The best of urban Scandinavia
From enjoying the thrill of chasing the northern lights to sailing through world-famous Norwegian fjords and hiking iconic trails, Norway is known for its natural attractions. But as with the rest of Scandinavia, the vast majority of Norwegians live and work in cities.
Norway’s largest cities are filled with cultural attractions, family attractions, and interesting historical sites. They each have a lot to offer the curious traveler who wants to really understand the modern Norwegian way of life before exploring the fjords.
Embracing a city holiday in Norway doesn’t mean missing out on your love of Scandinavian nature. Every Norwegian city is a stone’s throw from fjords, hiking trails or peaceful islands.
Whether you prefer strolling quaint historic lanes or enjoying a ‘koselig’ time at a contemporary café, these Norwegian city breaks offer something for everyone.
Norway’s capital is often the first choice for international travelers due to the number of international flights that arrive there. But that’s not the only reason you should choose Oslo for your next city break.
From its modern architecture juxtaposed with a rich cultural heritage, to its rapidly developing food scene, Oslo is a must-visit destination with plenty of things to do for any traveler keen to understand contemporary Norway.
Despite its bustling city centre, Oslo is close to the Oslo Fjord and expansive forests, so you’re never far from nature. A quick ride on a passenger ferry takes you to the relaxing islands of Oslofjord, which offer an introduction to Norwegian coastal culture, or alternatively choose to head into the forest on the city tube.
Back in the city centre, highlights include the modern architecture of the Opera House, the medieval Akershus Castle, and the open-air Vigeland Sculpture Park, which features more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. For fans of Expressionist Edvard Munch, a visit to the new Munch Museum is a must.
Oslo Airport is connected to many European capitals and North American cities making it a convenient first stop for a city break in Norway. Oslo is also connected to other major Norwegian cities – Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger – by train.
Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, is a charming alternative to the capital. It offers a similar mix of history, culture and nature but with its own coastal appeal.
Bergen Aquarium is ideal for families, showcasing marine life from the nearby North Sea and beyond. The city’s Hanseatic Museum tells the story of Bergen’s key role in the Hanseatic League, while the Kudi Art Museums have an impressive collection of Norwegian art.
Bergen’s famous waterfront is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features colorful wooden houses that have stood for centuries. The city is also known as the gateway to the fjords due to its proximity to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
Bergen is also home to the Floibanen funicular, which takes visitors to the top of Mount Fløyen for panoramic views of the city and surrounding area, and a cable car that takes visitors to the top.
Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city, is steeped in history while also offering a vibrant, modern cultural scene as one of Norway’s leading university cities.
It is home to Nidaros Cathedral, one of the largest and most important cathedrals in Northern Europe, the site of the Norwegian coronation and royal burial grounds.
Visitors can also explore the charming old town of Backlandet, with its wooden houses and narrow cobblestone streets. Located next to the Trondheims Fjord and surrounded by hills and forests, the city offers plenty of outdoor activities.
For those interested in Norwegian culture, the Rockheim Museum offers a journey through Norwegian folk music, while the Trondheim Maritime Museum showcases the city’s shipbuilding history.
Located on the southwest coast of Norway, Stavanger is an ideal base for exploring the country’s famous fjords, including the Lysefjord.
For nature lovers, nearby Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) offers one of Norway’s most popular hiking trails and stunning views of the Lysefjord. Bus transfers to the Preikestolen Trail or sightseeing trips to the Lysefjord are available from Stavanger city centre.
Old Town Stavanger (Gammel Stavanger) is a well-preserved piece of Norwegian history, with whitewashed wooden houses dating back to the 18th century. This group of buildings is a particular highlight, even in a city where white wooden structures are common.
But Stavanger is not entirely white. Street art and the lively Over Holmgate – known locally as Varggaten (Colored Street) – brighten up the cityscape.
The Norwegian Petroleum Museum offers insight into the country’s oil industry. It’s a surprisingly family-friendly attraction, as is the adjacent Geopark, a playground built from components of the former oil industry.
This adorable coastal town stands out from other small towns along the West Coast thanks to its unique architecture. The imaginative Art Nouveau touches that adorn many downtown buildings enchant all who visit.
But the sad truth is that the stunning appearance of the city today arose from a tragedy that occurred more than 100 years ago, when a fire tore through the then wooden buildings. German money and young architects came together to rebuild the city in the style that was popular at the time.
To get the best view of the charming city and its stunning surroundings, head to the top of Mount Aksala. You can climb over 400 steps from the city park or drive or take a tour bus if you prefer.
Ålesund is a good alternative to Bergen for exploring the fjord area, with Hjørundfjord within easy reach for a day trip.
Located more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway and the cultural capital of the Arctic region. Known as one of the best places in Europe to see the northern lights, September, October, February and March are the best times.
However, there is plenty to see throughout the year, such as the famous triangular architecture of the Arctic Cathedral. For a panoramic view of the city, fjords and surrounding mountain landscape, take a trip on the Fjellheisen cable car to the top of Mount Storsteinen. Steps built by Sherpas provide the opportunity to go back down or up.
Unless you take the Norwegian coastal cruise from Bergen, getting to Tromsø from the southernmost cities usually requires a flight. But the trip is worth it for the unique Arctic experience.
Bodø, known as the gateway to the famous Lofoten Islands, will be worthwhile next year.
In 2024, Bodø becomes the third Norwegian city to hold the title of European Capital of Culture. As such, the city is gearing up for a packed program of concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events.
Other attractions at Bodo include Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest tidal current, which offers a particularly thrilling natural experience when explored by RIB boat, and the Norwegian Aviation Museum.
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