UNESCO World Heritage sites in Norway

A country filled with culture and natural beauty

Photo: Per Eide / VisitNorway
Seeing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water cascading down a cliff can be both fascinating and humbling. Some of the world’s tallest waterfalls are found in Norway. Deep blue waters surrounded by majestic snow-covered mountain peaks and lush green vegetation make this nature’s heaven. In the Geirangerfjord, time moves at its own pace.

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Norway, a beautiful country filled with natural beauty, is perhaps best known for its fjords and mountains. But Norway is much more with its treasure chest of history and culture.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has eight sites in Norway on its World Heritage list, all interesting places to visit and explore.

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria.

There are six criteria for cultural sites:

  • Represents a masterpiece of human creative genius
  • Exhibits an important interchange of human values
  • Bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition of a civilization
  • Is an outstanding example of an architectural or technological ensemble throughout history
  • Is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement or interaction with the environment
  • Is tangibly associated with traditions, ideas, beliefs, and works of universal significance

There are four criteria for natural sites:

  • Contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty
  • Has outstanding examples that represent the major stages of earth’s history
  • Is an outstanding example of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of land and sea communities of plants and animals
  • Contains the most important natural habitats for conservation of biological diversity

The eight sites in Norway on the UNESCO World Heritage list are:


  • Bryggen (1979)
  • Urnes Stave Church (1980)
  • Røros Mining Town (1980)
  • Rock Art of Alta (1985)
  • Vegaøyan – The Vega Archipelago (2004)
  • Struve Geodetic Arc (2005)
  • Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site (2015)


  • West Norwegian Fjords – Geiranger­fjord and Nærøyfjord (2005)

Photo: Robin Strand / VisitNorway
Bryggen is the historic harbor district of Bergen. In 1350, the Hanseatic League established a foreign trading post, a kontor, which controlled the trade in stockfish from the North. Fires consumed many of Bryggen’s wooden houses; the last fire was in the 1950s, but the buildings were rebuilt in the traditional style. Today, about 60 traditional buildings remain.


This is the old wharf of Bergen, a former Hanseatic League’s trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16th century. The colorful wooden houses of Bryggen have become a landmark of Bergen.


Photo: Foap / VisitNorway
The mining town of Røros is sometimes called Bergstaden, meaning mountain town due to its historical notoriety for copper mining. It is one of two towns in Norway historically designated “mining towns” along with the “silver town” of Kongsberg. Today’s inhabitants still work and live in the characteristic 17th- and 18th-century buildings. The town is built entirely in wood; today there are 80 wooden houses, most of them standing around courtyards. Many retain their dark pitch-log facades, giving the town a medieval appearance.

Røros Mining Town

Copper and sulfur pyrite were extracted for 333 years in Røros, between 1644 and 1977. The town was completely rebuilt after its destruction by Swedish troops in 1679. The city now has some 80 wooden houses.


Photo: Kurt Hamann / VisitNorway
This property contains 45 petroglyph sites in five areas around the Alta Fjord, far north of the Arctic Circle. Paintings and carvings depict fauna, reindeer, elk, bears, fish, seabirds and the interaction of hunter-gatherers with the landscape as seen here.

Rock Art of Alta

This group of petroglyphs in the Alta Fjord, near the Arctic Circle, bears traces of a settlement dating from circa 4200 to 500 B.C. There are thousands of paintings and engravings that allow us to understand the environment and human activities on the fringes of the Far North in prehistoric times.


Photo: Anton Ligaarden / VisitNorway
The archipelago has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. The inhabitants harvested eider down, the down feathers of eider ducks. People built shelters and nests for the ducks that arrived every spring and were protected during breeding season, which allowed for the collection of down when the ducks and chicks left their nests. This tradition continues today.


These slands south of the Arctic Circle form a cultural landscape. Fishing villages, warehouses for eider down feathers, lighthouses, and beacons are some sites that can be seen.


Photo: Ian Brodie / VisitNorway
The Norsk Hydro Company in the early 20th century established this industrial complex. Early hydroelectric plants provided power for industrial production of articial fertilizer from nitrogen in the air, a new global industry.

Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site

Rjukan and Notodden in Telemar are industrial towns, great examples of industrial development and social transformation that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Explore Rjukan, ride the Gaustabanen and Krossobanen, visit the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum, and walk the Saboteur’s trail.


Photo: Øyvind Heen / VisitNorway
This is a classic example of a fjord, a submerged glaciated valley. The area also features a large number of waterfalls, glaciers and glacial lakes.

West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord

Part of the west Norwegian fjord landscape, Geirangerfjord and Næroyfjord are among the world’s longest and deepest fjords and are considered scenically outstanding.


Photo: Vesna Vujicic-Lugassy / Creative Commons
The Struve Geodetic Arc is a series of triangulation points that were set up in a survey by astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve who first carried out an accurate measurement of a long segment of a meridian and with it, the size and shape of the earth. The World Heritage Site includes 34 points in 10 countries, four of which are in Norway.

Struve Geodetic Arc

The Struve Geodetic Arc is a chain of survey triangulations, from Hammerfest in Norway stretching through 10 countries all the way to the Black Sea. These helped with establishing the size and shape of the planet.


Norway also has additional sites for possible nomination on the tentative list of UNESCO:

  • The Laponian Area – Tysfjord, the fjord of Hellemobotn and Rago National Park
  • The Lofoten Islands
  • Svalbard Archipelago
  • Islands of Jan Mayen and Bouvet as parts of a serial transnational nomination of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge system
  • Viking monuments and sites: Vestfold Ship Burials and Hyllestad Quernstone Quarries

The content for this article was provided by Discover Scandinavia Tours (www.discoverscandinaviatours.com).

This article originally appeared in the January 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.