Norway is one of the most naturally beautiful countries I’ve visited. From giant fjords to snow-capped mountains to aqua beaches, there is a feast of options to satisfy even the most storied traveler. I (Meredith) recently spent 6 days touring the country with my sister and I believe we saw a great overview of all that Norway has to offer.
Let me begin by saying that this was, without a doubt, the most expensive place I’ve ever been. You always hear how expensive Scandinavia is, but Norway even blows Copenhagen prices out of the water. It was ultimately worth it for me, as it is also the most beautiful place I’ve ever been (more on that later). There were several ways we tried to cut corners to save money. We got groceries whenever possible and when we ate out we always split one entrée. So, be warned travelers! This destination can easily leave you with an empty wallet.
We began our trip in Oslo. This will likely be the most economically sound starting point, as it is the largest city and boasts the most flights (we came from Berlin). Oslo is very cosmopolitan and VERY nice — think ornate, pastel town homes lining the roads, artisan restaurants and impeccably dressed Norwegians strolling past you left and right. However, with our limited budget, we really needed to limit the eating (and drinking) out. Which is why we were so happy to discover Frogner House Apartments when researching where to stay. Frogner House offers an array of different apartments at different locations throughout the city. Guests can stay from just one night to several weeks (or months!). With many located in the city centre or the posh neighborhood of Frogner (packed with cool spots for coffee or shopping), you’ll always be in the middle of the action. The best part of staying at Frogner for us was that they offer what you cannot find at hotels – a full kitchen! We were able to use it for a few meals and saved a lot of money. They also have spacious working space for when you’ve got to corral your email or (in my case) edit photos.
Oslo is a very cool city, I wish we could have spent more time there. The highlights for us were exploring the Opera House (with its many photo ops!), Sørenga (part of the city with waterfront places to hangout), The Sculpture Garden, Karl Johans Gate (main street of central Oslo). Also, there is a northern neighbourhood named Grünerløkka where you’ll find the hippest young locals and the coolest bars/restaurants in town. Be sure to head there for dinner and drinks!
From Oslo, I knew we had limited time to see the famous fjords of western Norway before heading north. Despite typically straying away from things like this, I booked us on the Norway in a Nutshell Tour. The customizable tour is a brief overview of some of the amazing natural sights Norway has to offer. It is possible to do it in one day (honestly, that sounds crazy) but you can choose to spend the night (or multiple nights) at any of the stops along the tour. After taking a train out of Oslo, we hopped on The Flåm Railway, to head to the small village of Flåm, located at the base of Sognefjord (the world’s deepest and second-longest fjord). The old-fashioned rail cars were charming and the incredible route makes it one of the most scenic train rides in all of Europe.
We stayed the night at the historic Fretheim Hotel in Flåm and walked down the main road between villages, passing quaint cottages and locals heading home from work on bikes. The sun didn’t set until about 11:30pm, so we had plenty of time to catch it at the base of the fjord! The next morning, we took a quick shuttle bus trip on our own to the Stegastein viewpoint to see the fjords from above before we cruised through them (which is part of the tour). After enjoying a fresh seafood lunch, we set off on the fjord cruise through Nærøyfjord. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the trip, the massive mountains drastically jutting up out of the narrow waterway. We were surrounded by countless waterfalls, drifting seagulls and some of the most impressive landscapes I’ve ever seen. The boat ride ended and we shortly left on a bus, to drive the famous hairpin turns of the Trollstigen mountain road on our way to the next train stop. Try and stop at the Stalheim Hotel for a meal or a photo — its an amazing vantage point! We continued by train to Bergen, where the tour ended for us (you can also return to Oslo). In the end, I would recommend this tour because of its convenience (the website makes it easy to book everything) and how much you are able to see in such a short time. However, when something like this is available, you better believe you’ll be fighting several 30 person guided tour groups to get the best seat on the ferry. Be warned, there were lots of tourists all around, but seeing the fjords was worth the crowd fighting.
Bergen is also a place where I wish we had more time. We arrived around 10pm and caught the end of golden hour over the harbor. Bryggen is a post-card worthy strip to view from across the harbor, then cross over and pop into all the cute shops! Bergen was full of young Scandanivans, since The University of Bergen is located there it felt very much like a college town. Everything was still bustling at midnight as we were going to bed.
The next morning, we took a series of flights to Leknes (Bergen > Bodo > Leknes) which is the closest town you can fly to to reach the Moskenes region of the Lofoten Islands, a group of tiny fishing villages – Hamnøy, Sakrisøy, Reine, Sørvågen, Å, and Tind – all located on their own little islands in Arctic Norway. It is widely said this region is the most picturesque part of Lofoten, and I have to agree. Renting a car is a must in Lofoten, there is little to no public transport and, believe me, you’re going to want the freedom to go where you want. We drove down the only highway (so its impossible to get lost) to Sakrisøy, the tiny fishing village where we were staying. When reading about Lofoten, you hear the most about the village Reine, but all of the islands are only a few minutes away from each other, so don’t only set your sights on seeing Reine. We actually preferred Sakrisøy with its bright yellow cabins and jaw-dropping views of the fjord.
We stayed in one of these cheery yellow fisherman cabins at Sakrisøy Rorbuer. The Norwegian owner, Dagmar, was incredibly welcoming and helpful with advice on where to eat, get groceries, etc. Each of the cabins is differently decorated, some with cozy lofted beds and others with a spacious living area with shiplap walls. We could smell the drying fish (Lofoten’s biggest export) mixed with ocean air from just outside our living room window. Staying at Sakrisøy Rorbuer was a truly authentic experience. We were just a stone’s throw away from the most stunningly beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.
During our two days in the islands, we drove north on the winding highway until it ended, the views becoming more impressive as we rounded each bend. We kayaked one morning through the fjords and to the open ocean with mountain reflections dancing on the glassy water. For outdoor activities, book with Lofoten Outdoor or Reine Adventures. Inexperienced kayakers aren’t allowed in the water without a guide, given the potentially rough conditions and wildlife (like the family of 20 wild Orcas that were spotted a few days before we arrived!!). During our excursion, we were the only people on the water for several hours and even witnessed an avalanche from our kayak! Since it is in the Arctic Circle, the weather can be VERY extreme. In the summer season, there’s endless daylight and sunsets that turn into sunrises (Midnight Sun), while in the winter there’s gorgeous snow and the Northern Lights dancing over you at night (how can one choose?!). We ventured to Ramberg Beach and Skagsanden Beach, found along the main highway. Other beaches to see are Kvalvika Beach and Bunes Beach, but they cannot be accessed by car (only by boat or hiking) which only adds to Lofoten’s wild charm. We pulled over probably 100 times to marvel at the massive mountains, secret lakes and endless horizons. We ate the freshest fish burgers and sat on the dock in the midnight sun, drinking local beer without a single person in sight. Lofoten is a truly magical place, and was made even more special by the fact that we were often the only tourists around. I’ve never seen such dramatic and unique natural beauty. Although it is difficult to get to, Lofoten is unforgettable and well worth the journey.