Spectacular landscapes. Mountains, forests, fjords. A dream of mine for quite some time….but expensive.
This last one keeps people from going to this incredible country, even though many have shared this dream with me. I’m here to tell you why you should fork up the money and just go already!
Last summer, I took on a nine-week summer position in Switzerland. I knew the position would require sacrifice: missing out on summer in Rome, long hours, being stranded in a small mountain village, no social life, the list goes on.
I decided that if I was going to make those sacrifices, I would treat myself to a trip to the Norwegian fjords, something I had been wanting to do for a long time, a bucket list item for me. I had mentioned this trip to a few friends in the past; however, for some crazy reason no one had wanted to partake in this adventure with me. Well, I wasn’t going to let that stop me, hence I took it on alone.
While Norway is in fact expensive, it is well worth it. Besides, there are many ways to save money and make this trip more affordable. I have to add here that I am one who strongly believes in travelling more often on a budget, as opposed to extravagantly but only once in a while, as the experiences gained are worth much more than fancy hotels and expensive meals.
With that in mind, here are some tips for making this trip, what seems like a long distant dream for some, a reality.
Length of Trip
You don’t have to see all the fjords, just getting a taste of them is enough for now. There’s a Norway in a Nutshell package that takes you from Oslo to Flåm, then to Bergen and back to Oslo, and you can do it all in 24 hours. Although this is the quickest way to get a taste of them, I wouldn’t recommend it as I think it’d be too rushed and it would leave you starving for more.
I chose Oslo to Myrdal via train, then took the scenic Flåm Railway, spent one night in peaceful Flåm, took a ferry from there to Gudvangen, then the bus to Bergen.
The train ride Oslo to Myrdal on the Bergen line was a scenic ride on its own passing through Finse, the highest train station on the Norwegian railway system (elevation 1,222 meters), where you pass by Hardangerjøkulen, one of the main and most accessible glaciers in Norway. If you have time, stopping here for a day to visit the glacier seems like it would be incredible. Otherwise, the view from the train was also stunning.
Then, it was on to the Flåm Railway. Considered to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, I was ecstatic as I waited for the train to depart. However, I have to say that although a beautiful ride, I felt it was overhyped. Maybe my expectations were too high because I had heard so much about it, or maybe it was the surge of tourists crowded by the windows to take photos that ruined it a bit for me.
Don’t get me wrong, the scenery as you climb through the mountains is definitely out of this world, especially as you pass the creeks and waterfalls. One of the most impressive aspects of it is the steepness of the track. In my opinion, the disappointing part was that a long trek of the journey is passing tunnels through these beautiful mountains, so it felt like I spent more time looking at darkness waiting to get a peek at the beauty that was outside, only for it to quickly disappear again, than at the sight itself. Thinking back on the quick glimpses of beauty that I did catch, yes I would agree that it is one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever seen, I just wish I could’ve seen more of it. Needless to say, I didn’t get that many photos of the ride, not good ones at least, though the images are still in my head and in the end that’s what matters most.
That night I slept in Flåm and the following morning, I took a ferry and then a bus along the fjords, which were just incredible. There’s another option to take a ferry from Flåm all the way to Bergen, yet I wasn’t able to do that due to lack of time. The ferry option I took takes you through Nærøyfjord, considered to be the wildest and most beautiful section of the Sognefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To say the ride is dramatic even feels like an understatement.
As I arrived in Bergen and realized the size of the city, I was shocked and crying to go back to the fjords. It felt like I had come back to reality from a dream land that couldn’t possibly be real. I quickly found out though that Bergen has a lot of nature to offer as well. Plus, there are a couple of cable cars that take you up to the mountains of Bergen where you can be back in nature and even see the beginning of the fjords from up there. Amazing views and totally worth it.
In the end, a trip to the fjords can be done in a matter of 2 – 4 days if you’re pushed for time and money.
To keep your daily costs down, consider other accommodation options rather than the default hotel most people think of. There are pensions, B&Bs (including AirBnB), campgrounds, and hostels. I chose the hostel option, as I was travelling alone, it made the most sense. In Flåm, I got a tiny private room with a twin bed in a large shared cabin. The room was comfortable and the cabin homey. Average hostel price was €40-55 per night, the price of a cheap hotel in other parts of Europe. Camping is also a cheap alternative.
Food & Drink
Food and drink, although I had been forewarned, were definitely the most shockingly expensive thing I found. To deal with this, I ate mostly from supermarkets, food trucks, and local fast-food joints, while treating myself to one restaurant meal in the city. Doing this, I was still able to taste the local specialties of salmon, deer, and apparently hot dogs as I found them everywhere (it could be because they are indeed a cheap alternative).
Drinking at a bar is also extremely expensive with one drink being €10-15. Hence, most of my alcohol came from supermarkets and the monopoly wine shop appropriately called “Vinmonopolet”, as they are the only ones selling wine. Keep in mind that alcohol sales in Norway are restricted to certain hours in the evenings, sales stop early, and there are no alcohol sales at all on Sundays. Thus, planning ahead is necessary or you will end up with no booze, like I did several times.
Fortunately, most of what Norway has to offer is nature, and therefore, for the most part, free. To see nature, the most you’ll spend on is ferries, trains, and buses. Ferries and buses are cheap, trains less so. If you’re interested in Viking and Nordic history, as I am, you might spend some money on museum entrance fees, but these are comparable to those of other parts of Europe. I recommend “The Viking Ship Museum” in Oslo and a must-visit to “Fantoft Stave Church” in Bergen.
Not convinced yet? I also recommend Rick Steves’ article on “Norway’s Ultimate Natural Thrill” (https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/norways-ultimate-natural-thrill), in which he says that “if you go to Oslo and don’t get out to the fjords, you should have your passport revoked”, and then goes on to explain how easy it is to do it in a day. Having been to Oslo a few years back and not visited the fjords, I felt guilty when I read this article and it turned out to be one of the pushing factors for me to take this trip, so thank you Rick Steves. Lonely Planet also has a useful video to help plan and inspire the trip: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/norway.
Sure, the ideal trip to the Norwegian Fjords would probably last two weeks and take you through many of the other amazing sights and hopefully include some hiking which you obviously don’t have time for when doing a rushed itinerary. Nevertheless, this will curb your appetite until time and money allows for more.
For more photos of Norway, check out my Flickr album “Norway!!”: