So you’ve decided your next destination is Norway. Among other things, it has fjords for days and so many coffee shops that you will never be too far from your next caffeine fix. Whether you are constrained by time or budget, or if you are like me, a little bit of both, it can be hard to decide where to go. Keep reading for how I made this trip not only unforgettable, but also afjordable. Hopefully it can help with your Norway trip planning.
When you are traveling around Norway, if you don’t board a ferry and/or train at least once, you are doing something wrong. These are the easiest and most affordable ways to see Norway’s beautiful landscapes and picturesque fjords. The country is big, so this was my main way to get around. Keep in mind that the schedules among the trains, ferries and buses are all linked and consistently on-time. Make sure you give yourself 10-15 minutes cushion between transfers.
If you already started researching trips to Norway, undoubtedly, you have come across Norway in a Nutshell. At first glance it seems like it’s a tour, but it is not. It is a company that plans out all of your transportation tickets (e.g. trains, bus, ferry, etc.) and sends you along your way. Initially, this sounds awesome right?
True, it is convenient, but there are a couple of downsides. First is the price; the company needs to make money and you will pay a premium using them. Second, your tickets will be scheduled with ALL of the other tourists that are using Norway in a Nutshell. Nobody wants to feel like cattle herded from place to place. My advice: use the site to figure out the best way to get to the towns you are visiting, then buy tickets on your own. Take the couple extra hours on Google Maps to figure out your route (or just follow the route I took). You’ll save money and have more flexibility on arrival/departure times so you can optimize your time in a given location. While we are on the topic of transportation, check out more of my tips on getting around Norway here, I’ve included bus schedules, links to buy tickets, etc.
If you thought traveling in Iceland was expensive, just wait until you go to Norway. I’m not trying to scare you, merely trying to set expectations. Hotels were ~$200 USD/night. Traveling by myself made it a little less budget friendly. With that being said, sometimes you just want your own hotel room. In cities where I was just staying for a night here or there, I stayed in hostels. When staying for a couple more nights and I wanted to be comfortable in my own room, I booked a hotel. Breakfast was included at most of my hotels and hostels. To say I ate like a queen for breakfast might be an understatement, but it held me over until my afternoon coffee and cinnamon bun break. My hotel/hostel recommendations are as follows for each respective city.
- Oslo – Scandic Victoria great location; Oslo Hostel Central also great location
- Flåm – Fretheim Hotel expensive, but not many choices in Flåm
- Odda – Hardanger Hotel no frills, essentially a hostel
- Bergen – Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz Bergen this hotel was my favorite for the entire trip, their breakfast is unreal and you can’t beat the location.
- Stavanger – Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Stavanger
Obviously this is dependent on when you go, but I went in mid-August. In Oslo it was sunny and warm but, the next day it was wet and cold. It was pretty consistent with weather in the Bay Area, and by that I mean, it consistently changes from day to day. With that said, the best plan is to pack layers. Also, I’d probably skip bringing heels (even booties) – you are going to be walking around a lot and the streets are cobblestoned, it won’t be pleasant. Stick to tennis shoes and causal flats if you want to dress up for dinner or something. I recommend you visit my Alaska packing list; I’d pack similarly for Norway, maybe err with more casual city clothes if you are mainly staying in the bigger cities (e.g. Oslo or Bergen).
While we are talking about the sidewalks and roads, I saw a lot of people struggling on the cobblestone roads with rolling suitcases to and from hotels (things are generally walkable, I only took a cab once). Add some rain and that makes for a really unpleasant experience. I would recommend using a backpacking backpack or a suitcase that easily converts into something you can carry. Taking a rolling suitcase on and off buses, trains and ferries is going to be a major drag (pun-intended).
So, now that the basics are out of the way, let’s get into the more interesting stuff. Norway is BEAUTIFUL and sadly, as I was planning the trip, I quickly realized 10 days wasn’t nearly enough time. My route was as follows: Oslo – Flåm – Voss – Odda – Bergen – Stavanger – Oslo.
Oslo is a neat city, but I would also advise against spending a large part of your trip here. If you are into biking, try an Oslo city bike tours; they will take you to all the famous spots to help you get a lay of the land. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do that – which is probably also why I don’t know much about the city.
If the weather is nice, I’d walk from place to place. When you walk along the water, you’ll see a bunch of restaurants that look out to the water. There are awesome coffee shops everywhere (I loved Fluglen); you will never be too far from your next caffeine fix. One thing to note when you are planning your visit to Oslo, try to avoid having a full day there on a Sunday. Everything is closed, except for maybe some souvenir shops. Here are some main points of interest if you are limited on time:
- Vigeland Sculpture Park & Frogner Park – if in Oslo on a Sunday, go here.
- Norwegian National Opera House – if you are there in the summer, you might be able to catch on of their outdoor concerts.
- Karl Johans gate
- Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
- Grünerløkka – neat neighborhood, looks like locals live here.
Restaurant recommendations – Villa Paradiso (Italian/Pizza, crazy I know, but its REALLY good and packed with locals); Smalhans (Norwegian, reserve a table if you can); Mathallen Oslo (food hall; can be pricey).
Oslo – Flåm – Voss
When most people visit Norway for their first time, they go from Oslo to Bergen or vice versa. This trip is fairly common and easy to plan. Again, you can use Norway in a Nutshell, but you may end up with a schedule that doesn’t leave time to rest in Flåm or Voss (like the water!). Unless you add an overnight stay in Flåm or Voss you will spend the ENTIRE day traveling and get into Bergen late at night.
