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Tromsø surprised visitors in the 1800s: they thought it very sophisticated and cultured for being so close to the North Pole—hence its nickname, the Paris of the North. It looks the way a polar town should—with ice-capped mountain ridges and jagged architecture that is an echo of the peaks. The midnight sun shines from May 21 to July 21, and it is said that the northern lights decorate the night skies over Tromsø more than over any other city in Norway. Tromsø is home to only 69,000 people, but it's very spread out—the city's total area, 2,558 square km (987 square miles), is the most expansive in Norway. The downtown area is on a small, hilly island connected to the mainland by a slender bridge. The 13,000 students at the world's northernmost university are one reason the nightlife here is uncommonly busy.
Blessed with some of the most spectacular scenery in Norway (and goodness only know that this is land blessed with rolling hills, soaring peaks, valleys, tranquil fjords and white sandy beaches, so the competition is high!), Leknes is what Norway is meant to be. Pretty red houses lay dotted on the green covered hills, and the midnight sun is rises above the horizon from 26th May to 17th July, (while in winter the sun does not rise from 9th December to 4th January).
Part of the stunning Lofoten islands, this pretty port offers much in the way of recreation, although understandably most of this is outdoor based. Take a boat ride around the archipelago, try your hand at some deep sea fishing, or simply stroll thought the city centre, perhaps rent a bicycle and discover the hinterland at your own pace. Bikes can be easily rented and note that hybrid and electric bikes are a great option for those who might be a bit out of practice with their pedal power.
Gastronomes with a sweet tooth will be rewarded with one simple pleasure: a fresh-from-the-oven skillingsbolle – or big, fluffy cinnamon rolls, fit for indulging in if all the fresh air has made you hungry! Look out for the quirky coffee shops, settle down for some Norwegian kos, say takk for maten and enjoy!
The Geirangerfjord, which made the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005, is Norway's most spectacular and perhaps best-known fjord. The 16-km-long (10-mile-long), 960-foot-deep Geirangerfjord's most stunning attractions are its roaring waterfalls—the Seven Sisters, the Bridal Veil, and the Suitor. Perched on mountain ledges along the fjord, deserted farms at Skageflå and Knivsflå are being restored and maintained by local enthusiasts.
The village of Geiranger, at the end of the fjord, is home to fewer than 300 year-round residents, but in spring and summer its population swells to 5,000 due to visitors traveling from Hellesylt to the east. In winter, snow on the mountain roads often makes the village isolated.
People have been trekking through Hellesylt since the end of the last ice age, but tourists began staying overnight only in 1875, when the village's first hotel was built. Hellesylt was the inspiration for Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's long play in verse, Brand (1865). Despite more than 200,000 tourists and 100 cruise ships visiting annually, there's not much to see here besides the waterfall in the village center, oddly wedged between two bridges. A handful of tourists visit for the mountain walks, climbing, boating, and fishing in the region. But by far, most cruise-ship passengers use Hellesylt as the point of embarkation for a highway journey to Geiranger (while others remain onboard the ship to cruise into the fjord).
One of the most scenic train routes in Europe zooms high into the mountains between the towns of Myrdal and Flåm. After the day-trippers have departed, it's a wonderful place to extend your tour and spend the night.
Many visitors fall in love with Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, at first sight. Seven rounded lush mountains, pastel wood houses, the historic wharf, winding cobblestone streets, and Hanseatic relics all make it a place of enchantment. Its many epithets include "Trebyen" (Wooden City), "Regnbyen" (Rainy City, due to its 240 days of rain a year), and "Fjordbyen" (gateway to the fjords). Surrounded by forested mountains and fjords, it's only natural that most Bergensers feel at home either on the mountains (skiing, hiking, walking, or at their cabins) or at sea (fishing and boating). As for the rainy weather, most visitors quickly learn the necessity of rain jackets and umbrellas.
Residents take legendary pride in their city and its luminaries. The composer Edvard Grieg, the violinist Ole Bull, and Ludvig Holberg, Scandinavia's answer to Molière, all made great contributions to Norwegian culture. Today their legacy lives on in nationally acclaimed theater, music, film, dance, and art. The singer Sondre Lerche, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, choreographer Jo Strømgren, and author Gunnar Staalesen all live in Bergen. Every year a host of exciting festivals attracts national and international artists.
