Encompassing mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords, Norway is one of the jewels in Scandinavia’s crown. The country’s rich maritime heritage remains evident in preserved 9th century Viking ships on display in several museums across the country, while colourful wooden houses provide a distinctive architectural flourish. For lovers of the great outdoors, an abundance of fishing, hiking and skiing opportunities help to make Norway a magnificent cross-season destination, with the ceaseless daylight hours during the summer months allowing for plenty of after-hours adventures.
Away from Norway’s best known cities of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, the country is also home to a large number of towns and villages that positively ooze charm, often set against dramatic mountainous backdrops, and enticing visitors with their combination of perfect tranquility and picture-postcard vistas. Below, in alphabetical order, is our pick of 12 of the most charming small towns that Norway has to offer.
Situated along the Sognefjord, Balestrand is a quintessential Norwegian village, boasting imposing mountain ranges, charming wooden villas, and seemingly never-ending fjord views. The historic wooden Kviknes Hotel dominates the village’s waterfront, while the somewhat spare town centre is used by most visitors as a base for exploring the natural wonders on their doorstep, including embarking on hiking expeditions and scenic road trips.
At the innermost bank of the Aurlandsfjord, Flåm is perhaps best known for the Flåmsbana Railway, one of the world’s most scenic train journeys. During the 20-kilometre ride, you’ll see rivers cutting through deep ravines and waterfalls cascading down snow-capped mountains. Flåm is also a popular jumping off point for hiking trips in the nearby mountains, while the nearby Stegastein Viewpoint affords panoramic vistas of the Aurlandsfjord. For beer enthusiasts, the local handcraft brewery – called Ægir – is one of the finest in the country.
Featuring funky, eye-catching street art, a buzzing Dutch Quarter, and a myriad of niche shops and eateries, Flekkefjord combines natural beauty with a vibrant, modern atmosphere. Idyllic scenery and wildlife are just a short hop away, and adventurous local excursions to the island of Hidra, or rail biking at Flekkefjordbanen, offer respite from the town’s busy vibe.
Perched at the head of Geirangerfjord, one of Norway’s most visually stunning fjords, a visit to Geiranger is as much about the journey as the destination. The awe-inspiring ascent into the idyllic village rewards you with impossibly beautiful scenery, with dramatic blue waters, steep mountains and numerous waterfalls all around. Meanwhile part of the steep Trollstigen mountain road weaves through the village, connecting to Flydalsjuvet lookout and affording magnificent views over the fjord.
Spread across a sprinkling of small islands in the Lofoten Arctic archipelago, the quaint fishing village of Henningsvær is perhaps best known for the striking variance in its weather owing to its location in Norway’s extreme north. During winter months, snow engulfs the island, transforming homes and other buildings into something you might see in a fairy tale. In contrast, summertime brings perfectly clear days and daylight from dusk till dawn.
Set in a sweeping valley and bordered by a sandy bay on the Svalbard Islands on the North Pole, Longyearbyen’s surroundings have a sense of isolation that would make an ideal location for a bleak Scandinavian drama series. Glaciers, mountains and primitive wildlife offer plenty of opportunity for exploration and adventure, while in the town centre itself, kaleidoscopic homes painted a variety of colours provide a stark contrast with the desolate backdrop.
Nestled in the north of the country, Narvik is surrounded by towering mountains that attract hikers and skiers in equal measure. But perhaps the village’s most notable claim is being what many consider Europe’s best spot for glimpsing the iconic Northern Lights, which cavort across the night sky to the delight of all who see them. Lesser known, but worth a visit nonetheless, is Polar Park, the world’s northernmost zoo and home to animals including wolves, lynxes, bears, reindeers, and arctic foxes.
Located on the island of Moskenesøya in the pristinely scenic Lofoten archipelago, the fishing village of Reine is quite simply a feast for the eyes. Whichever way you turn, you’re greeted by another awesome vista, whether it’s the calm blue waters set against lush, sloping hills, vast snow-capped mountains, or the traditional red and white fishermen’s huts that dot the shoreline. For active types, kayaking, biking, and skiing are among the popular local activities.
Despite its modest size, with more than 100 original 19th-century timber houses, each painted in striking white, dotted across the town, and a liberal smattering of boats lining the harbour, Skudeneshavn is a hubbub of activity compared with its more sleepy neighbours. Situated on Karmøy island’s southernmost tip, the town is at its buzzing best during the annual boating festival, featuring handicraft markets and traditional folk shows.
Snowy mountain tops, valleys, rivers, waterfalls and lakes, each offering world class skiing and water sports opportunities, are just some of the reasons that Voss is often described as Norway’s adventure capital. On terra firma, the town is also a haven for hikers and mountain bikers, and is a popular base for exploring Fjord Norway. But the town’s appeal extends far beyond its natural surroundings, with several high profile cultural events taking place here each year, including a prestigious jazz festival. For less adrenaline-fuelled visitors keen to enjoy the area’s natural wonders from up high, Voss is also home to Northern Europe’s largest and most modern cable car.