Norway is well known for its amazing and varied scenery. The fjords in the west of the country are long narrow inlets, flanked on either side by tall mountains where the sea penetrates far inland. Norway was an old Viking kingdom. Economically it is known for its oil and seafood exports.
Norway is a sparsely populated country, roughly the same land size as Great Britain or Germany. It has a population of only 4.76 million people but a land area of 385,155 square kilometers. Thus, for each inhabitant there is 70,000 square meters of land, but the vast majority of this land is a rocky wilderness which is completely unusable for agricultural purposes. As a result, Norway has a large number of completely unpopulated areas, many of which have been converted to national parks. Even outside the national parks, much of the land is unspoiled nature, which Norwegians strive to keep unspoiled.
In winter, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding are very popular. In summer, hiking and biking are obvious ways to enjoy the enormous mountain areas. For the adventurous, kayaking, wildwater rafting, paragliding, cave or glacier exploration are possible. Car tourists will enjoy driving along the fjords and mountains in the west or to the midnight sun in the north. In short, Norway has a lot to offer in terms of nature. Norwegians take pride in keeping fit and being sporty (a Sunday walk is not 20 min to the pub but rather three-four hours or more in the forest or up a mountain).
Norway is on a large peninsula shared with Sweden in the north of Europe. In the north, it also borders Finland and Russia. A large but loosely defined northern part of of Norway and Sweden, as well as parts of Finland and Russia outlines an area known as Sapmi (Sameland), which is where the most of the Sami people traditionally lived. Today, most of the Sami people live in the capital, Oslo.
A rugged landscape shaped by the Ice Age, shows forested hills and valleys, mountains, waterfalls, and a long coastline with fjords, islands, and mountains growing directly up from the sea. Norway's highest point is Galdhøpiggen, 2469m (8100ft) in the Jotunheimen region that lies midway between Oslo and Trondheim, but away from the coast. In the far north (Finnmark), you will find flatter open spaces. Several of the worlds greatest waterfalls are in Norway, particularly in the western fjords and the mountain region.
Norway's primary income is the petroleum industry in the North Sea. It also has several other natural resources such as fish and minerals, some industry, and a healthy technology sector. Politically, it is dominated by a widespread and continued support for the Scandinavian model, which means high taxes and high government spending to support free schools, free healthcare, an efficient welfare system and many other benefits. As a result the unemployment rate in Norway is extremely low (about 2 percent).
The Norwegian people have rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in two independent popular votes in 1972 and 1994, both times just by a few percent, after being vetoed out of membership by France in the 50s and 60s. However, being a member state of the European Economic Area and part of the Schengen agreement, Norway is closely connected to the EU, and integrated as a full member in most economic matters, as well as in customs and immigration matters. This is of great economic importance to Norway.
Norway is a Christian country, so Sunday is considered a holy day and most business are closed Sundays. Many gas stations are open 24-7, some malls are partly open and restaurants are normally open, but this varies from place to place. Christmas and Easter are major holidays in Norway, and most Norwegians are on vacation for more than one week. Formally it is a Christian country with a dominant Lutheran majority of near 90 percent, but this number is skewed by a type of automatic membership of the state church, where people become automatic members when they're baptised or if one of the parents is a member. In reality, roughly 3/4 is atheist or agnostic. Because of this, Norway has become rather liberal in moral issues and thus more similar to southern neighbors like Denmark and the Netherlands. Prostitution is illegal in Norway. Homosexuality is accepted by most people and recently (2008) same-sex marriage was given the same legal status as traditional marriage. For instance, a previous male minister of finance and prominent figure in the conservative party is in partnership with a prominent male business manager.
As one of the richest countries in the world and with a strong currency, most visitors should be prepared for greater expenses than at home. In addition, Norway has a very compressed wage structure which means that even the typical low skill work is relatively well paid. For the same reason, firms try to keep the number of staff as low as possible, even for low skill service work. On the other hand, many attractions in Norway are free of charge, most notably the landscape and nature itself.