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Norway

The land of fjords, glaciers, jagged peaks, and beautiful terrain, Norway is a highly mountainous country located in northwestern Europe. Norway contains 152,107 named mountains, the highest and most prominent of which is Galdhøpiggen (2,469m/8,100ft) - the highest point in Scandinavia.

Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape aerial photography

Geography

Located in northwestern Europe, Norway (Norge/Noreg/Sorga/Vuodna/Nöörje) is a large, mostly coastal country with a rugged topography. Norway covers an area of some 385,207 sq. kilometres (148,729 sq. miles), which makes it the 67th largest country in the world. However, with a population of around 5.4 million people, it ranks just 118th in terms of population.

The country shares a land border with Sweden, Finland, and Russia. In fact, the border between Norway and Sweden is approximately 1,630 kilometres (1,010 miles) long, which is each country’s longest land border. Meanwhile, Norway’s border with Finland is just 736 km (457 mi) long and the country’s border with Russia’s Pechengsky District (Пе́ченгский райо́н/Peisen) is only 195 km (121 mi) long.

Additionally, while Norway only shares a land border with 3 other countries, it also has a number of maritime borders. In particular, Norway has a maritime border with the United Kingdom and the Faroe Islands (Denmark) in the North Sea and with Denmark through the Skagerrak. It also has a maritime border with Russia in the Barents Sea.

Officially, Norway is divided up into 11 different administrative regions, which are called counties (fylker). Before 2017, there were actually 19 different counties, though the government decided to consolidate some of them to form larger counties, officially reducing the total number to 11 in January 2020.

Moreover, Norway has traditionally been divided up into 5 geographical regions, which have no official purposes, though are rooted in topographical, cultural, and historical connections.

Aerial panoramic view of Reine traditional fishing village in the Lofoten archipelago in northen Norway

The country also has a number of overseas territories which are not part of any county. The two northern hemisphere territories - Svalbard and Jan Mayen - are considered unincorporated regions of the country and only Svalbard has a permanent civilian population (Jan Mayen has a military base).

Meanwhile the southern hemisphere territories in the Subantarctic and Antarctic - Peter I Island (Peter I Øy), Bouvet Island (Bouvetøya), and Queen Maud Land (Dronning Maud Land) - are considered dependencies. None of Norway’s southern dependencies have a permanent population.

Northern Norway (Nord-Norge/Nord-Noreg)

Aptly named, the Northern Norway (Nord-Norge/Nord-Noreg) region is the northernmost part of the country. It includes the counties of Troms og Finnmark and Nordland, which is about 35% of mainland Norway’s total area.

Often called the land of the midnight sun, much of Northern Norway is located above the Arctic Circle. As a result, it is a great place to see the northern lights in the winter months or to experience all-day sunlight in the summer.

Northern Norway is a multicultural region that’s home to Norwegians, the Sami people, Kvens, and a sizable Russian population.

Topographically, the region is quite diverse, with fjords, islands, alpine terrain, glaciers, and spruce forests. The region is also known for being home to the Lofoten archipelago, which is a truly stunning collection of mountainous islands.

The village of Reine on the Lofoten in northern Norway. Photographed at dusk in winter

Northern Norway is a particularly fantastic place to hike and adventure, thanks to its many national parks and recreation areas. The region has over a dozen national parks, including:

Solvagtinden mountain, Bodo, Norway

Solvagtinden mountain in Junkerdal National Park

Moreover, it contains many nature reserves and conservation areas, such as:

The blue Svartisen Glacier, north Norway

The blue Svartisen Glacier, north Norway

Trøndelag (Midt-Norge/Midt-Noreg)

Located just to the south of Northern Norway in the central part of the country, Trøndelag (Midt-Norge/Midt/Noreg) is one of the country’s most agricultural regions. Containing just one country, Trøndelag, the regino contains 38 municipalities as well as some sizable cities, including Trondheim and Steinkjer.

