Norway’s spectacular snow-capped mountains, stunning fjords, relics of ships from the Viking era and peaceful seaside towns will leave you in awe. This Scandinavian country has many things to celebrate this year, including the 200th anniversary of its constitution. It’s also hosting Europride (europride.com) this June, an event where LGBT communities from all nations come together for Pride parades, live performances and parties.
At 630,000 people, Oslo is the fastest-growing European capital. Its landscape is dotted with architectural dazzlers like the Oslo Opera House (Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 47-21-42-21-21, operaen.no), whose elaborate angles invite skateboarders to navigate its turns and bends; or the Astrup Fearnley Museum (Strandpromenaden 2, 47-22-93-60-60, afmuseet.no), a wooden stunner with a dramatic glass roof situated on the edge of a majestic fjord. In contrast, Norway’s second largest city, Bergen, maintains its historical charm by retrofitting luxury shops, high-tech cafes and traditional restaurants into 18th century wooden buildings. Both cities are pleasantly walkable; restaurants, museums and gay clubs are 10-15 minutes from each other.
Lesbians have been jumping the broom here since same-sex marriage was legalized in 2009. Recently, Norwegians elected a gay minister of finance, a lesbian minister of justice, and the first out lesbian politician for the Labor Party, Annette Trettebergstuen. The LGBT community is well integrated into the rest of the mainstream in Oslo and Bergen. If you meet a cute local girl, be sure to clink glasses and say “skål!”—“cheers” in Norwegian. Although the gay scene is concentrated in the cities, no trip to Norway would be complete without exploring its abundant natural beauty—best seen by cruising the scenic North Sea.
The gay-friendly Hurtigruten cruise line (866-552-0371, hurtigruten.us) offers an unforgettable excursion from northern Norway to the historic city of Bergen, crossing the Arctic Circle on the way. Hurtigruten was named the “world’s most beautiful voyage” by National Geographic, perhaps because of the 800-passenger ship’s ability to sail close to idyllic islands, snow-capped mountains and colorful seaside towns. It’s not hard to picture pillaging Vikings navigating their vessels centuries ago through the cobalt seas. The cruise stops at 34 ports during the five-day journey, which allows you to hop on and off at leisure. This gives you the option of staying a couple of nights in one of the ports, and continuing your journey aboard another ship (they dock on a daily basis).
Begin your trip in Kirkenes in northern Norway, where reindeer and moose lounge against a landscape of mountains, fjords and thick snow. This may be the most exciting port on your journey, where you can take part in unique winter adventures like spending a night sleeping in the surprisingly cozy Kirkenes Snow Hotel (Sandnesdalen 14, 47-78-97-05-40, kirkenes snowhotel.com). You’ll sleep on an ice bed surrounded by different hand carved ice sculptures. In the morning, sign up for a king crab safari in the middle of the frozen Varangerfjord. The guide will use a crank to pull up a dozen three-foot-long crabs and allow you to pose with your future dinner. After a merry sleigh ride to a homey cabin, you can tuck into a steamed crab feast. Too tame for you? Try your hand at dog sledding, snowmobiling or snowshoeing. History buffs will want to check out the Andersgrotta, a bomb shelter built when Germans occupied Kirkenes during WWII.
Searching for the aurora borealis (northern lights) is at the top of every passenger’s itinerary, and the last three years have brought the strongest sightings in the last half century. Caused by solar winds interacting with the earth’s ionosphere, the colorful waves and explosions in the sky are unforgettable.
The first stop on Hurtigruten itinerary will be to the sleepy town of Vardø. In this port, visit the memorial where witches were burned at the stake in the 17th century, and have a quick drink at the Nordpol Kro (Kaigata 21, 47-78-98-75-01, nordpolkro.no), northern Norway’s oldest pub, across from the dock. Signs in the port of Hammerfest proclaim it “the world’s northernmost town at 70°39”48’ N.” After arriving in the port of Tromso, you will be transported centuries back into time at the midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral, which features regional folk music by an organist, soprano vocalist and flugelhorn.
Day three of the voyage offers a tour of Vesteralen Islands and a trip to the Trondenes Historical Center (Trondenesveien 122, 47-77-01-83-80), a museum with 1,100-year-old relics from Norse Vikings. As you cruise through the jaw-droppingly beautiful Lofoten Islands, don’t miss the TrollFjord, a steep-sided inlet formed by glacial erosion and surrounded by 3,000-foot peaks. In the port of Svolvaer, grab your friends and have a drink inside Magic Ice (Fiskergata 36, 47-76-07-40-11, magicice.no), an artist’s dream world of creative ice sculptures and an ice bar.
