What are Norwegian Scenic Routes?

The Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction comprises 18 selected drives through beautiful Norwegian nature. The experience is enhanced by innovative architecture and thought-provoking works of art at accessible viewpoints and picnic areas.

The Scenic Routes initiative will help promote Norway as a destination by providing tourists travelling by road with experiences that will entice longer stays and new visits. The goal is to promote local business activities and strengthen rural life.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration is responsible for developing and maintaining the Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction. The project was commissioned by the Norwegian Storting and the Government.

The initiative involves 9 county administrations, 60 municipalities, other public bodies, tourism organisations and local businesses.

Norwegian Scenic Routes will emerge as one complete, integrated tourist attraction by the end of 2023. From 2024, the routes will be operated, maintained, renewed and developed further.

Who are the most important financial contributors?

NOK 6 billion will have been be invested in the Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction from 1994 to 2029 (converted to current prices). The Ministry of Transport and Communications will cover NOK 5,4 billion. The remaining 0.6 billion will mainly come from affected county administrations and municipalities. Around half of the funds from external participants are invested in joint ventures to develop 10 major attractions, the largest ones being the iconic Trollstigen and Vøringsfossen.

How is the Norwegian Scenic Routes work organised?

The Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction is a nation-wide initiative, and the Director General of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration is the owner of the attraction. The day-to-day responsibility rests with the Norwegian Scenic Routes Section of the division for Transport and Society in the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. 

With its 15 employees, the Section is to develop, maintain and promote the Scenic Routes attraction. It is located at Lillehammer, while a few employees work in Western and Northern Norway.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration has established three councils with external participants to ensure that the Scenic Routes attraction is of high quality:

  • An Architecture Council that contributes to the high quality of viewpoints and picnic areas and provides professional assessments to ensure that Norwegian Scenic Routes remain a unique attraction. One architect, one landscaping architect and one artist participate in the Architecture Council.
  • A designated arts curator, with assistance from an Arts Council, will ensure that art installations along Norwegian Scenic Routes are of high international quality.
  • A Scenic Routes Forum aims to present the Scenic Routes initiative within and outside of its members’ own organisations, and help ensure that Scenic Routes are used actively as a policy instrument in line with the purpose of the initiative. The Forum advises the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and oversees that the long-term Scenic Routes work is continued as intended. The Forum consists of representatives from Norwegian tourism (Innovation Norway, Norwegian Tourism Partners, Virke Reiseliv, Fjord Norway, Visit Northern Norway, Visit Northwest, Historic Hotels and Restaurants, and Fjord Tours Group).

To create an attraction with architecture and art of international standard, highly specialized experts are used in planning, quality assurance and implementation. These are experts from the the fields of architecture and landscape architecture, arts, roads and traffic, construction technology, construction management, land acquisition, tourism, graphic design, web design, planning and processing, and business consultancy. Such expertise is obtained from external professional communities as well as from the Norwegian Public Roads Administration as needed.

When did the idea of developing the Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction emerge?

The development of the Norwegian Scenic Routes attractions started in 1993, on an initiative from the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications in the Storting, to take a closer look at the combination of roads and tourism.

The efforts have since been pursued by the Government and Storting through generations of National Transport Plans and the annual central government budgets for the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

How was the Scenic Routes initiative continued?

The work started with the Tourism and Travel Project.  This pilot project was carried out in the period from 1994 to 1997. Based on the results of this project, the Storting gave the Norwegian Public Roads Administration the go-head to continue the work in 1998.

From 1999 to 2004, considerable efforts were made to shape and define the initiative, and to determine how to proceed in order to meet the ambition of creating a new national tourist attraction.

At the same time, the experience from similar initiatives in other countries was studied, such as Scenic Byways in the USA, Romantische Straße in Germany, and Les Routes des vins in France. 

How were the routes selected?