This harbor city has played a vital role in the Norwegian economy. Before the discovery of North Sea oil and Bergen's subsequent role in the development of Norway's oil industry, the city was long a major center of fishing and shipping. In fact, Bergen was founded in 1070 by Olav Kyrre as a commercial center. In the 14th century, Hanseatic merchants settled in Bergen and made it one of their four major overseas trading centers. The surviving Hanseatic wooden buildings on Bryggen (the quay, or wharf) are topped with triangular cookie-cutter roofs and painted in red, blue, yellow, and green. Monuments in themselves (they are on the UNESCO World Heritage List), the buildings tempt travelers and locals to the shops, restaurants, and museums inside. At night, when Bryggen is lit up, these modest buildings, together with the stocky Rosenkrantz Tower, Mount Fløyen, and the yachts lining the pier, are reflected in the waters of the harbor—making one of the loveliest cityscapes in northern Europe.
Stavanger has always prospered from the riches of the sea. During the 19th century, huge harvests of brisling (also called sprat) and herring helped put it on the map as the sardine capital of the world. Some people claim the locals are called Siddis, from S(tavanger) plus iddis, which means "sardine label," although some linguists argue it's actually a mispronunciation of the English word "citizen."
During the past three decades a different product from the sea has been Stavanger's lifeblood—oil. Since its discovery in the late 1960s, North Sea oil hasn't just transformed the economy; Stavanger has emerged as cosmopolitan and vibrant, more bustling than other cities with a population of only 110,000. Norway's most international city, it has attracted residents from more than 90 nations. Roam its cobblestone streets or wander the harbor front and you're likely to see many cafés, fine restaurants, and lively pubs, as well as many museums, galleries, and other venues that are part of its rich, dynamic art scene.
Founded by Dutch fishermen in the 17th century, Lerwick today is a busy town and administrative center. Handsome stone buildings—known as lodberries—line the harbor; they provided loading bays for goods, some of them illegal. The town's twisting flagstone lanes and harbor once heaved with activity, and Lerwick is still an active port today. This is also where most visitors to Shetland dock, spilling out of cruise ships, allowing passengers to walk around the town.
It’s hard to imagine, as you stroll Heimaey’s idyllic streets of white wooden houses, that this island was literally torn apart by a spectacular volcanic eruption, just over 40 years ago. The fact that you can visit incredible Heimaey at all is something of a miracle – because the oozing lava of the Eldfell volcano threatened to seal the harbour off completely. Fortunately, its advance was halted by gallons of seawater, pumped onto it by the plucky islanders, who saved their fishing industry in the process. Iceland's famous for its scenery, and the huge castles of volcanic rock that rise out of the sea's waves here are some of the country's most dramatic.
Sprawling Reykjavík, the nation's nerve center and government seat, is home to half the island's population. On a bay overlooked by proud Mt. Esja (pronounced eh-shyuh), with its ever-changing hues, Reykjavík presents a colorful sight, its concrete houses painted in light colors and topped by vibrant red, blue, and green roofs. In contrast to the almost treeless countryside, Reykjavík has many tall, native birches, rowans, and willows, as well as imported aspen, pines, and spruces.
Reykjavík's name comes from the Icelandic words for smoke, reykur, and bay, vík. In AD 874, Norseman Ingólfur Arnarson saw Iceland rising out of the misty sea and came ashore at a bay eerily shrouded with plumes of steam from nearby hot springs. Today most of the houses in Reykjavík are heated by near-boiling water from the hot springs. Natural heating avoids air pollution; there's no smoke around. You may notice, however, that the hot water brings a slight sulfur smell to the bathroom.
Prices are easily on a par with other major European cities. A practical option is to purchase a Reykjavík City Card at the Tourist Information Center or at the Reykjavík Youth Hostel. This card permits unlimited bus usage and admission to any of the city's seven pools, the Family Park and Zoo, and city museums. The cards are valid for one (ISK 3,300), two (ISK 4,400), or three days (ISK 4,900), and they pay for themselves after three or four uses a day. Even lacking the City Card, paying admission (ISK 500, or ISK 250 for seniors and people with disabilities) to one of the city art museums (Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, or Ásmundarsafn) gets you free same-day admission to the other two.
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