NORWAY, THE RIGHT WAY: An Insider's Guide to Norway

06/05/2017 02:48 pm ET

If you google ‘Norway’ and click images, you could be forgiven for thinking that for your one and only trip you could return home happy if all you did was cruise in a fjord. But gosh, that would be a shame. And a mistake. As awesome and ecstatically beautiful as Norway’s fjords may be, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Or the glacier.

As more travelers head to Norway for a first visit, I’ve been polishing my recommendations for where to go and what to see.

Oslo, of course.

“Well, of course I’ll go to Oslo,” you think. But my bid is for you to take some time to really appreciate this 1,000-year-old city. The city is super walkable, and the quirky blend of brash contemporary architecture and Renaissance buildings is not to be missed. Note: this is not your normal world capital; most of the acreage inside Oslo is forest where moose roam.

Look…don’t jump.

You’ve watched those Olympics ski-jumpers, right, and wondered how their stomachs feel before they launch themselves down the ramp? Get yourself to the top of the Holmenkollen Ski Jump in Oslo. From the apex, they claim you can see “half of Norway.” That may be an exaggeration, but the view is awesome, and you gain new appreciation for the touch of crazy those athletes must have!

Chug up the Nærøyfjord.

You’ve seen Instagram-worthy pictures of cruise ships in fjords. If I remember correctly, there’s even some big company with Norwegian in its name. But for my money, the only way to experience a fjord is on a small private boat. On Nærøyfjord – one of the narrowest fjords in all of Europe – you experience it on the same scale as the locals have for centuries. The steep cliffs soar just like you imagined they would. But you also see tucked-away pastures with grazing goats and seals sunning on rocks. At the inland end, there’s a beach village called Marifjøra where there’s a wonderful little country hotel surrounded by mountains and water.

Visit Urnes Stave Church.

That an all-wood church can still be standing nine centuries after it was built says a lot about the Norwegians’ dedication to their heritage. After you follow a path up the side of a fjord to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can appreciate why the builders chose it. The interior of Urnes Stave Church is intimate and full of inspiring carvings and symbolism. It’s as you step back outside that you get the full worshipful sense of this place where the power of creation is everywhere you look.

Go glaciering.

You can’t spend five minutes in Norway without learning that fjords are furrows carved by glaciers. And, of course, there are still massive glaciers in remote places like the Jostedalen Valley. An amazing way to spend a day there is to climb into a kayak and paddle through a lake studded with fresh icebergs that have recently calved from the face of a glacier. Then, step ashore, lace on some crampons, and climb right up onto that glacier with a professional guide. Like so many glaciers, this river of ice is receding, but it’s still an unforgettable experience.

Meet the Edvard’s.

That’s Edvard as in Munch and Grieg. At the art museum in the historic seaport of Bergen, they have a unique version of Munch’s “The Scream,” just about as iconic as a painting gets. Then there’s Troldhaugen, the woodsy 19th century home of the romantic composer Edvard Grieg. In contrast to the rugged and remote natural beauty of Norway, it’s revealing to delve into the arts and culture of the country.

This list only scratches the surface of Norway. I could go on about the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo; and Solvorn, a tiny wooden village deep in the country’s interior that has been a center of trade since the Middle Ages. In the Scandinavian culinary tradition of foraging for food delicacies, you could make a whole trip of going from restaurant to restaurant. My advice to first-time Norway visitors is to just prepare to be awestruck – by how the expected will wildly exceed your expectations and by all of the experiences you never imagined.

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