Norway is a fascinating and modern country with incredible architecture, both manmade and natural. And the best part: these are all free (or mostly free) to visit! We camped most of the time, so we got a disproportionate sampling, but they both still made quite the impression! Check them out below to see which would impress you more.
We got our first taste of the Norwegian architectural prowess during our extra day in quaint Oslo. When visiting someplace new, a single day can determine if we want to return, what we think of the people, and how much we’ll talk about it when we return. The first few hours can set the mood for the entire trip.
We were dead tired when we first arrived. After nearly 24 hours of traveling (car, wait, bus, plane, run, wait, plane, train, wander, streetcar, walk, crash), we were understandably exhausted.
Our couchsurfing hosts invited us to a graduation party that night, and we somehow managed to find our second wind. However, as the apartment filled with strangers, we became a bit overwhelmed, so we made our escape to walk the city for a bit (after 10pm, I might add!).
Our hosts directed us to the nearby Vigeland Park (it pays to stay with locals!), and we wandered the many acres, admiring the captivating statues.
If you go, be sure to bring a portable BBQ, especially in the summertime, as this is a common pastime in the warmer months.
Norway wasn’t done surprising us. As we started to make our way back, Aaron noticed a bizarre light pillar in the sky, just above the setting sun. I tried to photograph it, but like so many things, the sight was far more spectacular in person.
We weren’t even supposed to have a day in Oslo. However, when we booked our flights, we noticed we would save some dough by flying out a day early (it saves to be flexible!), so we went for it.
Be aware that Oslo is a car-unfriendly city. Fortunately, we didn’t have one. And the ones we did see were mostly electric or hybrid. Most walk to where they needed to go, and buses and trams are plentiful. In general, we found Norway to be quite environmentally conscious, and we were pleased to be in such a clean city.
The main town didn’t really boast much more than ordinary buildings and adorable European complexes hugging welcoming courtyards. The true masterpieces were saved for the waterfront.
The opera house is a must-do in Oslo, and it’s plain to see why. It’s almost a park unto itself. Whether or not you have an affinity for opera, the structure is a marvel to behold.
The lobby stretches all the way to the pinnacle of the structure, some three or four stories up. Wood paneling lines a spiral ramp that spans the length of the building and leads to the levels of the auditorium. Multilevel windows fill the entire space with natural light.
Even the bathrooms are a treat to visit, sending visitors down a corridor of mirrors and illuminated geometric patterned walls. It was one of our favorite parts!
While the architecture was beautiful inside, it was the ability to clamber all over its roof that made this structure so memorable for us. The roof slopes all the way to the ground, so visitors can walk right up on top, exploring the multiple levels and enjoying the view of the city.
It was delightful.
The wonders continued at the other end of the marina when we found ourselves in a posh waterfront neighborhood of canals and condos. Even concrete steps were inviting.
It vaguely reminded me of Portland’s south waterfront, but this took it to a new level. Boardwalks stretched over small canals and between condo buildings – almost like a modernized Venice. There, we discovered not only a man-made beach (where everyone was trying desperately to cool down), but also a glass elevator.
The elevator was clearly a tourist trap, but we didn’t mind. It was fun to sit above the city for a few minutes.
Even more impressive than the manmade architecture in Oslo were the nature-made enormous slabs of ice carving the fjords that define Norway’s coastline.
We’ve seen glaciers before – even skied on one! But nothing could quite prepare us for the true awe of being face-to-face with these.
With only a 15 minute walk from the car, we ventured to the Kjenndalen Glacier, our first glacier in Norway. Waterfalls streamed from both sides of the icy glacier valley, and we were surprised by how windy the valley was! We hiked past the easy trail as far as we could, but the rocks became too treacherous to continue.
We also visited Nigardsbreen Glacier, and let me tell you: this was an experience. The hike was longer and more involved, but we had the trail pretty much to ourselves at 8pm.
The moment we arrived completely took our breath away and made us feel humble in our human skin. It is hard to describe the feeling, but we were high on life. Just the sheer size of the glacier, the energy of the air, and the awe of nature. It’s something you have to experience for yourself!
And of course, these glaciers sprouted countless waterfalls!
Once we branched out into the countryside, we were more focused on the landscapes; architecture (at least manmade) was few and far between. However, each town had its own touch of structural art. Most prevalent were beautiful churches.
We first came upon the quaint St. Olaf’s Church in Balestrand. I was thrilled to photograph the outside, a tad hesitant to venture inside.
But I’m so glad we did!
Ornate woodwork greeted us, from the pews to the elegant rafters. I was mesmerized by the details, from the welcoming front door, left ajar, to the modest altar.
This church actually inspired the small church featured in the coronation scene of the Disney movie, Frozen (didn’t “Olaf” sound familiar?). While it lacked the choir loft, it was a remarkably similar representation.
Later in our journey, we visited the Lom Stave Church. This one stands proud on a hill in Lom, stretching tall with its central spire. We could pay to go inside, but we opted for the free self-guided tour outside. This made me even more glad we saw the interior of St. Olaf’s.
We wandered the surrounding graveyard and marveled at the intricate rooftop tiles. It was all quite fascinating! It was so rustic and beautiful, I couldn’t get enough.
Of course, we couldn’t visit Norway without seeing dozens of viewpoints. Understandably, most were labeled with the suffix, “juvet,” which means “gorge.” As most of the lofty vistas looked down upon windy roads and crystal-clear fjords, this makes perfect sense.
But the landscapes were only part of what drew our attention.
Stegastein boasts a wooden waterfall platform that makes visitors feel as though they’re about to tumble down into the fjord far below.
Gaularfjellet features triangular stairs that hug the viewpoint, each unique and fascinating in their structures.
And the famous Trollstigen takes visitors down a path past a long shopping outlet that seems to sprout right out of the landscape, a beautifully arrayed tiered pool that leads the main waterway down a staircase cascade, and the viewpoint proper – a wood and concrete structure jutting out over the tall cliff overlooking the photo-worthy windy road below.
But I think the most fascinating spot was Gudbrandsjuvet. This unbelievable place not only has an unforgettable walkway of curvy railings that passes over a rushing waterfall, but the accompanying coffee shop is just as intriguing. Constructed with a modern decor, the concrete floors and metal accents might seem imposing at first. But it’s perfect on a hot day, especially with a bit of house-made coffee ice cream in-hand. The far wall is comprised of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the raging water, and table nooks extend in triangular fingers.
It felt like we were sitting atop the water with our afternoon treat.
And the bathrooms! I don’t usually gush about facilities, but these need mention.
First of all, you’d never find them if you don’t know where to look. The door is an entire metallic wall, and each unit blends in seamlessly. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to lock the doors – a large bar that slides across. This was more than just a necessity, it was an experience.
Norway Architecture Right off the Road
The amazing thing about Norway is you don’t need to drive or hike far to find beautiful structures – either natural or manmade. Even many of our campsites had stunning views right outside our tents!
It was difficult to not stop every 5 minutes for more pictures; we couldn’t seem to actually get anywhere because the landscapes were so beautiful.
We saw countless additional little examples of art in architecture all throughout Norway – from bridges and buildings, to fountains and roads. And we loved each new discovery.
Be on the lookout when you visit; you won’t be disappointed!
Do you prefer manmade architecture or nature’s handiwork?
Psst… planning a trip to Norway? You might also enjoy these:
- Affordable Norway: 8 Easy Ways to Spend Less and Explore More
- 18 Photos That Will Make You Want to Visit Norway
- Top Waterfalls of Norway
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