Norway and Norwegians have many quirks that will shock anyone who is coming from abroad to visit! We’re going to be taking a closer look at the 11 most shocking things to foreigners who visit Norway here, so stick around to learn all 11 things that will shock you about Norway.
1) There’s whale meat for sale in supermarkets
Whale meat is illegal to sell in most countries around the world, since most countries have chosen to sign the agreement to ban whaling. Norway has decided not to sign this agreement, and it’s one of the few countries that still actively hunt whales for meat.
You might think that whale meat is popular in Norway, but it’s really not. Despite this, whale meat is often seen in supermarkets, at fish markets and at some seafood restaurants.
So you might be shocked to find whale meat for sale when visiting Norway. It’s perfectly legal to but and eat here, but many tourists (and Norwegians alike) are disgusted by the ongoing whaling in Norwegian waters.
The meat itself is often pretty cheap, and subsidized by the government to keep the controversial hunting going.
Learn more about Norwegian whale meat here.
2) The travel time between destinations is a lot longer than people imagine
Many tourists falsely assume that Norway is a small country, but it’s really not. As a matter of fact, Norway is a pretty big country larger than France or Germany, and there are usually long distances between the different cities and attractions.
I see many tourists who assume that getting between Bergen and Oslo is a short drive, but the matter of fact is that it takes a whooping 7 hour to cross Hardangervidda and get between the cities. So you don’t really want to fly in to Oslo in the morning and have tickets for something in Bergen or Trondheim at the evening.
In addition to long distances, driving in Norway tends to be on the slow side, especially in winter. The 7 hour drive can easily become 11 – 12 hours in the winter when you have to account for column driving, slippery and snowy roads, and queues of cars.
And so far we’ve only talked about crossing Norway! If you take a quick look at a map of Norway, you will find that the distances between south and north are far grater than west and east.
And to put it into perspective, driving from Bergen to Tromsø will take 25 hours of driving, while it’s “only” 15 hours between Trondheim and Tromsø. Getting on a plane is going to be your best option if you want to get from Oslo to northern Norway without spending multiple days.
3) It will be even more expensive than you imagine
Yes, we all know that Norway is expensive, and I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times already. But trust me, you are going to be taken aback by the prices even if you do prepare for the worst.
This is especially true for eating out, and a single lunch for a family of four can easily cost you 1,000 NOK ($100 USD) for a quick lunch with a sandwich, a few bottles of Coke and a coffee.
A piece of bread can cost 50 NOK at a regular supermarket, and a 0.5 L bottle of Coke costs around 25 NOK. And a single pint of beer at a restaurant will cost 90 NOK or more.
4) Norway has very tight laws regarding when you can buy alcohol
Speaking of beer, if you want to have a beer or another alcoholic drink, be prepared to plan ahead. Norway has some of the tightest laws for when and where you can buy alcohol in the entire world, so make sure to read up.
Generally speaking, you can buy beer from regular supermarkets and grocery stores between 06:00 and 20:00 during the week, and until 18:00 on Saturdays. If you’re even a minute too late, you will be denied the purchase, and the store can face serious problems if they sell alcohol outside of the legal limit.
To prevent this, most grocery stores has checkout machines that simply deny selling alcohol under any circumstance after a certain time period.
It’s even more difficult for wine or spirits. These must be bought at the state-owned alcohol store chain called Vinmonopolet. These stores are found in most municipalities in Norway, but have short opening hours. It’s not possible to buy wine or spirits anywhere else.
Expect Vinmonopolet to close at 18:00 during the week, and 15:00 or 16:00 at Saturday.
There’s also a lot of exceptions for when stores can sell alcohol, but only for limiting it. Generally speaking, stores will have reduced alcohol sale hours during certain holidays and special events. This sometimes lead to Vinmonopolet closing at 13:00 or another super early time like that, so you really do need to make preparations to buy everything you need in time.
5) Cars actually stop for pedestrians
I heard of several tourists and expats who have found it a bit shocking that cars actually stop for pedestrians who are crossing the road in Norway. But it’s really the way of life here in Norway.
When you are at a road crossing indicated by the white stripes in the road, you can expect all cars to stop to let you pass.
It’s a very serious offense for drivers to ignore stopping for pedestrians at these, and they will likely lose their driver’s license if they don’t stop.
Keep in mind that there is an exception for places where you need to push a button to chance the traffic lights to stop the cars. These will rather indicate that you can pass by having a green light when it’s safe to pass.
But at regular crossings, expect cars to actually let you cross the road in Norway. And be prepared to do the same, no matter where you are. Always stop at crossing, both in cities, towns and at roads outside settlements.
