If you haven't seen Frozen yet, chances are you're living under a rock (or a troll, as luck may have it). The blockbuster film secured Norway's reputation as a winter wonderland packed with snow-covered peaks and exquisite ice castles—all under the fluorescent green glow of the aurora borealis. But you don't need a parka, a reindeer or a talking snowman to find Frozen in Norway. In fact, the beauty of Norway's southern fjord region—the main inspiration for Frozen's Kingdom of Arendelle—is truly at its best during the summer months.
Per Disney, Arendelle gets its name from Arendal, a 16th-century shipping town about a three-hour drive southwest of Oslo. But the Southern Fjords along the country's lower western coast, 186 miles away by car, inspired Arendelle's verdant mountainsides and deep, granite-lined waters—as well as the kingdom's whimsical architecture, with its steep-pitched roofs and turreted, medieval-style castle. Disney Cruise Lines now offers Frozen-themed summer cruises to the region. But if you'd rather experience 'Arendelle' on your own, here are a few southern fjord stops not to miss:
Stavanger and Preikestolen
Both a vibrant port town and a great entry into Norway's 'Arendelle' region, Stavanger serves as the base for Lysefjorden—a long, narrow fjord that meanders through tall granite walls that occasionally sprout waterfalls. Walking along the cobbled streets of Gamle Stavanger, or Stavanger's old town, it's easy to feel as though you've been transported to another world. This section of town is one of Europe's oldest surviving wooden settlements, with approximately 1,000 18th- and 19th-century timber structures that butt up against the harbor. In summer, locals and tourists crowd the colorful waterfront restaurants, sipping brews at outdoor tables and sporting sunglasses well past 10 p.m. (Olaf would be in heaven!). Those looking to channel their inner Anna can make the two-hour trek up nearby Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock, a nearly 2,000-foot-high plateau that juts out over the Lysefjord. While the payoff isn't an ice castle, the slightly terrifying views are just as spectacular.
Haugesund and the Nordvegen History Center
Located along the shores of the North Sea, Haugesund is another coastal town that pops to life during summer months, when visitors come to slurp hearty bowls of fish soup (it seems that every restaurant in the region has its own recipe) and take in the country's Viking history. Haugesund is actually considered “Norway's birthplace,” as it was here about 1,000 years ago that Norway's first king, Harald Fairhair, united the country into one kingdom. Numerous ships—the type Arendelle's King and Queen used on for their ill-fated journey—are buried in the region, which is also home to the Nordvegen History Center. The mostly underground museum is a great place to learn about Norse gods and female warriors. It also includes an aboveground Viking settlement, where you can don a traditional Viking helmet (sans horns), chat with reenactors, and learn about traditional crafts.
Remember Anna's traveling outfit, with its intricate embroidery and fitted bodice—the one she wore on her quest to find her sister? There are dozens of similar costumes on display at the Hardanger Folk Museum in Norway's Hardangerfjord region. The museum is overflowing with fiddles, iconic white-thread embroidery (they offer workshops) and an elaborate collection of local outfits. During summer, the surrounding Hardanger region is a verdant playground, complete with gushing waterfalls, mountainsides ripe for hiking, and valleys filled with fruit trees that produce a bounty of pears, sweet cherries, and plums. Stop for a snack at the fruit stands that dot hamlets like Lofthus in the heart of Norway's fruit belt.
Balestrand and the Sognefjord's Stave Churches
Perched on the northeast side of the Sognefjord, the country's longest and deepest fjord, Balestrand is a municipality backed by lush green slopes that taper into snow-capped peaks dotted with wooden homes and cider houses. Arendelle's waterfront appearance is based largely on Balestrand's. Instead of a castle, Balestrand's focal point is the Kviknes Hotel, a palatial chalet that has attracted artists and even royalty for centuries. The historic hotel shares many of Arendelle Castle's main elements, like rooms filled with antique furnishings and walls covered with paintings of Norwegian landscapes. There's even a grandfather clock. If you're anything like Anna, you may find yourself waltzing through the halls, conversing with the ample artwork, or just sitting on a balcony overlooking the magnificent fjord as the hours tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock by.
The Sognefjord region is also home to many of the region's Stave churches—wooden churches built during the Middle Ages and constructed of poles, or staves. They're known for their intricately carved Christian and Viking motifs, including dragons, and you can spot their influence in both Frozen's Arendelle Chapel—where Elsa is officially crowned queen—and the castle itself. Norway is home to more than 30 surviving Stave churches, and the Unesco World Heritage Urnes Stave Church in nearby Ornes remains one of country's best examples.
While Bergen has a lot to offer, it's the city's Bryggen—or Hanseatic wharf—that looks the most like Arendelle. Along the bustling waterfront, dozens of tall wooden structures with steeply pitched roofs form a compact row. These are the mostly reconstructed remains of a colony of German merchants who once traded in the area. Nearby is a fish market where you can stock up on flowers, king crab and other delicacies. For a breathtaking view more than 1,000 feet above the city, catch Bergen's Fløibanen Funicular up to the top of Mount Fløyen. Not only is the quick ride an adventure (you can pretend you're on the run from Marshmallow, the Frozen snow monster), but it features incredible views fit for a queen, a forest filled with walking paths and—being Norway—lots of carved, life-size trolls.