy this work a day town by visiting the wharf and fish market area. Here, find the picturesque mustard, red, and brown clapboards of the past. There are plenty of warm clothes to buy and a few art galleries sprinkled into the mix of restaurants and troll gift shops. The fish market sports a few ready to eat food stalls including reindeer sausage fajitas (yumm!). Lastly, use the vernacular to take in the amazing views of the Puddfjorden waters just beyond the buildings. Bergen is a great base to start your fjord explorations. To Bergen’s north is…

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Alesund

This little town sports a charming town center with a few museums to explore. If you get there after Oslo, they may not make the mark. However, the local aquarium just on the outside of town is a delightful look at the cold seas that surround the area. Be sure to check in with the seals and penguins outside. Meanwhile, to the south of Bergen lies…

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Kristiansand

With a seaport feel, Kristiansand differs quite significantly due to its flat topography. The town is great for a walk and perhaps a leisurely sit in one of the many cafes. However, past that, not much strikes a chord to put it at the top of the must do list. That is, unless you’d like to catch a ferry to Denmark. Now, that’s an exit plan that just might be worth it!

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Fjords

Let’s face it, the reason that anyone is most likely exploring Norway can be summed up in one very old word: fjords. These mountains and water filled valleys that have been carved over millennia never cease to amaze. Viewing the breathtaking waterfalls that tumble into the waters below is certainly a highlight. But, enjoying all that nature has to offer should be a challenge any traveler takes on. The closest fjords to the tourable cities are listed as they are accessible by either train, ferry, or cruise ship.

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Sognefjord and Flam

The granddaddy of them all, Sognefjord soars high into the skies and dives deep into waters below. Probably the best base in the area is Flam. While here, check out the amazing sites and vistas by taking the historical train up to the top of the mountain. Along the way, the train narrates the view and stops at an amazing waterfall that allows one to better understand the power of water.

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For a thrill, skip the train ride back and try the Flam zip line. This seated zip line speeds you downward at about 80km per hour! Come to a rather smooth stop in a field filled with bikes and goats. Complete this downhill exploration by grabbing a bike and gliding back into town passing all kinds of waterfalls and gullies along the way. With tunnels and bridges that lace the route together, the ride down is nothing short of perfect.

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Geirangerfjord

This fjord and its namesake town are perfectly charming and worth exploring. Perhaps the best way to attend to all of those curvy switchbacks and scenic overlooks is to rent a little electric car that lets you zip up and down those iconic roads. Geiranger is perfect for a days worth of visiting which includes the overlooks, the hiking farm, the fjord center and a bowl of seriously good fish chowder.

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Eidfjord on Hardangerfjord

The sleepiest of all the fjords, this tiny little coastline town is perfect for getting out on the water via kayak. Use the local transport system or a tour to get out to the glacier not far away. While Eidfjord is certainly popular, it is a simple add on rather than a must see as the glacier is also accessible via Sognefjord.

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Stave Churches

One last thing worth looking into: Stave churches are the little wooden churches that dot the landscape from the medieval times. Since they are all works of art carved out of wood, many of the 28 remaining Staves are recreations after fire destroyed the originals. These lovely architectural gems can be found tucked away in the countryside. The easiest ones to find are in the outdoor museum in Oslo and the Hoppstad Stave in the little town of Vik which is easily reached by fjord ferry. Find out more about Stave churches here.

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The author visited Norway and the fjords in the Summer of 2022.