Norway is divided into 19 administrative regions, called counties (fylker, formerly amter), and 434 municipalities (kommuner).
Geographically, Norway is divided into the regions of East Norway (actually east-south, which is the region surrounding the capital Oslo, where the largest number of people live. It's nature is similar to the nature of South-Sweden), South Norway, West Norway (with the famous fjords), Middle Norway and Northern Norway.
Norway is well known for its amazing and varied nature. The fjords in the west of the country are long narrow inlets of the sea, flanked by tall mountains. Norway was an old Viking kingdom. Economically it is known for its oil and seafood exports.
Norway has space. In this country, roughly the same size as Great Britain or Germany, only 4.5 million people live. Thus, for each inhabitant there is 65,000 square meters of land, but the vast majority of this land is a rocky wilderness which is completely unusable for any agricultural purposes. As a result, Norway has a large number of completely unpopulated areas, many of which have been converted to national parks. But even outside the national parks, much of the land is unspoiled nature which Norwegians strive to keep unspoiled.
In winter, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding are very popular. In summer, hiking and biking are obvious ways to enjoy the enormous mountain areas. For the adventurous, kayaking, wildwater rafting, paragliding, cave or glacier exploration are possible. Car tourists will enjoy driving along the fjords and mountains in the west or to the midnight sun in the north. Briefly, Norway has a lot to offer in terms of nature.
Norway is located on a large peninsula shared with Sweden in the north of Europe. In the north, it also borders Finland and Russia. A large but loosely defined northern part of of Norway and Sweden, as well as parts of Finland and Russia outlines an area known as Sapmi (Sameland), which is where the most of the Sami (lapp) people live.
Because of the gulf stream, the climate in Norway is noticeably warmer than what would otherwise be expected at such a high latitude. Almost half the length of Norway is north of the polar circle. Summers can be moderately warm (up to 30 degrees C), even in northern areas, but only for limited periods. The length of the winter and amount of snow varies. In the north there is more snow and winters are dark; on the southern and western coast, winters are moderate and rainy, while further inland the temperature can get below -25 degrees C. Some mountain areas will have permanent glaciers.
A rugged landscape shaped by the Ice Age, shows forest hills and valleys, mountains, waterfalls, and a long coastline with fjords, islands, and mountains growing directly up from the sea. In the far north (Finnmark), you will find flatter open spaces.
Norway's primary income is the petroleum industry in the North Sea. It also has several other natural resources such as fish and minerals, some industry, and a healthy technology sector. Politically, it is dominated by a widespread and continued support for the Scandinavian model, which means high taxes and high government spending to support free schools, free healthcare, an efficient welfare system, and many other benefits. As a result the unemployment rate in Norway is low.
The Norwegian people have rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in two independent popular votes in 1972 and 1994, after first having being vetoed out of membership by France in the 50s and 60s. However, being a member state of the European Economic Area and part of the Schengen agreement, Norway is still closely connected to the EU, and is integrated as a full member in most economic matters as well as in customs and immigration matters.
Norway is part of the Schengen countries, meaning you can travel from any other Schengen country with few or no border checks. Most countries do not need a Visa to enter Schengen country for tourism or short business trips. If your country is one of the unlucky ones, you can find an application form at Eurovisa.info.
[Color Line] run a daily ferry from Kiel to Oslo. The ferry leaves Kiel at 1.30pm and arrives in Oslo at 9.30am, the following day. The ferry terminal in Kiel is located on Norwegenkai, which is a very short walk across the bridge from Kiel's main railway station. At the Oslo end of the journey, the terminal is located at Hjortneskai, which is just west of the city. There is a bus from the terminal to the city center, which departs shortly after passengers disembark.
The return journey from Oslo to Kiel also departs at 1.30pm. A bus to the ferry dock departs opposite Oslo Sentral station at about 12.30pm.
On board the ferry are a number of restaurants, bars, casinos, cinemas and also a stage show to keep you entertained during the journey. There are various classes of cabins available, ranging from shared rooms to singles, doubles and luxury suites.
There are many small airports in cities along the large coastline, but international flights are mostly destined for Oslo, Torp, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim.
Ryanair can get you there cheaply from London Stanstead. Be aware that there is a two hour coach journey from Torp airport, where Ryanair land, to Oslo. You can spend as much on the coach trip (about £10 return) as on the flight! Other airlines fly to Gardemoen, which has a fast train into Oslo.
Norges Statsbaner (NSB) connects major cities, as far north as Bodø, but there is no rail connection between the many cities on the coast (due to the hindrance by fjords). However, if you do travel by train, you'll travel through the most spectacular scenery in the world. You can buy a ScanRail card to travel cheap by train through Scandinavia.
Most long distance trains leave several times a day. Don't forget you'll have to make a reservation on long distance trains. This will cost you around NOK 60 per person extra.
Most towns are reachable by bus, islands by ferry. Access by bus includes most national parks, although buses often leave just once a day, or possibly even more infrequently. For large distance travel, e.g. to the north, travel by plane will be the most practical.
Renting a car can be expensive, but can be essential for easy access to some of the more rural areas, if you are not too fond of walking. If you live in Europe, consider bringing your own, but if you arrive during winter, be aware that winter tires are necessary and required by law (except in major cities).
Oslo is cycle-friendly and hiring a bike is an excellent way to get around the city, which is spread over quite an area. Trams are useful for getting up to the forests of the Nordmark, great for walking, skiing and mountain biking depending on the season.
Norwegian is the official language of Norway. The language is very close and mutually intelligible with the two other Scandinavian languages, Danish and Swedish. Sami is a minority language which has official status in some Northern regions.
Most Norwegians know how to speak (at least a little) English. Most Norwegians at age 40 to 50, and downwards speak English pretty well. Many Norwegians also learn German or French at school.
In addition, a wide range of minorities live in Norway, both native and more modern immigrant groups. Several languages are spoken by cultural groups without having status as official languages, like Romani, Finnish, Kvensk and Urdu.
A great introduction to Norway is the one-day Norway in a Nutshell package on a single ticket from Oslo or Bergen into the mountains, with a boat trip through the fjords. You can break the trip at several interesting huts for walking or just admiring the view, and even hire a mountain bike for part of the journey. One of the highlights of the 'Norway in a Nutshell' package is Flåmsbana, a 20km railway that's one of the steepest in the world. Along the way you'll set beautiful mountains, rivers, valleys, waterfalls, and other beautiful sights on your way to the city of Flåm.
In Norway, travellers enjoy a right to access, which means it is possible to camp freely in most places, as long as you're on uncultivated land, you're not leaving any traces and you're out of the way.
Den Norske Turistforening (DNT) (The Norwegian Mountain Touring Association) operates many staffed and self-service mountain cabins, marks mountain routes, offers maps and route information, guided tours, and several other services for mountain hikers in Norway.
The Norwegian currency is norske kroner, abbreviated kr. A 1/100th krone is called øre. When you need to disambiguate the Norwegian krone from e.g. the Swedish or Danish krone, use the official three-letter abbreviation NOK.
ATMs in Norway are called Minibank. There is usually no problem locating an ATM machine in domesticated areas. At the Oslo Central Station, you can withdraw euros, dollars, british pounds, swedish, danish and norwegian kroner. With a debit card, you can also get money from most shops and gas stations. Note that groceries and supermarkets do not accept credit cards. Taxis, restaurants, hotels, and bars usually only accept credit cards or cash.
Norway is an expensive country. While it is possible to travel in Norway with a limited expense account, some care must be taken to do so. Because labour is costly here, anything that can be seen as a "service" will in general be more expensive than you expect.
Eat and Drink
Traditional Norwegian "farm" food is made by whatever can grow in the harsh climate, be stored for a year until new crops come out, and contain enough energy for you to do hard work. Typical examples are variations of yeasted and unyeasted bread and other forms of bakery, porridges, soups, inventive uses of potato, salted and smoked meat, and fresh, salted or smoked fish. The regional variances in traditional food are, however, huge, and hence, what is thought to be "typical traditional" for one Norwegian might be totally unknown to another.
Finer traditional food is usually based on hunted animals or fresh fish. Steak, medallions and meat balls from game, deer, reindeer and elk are highly appreciated foods with international reputation, so are fresh, smoked and fermented salmon varieties as well as a host of other fish products. Traditional pastries like "Lukket valnøtt" (marzipan-covered whipped cream cake) are other original contributions to international cuisine.
Today, Norwegians use plenty of sliced bread for almost any meal except dinner, whereas recipes for hot meals will be taken from almost anywhere in the world, including of course the traditional kitchen, but seldom the most extreme examples.
A single hotel room should cost you from around 800 kr and up, but you can find reasonable cheap lodgings in camping huts (300-600 kr, space for entire family), mountain cabins (150-300 kr per person), youth hostels (150-250 kr per person), etc. Most of these will require you to make your own food, bring your own bedsheets, and wash before leaving.
Norway has a low crime rate. Crime is mostly limited to theft and vandalism. Single women should have no problems.
Norwegians tend not to put up warning signs if there is no real reason; you will find few "watch your step" signs. Where there are warnings, pay attention. Every year, quite a few tourists get hurt, even killed, in the mountains or on the seas, usually after given unheeded warnings. For example, do not approach a glacier front unless you know what you're doing.
Smoking is not allowed in restaurants and bars.
Norwegians are usually sincere and polite, treat them the same way. To get to know Norwegians, it is usually up to you to break the ice (sometimes literally). They can be very direct, sometimes seeming rude, but that's usually not intended!
Learning even a few Norwegian phrases will make you a big hit, but try to learn something else than just the swear words.
Cellphone coverage is universal in domesticated areas. Even in the most remote mountain cabins, as long as they are staffed, you will usually be able to send a postcard. As much as 66% (2004) of Norwegian homes are connected to the internet in some fashion, which make Cybercafés hard to find outside major cities, due to a relatively small market.