6) Stores are usually closed on Sundays
Pretty much 99 % of all supermarkets and grocery stores are closed on Sundays, and the only exceptions are gas stations and very small stores. So don’t expect to easily be able to find an open grocery store on a Sunday in Norway!
I have heard of many tourists who are taken aback by this. What do you even do if you arrive in Norway on a Sunday? One option is to shop the things you need at a gas station, but the prices there are much higher than at a regular grocery store.
There are a few stores that are legally allowed to stay open, so use Google Maps to locate this is you are in dire need of getting groceries on a Sunday. But these stores are super small, so don’t plan on buying a weeks worth of groceries on Sunday.
Read more about shopping on Sundays here.
7) People leave their babies outside in their strollers in the freezing winter
You might see a strange thing if you’re visiting a café in Norway during winter; strollers parked outside with sleeping babies inside them.
Many foreigners are surprised to learn that Norwegian babies actually nap in freezing temperatures in their strollers outside, and are concerned for the well-being of the baby. However, this is perfectly safe, and has been a Norwegian tradition for a long time.
The babies are actually covered in clothing and blankets to keep them warm, and it’s very rare for them to become hypothermic. And don’t worry, the parents are checking in on them often to make sure.
Most people agree that the lower temperature limit is at around -20 °C / -4 °F, so babies are kept outside even in very cold weather.
Read more about why Norwegian babies are napping outside in freezing temperatures here.
8) You get paid money to recycle bottles
Whenever you buy a plastic bottle or a can with liquid in it in Norway, you pay either 2 NOK or 3 NOK in addition to the cost of the actual product. This is a type of recycling fee, and when you return the can or bottle to the store, you get paid the money back.
This has been incredible helpful in reducing the number of cans and bottles that end up in the waste, since both the plastic bottles and aluminium cans can be recycled into new ones.
So if you find an abandoned can or bottle in Norway, pick it up to get some free money! You can return it to a machine found in all supermarkets and grocery stores in Norway, and can choose between using the money as in-store credit or to actually get paid cash.
Some homeless people also use this as a type of job, and can get a few hundred Norwegian kroner by collecting empty bottles at strategic places.
9) Some of the most popular tourist attractions require multiple hours of hiking to get to
Many people have seen photos of places like Trolltunga, and really want to visit Norway and see this amazing natural wonder for themselves. The problem is just that you need to complete a pretty challenging 12 hour hike to get to Trolltunga!
And let me just tell you, a 12 hour hike in difficult mountain terrain is much more challenging than most tourists assume it to be.
The same goes for other attractions like the Pulpit’s Rock (4 hours) or Kjeragbolten (8 hours). These are much easier than Trolltunga, but still require you to be in pretty decent physical shape.
So, be prepared for somewhat long hikes to get to some of the most scenic natural attractions in Norway, and don’t feel like you need to visit them all if you don’t really feel comfortable with the long hikes.
10) No one will sit next to you on the bus
Norwegians are a lot like some of the stereotypes, especially when it comes to talking to strangers in public. A Norwegian person will never willingly sit next to another random person unless everything else is occupied.
Don’t be surprised if people choose to stand on the bus rather than sitting next to a stranger! It’s not you, it’s just us Norwegians.
That said, it’s not that Norwegians are all inherently introverted. Instead, giving people private space when in public is considered polite. We are not likely to be offended if you start talking to us, but actively seeking out small-talk with strangers is something most Norwegians won’t do.
11) Norway is not a frozen wasteland with polar bears in the streets
Many people are under the impression that Norway is a frozen wasteland with polar bears and wolves roaming the street. Sure, we got a few dozen wolves in Norway, but it’s not exactly arctic in most places.
As a matter of fact, Norway is getting warmed up by the Gulf Stream, so it’s much warmer than Siberia or Alaska even though we’re at the same latitude.
The southern half of Norway is often said to have about the same climate as Washington or Maine in the US. Our summers tend to be pretty warm and wet (you can even go swimming in the summer), while most of the country gets covered in snow during the winter.
But if you want to experience polar bears, you need to visit the island Svalbard north of the mainland.
What things shocked you when you visited Norway?
Above are some of the most common things that will shock you about Norway, but I’m sure there are more cultural shocks that I haven’t covered. So, let me know in the comments if you have had another shocking experience when visiting Norway!
Nicklas is the owner and editor of The Norway Guide, and is responsible for most of the content on the website.
He lives in Skien, Norway with his wife and two children. Nicklas is specialized in Norwegian ecology (including Norway’s geology, wildlife and flora) from his degree in Ecology And Nature Management at University of South-Eastern Norway, but has a particular interest in tourism and content creation.
His biggest hobbies are fishkeeping, going on hikes with his dog, and rooting for the local football team.