Felicity Long
Felicity Long

As individual European countries wrestle with how and when to reopen their borders to international travel, especially as the all-important high summer season kicks in, Norway is taking its time.

On June 15, the country dropped travel and quarantine restrictions with other Nordic countries -- specifically, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Aland and Sweden's Gotland Island (the rest of Sweden, which has seen a higher number of Covid-19 cases due to its unorthodox method of handling the pandemic, is not part of the agreement, despite the fact that the two countries share a border) -- but welcoming North Americans and other international visitors probably won't happen until Aug. 20, at the earliest.

"We are also considering opening up to some European countries with similar [Covid-19] patterns, probably Germany and the Netherlands to begin with [around July 20], but it depends on the [pandemic] development," said Harald Hansen, of Innovation Norway, the media arm of VisitNorway.

"Norway has had a very low number of cases, with 242 deaths and 20 people in hospitals right now," Hansen said.

Current social distancing protocols allow up to 200 people to gather in one place for concerts, smaller festivals and similar events, with the possibility of soon increasing that to 500, he said, but no major events are planned for the rest of the year.

But just because we can't go there just yet doesn't meant the country is standing still.

Most restaurants, attractions and hotels have opened -- all with precautions in place -- and June 18 saw the highly anticipated grand opening of the central Deichman Bjorvika library, located between the Opera House and Oslo Central Station. The facility, which will function as a culture hub and event space, is expected to draw some 2 million visitors a year in non-virus years. The main website is in Norwegian, but basic visitor information also is available in English.

In addition to thousands of books, the library will house a cinema, workshop spaces, cafes, lounging areas and venues for lectures, courses, readings and activities for children.

Future cultural openings will include the new Munch Museum and the new National Museum, set to open in Oslo in the fall of 2020 and 2021, respectively.

As to how VisitNorway is likely to promote inbound, non-Schengen travel going forward, Hansen said campaigns will include cities -- Norwegian cities don't tend to be overcrowded anyway, he said -- as well as other parts of the country, including the famous fjords.

Fjord Norway, the official tourist board of western Norway, offers a wealth of information on the various hiking and climbing regions as well as on how to enjoy the fjords on daytrips or weeklong adventures.

The site also breaks down the level of challenge the various routes present, which range from expert to relatively easy for novices and families.

This July, the new Voss Gondola will open in Voss, a hub for skiers, hikers and mountain bikers located about an hour from Bergen.

"It has long been a goal to establish a gondola starting in the centre of the main tourist streams between Bergen, Flam, Hardanger and Sogn," said Voss Resort CEO Oyvind Waehle, noting that more than 1.5 million tourists transit the Railway Station where the gondola will be located.

Meanwhile, expedition cruise line Hurtigruten has gradually restarted operations along the Norwegian coast -- the first planned departure is a journey aboard the MS Finnmarken from Bergen on June 16 -- with further operational decisions to be made individually.

Up Norway, which specializes in curated, off-the-beaten-path itineraries, unveiled three culinary-themed programs inspired by the PBS series "New Scandinavian Cooking."

Tours will include adventures such as fishing for trout, visiting an organic goat and cheese farm, sampling cider, fishing for king crab and cooking reindeer with the Sami people.

"We believe companies that have the most 'traveler-friendly' terms will have a strong competitive edge," said Up Norway CEO and founder Torunn Tronsvang, explaining the company's new options for rescheduling and financing trips.

Up Norway travelers who book in 2020 for travel in 2021 can choose from a fully refundable trip with a 30% deposit and cancellation a minimum of 90 days before departure, cancel-for-any-reason insurance or a nonrefundable discount.

Tronsvang predicted that, once Europe reopens to all international visitors, "we believe we'll see them initially moving away from the most crowded countries and visiting destinations that offer space and are away from crowds."

She also expects travelers to choose longer, more culturally immersive trips, "especially ones that are sustainable and give back to local communities," she said, citing Trondelag in the center of Norway as an exciting destination to watch for its gourmet local cuisine and boutique hotels.

Because concerns about a possible second wave in the Covid-19 pandemic make long-term planning a moving target, VisitNorway offers links to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Directorate of Health for updated information on coronavirus-related travel advice for tourists.


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