Trøndelag is known for its arts scene, as well as its unique cuisine. It’s especially known for a regional moonshine, which is traditionally used to make a mixed drink called karsk when mixed with coffee.

Although Trøndelag isn’t as mountainous as the regions to the north or south, it does contain a number of national parks and nature reserves, such as:

Family Bovidae. Plateau/mountain natural environment. Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park, Norway

Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park

Western Norway (Vestlandet)

Encompassing all of southwestern Norway, the Western Norway region (Vestlandet) is a rugged coastal area. It includes the counties of Møre og Romsdal, Vestland, and Rogaland and is home to about one-fourth of Norway’s population.

Trollstigen or Trolls Path is a serpentine mountain road at sunset, More og Romsdal, Norway

Trollstigen or Trolls Path is a serpentine mountain road at sunset. Møre og Romsdal, Norway

Due to its coastal location, Western Norway has a historical connection with other nearby countries and territories, such as Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom - particularly when it comes to the Isle of Man, the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, and many of the Hebridean Islands in Scotland. During the Norse period, many people left what is Western Norway and settled throughout the North Atlantic.

As the third largest region in the country by area, Western Norway is home to a great diversity of landscapes. This includes glacially-capped peaks, sandy beaches, and massive cliffs. Moreover, the region has a number of national parks and nature reserves, including:

Djupvatnet a lake in Breheimen National Park, Norway

Djupvatnet a lake in Breheimen National Park

Southern Norway (Sørlandet)

As the name suggests, Southern Norway (Sørlandet) includes the southernmost part of the country, which is normally defined as the country of Agder (formerly Vest-Agder and Aust-Agder).

The region is known for being a major hub for shipping, recreation, and commerce within Norway. Unlike many of the more northern regions of the country, Southern Norway is hilly, rather than heavily mountainous, though there are plenty of sizable valleys and fjords.

There are quite a few national parks and nature reserves in Southern Norway, such as:

Lighthouse Lindesnes Fyr on most southern point of Norway

Lighthouse Lindesnes Fyr on most southern point of Norway

Beautiful view of archipelago with small summer cottages dotted along the coast of Southern Norway

Eastern Norway (Østlandet/Austlandet)

The only part of Norway to have completely land-locked counties, Eastern Norway (Østlandet/Austlandet) is the most populous part of the country and one of its most mountainous regions. Home to Oslo, the country’s capital, Eastern Norway includes the counties of Innlandet, Vestfold og Telemark, Viken, and Oslo.

Eastern Norway contains the highest peak in the country - Galdhøpiggen - as well as a number of major mountainous areas. It also includes parts of a number of important valleys, such as Østerdal, Valdres, and Numedal.

Additionally, Eastern Norway contains the historic Telemark region, which is sometimes referred to as the birthplace of skiing.

In addition to being home to about half of Norway’s population, Eastern Norway also has the country’s densest concentration of national parks. This includes:

Rapids on the Sjoa river in Oppland County of Eastern Norway

Rapids on the Sjoa river in Oppland County of Eastern Norway

Jotunheimen National Park, Eastern Norway

Jotunheimen National Park

There are also many nature reserves and conservation areas in Eastern Norway, such as:

White european reindeer with glacier and mountains as a background in Jotunheimen National Park, Eastern Norway

White european reindeer

Svalbard

The northernmost part of Norway, Svalbard is an unincorporated, locally-administered archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Also called Spitsbergen or Spitzbergen in some languages (though in English Spitsbergen refers solely to the main island of the archipelago), Svalbard is located between 74º and 81º North and has a long history of being used for whaling and coal mining by Basque, Norwegian, English, and Russian sailors and prospectors, among others.

After the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 and the Svalbard Act of 1925, the archipelago became part of the Kingdom of Norway. However, Svalbard is unique insofar as it is a free economic zone, demilitarized zone, and is open to settlers from around the world. It is also a major station for scientific research, particularly in the town of Ny-Ålesund.