The next day, you will glide through majestic Helgeland, bordered in the north by the Saltfjellet Mountains and the Svartisen glacier. In the port of Brønnøysund, get a taste of local industry by exploring a modern fish farm—you can even peer through an underwater camera for an up-close view. Alternately, work your muscles by sea kayaking or sea rafting through the placid Brønnøysund archipelago, sprinkled with spectacular islands. Don’t let the peaceful scenery lull you off to la-la-land, because you’ll miss the famous Torghatten Mountain—described as a troll's hat with a huge hole through it.
As the journey concludes, land at Trondheim, the third largest city in Norway at 180,000 residents. The main attraction is the 11th-century medieval cathedral, Nidarosdomen (Bispegata 11, 47-73-89-08-00, nidarosdomen.no) built over the grave of Olav Haraldsson, the king of Norway in 1000 A.D. If you have time, walk around the old docks of Sunside, an up-and-coming area with trendy cafes.
In the final port of Bergen, all the cultural hotspots are within a 10-20 minute walk of each other in the city center. Purchase a Bergen Pass for free admission to museums, discounts on attractions and a cheap transfer to the airport. Near Bryggen, a famous block of row houses dating from the Middle Ages, you will find a conglomerate of upscale souvenir shops. Juhl’s Silver Gallery sells sterling silver jewelry; Bryggen Handel carries sweaters and wood carvings of the ubiquitous trolls. Also in Bryggen, the Hanseatic Museum (Finnegården 1A, 47-55-54-46-90, museumvest.no) showcases the important trade in stockfish that grew the Baltic economy in the 13th century. The museum also displays relics of old Hanseatic (northern German) books, bunk beds, and tools.
Take a panoramic ride on the Fløibanen Furnicular (Vetrlidsallmenningen 21, 47-55-33-68-00, floibanen.no), the number-one tourist attraction in Norway, which takes a million visitors a year up 1,000 feet to the top of a mountain. The view encompasses the city of Bergen and its sparkling harbor. Adjacent to Olav Bull Pass, Bergen’s central square, sits the Kode Museum of Modern Art (Rasmus Meyers Allé 9, 47-55-56-80-00, kodebergen.no). The four-building complex houses art from the 18th to the 21st centuries.
After a few days exploring Bergen, book a short flight to Oslo. The exciting museums in the capital should be at the top of your to-do list. According to Andrea Belck-Olsen, sales manager at The Thief Hotel, “Oslo is not just a place to come to see the fjords; the city is transforming into a place of culture and museums.” For example, at the Viking Ships Museum (Huk Aveny 35, 47-22-85-19-00, khm.uio.no/english), you will encounter Norse ships from 900 A.D. that were used to pillage, settle new land and even bury dead warriors.
Ever wonder how icons like the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu (or Al Gore) were chosen for the Nobel Peace prize? Visit the Nobel Peace Center (Brynjulf Bulls Plass 1, 47-48-30-10-00, nobelpeacecenter.org), which provides an in-depth look into the work of Nobel laureates. Next door, Oslo’s historic city hall, the Oslo Radhus (0037 Oslo, 47-81-50-06-06, oslo.kommune.no/english) is an architectural wonder featuring floor-to-ceiling paintings of Norwegian historical events.
You cannot visit Norway without encountering tributes to the best-known Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch. See his masterpieces at the Munch Museet (Toyengata 53, 47-23-49-35-00, munchmuseet.no), including self-portraits, sketches and, of course, “The Scream.” At EkebergParken (47-97-56-71-65, ekebergparken.com), stand in the place where scholars believe Munch was inspired to paint the famous work and snap a picture of yourself “screaming.” Last year, hundreds of tourists screamed from the top of the mountain to celebrate Munch’s 150th birthday—so many that locals were alarmed and called the police!
Get your retail therapy at Gerts Oslo (Vitaminveien 7, 47-22-15-92-33), a Norwegian boutique that produces gorgeous cashmere pieces, or stop at the House of Oslo (Ruseløkkveien 26, 47-23-23-85-60, houseofoslo.no) for wares by Scandinavian interior and clothing designers. The tram will take you four stops from Tullinlokka to Bislett, a funky area with boutiques and cafes. Browse through Walk in Closet (Thereses Gate 40a, 47-47-95-56-02, walkinclosetoslo.blogspot.com), a consignment shop that carries items with a European flair.
