Norway has repeatedly been named both the happiest and the healthiest country in the world. Here are my travel highlights from happy healthy Norway, including where to eat with food allergies.
Norway has been on my radar for a while. It’s consistently been on the top of the happiest countries in the world report (yes, it’s a real report). Countries are judged on happiness factors like caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Norway has been scoring really well in all categories for years.
Then I started reading about the exploding food scene in Norway, and I decided it was time for a visit.
Travel Highlights From Happy Healthy Norway
I thought a week was a good amount of time to see some of Norway’s top cities. I visited Bergen (gateway to the fjords), Flaam (in the fjords), and Oslo, Norway’s capital. I loved this route and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to visit Norway and the fjords.
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, and it’s the city to be in if you want to explore the beautiful Norwegian fjords.
There’s a pretty harbor that connects Bergen with the North Sea. You’ll likely see many boats and cruise ships docked here, ready to explore the fjords.
Sadly, it was raining the day we arrived, but we still took the funicular up the side of one of their seven local mountains to see a view of the city and harbor.
Colorful wooden houses line the harbor and add to the quaint feel. Then there’s cobblestone streets with shops and restaurants to make you want to stay even longer.
If you have a quick overnight in Bergen like we did, then there’s one restaurant you must visit: Lysverket. The chef came from acclaimed NY restaurant Per Se, and is doing some very inventive dishes.
There was carrot falafel over roasted carrots with a creamy carrot sauce that was wonderful and like nothing I’ve ever had. Continuing on the like nothing I ever had theme was a menu item simply listed as a tomato salad. Tomatoes arrived in a bowl with fresh herbs and citrus, but then there was a french press mysteriously beside it. The waiter says he’ll be back to handle it once we ate some of the salad. He returned, pushed down on the press and poured a type of tomato soup in the bowl for an entirely different dish.
Lyskervet is a pretty spot on the water in Bergen and a must visit. They will also accommodate most food allergies with the local, fresh food. Just let them know ahead of time. Their gluten free bread was amazing.
The Fjords - Sognefjord
Depending on the season, there will be at least one boat that cruises through the winding fingers of the Sognefjord to Flaam.
You’ll see colorful storybook villages all along the water. You won’t see a road behind many of the tiny towns, but there may be a kayak or boat out front, and you’ll realize that your drive to the supermarket isn’t so bad.
There’s waterfalls around every turn - some huge horsetail sprays, while others are more gentle drips.
At some point along the picturesque cruise, you’ll probably think like I did, I could get used to this quieter way of living. I could be really happy in Norway. I get it.
The public boat that we took from Bergen stopped in several picture-perfect towns on its 5-1/2 hour journey before hitting the last stop of Flaam.
Flaam is not a large town. Using the word town is even a bit generous. There’s one major hotel, the Fretheim (and it’s a good spot to stay and also eat), and a few little shops and cafes. After you wonder what you’re going to do there for 3 days, you relax into the scenery and slower pace.
We took a tour of Flaam with a guide that included a drive through the world’s longest tunnel road. It was raining again, which wasn’t the most ideal timing for a hike up a steep, switchback trail on the Old Kings Road.
Our guide told us that there’s no bad weather in Norway, just bad clothing. I’m not sure I had “good” clothing for our rainy hike, but I appreciated our guide’s chipper demeanor. Norway didn’t get to be the happiest country for nothing. Everyone seemed to be upbeat and optimistic, no matter the weather or the circumstance. We could learn a few things.
Luckily we were rewarded for hiking in the rain. We got to the top of the hill and the rain stopped. Then a deep colored rainbow came out, along with blue skies, and put (bigger) smiles on all of our faces.
After our hike, we wandered the Borgund Stave Church, which is one of the best preserved in Norway. Sheep punctuated the landscape and waterfalls poured everywhere we looked.
The most lively spot to eat in Flaam is the Aegir Brew Pub. It’s a two-story wooden structure, modeled like a stave church. A fireplace sits in the middle and extends all the way to the second floor.