While most residents of Svalbard live in Longyearbyen on the main island of Spitsbergen in Isfjorden, other major settlements include Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund. There are also international research stations scattered around the archipelago.

Much of Svalbard is publicly-owned land and a large portion of it is protected as a national park, nature reserve, or bird reserve. Some of the protected areas on the archipelago include:

The polar Northern lights in the mountains house of Svalbard, Longyearbyen city, Spitsbergen, Norway

The polar Northern lights in the mountains house of Svalbard, Longyearbyen city, Spitsbergen

Polar bear mother and cub along ice floe in arctic ocean above norway's svalbard islands, Norway

Polar bear mother and cub along ice floe in arctic ocean above norway's svalbard islands

Jan Mayen

Norway’s other northern territory, Jan Mayen is a small island that’s just 55km (34mi) long in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The island is located 600km (370mi) to the northeast of Iceland, 500km (310mi) from Greenland, and 1,000km (620mi) from Norway, so it’s not exactly the easiest place to get to.

Much of Jan Mayen is mountainous, with the volcano Beerenberg taking up much of the northern half of the island. The island is used as a military and meteorological outpost and has no permanent residents.

Supplies are brought to the island multiple times each year by plane, though the island’s landing strip is for official use only. Visitors traveling by boat or ship can often make landings on the island with the military base commander’s permission, although harsh weather and rough seas often make landing on the island a significant challenge.

Kongsbreen Glacier, Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Norway

Kongsbreen Glacier, Svalbard and Jan Mayen

Geology

Due to the country’s vast land area, the geologic history of Norway is complex.

However, the majority of the country’s rocks are quite old, with some dating back nearly 2.7 billion years. Evidence of metamorphism is apparent throughout Norway, with gneisses and found throughout much of the country.

The country has also experienced a number of igneous intrusions over the years, with many large outcroppings of granites throughout the southern half of Norway. Moreover, there are some sizable outcroppings of sedimentary rock, particularly in the eastern half of the country.

Much of the country’s mountains are believed to have formed around 400 million years ago during the Devonian and Ordovician when Norway was actually located in the tropics. During this time, a major mountain building event known as the Caledonian orogeny helped create the mountains in Ireland, Scotland, Svalbard, eastern Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and other parts of northern Europe.

This mountain building event led to the formation of most of Scandinavia’s major mountains, which are collectively referred to as the Scandinavian Mountains.

View from top of the Galdhopiggen, Norway

View from top of the Galdhøpiggen

In more recent years, particularly during the Pleistocene, much of Norway was covered in ice. This glacial maximum helped to carve out many of the topographical features that we see in Norway today, such as the country’s fjords and large valleys. Moreover, there are still large glaciated areas in mainland Norway, as well as on Svalbard.

Norway is also a particularly resource-rich country. It has many large reserves of petroleum, nickel, titanium, natural gas, olivine, limestone, coal, and iron ore. In fact, Norway is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter and third-largest exporter of natural gas, thanks to its many off-shore oil rigs.

Major peaks in Norway include Galdhøpiggen, Glittertinden, Store Skagstølstinden, Velspiggen, and Surtningssue.

Cliff Preikestolen in fjord Lysefjord - Norway

Cliff Preikestolen in fjord Lysefjord

Ecology

Thanks to Norway’s large land area and major variations in latitude, it is home to a wide range of different flora and fauna. The country actually inhabits a number of different climatic regions, each of which has its own unique ecosystems.

While the southernmost parts of the country are home to limetrees, oak, Norway maple, cherry, hazel, beech, yew, and holly, the majority of the country’s forested region is home to boreal woodlands. The most typical species found in these boreal forests is Norway spruce, one can also find mountain birch, aspen, pine, and other similar trees throughout the region.

Spitsbergen Longyearbyen Svalbard on a polar day with arctic flowers in the sunset summer, Norway

Spitsbergen Longyearbyen Svalbard on a polar day with arctic flowers in the sunset summer

Meanwhile, the highest elevation regions of Norway are home to alpine tundra, which actually covers about one-third of the country’s land, even after excluding Jan Mayen and Svalbard. Here, the dominant plant species are heathers, shrubs, heaths, and grasses, as well as a variety of wildflowers.