The lesbian-friendly The Thief Hotel (Landgangen 1, 47-24-00-40-00, thethief.com), is a part of the World Rainbow Hotel collection and located on the newly developed Tjuvholmen Island. “We’re ballsy,” laughs Andrea Belck-Olsen, its sales manager. “We staged a protest against the winter Olympics the weekend before the event.” The hot breakfast buffet is also worth getting excited about: Try the vaffles (Norwegian waffles), made-to-order omelets, organic juices and beet juice energy shots. In Bergen, the gay-friendly Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (Bryggen 5, 47-55-54-30-00, radissonblu.com), adjacent to the historic Bryggen area, is its most popular accommodations. Walk outside and you are immediately close to all of the must-see attractions in the city center.
Seafood lovers will encounter an embarrassment of gastronomic riches throughout Norway. Chefs know their way around an Arctic char—caught locally in the Arctic Ocean—and prepare it deliciously, either baked or raw. Another regional delicacy is reindeer meat, usually served as a rich pate.
Trondheim’s Baklandet Skydsstation (Øvre Bakklandet 33, 47-73-92-10-44, skydsstation.no), a historic restaurant whose original building was built in 1791, serves a killer breakfast. Try the Norwegian specialty, hot chocolate and waffles with jam. For lunch, have the reindeer casserole or clap cakes (literally, cakes that are clapped) stuffed with fish.
For a quick bite in Bergen, Godt Brød (Vestre Torggaten 2, 47-55-56-33-10, godtbrod.no) serves organic baguettes, salads and healthy continental cuisine. The nearby Fisketorget (fish market), situated on the waterfront, is a two-year-old glass structure that serves fresh seafood. Alternatively, have dinner at Norway’s oldest pub, Bryggen Tracteursted (Bryggestredet 2, 47-55-33-69-99, bellevue-restauranter.no), built in 1708. Prima Fila Italia Restaurant is a local hotspot for Bergen residents; try the lasagna or one of their pizzas from the wood fire oven. Another local treat, The Pingvinen (“Penguin”) is a restaurant so tucked away, the menu is not even available in English. Ask the waitress to translate the daily specials, which range from smoked salmon and lamb sandwiches to those made with cod, tongue and liver pate.
Gay locals recommend Ett Glass (Karl Johans gate 33, 47-22-33-40-79, ettglass.no) in Oslo, a restaurant that plays Swedish hip hop. According to patron Gustav Geijerstan, Ett Glass is “very cozy, I like coming here on Thursdays, which are Super Tourist Days—the drinks are cheap”. The new Festningen, “the Fortress” (Myntgata 9, 47-22-83-31-00, festningenrestaurant.no), is an elegant dinner spot with an open kitchen serving popular entrees like tender and flaky arctic trout and creamy artichoke risotto. For the picky eater, stop in Peppes Pizza (Lørenveien 42, 47-22-22-55-55, peppes.no) the Norwegian version of Uno’s, serving “Chicago-style pizza.”
Oslo and Bergen are the cities with a notable gay scene. Grensen is Oslo’s gayest neighborhood, where gay clubs are within a five-minute walk from the city center. As in many places around the world, lesbian nightlife gets overshadowed by the gay guys’ scene; So (Arbeidergata 2, so-oslo.no) is the only all-lesbian club in Oslo. According to owner Vichy Erickson, So is special because “unlike other lesbian hangouts that move around from venue to venue, we are a permanent fixture and open from Wednesday to Saturday. Saturdays are our biggest night.” On Thursdays, So hosts trivia nights with quizzes on pop culture, history and more in a game card format. So occasionally hosts visiting musicians and artists on Wednesdays. The last Friday of the month is open to women exclusively over 30 years old.
Also, check out London Pub (C. J. Hambros Plass 5, 47-22-70-87-00, londonpub.no), a gay bar opened in 1979 considered the Stonewall of Europe. It has a distinct New York feel with pool tables, wood paneling and a crowd of gay and lesbian regulars up for karaoke, bingo and dancing to Norwegian pop.
Bergen’s one designated gay bar, Fincken (Nygårdsgaten 2 A, yelp.com/biz/fincken-bergen), is a 10-minute walk from the Radisson Blu. It is a small establishment with a mixed clientele, but many lesbians go there, and they recently launched monthly women’s nights.
For more up-to-the-minute info on Norway’s goings-on, browse the country’s comprehensive tourism website at visitnorway.com/us.