Western Norway, Vestlandet, is a region of Norway with 1.3 million citizens, famous for its fjords and mountainous sceneries. Bergen and Stavanger are dominant cities. There are fjords all along Norway's endless coast, but in West Norway fjords are particularly long, steep and deep.
|“||Vestlandet, Norway, is 'Oh My God' Country||”|
—New York Times
Counties of West Norway.
|Møre og Romsdal |
Home to iconic fjords such as Geiranger. Alpine mountains rising from the sea.
|Sogn og Fjordane |
Home to the longest and deepest fjord, the highest mountains, the largest glacier, the longest road tunnel, the ancient churches
Enchanting, ancient Bergen. Romantic fjords of Hardanger
Oil capital Stavanger. From lowlands with sandy beaches to wild mountains and iconic Lysefjord.
- 1 Bergen — regional centre and ancient Hanseatic trading point
- 2 Stavanger — Norway's petroleum capital.
Towns and villages
- 3 Balestrand — charming village by the Sognefjord
- 4 Florø — small, charming coastal town
- 5 Førde — business centre in the traditional district of Sunnfjord
- 6 Haugesund— known as the "Home of the Viking Kings" because of the burial site of Harald Fairhair
- 7 Kristiansund — traditional fishing port on islands in the Atlantic, known for clipfish
- 8 Molde — impressive panorama and great fjord, annual jazz festival
- 9 Måløy — small, coastal town on the island of Vågsøy
- 10 Voss — winter sport capital of western Norway
- 11 Ålesund — rebuilt in characteristic art nouveau after the 1904 devastating fire
- 1 Atlanterhavsveien — The Atlantic Road: National tourist route and voted to one of the worlds best road trips by The Guardian
- 2 Dovrefjell — a mountainous area consisting of two large national parks (comprises also parts of East Norway and Trøndelag)
- 3 Geiranger — iconic fjord visited by several hundred cruise ships each summer
- 4 Jostedalsbreen — the largest glacier on the European mainland
- 5 Jotunheimen - Scandinavia's highest mountains
- 6 Sognefjorden — Norway's longest fjord and deepest fjord with Flåm and Luster
- 7 Valldal — green valley among alpine mountains, connects Geiranger and Trollstigen/Åndalsnes
- 8 Åndalsnes with Romsdal valley - the most alpine valley between the great fjords and the wide interior
- 9 Stryn — summer ski capital, fine glaciers in next door Olden and Loen
Geographically, this is the archetypal Norway. Although fjords can be found in other parts of the world, the word is Norwegian, and this is the region of Norway where the most of the iconic fjords can be found. A fjord (the "j" is pronounced like an "y" in English) is a long, narrow, deep bay, usually surrounded by equally steep mountainous terrain. In West Norway, the largest can extend 200 km (124 mi) inland, 1300 m (4265 ft) deep. The great fjords of western Norway cuts deep into the mainland and are particularly dramatic at the intersection with the high central mountains from Hardangervidda via Jotunheimen to the "alps" around Åndalsnes. Most fjords continue onshore as deep u-shaped (often gorge-like) valleys such as Lærdal, Romsdal, Sunndal and Gudvangen, several of these valleys are home to pretty, usually very deep, lakes such as Olden and Eidfjord lakes. Note that in some areas major freshwater lakes, although not connected to the ocean, are frequently called fjords. The fjords of western Norway has been rated as the world's top tourist destination by National Geographic Magazine. In a rating of UNESCO world heritage sites, Geiranger, in Møre og Romsdal and Nærøyfjord, in Sogn og Fjordane, also obtained top score in a survey conducted by National Geographic.
Several great waterfalls can be found in Western Norway. Many of them fall directly into the famous fjords as well as along the deep valleys extending into the mountains beyond the fjords. Unique in West Norway is that these waterfalls are found in large number all across the region. One third of the world's 30 tallest waterfalls (as listed on Wikipedia) are in West Norway and most of the tall waterfalls in Europe are in this region.
The only really even lowland area is Jæren, the region south of Stavanger. Jæren also has long stretches of sandy beaches and is not protected by lines of islands and skerries like the rest of this extremely fragmented coast. The beaches at Jæren are popular among kiters and surfers. Other flat lowlands include a small number of islands such as Smøla and Giske. Elsewhere the terrain is in general extremely fragmented along the ocean as well as in the interior where grand fjords, green gentle valleys and steep mountains dominate.
While famous for its natural landscapes, West Norway is also very rich in natural resources and a economically strong region. The rich fisheries of the North Sea and Atlantic lies just off the shores of West Norway, so does the oil and gas fields on the Norwegian continental shelf. Redundancy of water and steep mountains make West Norway ideal for hydro electric power production, supplying ample amount of electricity to industry and western cities as well as large parts of East Norway.
