Norway has a long history and a rich culture dating back thousands of years. A diverse country, Norway has a wide range of geographical terran that has shaped its people and history – from the warmer harbors in the south to the rugged, extra landscape of Svalbard and Arctic Norway (far about the Arctic Circle) in the north. Norway is a beautiful country of mountains, fjords, quaint inlet villages, historic wooden towns, rugged coastline, and vast Arctic landscapes. It’s the land of the Vikings. Traveling through Norway, you can see what created this seafaring culture of explorers, and at times raiders. Today, Norwegians are friendly and welcoming, with a love for good food, friends, and the great outdoors. While checking off the highlights such as the Trolltunga and Sognefjord are exciting activities to add to your Norway travel plans – it’s meeting the people that really brings this Scandinavian country to life.
Below are tips on some of the best local experiences to include in your Norway travels:
Explore with a Local Guide
Whether visiting Oslo, Bergen, Roros, Balestrand, Tromso or any other large or small town in Norway, a great way to spend part of a day is learning about that place and it’s culture with a local guide. It’s like exploring the town with a local friend who can help you get into the culture, and discover the fun traditions. Walking through the Bryggen in Bergen or the snow-covered streets of the historic mining town Roros or the vibrant, modern-city of Oslo – a local guide brings the history to life. Their passion and enthusiasm can make any subject exciting and before you know it that weather old building is transformed into the center of European trade in the 1600s. You can also see the merchants bustling about their warehouses, getting ships loaded with important goods to bring to mainland Europe. A great local guide won’t just be a great storyteller – they are excited for you to experience their town like a temporary local. Before you know it they may be pointing out their aunt’s house, explaining how they and their friends would have escapades as kids on this very street – picking massive snowball fights with the boys from the “other” side of town (aka 3 blocks away), and sharing how the Norwegians embrace Koselig (the idea of time with good friends and family – sharing food, company, warm drinks and usually a roaring fire). Take the time to ask your local guide about their lives, childhood and family traditions. These are the memories that stay with us long after our trip has ended.
How to hire a local guide: Guidebooks can be a great resource for recommendations of local guides. Also check with the local tourism board if they have listings of local guides. Many local guides now have their own businesses and websites – a quick internet search can often show many of these local guides.
Spend the Day with a Local Sami family and their reindeer Herds
One of the most unique, local experiences visiting Norway is spending time with the Sami reindeer herders – learning about their way of life, history, traditions, and connection to the land and reindeer. In Norway, the Sami are the only group allowed to herd reindeer – an effort to help keep the economic value of their livelihood and expertise in reindeer husbandry. Due to a number of factors, including climate change and increased cost of things like gas and reindeer care, many Sami families are building cultural tourism experiences to have enough money to continue caring for their reindeer herds and feeding their families. It’s a way for them to diversify their income and also for travelers to learn about the Sami culture and reindeer. When you visit a Sami family on your travels its a double win – help them continue to make a livelihood from reindeer herding and get meet these incredible people and experience their fascinating culture.
The Sami are the indigenous Finno-Ugric peoples living across Sapmi – today Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia. Traditionally Sami have pursued livelihoods in coastal fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding. But they are best known for their semi-nomadic reindeer herding. Today only 10% of Sami are involved in reindeer herding. In Norway, reindeer herding is legally reserved for Sami people.
They share their food, history, cultural legends, traditional clothing, songs and music and reindeer husbandry with visitors. It’s also a unique chance to get up close and personal with a reindeer or two, learn about their unique biology (did you know that reindeer form their horns by kicking them with their back hooves!), and take a reindeer sled trip through the snowy Norwegian landscape.
How to visit a local Sami family during your trip to Norway: Many Sami families have begun cultural tourism experiences to provide another income source in addition to reindeer herding, and to also share their culture with travelers. Many of these Sami experiences are run by Sami families and it’s a great way to spend a day with them learning about their culture and traditions. Engage with what you are learning – ask questions about their culture and what their life was like growing up semi-nomadic with reindeer herds While more and more Sami are traveling less and settling more in towns, many of the older generation grew up in more traditional ways and have fascinating stories to share. Two excellent Sami experiences are Rorosrein in Roros run by Eva Nordfjell and her family; and SamiCamp in Tromso run by 2 families – Trine Larsen and her husband Jan-Erik and Inga Eira and her husband Ole.
