Imagine a headless sea horse hanging over Denmark, with an elongated tail curving northward along the Swedish border -- beyond the Arctic Circle -- the tip of its tail brushing against Russian Lapland. This is the shape of Norway, a land that features porcupine ridges of mountain, broken in spots by unladylike fingers -- fjords -- that gouge into the rocky surfaces of the earth.

Norway is a land of waterfalls and rapids, majestic mountains and glaciers, green islands, crystal lakes, pine and spruce forests, steep-sloped farmsteads, secluded valleys, craggy cliffs, peaceful fjords, and fishing villages.

In the north the coastline is dotted with brightly painted houses, their sparkling colors contrasting with the somber grandeur of fjords and mountains. The northern slice of Norway -- Finnmark, or Lapland -- is low and hilly, bleak and forlorn, peopled in part by nomadic Sami with reindeer herds.

Norway is an ancient land of myth and legend, mountains, and nature. It also has a strong folklore tradition. As children, Norwegians grow up on stories of huldres and trolls. Trolls -- who can be both good and evil and who come in all shapes and sizes -- have become part of the folklore of the country. And in their secret hearts, many Norwegians still believe in them.

Trolls have very long noses -- but often only one eye per family. To compensate for this lack of vision, some trolls possess as many as 12 heads. In case a Norwegian farmer should chop off one of the troll's heads, three more will grow back in its place. Mrs. Troll has a bigger nose than her husband. She uses it for everything from stirring porridge to whipping the children. Trolls never come out in sunlight. If they should happen to make a sudden appearance during the day, they burst and are petrified as mountains. That's why Norway has so many mountains -- or so the legend goes.

But not only mountains. Norway also has fjords and waterfalls unlike any found elsewhere in Europe.

Go to Norway for an experience not only with folklore but also with the great outdoors. Spain and Italy overflow with legendary, treasure-filled cities. Norway has nothing to equal them. England has preserved the crooked old architecture from the days of Samuel Johnson. Norway's wooden villages have burned to the ground, for the most part. Many of Norway's towns along the coast -- such as Bodø -- were destroyed during World War II. But in sheer scenic beauty, Norway is about the greatest thing this side of Valhalla.

Norway is a blend of the ancient and the modern. How curious but how common it is to see a Sami grandmother -- attired in a brightly colored braided costume, bonnet, and deer-hide moccasins with turned-up toes -- waiting to board an airplane at the Tromsø airport.

Search long and hard enough, and you might turn up a sod-roofed house, where old Grandfather Per -- wearing high trousers -- sits in a tub-chair in the corner downing his curds-and-whey. On the other hand, his grandson, clad in swimming trunks, will probably be sunning himself on a rock, listening to American music.

Did You Know?

  • Norwegians have one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world.
  • While medieval alchemists were trying to make gold, they discovered akevitt (aquavit, or schnapps), the national "firewater" of Norway.
  • Norway has the world's largest foreign trade per capita.
  • The average population density is only 13 inhabitants per square kilometer (almost 1/2 sq. mile), compared with 96 for Europe as a whole.
  • Norway and Russia share a short land border and have disputed control of a sea area the size of Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria combined.
  • Hammerfest is the world's northernmost town.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.