The name "Norway" ("way to the North") originally referred to the sea lane along the coast of West Norway from somewhere around present day Stavanger and northward. In the Middle Ages West Norwegians were referred to as "nordmenn" ("men of the North" or "Norwegians"), while people of East Norway were called "austmenn" ("Men of the East"). The name "Norway" was subsequently and gradually extended to the entire territory of the present Kingdom of Norway.
The southern part of West Norway (around Stavanger) is often referred to as the south-west, while the northern part (around Ålesund-Molde) is called the north-west.
The theory about ice ages over Scandinavia and other parts of world was formularer in 1823 when professor Jens Esmark compared moraines across Western Norway. At Haukalivatnet lake (near Lysefjorden) there is a distinct end moraine presumably created by a prehistoric glacier. Esmark noted the similarity to moraines in front of retreating glaciers in Stryn mountains and Jostedalsbreen. Esmark’s observation is one of the great discoveries in the Earth sciences.
The language in West Norway is Norwegian, with dialects that are distinctly different from eastern dialects. Unlike most of Norway but similar to France and northern Germany, dialects in Hordaland (including Bergen) and Rogaland have a distinct guttural R-sound. Dialects further north in West Norway have a distinct "rolling R" (voiced alveolar trill) similar to Castilian (Spanish). Foreign visitors will note a difference in melody only. Written Norwegian may differ somewhat as a different standard for writing, called nynorsk, is frequently used in West Norway.
As in the rest of Norway, virtually everybody under 60 years of age speak or understand English. Many information signs in public places are printed in English. In tourist hot spots like Geiranger and Bergen, French and German are also common among service personnel. Don't be surprised to meet service workers that manage other languages such as Russian, Dutch, Italian or Spanish.
Bergen and Stavanger have fairly large airports and are well connected with several European cities and major Norwegian cities.
There are also international flights to Haugesund, Molde and Ålesund. Small airports, with connections from Oslo and for most of them from Bergen, are located at Florø, Førde, Kristiansund, Ørsta/Volda, Sandane, Sogndal and Stord.
International trains (and buses) go from Gothenburg and Stockholm in Sweden to Oslo. From Oslo, there are several lines to end stations on the West coast. Raumabanen (an arm of Dovrebanen, the Oslo-Trondheim line) runs from Dombås to Åndalsnes. Bergensbanen connects Oslo and Bergen across the mountain. The famous Flåmsbana (Flåm railway) branches off Bergensbanen at Myrdal. Sørlandsbanen connects Oslo and Stavanger via Kristiansand in South Norway.
Western Norway occupies the entire west coast south of Trondheim until the mountain passes. There are accordingly numerous domestic entrances, basically along the east-west European highways E18, E134, E16, E136 as well as E39, the coastal main road. Travellers should also consider alternative routes (often a more scenic option) on national route 7, 15, 50, 55 and 70.
There are frequent flights between Bergen and Stavanger. There are also daily flights between Bergen and most of the airports listed in the "Get in" section.
Bergen is connected to many coastal towns to the north by Hurtigruten (the coastal steamer), which is a combined cargo and cruise ship (also accepts cars). North-south along the coast there are a few express passenger boats between Bergen and small towns to the north (operated by Norled). Villages and small towns along Sognefjorden is also connected to Bergen by these high speed catamarans. The fjord and island areas are typically best enjoyed from a boat.
Due to complex topography West Norway does not have an integrated rail network. The railway does however offer opportunity for scenic rides. Train is most suitable for transport between Bergen, Voss, Flåm and the mountains; transport between Stavanger, Sandnes and small towns south of Sandnes. Bergen-Voss-Flåm is included in the famous "Norway in a nutshell" tour. The scenic Raumabanen railway from Dombås to Åndalsnes is an alternative to bus or car in the Romsdalen valley. Tickets and timetables on nsb.no.
West Norway has an integrated network of long-distance coaches covering most of the region. Most services operate a few times every day and tickets can generally be bought on board.
Most coach services are listed on the Nor-Way Bussexpress website, who also operate the majority of long-distance routes. A number of long and medium distances services in the region are also provided by Fjord 1, and other operators run further services - not all of which are listed with Nor-way, so do your research.
In Møre og Romsdal county there is also the Timeekspressen connecting main towns (Volda-Ålesund-Molde-Kristiansund) by hourly departures.
There is a new long-distance coach connecting Stavanger with Bergen (Haugesund and Leirvik/Stord) in only 5 hours. It can only be booked online at Nettbuss with tickets starting at 249 kr. The bus service provide Wifi, power outlet, wc, air condition and luxurious chairs. The bus schedule can be found here
There are other more local bus connections.