In 1999, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA) invited every municipality, county administration and tourism organisation in Norway to suggest Norwegian Scenic Routes. Suggestions were received for 52 routes, with a total length of 8000 km. 

The selection of the 18 routes was made in the period 1999 – 2004, after a thorough process of site visits and assessments of the 52 suggestions as well as a few dozen other roads.

The selection was made by the NPRA in collaboration with an external expert group and the Quality Council for Norwegian Scenic Routes. The result was 18 routes, with a total length of 2240 km. 

What were the criteria behind the selection of the 18 different routes?

Norwegian Scenic Routes should run through landscapes of unique natural qualities, where the coastline, fiords, mountains and waterfalls constitute essential features. The drive itself should be a pleasant experience, and the stops should enhance these impressions. Variations, contrasts and the interaction between road and surroundings are important for the experience. The area along the road should not be vulnerable to increased traffic volumes. The routes are intended as an alternative to travelling along main roads with heavy traffic and heavy vehicles.

How have the various rest areas and viewpoints been selected?

Most of the Scenic Routes installations are built on sites where tourists have been stopping for a rest, enjoying the scenery and taking pictures for many years. The before situation has often been characterised by long-term wear and tear on buildings, furniture and paths. At several sites, parking facilities have been poor and the viewpoints not adequately secured.  

In other locations , the Norwegian Public Roads Administration has decided to enhance the effects of the powerful nature by creating completely new viewpoints and attractions. The common denominator has been to make the most of each location, using the distinctive characteristics and mood of the scene as the starting point.

What are the principles behind the architectonic expression?

The architecture should be bold and innovative and communicate the mood of the scene.  Uniqueness is important, as is respect and consideration for the place itself. At the same time, the architecture must satisfy specific functions such as rest, parking, views, information, waste management and toilet facilities. At some rest areas, activities such as hiking, fishing or bird watching are facilitated.

The architecture may be anything from a modest expression, such as benches on a smooth, coastal rock, to huge viewpoint platforms that lift the visitor up into the landscape.  The choice of materials and design should have qualities that enable Scenic Route projects to withstand the test of time.

How are the architects selected?

Ever since the Tourism and Travel Project period (1994-97), the Norwegian Public Roads Administration has made a point of giving young architects the opportunity to develop exciting Scenic Route projects. In two rounds, new designers have been invited to sign up for a prequalification programme, where an expert jury has recommended who should proceed to compete for new projects. There was a lot of interest in participating in these rounds. The Norwegian Scenic Routes Architecture Council has made its recommendations as to who should be given the challenge of designing the individual project.

So far, more than 60 architects and landscape architects have been involved. For many young architects, the Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction has been a stepping stone, and many of them have won awards and achieved international recognition. All designers are based in Norway, with the exception of the world-renowned architect Peter Zumthor from Switzerland.

What place does art have in the Scenic Routes initiative?

Art at selected stops along Norwegian Scenic Routes routes is intended to provide experiences and invoke amazement. The ambition is to have works of art of international quality along all 18 routes.

The distinction between art and architecture is not always clear. Sometimes art and architecture overlap, as exemplified by Steilneset Memorial on Norwegian Scenic Route Varanger.

While the functional architecture of the Scenic Routes primarily facilitates landscape experiences, the artworks will create reflections and tell different stories than those immediately visible.

Spectacular landscape spaces and distinctive cultural landscapes along Norwegian Scenic Routes will inspire artists to develop projects that challenge, convey and define the landscape qualities. This may sometimes result in monumental projects, other places in simple details bordering on the invisible.

The Norwegian Scenic Routes’ Art Curator, with assistance from the Arts Council, recommends the place and the choice of artist, assesses sketches and ideas, and follows up the artistic aspect when art projects are being implemented.

By the end of 2022, eight of the routes will have received their artwork.

How does the planning process take place?

Norwegian Scenic Routes is a development project in which the planning takes place in several stages:

  • A draft project that analyses the task, describes the context and the use of materials.
  • 2. A pilot project where the concept is further investigated, developed and detailed.
  • 3. A detail project that translates the selected solution into constructional drawings.

The professional work is a maturation process, and it may be necessary to test several ideas and look into alternative solutions as the work proceeds. The result may be that one has to go back and start over, or put a project on hold. Normally, a zoning plan is drawn up for land-use approval purposes.

When will the investment in Norwegian Scenic Routes be completed?

Norwegian Scenic Routes will emerge as one complete, integrated tourist attraction by the end of 2023. From 2024, the experiential value of the routes will be improved through renewal of completed projects and addition of new ones. At the same time, it is crucial that the many road owners ensure efficient operation and daily maintenance in line with the agreements in force.

Will there be additional Scenic Routes?

No new routes will be considered until the eighteen routes have been completes as one integrated attraction and substantial experience has been gained with regard to operation, maintenance, necessary upgrades and promotion of the officially approved concept. A potential expansion will have to be addressed in connection with future revisions to the National Transport Plan, with the planning period 2026 – 2037 as the earliest possibility. 

What are the project milestones?

It started with the Tourism and Travel Project, a pilot project involving four road sections. During the years 1994-1997, important experience was gained for how to develop scenic routes in Norway. The four trial roads of the Tourism and Travel Project became Norwegian Scenic Routes in 1997.

In 1998, the Storting endorsed the recommendation to pursue the idea of Norwegian Scenic Routes as a new attraction for Norwegian tourism. The same year, some of the most exciting initiatives in the Tourism and Travel Project received the National Building Award (Statens byggeskikkpris).  

In 2004, the Director General of the Public Roads Administration delivered his instructions for the tourist routes initiative, and in 2005 he delivered his decision about the 18 routes.

In 2006, the exhibition “Detours “(Omveger) - showcasing architecture and design along 18 Norwegian Scenic Routes - was opened in Oslo. This was the forerunner for the Detour exhibition, which later toured the world (Normandy, Berlin, Bratislava, Bologna, London, Stockholm, Brussels, Paris, Philadelphia, Washington, Shanghai, Lyon, New York, Strasbourg, Copenhagen, Beijing and Saint-Etienne).

In 2007, Norwegian Scenic Routes received the Norwegian cultural heritage award (Norsk kulturarvs ærespris). 

In 2011, Her Majesty Queen Sonja opened Steilneset Memorial in Vardø along Norwegian Scenic Route Varanger.

In 2012, the Minister of Transport and Communications at the time opened the tourism icon Trollstigen. At the same time, all 18 routes were given status as Norwegian Scenic Routes and were provided with official signs and information boards.

During the eight years from 2014 to 2021, 43 new projects have been completed along the eighteen Norwegian Scenic Routes, out of a total of 163 completed projects. At the same time, the first stage of the facilities at Gjende (2019) and two out of four stages of the tourism icon of Vøringsfossen (Fossli in 0218 and the Step Bridge in 2020) have been completed.

How can the effects of the Scenic Routes initiative on business and industry be measured?

In order to map the economic effects of the Scenic Routes initiative, the analysis firm Menon Economics AS has studied the accounting data of companies along Scenic Routes Ryfylke and Atlanterhavsvegen in 2020, Senja and Gaularfjellet in 2019, and Rondane and Varanger in 2017.

The results are presented in three reports on the local economic impacts of these Scenic Routes («Effektmåling av Nasjonale turistveger»). These analyses show that tourism companies along the analysed routes have had a noticeably stronger value creation than comparable references regionally and nationally. The growth has taken place after the most important art and architecture installations along the Scenic Routes have been completed.

What is the response to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration’s Scenic Routes project?

The Scenic Routes initiative has stimulated other stakeholders to invest in new tourism services such as Juvet Landscape Hotel along Geiranger-Trollstigen, or contribute to increased services at places such as Nusfjord in Lofoten, Havøysund and Rondane.

Editorial reviews both nationally and internationally show that there is a lot of interest in Norwegian Scenic Routes. The wide publicity to a large extent confirms the ambition of the initiative, which was to use architecture in nature as a means to strengthen business and industry in rural areas. International media reports on Norwegian Scenic Routes also help consolidate Norway's position as an internationally recognised cultural nation.

A number of the projects that have been implemented have received various awards for both design and use of materials. The fact that it is the Norwegian Public Roads Administration that is planning and implementing this ground-breaking work also attracts attention.

How are Norwegian Scenic Routes marketed?

The Norwegian Scenic Routes attraction is used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Innovation Norway in the marketing of Norway, and to build the nation's reputation internationally. 

Norwegian Scenic Routes are also promoted by regional and destination companies, trade organisations, tour operators, travel agents, hotel chains and other stakeholders associated with mobility, travel and tourism.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration's website dedicated to Norwegian Scenic Routes, www.nasjonaleturistveger.no, displays the distinctive character of the Scenic Routes attraction in addition to providing information about the Scenic Routes initiative. Norwegian Scenic Routes have their own pages on Instagram and Facebook, "Norwegian Scenic Routes", and also provide access to an extensive photo archive.

Scenic Route information along the road provides facts about the entire attraction, the region, the location itself and the particular installation in question. In recent years, more than 150 information boards have been placed at selected rest areas and viewpoints.

How have Norwegian Scenic Routes been received at the local level?

In 2012, all of the routes received Norwegian Scenic Route status, and they could thus be signposted and marked on all maps. This milestone was essential to strengthening the local commitment. The initiative has a 30-year horizon, which implies that it may be quite far between Scenic Route installations or facilities on each individual route.

The impact of the Scenic Routes on Norwegian tourism has also been increasing. The growing number of rest areas and viewpoints, combined with increasing favourable publicity at home and abroad, has reinforced the interest in and commitment to Norwegian Scenic Routes. The faith in the Scenic Routes has encouraged other service providers to increase their efforts to provide tourists with an improved package of services. 

Is there a mismatch between the requirement for untouched landscapes and the political objectives?

The Norwegian Scenic Routes travel through landscapes with unique nature qualities, and the drive itself should be a positive experience. However, several of the routes travel through vulnerable landscapes, where the interaction between the road and the surroundings are decisive to meeting the quality requirements of this tourist attraction. In several places, this interaction is under pressure from technical interventions such as road development, development of electric power, soil extraction and buildings. As an example, more than half of the 18 routes are located along the coast and in an area that is or could be relevant to the development of wind power.

Projects and initiatives along a road that result in visual changes to the landscape in violation of the quality criteria for Norwegian Scenic Routes may mean that the route will lose its Scenic Route status. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration has had to issue warnings to this effect in some situations, by virtue of its role as manager of the Norwegian Scenic Routes brand.

What does the Scenic Routes initiative require of others?

A successful complete product includes food, accommodation, hosts, activities and experiences. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration confidently expects a goal-oriented commitment from local businesses and communities in all of the 18 Scenic Route areas, supported by regional and national stakeholders.

How is responsibility distributed with regard to operation and maintenance of Norwegian Scenic Routes?

The value of Norwegian Scenic Routes as a tourist attraction requires quality and consideration also when it comes to operation and maintenance.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration, through its division for Operations and Maintenance, is the road owner responsible for operation and maintenance of national roads. The county administrations hold the corresponding responsibility for county roads. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration, with its Scenic Routes management and funds that are earmarked for Norwegian Scenic Routes, is responsible for maintaining the quality of characteristic Scenic Route installations such as buildings, viewing platforms, picnic tables, seating and information boards. The many road owners, the county administrations and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, with their operation and maintenance contracts with contractors, will ensure that operation and maintenance is carried out in line with  the route-specific agreements that were signed in 2014/2015. Quality requirements will be described in operation instructions for the individual Scenic Route project.