A northern Scandinavian country – including the northernmost point of mainland Europe, as well as the northernmost city, the northern-most university, the northernmost brewery, etc., etc. All this northern-ness also forms the core of the attraction of the country to many tourists – in conjunction with its spectacular scenery, that is – especially all those glorious fjords!
Historically, Norway has been a rather peaceful place at least since the days of the warmongering, seafaring, pillaging Vikings of millennia ago. Today, the country sports a model social welfare state, political stability and economic prosperity, fuelled by North Sea oil riches.
However, totally out of the blue that peacefully idyllic setting was severely shattered by the events of 22 July 2011. First a car bomb was set off in Oslo
's government quarter, killing eight and injuring many dozens more – but the worst was yet to come: a lone gunman sneaked into a labour party youth organization summer camp on the little island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden, ca. 25 miles (40 km) north-west of Oslo. Here the lone gunman, dressed as a policeman, proceeded to go on a killing spree of unimaginable brutality, "executing" one teenager after the other. 68 dead was the gruesome toll of the shooting in the end. The killer, Anders Breivik, a right-wing extremist as it soon emerged, did not eventually kill himself (as most amok killers tend to do) but was eventually apprehended by the police. It turned out it had also been him who had planted that car bomb in Oslo.
When put on trial Breivik admitted to the killings but at the same time pleaded "not guilty" (but I will not repeat the twisted "logic" of his explanation for this obvious contradiction). A bone of contention in public opinion was whether he should be declared insane or not. Declaring him insane would have meant he could not be found guilty and sentenced on criminal charges but would have been sent to some mental institution, probably indefinitely. In the end the court did not declare him insane and in late August 2012 sentenced him to the maximum prison term: life. However, this only means an initial 15 years under Norwegian law. After that he will be assessed again. (If he's then still considered a threat to society after that time he could remain in custody for longer beyond 2027, otherwise he will have to be set free). That's why some would have preferred him locked away as insane for good. A majority, on the other hand, considered it better that he was found guilty, i.e. fully responsible for his deeds. Breivik himself put on a cynical smirk when his sentence was read out – as he considered it a "victory" not having been found insane, almost as if that had been an acquittal. In any case, he has now started his long prison term ... so at least all that revolting revelling in the media attention by Breivik, including that aggressive Nazi-like salute when entering the court room, is over for now …
Norway as a whole was deeply traumatized by this horrific story and the shock still sits deep – hence visits by tourists to Utøya are not to be encouraged (not that there would be much to see anyway). That would be voyeurism – see ethical issues
! (I've heard of tourist coach parties asking for a photo stop near the island – but I'd feel very uncomfortable with this). The bombing sites in Oslo were soon completely cleaned up and nothing's left of the physical damage. The psychological long-term effects on the country, however, are still difficult to predict. In any case, none of this has given rise to dark tourist sites ...
The dark chapters in Norway's history that did leave sites for the dark tourist to visit are mostly related to the period when Nazi Germany
occupied Norway during WWII
, and to the Cold War
period that followed.
The German invasion, which started on 9 April 1940, had the primary aims of a) securing access to the iron-ore supply railway at Narvik
, b) access to the hydrogen plant at Vemork
near Rjukan (for heavy water needed in the atomic bomb
development plans), and c) providing a possible base for an invasion of Great Britain
(or at least blocking off Britain's access to Norway).
During the occupation Germany
over-fortified the coastline and generally overstretched its resources, which would have been of more use elsewhere. So from a strategic point of view it was a bad idea for Hitler
's Germany, but good for the Allies in the longer run.
For the Norwegians, the occupation period was hard, but they put up a resistance of highly commendable proportions.
Norway is also the natural gateway for travel to Svalbard
(Spitsbergen), which is not only the world's northernmost spot on Earth regularly accessible to tourists (a treat in itself!), but also has a fascinating old Soviet-era Russian mining ghost town, Pyramiden
, as a main attraction.
Furthermore, tour operators specializing in the very far north of the country (e.g. in Kirkenes
) can also offer excursions to and across the former Cold War
border with Russia
This used to be the only stretch of Iron Curtain
on European soil where a NATO
member and the USSR
/Russia shared a direct border (the other parts of the Iron Curtain were either not with the Soviet Union directly, as in Germany
, or they were outside Europe, as in Turkey
's border with today's independent Armenia
). It's still a sensitive border that shouldn't be approached at one's whim, but visits can be arranged – also going beyond, into this forlorn north-western corner of Russia, which includes Murmansk
and the industrial wastelands of Nikel. In fact it may well be easier to visit these edgy adventure holiday destinations via Norway than it would be from within Russia
. You'd still need the visa though …
Travel within Norway
, on the other hand, is quite easy, astonishingly easy even, given the country's contorted shape and all those fjords and mountains. The Norwegian rail network
extends as far as Bodø, though, except for the world's most northerly passenger railway line from Narvik
(which is mainly the iron-ore freight line to/from Kiruna), which runs for a few miles within Norway too. Booking well in advance pays off as the so-called "mini-pris" fares available from 90 days before departure are a considerable saving over the steep regular fares (but they sell out fast). Buses provide links to practically all other places that lie outside the reach of the railway network.
Domestic flights are surprisingly affordable (a huge exception in generally expensive Norway!) – but again, these should be booked well ahead of time, as many of the shorter routes are flown on small 20-30-seater planes only. The national budget airline is called Wideroe, a subsidy of the general national carrier Scandinavian airlines. When I planned my summer 2012 trip another budget airline from Denmark was trying to get a slice of the cake too and was given some of the shorter routes I was planning to fly. But the deal must have fallen through, so I had to rebook them a second time. Communication from that airline was so bad that it can only be welcomed that they did not manage to get that foothold in the Norwegian market. Wideroe, on the other hand, were really good.
Getting in and out of Norway
to begin with is most likely by plane, with the capital Oslo offering the most numerous and cheapest connections to a large number of European and even transcontinental hubs. Overland travel is naturally only possible via Sweden
(to a smaller extent also via Finland and theoretically also Russia
– see Kirkenes
). Getting in by ferry is another possibility. There are connections from the north of Denmark
that will be the most useful. Longer routes include connections to Germany
. However, those going to/from Great Britain
are currently no longer in operation.
On the other hand, cruise ships visiting Norway have become endemic – even to a somewhat annoying extent, crowding and polluting otherwise magically scenic places such as the famous Geiranger fjord. Given that cruise ships are also the most environmentally unfriendly mode of travel I do not recommend them. They are mostly useless to the dark tourist anyway.
The single most popular boat service in Norway is provided by the famed Hurtigruten
– originally mostly supply ships for the many remote coastal towns of Norway, some of which may even be hardly accessible by any other means. Today, most Hurtigruten boats are almost cruise ship-class big brutes with all manner of amenities and creature comforts. The advantage of using them, apart from the great views to be had from the sea of the fabled Norwegian coastline and fjords, is the ease that Hurtigruten packages offer. On the other hand: these are really package tours and as such come with the associated crowd (about half of whom are from Germany
, with travellers from Britain
, the USA
and other European countries sharing most of the remainder). Stopovers allowing some time ashore are typically rather short, so are thus hurried and highly standardized affairs. You notice it all along the coastal hubs: when there's a Hurtigruten ferry in port, the place in question suddenly gets flooded with hordes of tourists for a few hours. Once they're gone, peacefulness resumes. If you don't mind such crowds and the schematic organized nature of land excursions by coaches that are offered as part of such journeys, then Hurtigruten may be a good way to travel. For the readers of this website, however, it's hardly worth considering. Except for the very beginning of the line at Bergen
as well as its terminus at Kirkenes
, no stops along the Hurtigruten line allow access to the sites covered here.
are excellent and countless bridges and tunnels make driving even greater distances quite feasible as well. On the outer coastal roads and across some of the larger fjords, ferries provide the necessary connections. The fares for these, as well as tolls for bridges/tunnels can pile up, and petrol isn't cheap either (especially for such an oil-rich country), but driving allows for a maximum of flexibility. Hiring a car, however, can be extremely expensive, especially for shorter periods. If you can, consider hiring a car over the border in Sweden
, where prices are significantly lower. Driving your own car all the way to Norway will probably only be an option for those with a lot of time on their hands …
Some of those coastal roads and mountain passes are a wondrously fantastic joy to drive though. Norway has several routes ranking amongst the world's most scenic. Camper vans / RVs are a common sight on Norwegian roads, and indeed travelling that way one can save on the significant costs for accommodation.
Camping is another good option for saving money, but otherwise you have to budget for hotels – and like so many things in Norway (well, all things, really) costs for this can quickly add up to painful levels. An average hotel room will set you back at least 100-150 EUR (for a double room), in some remote parts or in traditional hotels prices can be much higher than that still. Booking ahead is essential in most places except perhaps the few cities, especially in the high season(s) in summer (and winter for skiing resorts).
Food & drink
is yet another aspect that is likely to eat into the traveller's budget more painfully than almost anywhere else. It is well known that alcohol is expensive in Scandinavia – and Norway is by far the most extreme on this front. Even an average tasteless mainstream lager beer can cost 10 EUR or more. However, it was – crazy as it may sound – in Norway that I reconnected with the world of highest-quality beers. There are a few microbreweries that make beers of the very highest levels anywhere in the world – for a price, but so good that it is worth it in the same manner as it is for an exceptional wine or malt whisky. The latter will always be imported in Norway, of course, and accordingly even more expensive. The local spirit Aquavit can't compete, even though even in this segment, some high-quality endeavours are being made (with single-cask, sherry-matured vintage bottlings aiming at the single malt level market … with partial success). Soft drinks are of course abundant, also relatively expensive … but ultimately superfluous, because Norwegian tap water is mostly of excellent quality. Rather take a couple of travel bottles for refilling with water for free. As in the rest of Scandinavia, coffee is almost excessively popular. It's a peculiar phenomenon that these northern countries should have such a craving for the stuff far in excess of what it is in more traditional coffee-associated countries such as Turkey
. But so it is. They quaff the stuff in such copious amounts that it may be a health hazard trying to join in if you're not accustomed to such a massive caffeine-intake.