Hike through the Fjords and Mountains of Norway
Hiking is a quintessential part of Norwegian life and a must on any trip to Norway. To understand the Norwegians take a hike through their stunning landscape, you’ll quickly appreciate why being outdoors is the national pasttime. Norwegians love to get out and explore the land. No matter your fitness level and preferred activity, there is something for everyone – easy hikes, climbing mountains, kayaking, crosscountry skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing.
Get out an hike through a fjord, mountain or along the sea. Norway has hiking for all levels – beautiful flat trails and dramatic mountains to scale. Hiring a local adventure guide can make the experience even more meaningful and can bring out the cultural aspect of Norwegian’s connection to nature. Many of the fjords, mountain trails and hiking paths pass through landscape that has it’s own history and local traditions. Learn about historical farms that played an important role in the development of remote communities, meet farmers and fisherman that still live off the land, and see where famous Viking towns were on once located.
Whether interested in a leisurely stroll or strenuous adventure – Norway has stunning landscapes for everyone to enjoy.
How to get out in nature: Most local tourism boards have information on their websites on outdoor activities, hiking trails, local adventure guides, boating companies. Guidebooks are also a great resource. For those looking for a more serious adventure professional adventure guiding companies are located throughout Norway to help you plan the perfect adventure.
Experience Norway By Boat
Whether in a kayak, canoon, RIB boat, ferry or sail boat – Norway is meant to be seen and experienced from the water. Dramatic fjords inspired paintings and composers – including Edward Greig and his famous In the Hall of the Mountain King. Paddle with Orcas as they hunt for herring in the Lofoten Islands. Take a high speed Rib Boat through the dramatic Sognefjord – whether summer or winter this is a thrilling experience any time of the year. Connect up your land trip with ferry connections – as much of the coast of Norway is connected by high and slow speed ferry boats. Feel the salty wind on your face, see the spectacular coastal formations and you’ll gain insight into life for both modern Norwegians and their ancient ancestors the Vikings.
How to add a boat adventure to your Norway trip: Guidebooks are a great resource for boating companies and great locations to get out on the water. Local tourism boards will also have a list of boating companies and experiences on their websites.
Dive into the local cuisine and local traditions around food
Norway is stereo-typically thought of as having simple coastal food – root vegetables, fish, meat. But the Norwegian cuisine couldn’t be farther from the truth. Norway has a rich food heritage mixed with tremendous access to all kinds of fresh food. The Viking excursions through Europe, Russian and even into the Middle East and Asian brought back a wide variety of food traditions, spices and cuisine. This mixed with the traditional Norwegian food and today Norway has a diverse and flavorful cuisine.
Take a cooking class with a local chef. Visit one of Norway many, many local microbreweries and Cideries – the owners love to share their passion for beer and Cider; and pretty soon they may just be giving you a tour of their town. In many small towns, including Roros, you can organize to visit the small family farms and artisans that produce much of the local cheese, honey, reindeer and other items. See where your food comes from and then dine on it later for dinner. These small farms are run by passionate locals who know the name of every bee, goat, sheep and reindeer and are thrilled to share their passion with you.
How to find culinary experiences to add to your Norway trip: The internet is a wealth of information on cooking classes and food experiences in Norway. Guidebooks can also provide a lot of good information and food experiences to enjoy.
Visiting the highlights in Norway – such as Oslo, Bryggen, the Trolls Tunga, Lillehammer, Lofoten Islands are not to be missed – but what really makes a trip to Norway is becoming a temporary local for a few days and learning about the love Norwegians have for their land, food, and rich cultural heritage.
Genevieve Hathaway is a travel and documentary photographer and filmmaker. She is passionate about telling stories that empower women, local communities and conservation. Genevieve is the founder and storyteller-at-large for ArchaeoAdventures.