As far as animals go, Norway contains a wide array of wildlife species. Animals include wild boar, muskox, fallow deer, elk (Alces alces), red deer, roe deer, and reindeer. Other major species include Eurasian lynx, European polecat, Eurasian wolf, brown bears, Arctic foxes, European badgers, stoats, pine martens, and wolverines.

Atlantic Puffin or Common Puffin, Fratercula arctica, Norway

Atlantic Puffin or Common Puffin, Fratercula arctica, Norway

Marine mammals include walrus, hooded seals, grey seals, harp seals, ringed seals, common seals, bearded seals, sperm whales, narwhals, bowhead whales, humpback whales, minke whales, blue whales, and sei whales. Svalbard also has a major population of polar bears, though they are not generally found in mainland Norway.

Human History

The land that is now part of the Kingdom of Norway has been inhabited by people for about 10,000 years.

Stone Age peoples in the region were mostly nomadic, though Bronze Age inhabitants of Scandinavia started to move toward more agricultural societies. About 3,000 years ago, people who spoke Uralic languages (similar to modern Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian) migrated to the region and formed a group now known as the Sami people.

Trolltunga throning over Ringedalsvatnet watching the sunset and snowy Norwegian mountains near Odda, Rogalandб Norway

Trolltunga throning over Ringedalsvatnet watching the sunset and snowy Norwegian mountains near Odda, Rogaland

By the first century CE, Roman influence started to reach the Nordic Region, leading to trade with the Romans and cultural exchange. Not long after, however, the Vikings became the dominant people in what is now Norway and much of Scandinavia around the 8th century CE.

The Vikings, being quite industrious and keen to travel in search of riches and arable farmland, often settled in other nearby islands, such as the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Faroe Islands, and the British Isles, including the Hebrides, Ireland, Greenland, and Iceland, during the 8th through 12th centuries.

Medieval Norway

During the Middle Ages, much of Norway’s southern inhabitants converted to Christianity and the majority of the southern half of the country was broken up into chiefdoms. The early 14th century was a mostly peaceful time in Norway, which saw an increase in trade and prosperity in the region.

Borgund stave wooden church in Western Norway at sunny summer day, Norway

Borgund stave wooden church in Western Norway

After the arrival of the Bubonic Plague in the mid 1300s, however, about one-third of Norway’s population died and many communities were completely wiped out. By 1380, Olaf II of Denmark, who had inherited both the Danish and Norwegian crowns, united the two countries.

Olaf II’s successor, Margaret I, later created the Kalmar Union between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, though Sweden eventually left the union in 1523. This led to a long period of Danish rule over Norway, which also saw a number of wars between combined Denmark-Norway and Sweden.

The Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim , Norway

The Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim

Modern Norway

By 1807, Norway and Denmark had entered the Napoleonic Wars, joining France in their ill-fated efforts. This eventually had a major negative effect on the Norwegian economy and, in 1809, Sweden invaded Norway, leading to the cession of Norway to Sweden in 1814.

During the mid-19th century, Norway saw a boom in its timber and shipping industries. The country also joined the Scandinacian Monetary Union in 1875 and introduced the Norwegian krone, which remains the country’s currency to this day.

By the end of the century, there was a major labor movement in the country as well as widespread support for an independent Norway. In 1905, Norway’s Parliament voted to dissolve the union between Norway and Sweden. Prince Carl of Denmark then became King Haakon VII of Norway after a plebiscite in 1905.

Early 20th century Norway saw some exciting outdoor adventure-related successes for the country, including Roald Amundsen’s successful sail across the Northwest Passage in 1906, his trek to the South Pole in 1911, and his flight over the North Pole in 1926.

Reine, Lofoten, Norway.