Local city buses exist in major towns and cities.
Bus connections can be searched on rutebok.no.
Most of West Norway is sparsely populated with limited public transport, and a car provides superior freedom and flexibility for the traveler. Because some roads are narrow and steep (not shown on most road maps), travellers are advised to calculate plenty of time for driving and not to rush as this increases risk of accident. Ferries are an integral part of the road network and trips across West Norway often involve ferries. European route E39 is the main road through western Norway, the E39 is perhaps Norway's most complex road with some 100 tunnels and seven ferry crossings. Norway has well over 1,000 road tunnels, a majority of them are in Western Norway and the area has five of the world’s 25 longest road tunnels (Lærdal, Gudvanga, Jondal, Folgefonna and Ryfylke tunnels). Driving in tunnels is generally very safe and Norwegians don't slow down for tunnels.
Car ferries on the main roads are rather frequent (typically every half hour), extremely reliable and operate with reserve capacity. Except for the popular Geiranger-Hellesylt and Gudvangen-Kaupanger ferries, tourists generally need not worry about time tables and reservations. Travelers are however recommended to calculate plenty of time for trips involving car ferries. Buses, ambulances and livestock transport have priority. On most crossings, ferries have cafeteria selling coffee, beverages, sandwiches and some hot food. Some older diesel powered vessels have been replaced by ferries running on natural gas. Across Sognefjorden there is even one running on batteries, the MF «Ampere», the world's first such ferry.
Nature is the main sight in West Norway, and travelers are advised not to rush from town to town, but should instead calculate plenty of time for the road, and to stop at suitable scenic places.
- For more information on fjords in Norway, see the Fjords of Norway article.
In Western Norway there are fjords everywhere, the visitor can't miss them. While fjords vary somewhat, their appearance is largely the same all over the area: The wildest part of the fjords are the middle section and eastern (far) end, the mouth at the ocean is generally more mellow (lower mountains and wider gaps). The entire area is however very rugged and fragmented (except the Jæren flatlands south of Stavanger).
Some of the main fjords of Western Norway:
- Boknafjorden with Ryfylke and Lysefjorden with iconic Pulpit rock and Kjerag
- Hardangerfjord - the romantic fruit garden
- Sognefjord - Norway's longest, deepest and most complex fjord system
- Nordfjord including Stryn and Olden
- Storfjord with Hjørundfjord and Geirangerfjord
- Romsdalsfjord with Molde and Åndalsnes
- Sunndalsfjord/Tingvollfjord east of Kristiansund
- The UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord (by Geiranger) and Nærøyfjord (by Gudvangen and Flåm).
- Glaciers, several places (Folgefonna, Jostedalsbreen, Hardangerjøkulen)
- Waterfalls in large numbers, for instance Låtefossen waterfall in Odda, as well as many of the world's tallest waterfalls.
- Preikestolen (The pulpit rock) by Stavanger.
- Trollveggen and Trollstigen at Åndalsnes
Man made sights
- Fishing. Endless possibilities along the coast, in the fjords and in lakes.
- Glacier walks on Jostedalsbreen and Folgefonna (with guide only)
- Hiking. Several possibilities, among them Hardangervidda and Jotunheimen.
- Skiing in Voss.
- Skiing, in summertime, in Stryn or Folgefonna
- Sleep in a mountain cabin. The Norwegian Trekking Association operates 110 cabins scattered across the region.
- See also: Nordic cuisine
There are various high class dining facilities in West Norway. See articles for each town. Specialities are plentiful.
- Try Norwegian seafood!
When in this area, the local brand of bottled water is called Olden. Hansa brewery is the major beverages provider. The company also produces the arguably best Norwegian-owned beer.
It's safe to drink tap water in Norway as the water is among the cleanest in the world. You should therefore avoid drinking bottle water as it is not good for the environment.
Inner fjord areas such as Hardanger, Sognefjord and Valldal have long apple growing traditions. There are many cider producers in the area some of these ciders are of high quality and match fine white wine from central Europe and the best cider internationally. Norwegian cider is typically fresh, aromatic and dry. Ciders rich in tannins and with a more bitter taste are less common. Ciders can be light sparkling or still. Most cider producers accept visitors and sell by the bottle.
West Norway is as safe as the rest of Norway (see general information on Norway). In western Norway there are several roads with very narrow stretches where even small cars can not pass easily. Be extremely careful around blind corners on these roads. Stick to your side of the road! While roads may look dangerous, there are few accidents on these roads.
Show respect for the sea. Every year tourists die in small rented boats; usually having gone out in bad weather. Waves coming in from the Atlantic can be extremely powerful, but even in what seems like sheltered waters the wind can capsize a small boat.