Norway is a wildly beautiful country of snow-capped mountains and deep glacier-carved fjords. The astounding scenery of the southwestern Fjordlands and the mysterious Northern Lights of the Arctic are the main draw cards for tourists, but there are many incentives to visit this sparsely inhabited country. It offers remote wildernesses and outdoor activities, fairylike forests, historic towns and charming fishing villages, friendly people, and the lure of the Arctic Circle. It also boasts some of the most scenic bus trips, boat cruises and train rides in the world.
‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’, with its long summer days, is not only for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, but offers a rich cultural heritage from the Vikings, the traditional nomadic Sami people of the remote northern regions, and world-renowned artists such as Edvard Munch. Principle cities of interest are Oslo, the pretty capital; the historic trading port of Bergen, gateway to the Fjordlands; and hilly Tromsø, within the Arctic Circle, the centre of the Northern Lights activity. They are pleasant, low-key cities that offer a good range of museums, historical sights and unique architecture.
Norway’s greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age, when the sleek Viking ships crossed the Atlantic, and Europe was subjected to numerous raids. Traditionally Norwegians are explorers, and their influence is evident in the world-shaping history of the Vikings, and seen in more recent personalities like polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and the legendary Pacific crossing of Thor Heyerdahl on his wooden raft, the Kon-Tiki. Today, Norwegians hold onto many of their cultural traditions, most notably the art of storytelling that takes place around the fireside to while away the long winter hours. Trolls figure prominently in their folklore, some friendly and helpful, some decidedly naughty, conveniently serving as a source of blame for all of life’s troubles.
Norway is one of the best adventure-tourism destinations in the world, with an intriguing folk culture to match its dramatic landscapes. It is an expensive country to visit but provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences that truly reward the investment.
GMT +1 (GMT +2, Apr – Oct)
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are in use.
Norwegian is the official language, but English is widely understood.
There are no real health risks associated with travel to Norway and the standard of healthcare is high throughout the country. A reciprocal agreement exists between the UK and Norway under which British nationals are covered for emergency treatment while visiting Norway as long as they hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Travellers should ensure that they have adequate travel and medical insurance.
A 10 to 15 percent service charge is added to most hotel and restaurant bills and a further tip is only necessary if exceptional service has been received; waiters often receive an extra five to 10 percent tip. Taxi fares can simply be rounded up to the krone.
Norway is a safe country in which to travel; however, travellers should still take sensible precautions to avoid petty theft, as they would anywhere in the world. Petty theft is most common at airports and bus and train stations in Oslo.
Smoking is prohibited in all public places and on public transport in Norway, unless otherwise indicated. Norwegians tend to see everyone as being equal; they do not flaunt their wealth or financial achievements and frown on those who do. Travellers should note that whale meat is available legally in Norway, but that it is illegal to bring it into most other countries.
Business in Norway is conducted formally, with an emphasis on punctuality and direct communication. Business attire is usually smart and fashionable, though not ostentatious. Titles and surnames are predominantly used on introduction, but may be dropped later, and greetings are usually made with a handshake. Business cards are commonly exchanged. Expect business to be conducted in a direct and forthright manner, with little small talk or socialising. It is worth bearing in mind that Norway is an expensive country and that any services from lawyers, consultants etc are subject to hefty VAT charges. Business hours are usually 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Norwegians highly value family and believe in a healthy balance between work and leisure – they are hard-working but overtime is frowned upon and workers in Norway are entitled to more leave than foreigners may be used to.
The international access code for Norway is +47. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Norwegian residents over 18 years who have been abroad for 24 hours or more, and residents of other European countries, do not have to pay duty on goods worth up to NOK 6,000. This total can include up to three litres of alcoholic spirits and two litres of beer/wine (five litres if not carrying any other alcohol). It can also include up to 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco products. Travellers arriving from outside of the EU should confirm their duty free allowance prior to arrival in Norway.
Despite its northerly location, the coastal climate in Norway is temperate, thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream flowing along its coast. Summer, between late June and early August, brings long, hot days with temperatures reaching 86°F (30°C), and sea temperatures averaging a comfortable 64°F (18°C). Even in the north of Norway, summer temperatures rise to 77°F (25°C) or more. However, summer weather can be changeable in Norway and the summer months can be wet. In winter much of Norway is snow-clad with very low temperatures in the north and the low-lying inland regions of the south. Temperatures can drop below -40°F (-40°C). In contrast, the coast enjoys mild winters, although gales and rain are common. In spring, between May and mid-June, Norway is at its prettiest, with everything coming to life and blossoming and snow melt swelling the waterfalls.
June and July is often considered the best time to visit Norway because of the warm weather and the long days, which see sunlight until nearly 10pm. These peak summer months are also the most crowded in Norway. March is the best time to go skiing in Norway, and May and September offer nice weather and slightly smaller crowds. The Northern Lights are famously elusive and unpredictable, but there is a possibility of seeing them any time between late September and March.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICANS
South Africans require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. Holders of temporary passports are not allowed. A visa is required for travel to Norway.
All visitors to Norway must have sufficient funds, return or onward tickets and all documents needed for further travel. Passports should be valid for at least the period of intended stay. Some European countries require only their National Identity Card if coming as a tourist to Norway. The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The official currency is the Norwegian Krone (NOK), divided into 100 ore. Larger establishments accept major credit cards. Use of credit cards is widespread, with Eurocard/Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club being the most common. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks and major post offices, as well as many hotels and travel agents, although for poorer rates. ATMs are available in all towns and cities.