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Norway - Overview

Stretching nearly 1,860 miles (3,000 km) from the picturesque beach towns and villages of the south to the lonely polar archipelago of Svalbard, just a stone's throw from the North Pole, Norway takes in some of Europe's finest landscapes. This is a country of intense interest and beauty--its rugged peaks and fells, deep and haunting fjords, tumbling glaciers, expansive forests, lonely icefields, scenic lakes, wild plateaus, picturesque farmlands, vast Arctic tundra, rustic fishing villages, and pleasant urban areas have inspired poets, artists, composers, photographers, and dreamers.

As one moves north from the beaches, fjords, forests, and farmlands of Norway's southern "knob," the population thins, the horizons grow wider, and summer travelers enter the proverbial "Land of the Midnight Sun." From Trondheim northward stretches a long narrow band of increasingly wild country, most of which lies within the Arctic Circle (the 66-1/3 degree line of latitude which marks the southern limit of perpetual daylight on the summer solstice).

Winter can be oppressively cold and dark, and after the sun sets for the first time, the daylight hours rapidly diminish until they give way to the complementary phenomenon, the polar night. In Tromsø, the sun isn't visible from 25 November to 17 January, and Longyearbyen, which enjoys four months of summer sunlight, is gripped by darkness from 26 October to 16 February. Despite the gloom, however, winter visitors to Norway can join locals in their most popular winter recreational activities. The country enjoys some of Europe's finest downhill and Nordic skiing venues; but perhaps the most amazing winter spectacle is the hypnotic aurora borealis, or "Northern Lights."

Norway's greatest impact on world history probably occurred during the Viking Age, when the prospect of trade, political stress, and an increasingly dense agricultural population inspired many Norwegians to seek greener pastures abroad. As a result of Viking raids from Britain in the west to the Volga River in the east, the standard of living increased at home. Norway not only benefited from the emigration, which freed up farmland, but also from the emergence of a new merchant class and an influx of captured slaves for farm labor. In the ninth and 10th centuries, Norwegians crossed the Atlantic to settle the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. By the year 1001, according to the Icelandic sagas, Leifur Eir¨?ksson, the son of Eir¨?kur Rauôe (Eric the Red), was the first European to land in North America.

Compared to most of Europe, Norway retains a largely frontier character, and Norwegians take pride in their ready access to both the forested green belts that surround even the largest cities and the wilder country beyond. For outdoors enthusiasts, this translates into excellent hiking, mountaineering, and skiing opportunities, while less active visitors can relax and take in the views the breathtakingly scenic ferry, bus, and train routes.

To put it mildly, Norway is an expensive place to visit. It has an intensely socialist system (most of the working population is employed by the government) and a relatively closed economy (it refuses to join the European Union). Consumer taxes (especially on alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline) are very high, and there are user fees for public services and amenities (parking, ferries, museum admissions, etc.). Anyone not on an unlimited expense account will have to plan their trip carefully, budget generously, and forego many of the comforts that would be affordable in other countries. Fortunately, rail passes allow relatively affordable travel in southern and central Norway, and thanks to the allemannsretten (everyman's right) tradition, now a law, wild camping remains free throughout the country.

The breathtaking fjords of the southwest are Norway??s most dramatic features, but there are many other reasons to visit this sparsely populated land on the northern fringe of Europe. The North Cape??s midnight sun is rightly famous ¨C here, far above the Arctic Circle, lies the spectacularly situated town of Tromsø, where the sun never rises in winter, nor sets in midsummer. And each of Norway??s three major cities offers distinct appeal ¨C Oslo as present-day capital, Bergen as major trading port and Trondheim as long-established center of Christian pilgrimage.

In the wilderness that lies between the main urban centers are such delights as Jostedalsbreen, Europe??s largest glacier. There are opportunities to indulge in outdoor activities such as skiing, hunting, fishing and rock-climbing. Even the less energetic can marvel at the awesome beauty of the Norwegian countryside, with its countless steep-sided valleys, high mountain lakes and unbelievable views.

For those who hike this stunning landscape, there emerges a thrill from following the footsteps of Norwegian ancestors. The known history of the country begins in the 9th century AD and is based on the sagas, supported by archaeological evidence, and the explorations of Viking adventurers. Norway itself was divided into a number of fiefdoms; the unification process began with King Harald Fairhair, who defeated the major northern tribes at the battle of Hafrsfjord in 872. Over the next two centuries, Christianity gradually supplanted traditional belief in Norse gods. By 1060, the country was unified. From 1200 onwards, the twin powers of church and crown took control. The arrival of bubonic plague (The Black Death) in Norway in 1350 killed half the Norwegian population. The Norwegians and Swedes had already established a joint Monarchical structure which lasted between 1319 and 1343. Following the ravages of the Black Death, Norway entered into a political union with Denmark in 1380 through intermarriage between the countries?? ruling families. The alliance was intended to be one of equals; in practice, Denmark was the dominant partner, and in 1536, Norway became formally subservient to the Danish crown. Thus, when the 17th-century rivalry between Denmark and Sweden ¨C the two dominant powers in the Baltic ¨C broke out into warfare, the vanquished Danes handed over parts of Norwegian territory to Sweden.

The link between Denmark and Norway was finally broken in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Denmark/Norway had sided with France. After the defeat of Napoleon, Norway was handed over to the Swedes. The Norwegians were allowed their own Parliament, the Storting, which repeatedly clashed with the Swedish Government. This was officially and peacefully dissolved in 1905 following a referendum at which just 200 people ¨C from a franchise of about 400,000 ¨C voted in favor of retaining the union. The Swedes accepted the decision and Norway achieved true Independence in 1905.

Norway is foremost a land for those who love nature. However, it also offers a rich cultural experience, as would be expected of such varied history, from the Vikings to later luminaries such as artist Edvard Munch.

Geography

Norway is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by Finland, the Russian Federation and Sweden, to the south by the Skagerrak (which separates it from Denmark) and to the west by the North Sea. The coastline is 2735km (1700 miles) long, its most outstanding feature being the fjords. Most of them are between 80 to 160km (50 to 100 miles) long, and are often very deep and surrounded by towering mountains. Much of northern Norway lies beyond the Arctic Circle and the landscape is stark. In the south, the landscape consists of forests with many lakes and rivers.

Top Cities in Norway

Oslo - Bergen - Trondheim - Alesund - Stavanger - Lillehammer - Bodo - Geilo - Kristiansand - Sandnes - Molde - Gardermoen - Svolvaer - Mo-i-Rana - Sandefjord