It’s nature that put Norway on the map: snow-capped mountains, glaciers and elongated fjords. The spectacular journey from Oslo to Bergen encapsulates them all, but don’t rule out spending a couple of days in the cities at either end.
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Oslo is a city that masquerades as anything but. The hectic buzz, sprawling skyscrapers and hordes of scurrying people that define most metropolises are largely absent from the streets of Norway’s capital.
Situated at the end of a fjord, and surrounded by islands, forests and hills, Oslo emits a small town vibe (it’s home to approximately 600,000 people), whilst hosting world-class museums, pristine sculpture parks and pioneering restaurants.
Visit a museum
Grab a 10-minute ferry from the harbour to Bygdøy and take your pick from the museums on offer. Norsk Folkemuseum boasts an open-air display of 155 buildings, which gives you an insight into how people in Norway have lived from 1500 to the present day.
Housing the world’s most famous polar ship, The Fram Museum details the history of polar exploration, and the Viking Ship Museum allows you to get up close to two wonderfully preserved wooden Viking ships that date back to the 9th century.
Less Vikings more art? Edvard Munch, Gustav Vigeland and Henrik Ibsen all once called Oslo ‘home’ and the city pays tribute to each of them: the Munch Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Munch’s paintings (including The Scream); Ibsen’s home has been restored to its original furnishings and is now open to the public; and Vigeland’s work is on display at the Vigeland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.
Top tip: Get the Visit Oslo Pass to see the city’s main attractions and cut your expenses in half.
Go to the opera or ballet
The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet House may have only opened in 2008, but it’s fast making a name for itself – and not just for its quirky design. In less than a decade it has attracted internationally renowned opera and ballet performers, as well as given space to home-grown talent – a combination that guarantees variety. If ballet and opera aren’t your thing, then it’s still worth checking out the building and taking a stroll on its angled roof.
Take a train ride
Clear some space on your camera; the Bergen Railway, from Oslo to Bergen, is thought to be one of the world’s most scenic train rides. The journey is divided into five stages (three trains, a ferry and a bus) and takes roughly 12 hours to complete in one go, or you can take your time and split it up over several days to really see nature at its rawest. The Norwegian Tourist Board offers the complete journey Norway in a Nutshell® for 1320 NOK.
Meandering from the capital’s southern tip, the first train sets off at 8am and takes you past lakes, forests, mountains and rustic ski resorts before leaving you at Myrdal to board the historic Flam railway, where the rugged panoramic views somehow become more impressive than before. Next, a tranquil 90-minute fjord cruise will show you just how the sea has carved its way in and around Norway’s coastline, before you are shuttled along steep hairpin bends on a bus to Voss to see out the final leg of your journey on a train to Bergen.
As Norway’s gateway to the fjords, Bergen has a unique charm that not even its weather can dampen – although it regularly tries. Norway’s first capital city was once the hub of commerce as Hanseatic merchants saw its trading potential; they’re long gone, but the city has retained its cultural heritage and popularity as one of Europe’s most visited ship harbours.
Take a stroll
Wander along the historic harbour of Bryggen and experience architecture from the Middle Ages. Rightfully awarded a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, this strip of wooden houses survived numerous fires before being recently converted into museums, art galleries and shops. Delve into the narrow alleyways and overhanging galleries to get a sense of what the crowded space would have felt like centuries ago, and then explore the Bryggen Museum to learn more about the iconic area’s history.
Top tip: Stop for a Skillingsbolle (cinnamon bun) and a coffee at Baker Brun, either to take in the scenery or escape the weather.
Must see view
Surrounded by seven mountains and lapped by the North Sea, Bergen has nature close at hand. See the city’s panoramic views by taking a funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen and looking down on the wooden houses climbing up the mountain side.
Header image by Moyan Brenn