This medium to large tree (30 to 60 metres tall) has a pyramid form and develops long, pendulous branchlets with age. On older trees, the lateral branches spread horizontally from the trunk, droop slightly and then have a slight upward curve near the tips with many pendulous branchlets in between. The bark is brownish red, finely flaking, becoming greyish brown and scaly on old trees. The evergreen needles are four-angled in cross section, rigid, light to dark green and up to 2.5 centimetres long. The mature cones are chestnut brown and very large (12 to 16 centimetres), cylindrical, with stiff, thin scales that are irregularly toothed. The cones are upright at first and later hanging.
The Norway spruce grows best in cool, humid climates on rich soils. Within its native range it remains healthy up to 200 years, but can live up to 400 years. The Norway spruce is native to the European Alps, the Balkan Mountains, and the Carpathians. It grows only on mountains above 400 metres and can grow at an altitude of 2,200 metres in the Balkans.