On this route, take a train from Oslo to Myrdal, then transfer to the famous Flåm railway – try your best to get a window seat, seats on this train are unassigned.
There’s not a lot to do in Flåm – it’s mainly a port where Norway cruises start; hotels are expensive and there aren’t a lot of food choices.
You will take a fjord cruise from Flåm to Gudvangen, then board a bus to Voss before getting on a train for the final leg to Bergen. After staying in Flåm and having three hours to wander around Voss, I would say stay the night in Voss.
Odda / Trolltunga
So you may have seen pictures like this when you research Norway.
Where is this and how do you get there? It’s called Trolltunga (Norwegian for Troll’s Tongue). It’s a little bit of a detour, but absolutely worth it in my opinion. You’d probably get there faster if you have a rental car, but if that’s not an option, there is a bus that goes from Voss to Odda.
There’s not much in Odda, its a very small down, with some colorful houses on the hillside. Most come to stay for the night before going to Trolltunga.
Stay one night at the cheapest hotel and take a cab to the park pick-up point. From there a shuttle will take you to the trailhead. If you are short on time, start this hike first thing in the morning the hike is about 27.5km round trip (~17 miles). It took about 5 hours including breaks for snacks and photos to get to the top. The beginning is probably the most strenuous part.
However, if you have a day to spare and can splurge on one thing – I recommend doing the Trolltunga Sunset-Sunrise guided camping trip with Trolltunga Active. They provide a fully outfitted camping trip; you’ll be able to experience Trolltunga without the crowds and camp at the top of fjord, just a few steps away from Trolltunga. It’s also a more casual hike because you are only hiking up one day, then back down the next morning. If you go in the summer, the midnight sun gives you ample time to get to the top if you start at 1pm or 2pm.
Either way, be sure to bring trail mix or energy bars; there are some wild blueberries along the way but, I’d only recommend eating them if you know your wild berries. Also, a liter of water should be sufficient if you are concerned about the extra hiking weight. You can also refill along the way without a filter. My guide said “why is it always the Americans who ask if we need a water filter?” Literally, I put my bottle up against a mountain side and filled it with some of the tastiest water ever.
Restaurant recommendations – Ægir Bryggeri (Flåm – Norwegian microbrewery; good food and cool viking style); Tre Brør Cafe (Voss – good for lunch); Odda – there’s a pizza place, but nothing super memorable.
Note about camping in Norway – You can camp anywhere in Norway as long as there are no signs posted prohibiting camping. ANYWHERE. If you are in Trolltunga and you see a nice spot to set up camp, go for it. Campfires are not allowed, but it’s pretty cool that camping permits aren’t something you need to worry about.
After my camping trip detour, I took the bus back to Voss, then caught the train to Bergen. Again, transportation schedules are incredibly consistent and precise in Norway. Don’t assume that the bus will be 5 or 10 minutes late because it is coming from 3 hours away. It will be on-time, if not early, and it will leave with or without you. Odda is not somewhere you want to kill 3 hours; keep an eye on the time when you go to Trolltunga.
Traveling through Norway can be tiring, but try to stay awake on the train ride to Bergen, it is quite pretty. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway and in my opinion, has more charm than Oslo and better food. I’d say three days/two nights is sufficient if you are short on time and on a budget. Besides taking the time to get lost in the city, points of interest include:
- Mount Floyen and the Funicular
- Fish market along the wharf
- Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf tour (learn a thing or two about Vikings)
- Greighallen concert hall and nearby museums
Norway first timers usually round out their trip in Bergen. However, if you have some extra time, you can go north toward Alesund then rent a car and drive to Geiranger then on-wards to Trollstigen (Troll’s Road). I wanted to do this but, I was traveling solo and didn’t feel comfortable with all of the hairpin turns up a mountainside. If you get the chance to go, let me know, would love to hear about it!
Instead I opted to head south to Stavanger; it was much easier to get to as a solo traveler. From Bergen, you take a bus and a couple of ferry rides (the bus is loaded onto the ferry as well, so you don’t need to worry about changing buses). Stavanger is similar to Flåm in the sense that you don’t need to be there for an extended period of time. There are some great restaurants outside of the super touristy area. Most visitors are there to hike to Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock).
If this is your plan, make sure you book an advance bus ticket. This ticket includes the ferry ride and the bus ticket to the trailhead. This hike is relatively easy and VERY crowded. I recommend doing it first thing in the morning, or if you have the equipment, camp, wake up to the sunrise and head down when everyone is going up. In all honesty, if you are going to Trolltunga, either do Pulpit Rock first (fly into Stavanger, then work your way to Oslo) or skip it altogether. Trolltunga is really special in my opinion and all of the crowds at Pulpit Rock made the experience feel more chaotic than calming as you look out to the fjord.
After that, I flew back to Oslo because I didn’t have time to take the route back and didn’t feel like going through all of the transfers experienced traveling out to Bergen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very picturesque, but also time consuming. I didn’t feel like spending so much time on something I did just a few days earlier.
Restaurant recommendations – Renaa: Matbaren
All in all, I highly recommend Norway. The country is so big, I’d love to go back and explore a new area of the country. The people are nice, there are many adventures to be had (I wish had the time to do some kayaking), and the pictures speak for themselves.Hope these tips help you in planning your trip. Again, if you are interested in my itinerary, see here for train stops and bus schedules.
Most importantly, enjoy your trip! Norway is expensive, so I spent money where it counted. For me that was splurging on the camping trip and treating myself to a nice dinner once every couple days. Everyone is different in creating their “experience” so spend it on what makes your vacation great and enjoy every minute of it.