Norway has a flourishing retail sector and all the large towns and cities are jammed with department stores and international chains. There are a handful of obvious Norwegian goods – cheese, knitted pullovers and dried fish (klippfisk) are three that spring to mind – but it’s the Norwegian flair for design that is the country’s most striking feature, especially as reflected in its fine art and interior design. You will, however, have to dig deep to bring any of it home – Norway is not a land of bargains. If you’re visiting the far north, resist the temptation to bring back reindeer antlers – they really are naff.
Taking advantage of their decision not to join the EU, the Norwegians run a tax-free shopping scheme for tourists. If you spend more than 315kr at any of the three thousand outlets in the tax-free shopping scheme, you’ll get a tax refund cheque voucher for the amount of VAT you paid. On departure at an airport, ferry terminal or frontier crossing, present the goods, the voucher and your passport and – provided you haven’t used the item – you’ll get 12–19 percent refund, depending on the price of the item. There isn’t a reclaim point at every exit from the country, however – pick up a leaflet at any participating shop to find out where they are – and note that many of the smaller reclaim points keep normal shop hours, closing for the weekend at 2/3pm on Saturday. The downside is the shops themselves: the bulk are dedicated to selling souvenir goods you can well manage without.
No single item is more emblematic of Scandinavian tradition, heritage, workmanship and attention to detail as the Norwegian wool sweater. These beautiful items, many of which are handcrafted, have defined the Scandi look at home and abroad for centuries.
Knitting has a strong tradition in Norway, and the stitching techniques used in the wool sweaters of today had already been put into place by the ninth century, when the garments were the simple colours of natural wool. The best-known traditional design – the bespeckled black, grey and white lusekofte sweater – dates from the nineteenth century and hails from the Setesdal region. This sweater, traditionally worn by men, translates as “lice jacket” on account of the black and white diagonal check pattern.
Today, a number of shops in Oslo sell everything from poor-quality, machine-made discount sweaters to hand-knitted gems; the best ones are the hand-made items from the Dale of Norway brand, the best known in the country. Other respected names include Devold, Norway’s oldest knitwear producer, and Nordstrikk, a company based out of Ålesund whose products employ a combination of durable Norwegian and soft, nimble Australian wools.