TReine, Lofoten

Norway was committed to neutrality in World War II, though they were later invaded by the Germans in 1940, who occupied the country until the end of the war. After the war, Norway became a founding member of NATO. The country also joined the Nordic Passport Union and the Nordic Council in the 1950s.

With the discovery of large oil resources in the North Sea in the 1960s and 1970s, Norway also saw a major economic boom.

However, Norway rejected a chance to join the European Union in the 1990s, though they did later join the European Economic Area and the Schengen Area. The country also hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.

These days, Norway has a strong economy and is often ranked high on international lists of quality of life and citizen satisfaction. The country is well-known for its outdoor opportunities and it is a major tourist destination for mountain lovers everywhere.

Main Hiking Areas

If you’re looking to hike and adventure, Norway is the place to be. Here are some of the most popular hiking areas in the country:

Jotunheimen National Park

Jotunheimen National Park (Jotunheimen nasjonalpark) is located along the border of Eastern and Western Norway in the central part of the country. It contains 324 named mountains, the highest and most prominent of which is Galdhøpiggen.

Jotunheimen National Park, Norway

In addition to being home to Norway’s highest mountain, Jotunheimen National Park is a stunning national area and one of the country’s premier hiking destinations. Some of the many great trails in the park include paths to Besseggen Ridge, Knutshø, Fanaråkhytta, and, of course, Galdhøpiggen.

Rondane National Park

Located in Eastern Norway, Rondane National Park (Rondane nasjonalpark) was Norway’s first national park and one of its most popular hiking areas. The park contains 170 named mountains, the highest and most prominent of which is Rondslottet.

Rondane is known for its great mountain scenery and wonderful geologic formations. There are quite a few great waterfalls in the park, as well as plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, such sa muskoxen.

Rondane National Park, Norway

Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park

Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park (Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella nasjonalpark) is situated on the border between Eastern and Western Norway. It contains 282 named mountains, the highest and most prominent of which is Snøhetta.

The park is home to a mostly intact alpine ecosystem and it was originally designated to preserve the region’s biodiversity. It has one the last remaining wild reindeer populations of Beringia origin and it is popular for its beautiful mountain views.

Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, Norway

Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park

Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park (Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella nasjonalpark) is situated in Trøndelag and is the third largest national park in the country. The park contains 213 named mountains, the highest and most prominent of which is Midtiklumpen.

Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella is a popular hiking, hunting, and fishing destination and it has a number of great huts which are open to overnight visitors. It also contains many Sami cultural sites, which date back thousands of years.

Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park, Norway

Major Cities

Norway is home to some fantastic cities and towns, which are all well worth a visit if you’re venturing to the country for some outdoor adventure. Here are some of the best places to stay during your trip:

Oslo

The capital and largest city of Norway, Oslo is home to about 700,000 residents. Oslo is located in Eastern Norway near the country’s southern border with Sweden. Despite being one of the most expensive places in the world to live in, Oslo is frequently ranked high in terms of livability.

Oslo has the country’s largest airport as well as fantastic train links to the rest of the country. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to fly into Oslo and to take a train straight to the Norwegian countryside where you can start your hiking adventures.

Oslo, Norway

Bergen

Norway’s second largest city, Bergen is home to just under 300,000 residents who live in the western part of the country. Bergen’s mountain scenery and coastal location make it a great place to visit all year long. The city is accessible by boat, air, road, and train, so it’s easy to get to from Oslo.

Bergen, Norway

Trondheim

Located in Trøndelag, Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway with about 200,000 residents. It has a surprisingly mild climate for its latitude and it is known for its beautiful cityscape and historic sites. Trondheim is also home to Norway’s largest university (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology), so students make up much of the city’s population.

Trondheim, Norway

Tromsø

One of Northern Norway’s largest communities, Tromsø is located 350 km (217 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. The city has a population of about 65,000 people and is one of the largest fishing ports in the country. It is also a great place to visit in its own right, thanks to its great access to the region’s fantastic recreation opportunities.

Tromso, Norway

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