Rick Steves Snapshot Norway


By Rick Steves

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With Rick Steves, Norway is yours to discover! This slim guide excerpted from Rick Steves Scandinavia includes:
  • Rick’s firsthand, up-to-date advice on Norway’s best sights, restaurants, hotels, and more, plus tips to beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps
  • Top sights and local experiences: Wander through Viking history, and admire snowcapped mountains and mighty glaciers. Stroll through a lively fish market, and grab lunch and people-watch over a picnic at a scenic park. Enjoy a meal of savory cured fish or hearty local stew, and relax in a cozy fjordside hamlet
  • Helpful maps and self-guided walking tours to keep you on track
With selective coverage and Rick’s trusted insight into the best things to do and see, Rick Steves Snapshot Norway is truly a tour guide in your pocket.

Exploring beyond Norway? Pick up Rick Steves Scandinavia for comprehensive coverage, detailed itineraries, and essential planning information.



This Snapshot guide, excerpted from my guidebook Rick Steves Scandinavia, introduces you to a land with immigrant roots, modern European values, and the great outdoors like nowhere else—Norway.

Start in Oslo, Norway’s sharp capital city, with its historic and walkable core, mural-slathered City Hall, and inspiring Nobel Peace Center. Oslo’s excellent museums are dedicated to Norwegian art, the paintings of Edvard Munch, Viking ships, traditional folk life, Norway’s WWII resistance, and more. Ogle the celebration-of-humanity statues at Vigeland Park, and relive Olympic memories at Holmenkollen Ski Jump.

Then head for Norway’s countryside for a dose of natural wonder. The famous “Norway in a Nutshell” ride—by train, ferry, and bus—showcases the scenic splendor of the country, from snowcapped mountains to the striking Sognefjord. Choose a cozy fjordside hamlet (such as Balestrand, Solvorn, or Aurland) as your home base for touring mighty glaciers and evocative stave churches. Explore the Gudbrandsdal Valley, Lillehammer’s excellent open-air folk museum, and the impressive Jotunheimen Mountains.

Dip into Bergen, Norway’s salty port town, with its lively fish market, colorful Hanseatic quarter, and a funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen. You can round out your Norwegian experience in the lively city of Stavanger, the time-passed Setesdal Valley, and resorty Kristiansand.

To help you have the best trip possible, I’ve included the following topics in this book:

Planning Your Time, with advice on how to make the most of your limited time

Orientation, including tourist information (abbreviated as TI), tips on public transportation, local tour options, and helpful hints

Sights with ratings:

▲▲▲—Don’t miss

▲▲—Try hard to see

—Worthwhile if you can make it

No rating—Worth knowing about

Sleeping and Eating, with good-value recommendations in every price range

Connections, with tips on trains, buses, boats, and driving

Practicalities, near the end of this book, has information on money, staying connected, hotel reservations, transportation, and more.

To travel smartly, read this little book in its entirety before you go. It’s my hope that this guide will make your trip more meaningful and rewarding. Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar.

Ha en god tur!




Norway is stacked with superlatives—it’s the most mountainous, most scenic, and most prosperous of all the Scandinavian countries. Perhaps above all, Norway is a land of intense natural beauty, its famously steep mountains and deep fjords carved out and shaped by an ancient ice age.

Norway is also a land of rich harvests—timber, oil, and fish. In fact, its wealth of resources is a major reason why Norwegians have voted “nei” to membership in the European Union. They don’t want to be forced to share fishing rights with EU countries.

The country’s relatively recent independence (in 1905, from Sweden) makes Norwegians notably patriotic and proud of their traditions and history. They have a reputation for insularity, and controversially have tightened immigration laws over the past several years.

Norway’s Viking past (c. a.d. 800-1050) can still be seen today in the country’s 28 remaining stave churches—with their decorative nods to Viking ship prows—and the artifacts housed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum.

The Vikings, who also lived in present-day Denmark and Sweden, were great traders, shipbuilders, and explorers. However, they are probably best known for their infamous invasions, which terrorized much of Europe. The sight of their dragon-prowed ships on the horizon struck fear into the hearts of people from Ireland to the Black Sea.