Eating out in Norway seems to come in basically just one of two forms: fast food or rather classy restaurants. The former is predictably bland and far from a noteworthy culinary experience, but it also doesn't save as much money as you might think. A pizza for two can easily cost 30 EUR. Even an industrially produced hot dog can cost well over a fiver in many places (not that I'd ever have touched such things – I just noted the inflated prices even for this lowest level on the culinary scale that there is). In comparison, a gourmet dinner in a fine restaurant may be expensive but may offer significantly better value for money. Only wealthy travellers could afford to do this on a daily basis, but the same is true for almost anywhere else in the world too. And I found that on the occasions when I opted for classier food, it was a) frequently outstanding in quality and b) no more expensive (or even less) than what you'd expect to pay for the same level of cuisine in continental Europe or the US
Seafood is naturally a main draw in Norway, and some interesting discoveries can be made – especially beyond the ubiquitous salmon. The seas also provide what must easily be the single most controversial food available in Norway: whale meat. Most people from other countries find eating whale morally questionable … except perhaps those from Iceland
– the only other two nations left that still insist on continuing commercial whaling. From their perspective, however, it's considered something like a birthright, and most Norwegians won't even discuss the issue. Better just quietly abstain from both sampling it or engaging in didactic attempts at talking them out of it.
It's a different matter when it comes to another seafood speciality, king crabs, the availability of which in Norway is actually a legacy of Stalin
. What/how? Well, as these monsters of the crustacean world thrive so well in remote Kamchatka in Russia
's far east, it was assumed that they may also do so in the fjords of Russia's north-western end on the Barents Sea near the Norwegian border (see Kirkenes
). Indeed, they thrived so well here that they soon invaded Norway too. They have in fact become a pest – pushing out original species, eating the seabed bare, and threatening fisheries too (by invading spawning grounds for some fish species). It is thus less of a moral issue, even for people like me who otherwise try to stay vegetarian
most of the time, to feast on the buggers without remorse on one of those "king crab safaris" offered on Norway's north coast, especially from Kirkenes
Logistically, travel to and within Norway is not difficult, but advance planning is advisable. Budgeting remains the main problem. It simply cannot be denied that Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world overall (if not THE most expensive). It's near impossible to keep costs so low as to allow for real budget travel … self-catering helps, as does driving one's own car (if that's an option). But everything that has to be paid for on the ground will be a shock to the system. It's not just percentages more than what outsiders are used to from their home countries. No, we are talking multiples
. On average be prepared for prices around three times higher (often even more) than what you'd pay for the same thing in other European countries such as France
, Great Britain
These prices are the main drawback about Norway. In all other respects it is one of the most marvellous places to visit on this planet. The scenery is rightly famed – in fact you can hardly exaggerate just how stunning so many places in this unique country are. It has to be seen with one's own eyes.
From the more specific dark-tourist perspective there are certainly more rewarding countries, but nevertheless Norway offers enough to make the journey worthwhile … and it allows for combinations with non-dark attractions (mostly on the nature front, but also in culinary terms) that few other countries in the world could match. I personally found precisely this balance the most fabulous aspect of travelling in Norway. It is indeed true what the guidebooks typically say: yes, it is excessively expensive – but worth it.
- Norway 01 - flags in the mist
- Norway 02 - ancient and modern phallic implements
- Norway 03 - Ergan coastal fort at Bud
- Norway 04 - another old coastal battery, near Tromsö
- Norway 05 - more relics from German occupation times
- Norway 06 - salvaged from the Tirpitz
- Norway 07 - Amundsen statue in Tromsö
- Norway 08 - Amundsen trophy flag
- Norway 09 - northern lights show
- Norway 10 - flying over Norway
- Norway 11 - coastal lighthouse
- Norway 12 - Tromsö bridge with Hurtigruten cruise ship
- Norway 13 - Alesund
- Norway 14 - Geiranger
- Norway 15 - Geiranger Fjord
- Norway 16 - picture-perfect cliche
- Norway 17 - isolated old farm high above the fjord
- Norway 18 - another fjord
- Norway 19 - Valldal
- Norway 20 - scenic despite grey weather
- Norway 21 - typically Norwegian
- Norway 22 - scenery
- Norway 23 - waterfall in morning sunlight
- Norway 24 - when the weather is less favourable
- Norway 25 - Trollveggen, the highest sheer cliff face in Europe
- Norway 26 - Trollstigen road
- Norway 27 - up in the mountains
- Norway 28 - Saltstraumen
- Norway 29 - where the incoming tide forms a maelstrom
- Norway 30 - Atlantic Ocean Road
- Norway 31 - Atlantic coastal lighthouse
- Norway 32 - stave church at Kvernes
- Norway 33 - a wolverine
- Norway 34 - a bear
- Norway 35 - a reindeer
- Norway 36 - reindeer on the road
- Norway 37 - typically Norwegian - salmon and whale meat
- Norway 38 - Norwegian nibbles
- Norway 39 - worshipping shipping