April 20, 2024

The Best Of Urban Scandinavia

From enjoying the thrill of chasing the northern lights to sailing down the world-famous Norwegian fjords and hiking iconic trails, Norway is renowned for its natural attractions. Yet as with the rest of Scandinavia, the vast majority of Norwegians live and work in cities.

The biggest Norwegian cities are filled with cultural highlights, family attractions, and intriguing historical sites. They each have a lot to offer the curious traveler that wants to truly understand modern Norwegian lifestyle before exploring the fjords.

Embracing a city break in Norway doesn’t mean missing out on the Scandinavian love of nature. Every Norwegian city is a stone’s throw from fjords, scenic hikes or peaceful islands.

Whether you prefer to stroll down quaint, historic lanes or enjoy a “koselig” time in a contemporary café, these Norwegian city breaks offer something for everyone.

Oslo

Norway’s capital is often the first choice for international travelers given the number of international flights arriving there. But that’s far from the only reason to choose Oslo for your next city break.

From its modern architecture sitting side-by-side with rich cultural heritage, to its rapidly developing food scene, Oslo is a must-visit destination with plenty of things to do for any traveller keen to understand contemporary Norway.

Despite its bustling downtown, Oslo is close to both the Oslofjord and expansive forests, so you’re never far from nature. A quick trip on a passenger ferry takes you to the relaxed Oslofjord islands, offering an introduction to Norwegian coastal culture, or choose instead to head into the forest on the city metro.

Back downtown, highlights include the modern architecture of the Opera House, the medieval Akershus Fortress, and the outdoor Vigeland Sculpture Park, which features more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. For fans of the expressionist artist 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 the other big Norwegian cities—Bergen, Trondheim, and Stavanger—by train.

Bergen

Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, is an enchanting alternative to the capital. It offers a similar blend of history, culture, and nature but with its own coastal allure.

Ideal for families, Bergen Aquarium showcases 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 KODE Art Museums house an impressive collection of Norwegian art.

Bergen’s iconic waterfront, Bryggen, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features colourful 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 country’s most beautiful natural landscapes.

Bergen is also home to the Floibanen funicular, which transports visitors to the top of Mount Fløyen for panoramic views of the city and its surrounding area, and a cable car that takes visitors even higher.

Trondheim

Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city, is steeped in history while also offering a vibrant modern cultural scene as one of Norway’s foremost university cities.

It is home to Nidaros Cathedral, one of Northern Europe’s largest and most important cathedrals, and the site of Norwegian coronations and royal burials.

Visitors can also explore the charming old town, Bakklandet, with its wooden houses and narrow cobbled streets. The city is located by the Trondheimsfjord and is surrounded by hills and forests, offering plenty of outdoor activities.

For those interested in Norwegian culture, the Rockheim museum offers a journey through Norwegian popular music, while the Trondheim Maritime Museum showcases the city’s shipbuilding history.

Stavanger

Located on the southwestern coast of Norway, Stavanger is the perfect base for exploring the country’s famous fjords, including the Lysefjord.

For nature lovers, the nearby Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) offers one of Norway’s most famous hikes and stunning views over the Lysefjord. Bus transport to the Preikestolen trailhead or sightseeing trips to the Lysefjord are available from downtown Stavanger.

Stavanger’s Old Town (Gamle Stavanger) is a well-preserved slice of Norwegian history, with white, wooden cottages dating back to the 18th century. This collection of buildings is a particular highlight, even in a city where white, wooden structures are prevalent.

But Stavanger isn’t all white. Street art and the vivid Øvre Holmegate—known locally as Fargegaten (The Colorful Street)—brighten up the cityscape.

The Norwegian Petroleum Museum offers insight into the nation’s oil industry. It’s a surprisingly family-friendly attraction as is the neighboring Geopark, a playground built from former oil industry components.

Ålesund

This wonderful coastal city stands apart from other small cities along the west coast thanks to its unique architecture. The fairytale art nouveau touches that grace many of the downtown buildings charm all who pay a visit.

But the sad truth is the stunning looks of the town today were born of tragedy 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 popular at the time.

For the best view of the charming city and its stunning surroundings, head to the summit of mount Aksla. You can take the 400+ steps up from the city park, drive, or take a tour bus if you prefer.

Ålesund is a good alternative to Bergen for exploring the fjord region, with the Hjørundfjord within easy reach for a day trip.

Tromsø

Located over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is the largest city in Northern Norway and a cultural capital of the Arctic region. It’s known as one of the best places in Europe to see the northern lights, with September-October and February-March considered the best times.

However, there’s plenty to see year-round, such as the iconic 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. Sherpa-built steps give the opportunity for a walk back down—or up.

Unless you take the Norwegian coastal voyage from Bergen, reaching Tromsø from the cities farther south typically involves a flight. But the journey is well worth it for the unique Arctic experience.

Bodø

Known as a gateway for getting to the famous Lofoten Islands, Bodø itself will be worthy of attention in the year to come.

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 in Bodø include Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest tidal current, which offers a thrilling natural experience especially when explored by RIB boat, and the Norwegian Aviation Museum.

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