Is Norway Underrepresented in Europe’s Most Beautiful Places to Visit?

WHY YOU NEED TO VISIT NORWAY

Norway, always a country I’d heard of and knew to be associated with breathtaking hikes, serene fjords and jaw dropping mountain terrain.

Also a place though, despite my understanding of its beauty, I didn’t seriously consider planning a trip to until I moved to Europe.

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More often than not, if travellers are contemplating a visit to Norway, they know it as a country with indescribable natural beauty, and for being one of the most expensive places in the world.

If travellers have heard of Norway but aren’t actively considering a visit, it’s likely because, as beautiful as Norway is, it’s not on the ‘must see in Europe’ beaten path. Presumably a result of both the country’s location (further north on the continent) and assumed prohibitive cost that comes with Scandinavia.

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Whatever the reason, if you ask the average person off the street which country in Europe they think is the most beautiful, or even known for having incredible natural beauty, chances are you’ll hear Switzerland, Italy, perhaps Spain or France, and even Austria or Scotland.

In my experience, Norway doesn’t usually even crack the top five for most travellers.

But it should. It should be in the top three, even. From visiting Norway twice, I know it as a place that’s able to compete with the best of them on natural beauty- even Switzerland. Say nothing for the fact it’s an excellent country to visit year round, teeming with chic Scandi vibes, and boasts fresh seafood and craft brews.

I’ve penned guides for all parts of Norway I’ve visited- Bergen, Stavanger, and Tromso, as well as my tips for saving money while travelling this incredible slice of Scandinavia.

Yes, Norway is expensive.

The fact that it’s expensive though is no reason not to visit. With a few of my tips and a bit of planning, you can enjoy a holiday in Norway at the cost of only slightly more than if you’d spent the time in another major European city- think Paris, London, Amsterdam.

And PS., I found Norway to be more affordable than Switzerland, where I once paid £8 for a venti cold brew at a Starbucks in Geneva.

Still need inspiration?

Just looking at some of the photos I took in each place I’ve visited in Norway has me Googling flight connections to Oslo and Alesund (two places on my ‘return to Scandinavia list’).

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Have you ever visited Norway? Do you agree it’s one of Europe’s most underrated countries? What advice would you give someone on why to visit Norway? 

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Tromsø, Norway: So Much More Than The Northern Lights

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO TROMSO

The Northern Lights were what intrigued me to visit Tromsø, but in planning the trip, we were delighted to discover there was so much more to the northernmost city in the Arctic Circle.

The timing of our trip was definitely influenced by our best chance to see the lights- generally, winter months are the best time (November – March) when the nights are longer and it gets dark earlier in the evening.

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Heading to the Arctic Circle in late December, we wondered what else we’d be able to do, and how cold Tromsø would be. A lot of people assume that since Tromsø is so high up north, it must be very cold- however, the city is located by the coast and enjoys a relatively mild climate. During our stay, the temperature was around 25-30 Fahrenheit most days.

Back to the point of what else you can do in Tromsø.

We planned our trip for 5 days and 4 nights- we wanted as much time as possible to see the lights (in case our luck wasn’t great).

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Our itinerary was pretty relaxed-

-Day 1: Arrived at 11 am, checked into our hotel and then napped / hung out in our rooms until ~4 pm when we left to explore the city and have dinner

-Day 2: Explored the city, Northern Lights hunt at night

-Day 3: Slept in, cross country skiing, explored the city

-Day 4: Reindeer excursion, explored the city

-Day 5: Explored the city, flew to Oslo in the evening

All in all, we felt we had a lot of time- more than we needed. But, again, we planned a bit of flexibility because we wanted our best chance to see the lights and knew weather conditions could be great some days and terrible on others.

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What about the polar night? 

Around 9/10 am, we noticed it’d get light blue outside, which ultimately set by 2/3 pm. Even though it wasn’t full sunlight, it was light enough to see the city.

Overall though, the polar night didn’t bother us- we did most of our activities in the morning (cross country skiing, reindeer excursion), and left our nights open for hunting the lights or simply relaxing.