Named for the Norse word vik, which means “fjord” or “inlet,” the Vikings sailed their sleek, seaworthy ships on extensive voyages, laden with amber and furs for trading—and weapons for fighting. They traveled up the Seine and deep into Russia, through the Mediterranean east to Constantinople, and across the Atlantic to Greenland and even “Vinland” (Canada). In fact, they touched the soil of the Americas centuries before Columbus, causing proud “ya sure ya betcha” Scandinavian immigrants in the US to display bumper stickers that boast, “Columbus used a Viking map!”

History and Hollywood have painted a picture of the Vikings as fierce barbarians, an image reinforced by the colorful names of leaders like Sven Forkbeard, Erik Bloodaxe, and Harald Bluetooth.

Unless you’re handy with an ax, these don’t sound like the kind of men you want to hoist a tankard of mead with. They kept slaves and were all-around cruel (though there is no evidence that they forced their subjects to eat lutefisk). But the Vikings also had a gentle side. Many were farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen who created delicate works with wood and metal. Faced with a growing population constrained by a lack of arable land, they traveled south not just to rape, pillage, and plunder, but in search of greener pastures. Sometimes they stayed and colonized, as in northeast England, which was called the “Danelaw,” or in northwest France, which became known as Normandy (“Land of the North-men”).

The Vikings worshipped many gods and had a rich tradition of mythology. Epic sagas were verbally passed down through generations or written in angular runic writing. The sagas told the heroic tales of the gods, who lived in Valhalla, the Viking heaven, presided over by Odin, the god of both wisdom and war. Like the Egyptians, the Vikings believed in life after death, and chieftains were often buried in their ships within burial mounds, along with prized possessions such as jewelry, cooking pots, food, and Hagar the Horrible cartoons.

Like the Greeks and Etruscans before them, the Vikings never organized on a large national scale and eventually faded away due to bigger, better-organized enemies and the powerful influence of Christianity. By 1150, the Vikings had become Christianized and assimilated into European society. But their memory lives on in Norway.

Beginning in the 14th century, Norway came under Danish rule for more than 400 years, until the Danes took the wrong side in the Napoleonic Wars. The Treaty of Kiel forced Denmark to cede Norway to Sweden in 1814. Sweden’s rule of Norway lasted until 1905, when Norway voted to dissolve the union. Like many European countries, Norway was taken over by Germany during World War II. April 9, 1940, marked the start of five years of Nazi occupation, during which a strong resistance movement developed, hindering some of the Nazi war efforts.

Each year on May 17, Norwegians celebrate their idealistic 1814 constitution with fervor and plenty of flag-waving. Men and women wear folk costumes (bunads), each specific to a region of Norway. Parades are held throughout the country. The parade in Oslo marches past the Royal Palace, where the royal family waves to the populace from their balcony. While the king holds almost zero political power (Norway has a parliament chaired by a prime minister), the royal family is still highly revered and respected.

Several holidays in spring and early summer disrupt transportation schedules: the aforementioned Constitution Day (May 17), Ascension Day (in May or June, 39 days after Easter), and Whitsunday and Whitmonday (a.k.a. Pentecost and the following day, in May or June, 50 days after Easter).

High taxes contribute to Norway’s high standard of living. Norwegians receive cradle-to-grave social care: university education, health care, nearly yearlong paternity leave, and an annual six weeks of vacation. Norwegians feel there is no better place than home. Norway regularly shows up in first place on the annual UN Human Development Index.

Visitors enjoy the agreeable demeanor of the Norwegian people—friendly but not overbearing, organized but not uptight, and with a lust for adventure befitting their gorgeous landscape. Known for their ability to suffer any misfortune with an accepting (if a bit pessimistic) attitude, Norwegians are easy to get along with.

Despite being looked down upon as less sophisticated by their Scandinavian neighbors, Norwegians are proud of their rich folk traditions—from handmade sweaters and folk costumes to the small farms that produce a sweet cheese called geitost. Less than 7 percent of the country’s land is arable, resulting in numerous small farms. The government recognizes the value of farming, especially in the remote reaches of the country, and provides rich subsidies to keep this tradition alive. These subsidies would not be allowed if Norway joined the European Union—yet another reason the country remains an EU holdout.

Appropriate for a land with countless fjords and waterfalls, Norway is known for its pristine water. Norwegian-bottled artisanal water has an international reputation for its crisp, clean taste. Although the designer Voss water—the H2O of choice for Hollywood celebrities—comes with a high price tag, the blue-collar Olden is just as good. (The tap water is actually wonderful, too—and much cheaper.)

While the Norwegian people speak a collection of mutually understandable dialects, the Norwegian language has two official forms: bokmål (book language) and nynorsk (New Norse). During the centuries of Danish rule, people in Norway’s cities and upper classes adopted a Danish-influenced style of speech and writing (called Dano-Norwegian), while rural language remained closer to Old Norse. After independence, Dano-Norwegian was renamed bokmål, and the rural dialects were formalized as nynorsk, as part of a nationalistic drive for a more purely Norwegian language. Despite later efforts to combine the two forms, bokmål remains the most commonly used, especially in urban areas, books, newspapers, and government agencies. Students learn both.

The majority of the population under 70 years of age also speaks English, but a few words in Norwegian will serve you well. For starters, see the Norwegian survival phrases at the end of this chapter. If you visit a Norwegian home, be sure to leave your shoes at the door; indoors is usually meant for stocking-feet only. At the end of a meal, it’s polite to say “Thanks for the food”—“Takk for maten” (tahk for MAH-ten). Norwegians rarely feel their guests have eaten enough food, so be prepared to say “Nei, takk” (nay tahk; “No, thanks”). You can always try “Jeg er mett” (yay ehr met; “I am full”), but be careful not to say “Jeg er full”—“I am drunk.”


Norway’s most distinctive architecture is the stave church. These medieval houses of worship—tall, skinny, wooden pagodas with dragon’s-head gargoyles—are distinctly Norwegian and palpably historic, transporting you right back to the Viking days. On your visit, make it a point to visit at least one stave church.

Stave churches are the finest architecture to come out of medieval Norway. Wood was plentiful and cheap, and locals had an expertise with woodworking (from all that boat-building). In 1300, there were as many as 1,000 stave churches in Norway. After a 14th-century plague, Norway’s population dropped, and many churches fell into disuse or burned down. By the 19th century, only a few dozen stave churches survived. Fortunately, they became recognized as part of the national heritage and were protected. Virtually all of Norway’s surviving stave churches have been rebuilt or renovated, with painstaking attention to the original details.

A distinguishing feature of the “stave” design is its frame of tall, stout vertical staves (Norwegian stav, or “staff”). The churches typically sit on stone foundations, to keep the wooden structure away from the damp ground (otherwise it would rot). Most stave churches were made of specially grown pine, carefully prepared before being felled for construction. As the trees grew, the tips and most of the branches were cut off, leaving the trunks just barely alive to stand in the woods for about a decade. This allowed the sap to penetrate the wood and lock in the resin, strengthening the wood while keeping it elastic. Once built, a stave church was slathered with black tar to protect it from the elements.

Stave churches are notable for their resilience and flexibility. Just as old houses creak and settle over the years, wooden stave churches can flex to withstand fierce winds and the march of time. When the wind shifts with the seasons, stave churches groan and moan for a couple of weeks...until they’ve adjusted to the new influences, and settle in.

Even after the Vikings stopped raiding, they ornamented the exteriors of their churches with warlike, evil spirit-fighting dragons reminiscent of their ships. Inside, a stave church’s structure makes you feel like you’re huddled under an overturned ship. The churches are dark, with almost no windows (aside from a few small “portholes” high up). Typical decorations include carved, X-shaped crossbeams; these symbolize the cross of St. Andrew (who was crucified on such a cross). Round, Romanesque arches near the tops of the staves were made from the “knees” of a tree, where the roots bend to meet the trunk (typically the hardest wood in a tree). Overall, these churches are extremely vertical: the beams inside and the roofline outside both lead the eye up, up, up to the heavens.

Most surviving stave churches were renovated during the Reformation (16th and 17th centuries), when they acquired more horizontal elements such as pews, balconies, pulpits, altars, and other decorations to draw attention to the front of the church. In some (such as the churches in Lom and Urnes), the additions make the church feel almost cluttered. But the most authentic (including Hopperstad near Vik) feel truly medieval. These time-machine churches take visitors back to early Christian days: no pews (worshippers stood through the service), no pulpit, and a barrier between the congregation and the priest, to symbolically separate the physical world from the spiritual one. Incense filled the church, and the priest and congregation chanted the service back and forth to each other, creating an otherworldly atmosphere that likely made worshippers feel close to God. (If you’ve traveled in Greece, Russia, or the Balkans, Norway’s stave churches might remind you of Orthodox churches, which reflect the way all Christians once worshipped.)

When traveling through Norway, you’ll be encouraged to see stave church after stave church. Sure, they’re interesting, but there’s no point in spending time seeing more than a few of them. Of Norway’s 28 remaining stave churches, seven are described in this book. The easiest to see are the ones that have been moved to open-air museums in Oslo and Lillehammer. But I prefer to appreciate a stave church in its original fjords-and-rolling-hills setting. My two favorites are both near Sognefjord: Borgund and Hopperstad. They are each delightfully situated, uncluttered by more recent additions, and evocative as can be. Borgund is in a pristine wooded valley, while Hopperstad is situated on a fjord. Borgund comes with the only good adjacent stave church museum. (Most stave churches on the Sognefjord are operated by the same preservation society; for more details, see www.stavechurch.com.)

Other noteworthy stave churches include the one in Lom, near the Jotunheimen Mountains, which is one of Norway’s biggest, and is indeed quite impressive. The Urnes church, across from Solvorn, is technically the oldest of them all—but it’s been thoroughly renovated in later ages (it is still worth considering, however, if only for its exquisite carvings and the fun excursion to get to it; see the More on the Sognefjord chapter). The Fantoft church, just outside Bergen, burned down in 1992, and the replica built to replace it has none of the original’s magic. The stave church in Undredal (see the Norway in a Nutshell chapter) advertises itself as the smallest. I think it’s also the dullest.

Norwegian Survival Phrases

Norwegian can be pronounced quite differently from region to region. These phrases and phonetics match the mainstream Oslo dialect, but you’ll notice variations. Vowels can be tricky: å sounds like “oh,” æ sounds like a bright “ah” (as in “apple”), and u sounds like the German ü (purse your lips and say u). Certain vowels at the ends of words (such as d and t) are sometimes barely pronounced (or not at all). In some dialects, the letters sk are pronounced “sh.” In the phonetics, ī sounds like the long i in “light,” and bolded syllables are stressed.

English Norwegian Pronunciation
Hello. (formal) God dag. goo dahg
Hi. / Bye. (informal) Hei. / Ha det. hī / hah deh
Do you speak English? Snakker du engelsk? snahk-kehr dew eng-ehlsk
Yes. / No. Ja. / Nei. yah / nī
Please. Vær så snill. vayr soh sneel
Thank you (very much). (Tusen) takk. (tew-sehn) tahk
You’re welcome. Vær så god. vayr soh goo
Can I help you? Kan jeg hjelpe deg? kahn yī yehl-peh dī
Excuse me. Unnskyld. ewn-shuld
(Very) good. (Veldig) fint. (vehl-dee) feent
Goodbye. Farvel. fahr-vehl
zero / one / two null / en / to newl / ayn / toh
three / four tre / fire treh / fee-reh
five / six fem / seks fehm / sehks
seven / eight syv / åtte seev / oh-teh
nine / ten ni / ti nee / tee
hundred hundre hewn-dreh
thousand tusen tew-sehn
How much? Hvor mye? voor mee-yeh
local currency: (Norwegian) crown (Norske) kroner (norsh-keh) kroh-nehr
Where is...? Hvor er...? voor ehr
...the toilet ...toalettet toh-ah-leh-teh
men menn / herrer mehn / hehr-rehr
women damer dah-mehr
water / coffee vann / kaffe vahn / kah-feh


On Sale
Aug 31, 2021
Page Count
260 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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