They brew their own beer at Aegir, and surprisingly have a decent food menu. I was shocked when they told me they could give me a gluten free bun for my burger. They also had a nice picture coded-menu with the allergens spelled out so there was no misunderstandings. I found most restaurants in Norway took care of people with food allergies.
I adapted rather quickly to the slower pace of Flaam. I find water has a calming sense and seeing as there had been nothing but water around, I found myself quite calm. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the big city of Oslo after Flam, but I wanted to continue my happy healthy Norway tour.
Oslo is Norway’s capital with a population of almost 660,000, more than double that of Bergen. Luckily there was more calming water everywhere I looked, in addition to lots of happy Norwegians.
The Norse influence is felt throughout the city and a visit to the Viking Ship Museum tells the tales of some of Oslo’s history, in addition to displaying some of their enormous ships.
The Nobel Peace Center is also a noteworthy place to visit. Not only do they have information on all of the Nobel Peace Prize award recipients, but they also have interesting rotating exhibits.
Another must-visit spot in Oslo is the impressive Vigeland Sculpture Park.
There are over 200 sculptures assembled in a most unique way.
And the large sculptures were all created by just one artist. Vigeland.
The park that ecompasses the sculptures is also quite lovely and worthy of planning a happy healthy Norway day to enjoy.
Where I saw even more Norwegians enjoying life was near the Holmenkollen ski jump tower.
The mesmerizing ski jump sits atop a mountain in Holmenkollen. There’s sweeping views of Oslo’s winding waterfront from most points.
The mountain has numerous trails full of active people walking, running, and prepping for ski season with inline cross country skates and polls.
There’s even an area where we watched kids practice skating and shooting.
While you can’t go down the ski jump, you can zip line down the enormous slope. We saw kids and adults of all ages partake in this fun activity. See the video I posted to watch the fun.
What’s also nice about Oslo is that they limit the cars in the city and only certain roads in certain directions are open to vehicles. That makes for a lot less traffic.
Seeing as I live in the traffic capital of the world, I immediately chalked another one up on the happy healthy Norway scoreboard.
They are doing lots of building in Oslo along the waterfront, complete with new music center and condos.
With the construction, they’re also including bike paths so everything is accessible, and of course there’s a great metro system.
Can you tell I fell a little in love with Oslo during my visit? I haven’t even talked about the food yet, which really put me over the top.
If you want a good sampling of lots of different healthy food from Norway, stop into Mathallen Food Hall.
You’ll see all of the fresh fish that’s so prevalent throughout Norway, in addition to meat like reindeer, sorry Rudolph.
The Norwegians are big on smoking their fish and meat too.
They needed to preserve their food to endure the winters so smoking became big and stuck around.
I liked all of the smoked fish and meat, but probably don’t ever need to try whale again.
There was a healthy restaurant in Oslo called Brasserie Paleo. Yeah, that paleo.
The menu had all paleo items and also broke down what allergens were in each dish. The menu was short, but concise.
I found this concise menu most places in Oslo. They didn’t have 10 pages to flip through. It was usually just one page that featured whatever was fresh and in season. Chalk another one up for healthy Norway.
Another standout restaurant was the small, but funky Kolonihagen. They use organic, local ingredients and can easily accommodate gluten free and dairy free allergies. The short tasting menu is fun and whimsical with unique offerings, small plates and drinks.
Final Norway Findings
So did I find Norway to be the happiest healthiest city in the world?
That’s a tough question to answer having only spent a week there, but I will say that I loved my visit to Norway.
It’s a beautiful country. I love water and mountains and being outside, and Norway offers plenty of opportunities for that. Having access to such pristine nature automatically makes my very happy. Of course there is the winter to deal with and the light and darkness, but perhaps you also get through that with proper clothes and attitude.
I also appreciated all the fresh seafood and vegetables. They are ahead of the curve compared to most countries accommodating people with food allergies. Every restaurant I visited in Norway had healthy food options.
Regardless of what any report says, I truly enjoyed my visit to happy healthy Norway.
Are you ready to visit? If you’ve been, tell me what you thought of the people and country.