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Complete Guide to Tromso: What to Do in Tromsø (in winter)

  • Hunt for the Northern Lights: Do not attempt to go at it on your own- the guides and tour companies are trained at navigating the landscape and know how to read the aurora predictions. Yes, it’s expensive, but so, so worth it. Watching the lights dance across the night sky is something I’ll remember forever. I’ve written a separate post about that experience because there’s so much to share
  • Take the Cable Car to the Top of the Mountain: Fjelheisen takes you 1,400 ft up to the mountain ledge at Storsteinen and lets you see the city from above. We took the bus from city centre to the cable car station at the bottom and timed our visit so we’d arrive around 1:30 pm. Once at the top, we snapped pics of the city in daylight and then walked along the mountain ledge for 30-40 minutes to capture the sunset. As the sun started dipping below the horizon, we headed to the cafe to warm up with glogg and pie. An hour later, we headed back outside to the viewpoint for more shots of the city sparkling in the night sky
  • Admire the Architecture of the Arctic Cathedral: One of the most recognisable and iconic buildings in town, it’s easy to visit the cathedral on your way to/from the cable car
  • Feed & Pet Reindeer: Getting up close and personal with reindeer was so much fun. There wasn’t enough snow for sledding, but we loved feeding the reindeer and learning about Sami culture
  • Work Up a Sweat Cross Country Skiing: Albeit I did more falling than skiing, I still had fun learning the ropes and would actually consider getting back on the slopes someday
  • Let Huskies Take You For a Ride: We were super bummed there wasn’t enough snow to go husky sledding during our trip- a definite must do on my next time in Lapland
  • Go Whale Watching: We opted not to do a whale tour (I’ve been on ones before), but whales feed in the fjords that surround Tromsø until late January
  • Hit Up the City’s Quirky Museums: We didn’t have a chance to check out the Polar Museum, but I’ve heard it’s an interesting look at life in the Arctic. However, we did enjoy wandering through the Perspektivet Museum, Tromsø’s free photography museum, which often displays work by Scandic artists
  • Browse the Shops on Storgata, Tromsø’s Main Shopping Street
  • Curl Up with a Coffee At:
    • Smørtorget: A hybrid cafe/vintage shop, it’s the definition of cosy- candles burning, soft music playing and great lattes
    • Kaffebønna: Another great Scandi coffee shop, we loved both locations. Come for the cinnamon buns, stay for the hot chocolate on a snowy afternoon. The downtown location has more seating, but we preferred the other location for relaxing/chatting in booths
    • Risø: Excellent cortados
    • Huken: Burgers and beers
  • Feast on Arctic Deliciousness At:
    • Emmas: A must visit, homecooking with a French twist
    • Kitchen & Table: American dining in the Arctic (think: nachos and burgers)
    • Kafe Globus: Great for breakfast/brunch
    • Vertshuset Skarven: Great seafood, which is a must do while visiting Norway. We especially liked their soup bar
    • Yonas: Relatively affordable pizza. We got it the night of our Northern Lights hunt so we could eat while relaxing in our hotel. It did the job, but the crust was a bit too thick/dense for my liking
    • Pastafabrikken: Another relatively affordable dining option- good pastas AND a huge bowl of ice available for water
  • Sip a Tipple At:
    • G Cafe: Had one of the best (read: strongest) hot toddies here, I now understand how the Norwegians stay warm in winter 😉
    • Bardus: One of our favourite places for both decor and an awesome beer list
    • Agenturet Øl og Vinbar: Beer and wine
    • Lugar 34: Good mulled wine and a quiet upstairs area to relax, which was decked out in Christmas lights when we visited
    • Ølhallen: Serving beers from the world’s northernmost brewery, we loved having a few pints here, especially since most of the crowd when we visited seemed to be locals
    • Rorbua: Hailed as one of Norway’s most famous pubs (because it appeared on a sitcom), we found the beer selection pretty standard but appreciated all the space, wooden beams and polar bear decor
    • Note: Most nights, we had 1-2 drinks out (if that), and instead chose to drink in our hotel while playing card games and hanging out. This really helped keep costs down on our trip

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If you’re convinced to visit Tromsø, you should know Norway is an undeniably expensive destination. I’ve written about my tips for saving money while travelling Norway, but will say- don’t let cost put you off. As with any trip, we found ways to save- we took the bus return from the airport, walked everywhere, brought breakfast and tried to limit our drinking at restaurants. We also chose a cheap destination after Tromsø- Budapest- to help balance out trip cost overall.

