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:
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.