It’s a city offering experiences that are priceless- worth a visit in every sense.

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Hunting the Elusive Northern Lights in Norway

A GUIDE TO NORTHERN LIGHTS IN NORWAY

Norway is famous for its Northern Lights, but seeing the dancing Aurora Borealis is no easy feat.

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What exactly are the Northern Lights?

The Aurora Borealis is a natural light phenomena. They originate millions of miles away on the surface of the Sun during the electromagnetic explosion, which creates a stream of solar particles, known as Solar Wind. When the wind goes into Earth’s direction  – this is when we can see Aurora. 

The Aurora usually have different forms – they might appear as a glow of light or create ‘curtains’ or ‘arcs’. They might be quiet, or evolve and move through the sky – commonly referred to as ‘dancing’. 

Generally, winter months are the best time (November – March) to see the lights when the nights are longer and it gets dark earlier in the evening.

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Where to Go in Norway to See The Lights

I’d heard Tromsø is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, but tried not to go into the trip with high hopes after being let down during a holiday to Iceland a few years ago when we weren’t able to hunt for the lights at all because of a huge snow storm.

Snowstorms aside, the Aurora Borealis is unpredictable, there’s never a guarantee she’ll show up.

We planned to hunt for the lights on our second night in Tromsø, but left our final two nights open just in case we had to schedule additional tours.

Luckily, there was no need for that. The show we saw on our first time out was incredible.

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A Guide to Northern Lights in Norway: Selecting a Tour

We knew the tour we’d select would play an important role in whether we saw the lights, and as such, opted for a small-group chase. After reading lots of reviews of TripAdvisor, we decided to go with Arctic Explorers Tromsø. All of the reviews touted how attentive the guides were, and it was only of the only providers that could accommodate the eight people we had in our group without a private van.

How big was our tour group?

12 people total.
Small group operators usually take between 2-14 people, so you’re in a small van vs. large tour bus. This point is important because it means you can go down narrower roads and reach off-road spots easier than the big bus operators. In our case, it meant we could pull over wherever we pleased. 

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Most Northern Lights small-group tours cost between £130-170, we paid £150 per person. 

Expensive?

Yes, but worth it. Price was one of the reasons we only booked one tour- we wanted to see what the showing was like on our first night hunting before booking additional tours.

Another reason we waited before booking additional tours? You can spend between 6-10 hours hunting, depending on the weather and visibility. We didn’t want to commit so many nights of our trip if we didn’t need to.

Our tour didn’t just include a guide, the price also covered warm thermal suits and boots, professional photographs, hot chocolate, soup and toasted marshmallows around a campfire.

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The reason the tours can take up to 10 hours is because location for hunting changes based on the weather. On cloudy nights, you may venture as far into Finland if the conditions there appear to be better.

On the night of our tour, the guides told us we were very lucky- there were almost completely clear skies. And, weather reports predicted it’d be a good night for showings based on sun flare tracking (more on that to come!).

So, the guides decided to stay relatively close to Tromsø.

At most, we were 30 minutes from city centre. Staying so near to the city meant our hunt was only 5 hours, but no one complained- we were all pretty pleased to get back to our hotels by midnight. 

Leaving central Tromsø at 7 pm (after hotel pick-up and changing into thermal suits), our hunt started off wonderfully. 20 minutes into driving, our guide spotted the Aurora and so we pulled over to a lake adjacent beach to watch.

It’s true what people say- the lights look very different in person. Being able to photograph them is key, they’re much more visible through the lens of a camera. But, even seeing faint green slivers appear in the sky and reflect off the lake below was magic.

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Capturing the Northern Lights on iPhone

Knowing professional photos were covered, I experimented with trying to capture the lights on my iPhone X.

There are countless articles on Pinterest about how to increase your odds of capturing on a phone. In the end, I downloaded a free app called Northern Lights Photo Taker. It was awesome for helping me see some of the fainter strips in the sky, but ultimately photo quality left something to be desired (a bit to blurry to be the only photos captured of the night).

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Our guides were so friendly they let us try to take our own photos of the lights with their equipment so we could feel like we had a role in capturing the phenomenon.

In total, I’d estimate we stayed at the lake for about an hour. Next, we drove around for about 20-30 minutes before spotting the lights over a mountain ridge and pulling over to watch.

This time, the lights were stronger than the ones we’d seen over the lake- the colours were more vivid and there were more arcs in the sky.

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An Incredible Evening Made Better

Seeing the green arcs in the sky felt special enough, but when a purple line began to intersect the arc and brightness intensified as the lights bounced around the night sky, we were left breathless.

Watching the lights dance across the night sky is something I’ll remember forever.

In our new location, the lights continued to appear and dance for about an hour before fading. Our guides explained that’s normal- sometimes the lights appear strong then disappear before re-appearing later in the night.

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While we waited for a reappearance, our guides built a bonfire and we enjoyed warm drinks and snacks.

Right before we were about to leave, the lights appeared again- weaker than before but still beautiful.

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A Guide to Northern Lights in Norway: What to Wear On Your Hunt

We opted to leave once the lights weakened, and although our guides were game for driving around (since it’d only been 4.5 hours at this point), our entire group felt we’d been treated a spectacular show and were okay with heading back to the city.

Some people balk at the time you spend outside in the middle of the night in the Arctic Circle, asking, ‘Isn’t it cold?’. Yes, it’s cold, but because Tromsø is located near the coast, it has a relatively mild climate. Going further inland in Norway or Finland means it’s much colder. 

Nonetheless, none of us really felt cold. The thermal suits and winter boots provided kept us so warm.

Below mine, I wore thermal leggings, yoga pants, and a bunch of Uniqlo HeatTech gear- tank top, turtle neck, fleece pull-over. I also wore a fleece headband, fleece hat, cotton gloves, ski gloves, two layers of socks and leg warmers. Oh, and I brought a pair of HotHands to keep my fingers warm throughout the night. At times, I felt too warm, which was remarkable- I was prepared to freeze.

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Would I hunt for the lights again?

Absolutely. In fact, I’m toying with the idea of a winter weekend in Lapland, Finland someday to see them in another environment.

Chasing the Northern Lights was nothing short of magnificent. 

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Have you ever tried to hunt for the Northern Lights? 

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A Magical Night in Norway

Merry Christmas from Norway!

In actuality, we’re on our way from Vienna to Budapest today, but we just spent a week in Tromsø with a few overnights at Oslo’s airport hotels, so it feels appropriate to wish you all a Happy Christmas on behalf of our time in Scandinavia.

More posts to come on our stay in Tromsø, and the entire winter trip we’re currently on- but I just couldn’t wait to share a few photos from our hunt for the Northern Lights.

I’d heard Tromsø is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, but tried not to go into the trip with high hopes after being let down during a holiday to Iceland a few years ago when we weren’t able to hunt for the lights at all because of a huge snow storm.

This trip, the weather was on our side.

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Chasing the Northern Lights was magnificent.

We lucked out with a clear night, and were treated to two breathtaking shows right outside Tromsø- one over a lake, and another between mountains.

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The Aurora Borealis is unpredictable, there’s never a guarantee she’ll show up, so we’re feeling especially grateful for our experience.

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We’d set out to hunt for the lights on our second night in Tromsø, but left our final two nights open just in case we had to schedule additional tours. Luckily, there was no need for that. The show we saw on our first time out was incredible.

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Seeing the green arcs in the sky felt special enough, but when a purple line began to intersect the arc and brightness intensified as the lights bounced around the night sky, we were left breathless.

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Watching the lights dance across the night sky is something I’ll remember forever.

Hope you’re having a very happy holiday, wherever you are in the world, as well. 🙂

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A Review of Norway in a Nutshell

Bergen is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, it’s picture perfect. If you’ve never heard of Bergen, it’s because Norway is underrepresented as one of the world’s most beautiful countries (at least in comparison to other places in Europe, like Italy and Switzerland).

Known as the ‘gateway to fjords’, Bergen is situated on the ocean between two of Norway’s most beautiful fjords- Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord.

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To experience the fjords, you can book a morning or afternoon cruise (~2-3 hours) through the tourism centre or do a longer day trip, like Norway in a Nutshell.

Before our trip, we’d been on the fence about Norway in a Nutshell- it’s expensive, and with such limited time in Bergen, we weren’t sure we wanted to commit an entire day. However, after spending one afternoon in Bergen and mapping out the remainder of our time, we realised we actually had more free time to explore than we’d initially thought, and with the weather forecast being so great, decided to splurge.

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Was it worth it?

Yes and no.

Yes, because we hadn’t planned anything before our trip and wanted to make the most out of our time in Norway- seeing as much of the country as possible.

No, because in addition to being expensive, it’s also the kind of tour you could re-create yourself. The benefit to Norway in a Nutshell (NIN) is that your tickets are pre-purchased so you don’t have to worry about any of the logistics. That means there isn’t a guide to tell you more about the countryside or towns. Instead, when you purchase the tour, you’re given a guide with details for each stop.

All said, am I glad we did it? Absolutely.

Visiting Norway in the off-season would have made coordinating some of the tickets harder if we tried to do it on our own (limited operating schedules), and tour companies like NIN usually get first dibs on spots for trains/boats/buses. We would have had to plan a lookalike NIN tour weeks in advance. So, for us, NIN was the perfect solution to seeing more of Norway since we decided the day before the tour we wanted to do it.

However, if visiting Bergen again, I’d do things slightly differently.

To start, I’d probably consider doing NIN from Bergen to Oslo or the other way around- yes, it’s a full day, but also a great way to get across Norway. On our tour, a few people broke off at the last stop to continue on to Oslo. They had suitcases and backpacks with them- the nature of the tour means it’s pretty easy to carry luggage from stop to stop.

And, if I really wanted to save on cost, I’d likely try to plan my own NIN tour- but I’d secure the tickets for places well in advance.

If you’re not the kind of person that likes to deal with a bunch of logistics or just wants to relax on your holiday, here’s what I thought of each NIN stop.

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Places You’ll Visit on Norway in a Nutshell

Begin in Bergen

If you start the day in Bergen, as I did, your train leaves early from central station. The station is easy to get to and equipped with a cafe/quick service stop so you can pick up snacks before you leave. Would recommend doing so- there are a few other points you can purchase food, but we came prepped with sandwiches and cheese/crackers, and it was nice to have it handy whenever we wanted a quick bite.

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Train to Voss

The tour begins with a train ride to Voss. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the looming mountains above us were, or the adjacent lakes with homes that seemed to be carved into the hillside. Little did I know how stunning the tour would be later in the day.

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Bus to Gudvangen

At the end of winter, this drive was beautiful. We drove through scenic mountains, tunnels that seemed to stretch forever, and in 30 short minutes arrived at the mouth of the fjord.

Here, we had an hour to grab something to eat, walk around the outside area or relax before our boat arrived.

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Cruise through Nærøyfjord

Here, you’ll hop on a ferry and then cruise through the magnificent fjords on your way to Flåm. Nærøyfjord is a UNESCO protected long and narrow fjord, one of Norway’s most scenic. You’ll pass towering mountains, small finishing villages and waterfalls and farms that date back to the Viking era. Albeit cold, I loved standing on the edge of the boat and looking out at the peaceful mountains- the scenery is insanely gorgeous.

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Train from Flåm to Myrdal

You can’t get to Myrdal by driving, so train or cycling is the only way.

To get to the last stop on the trip, you’ll climb abroad the Flåm Railway, the steepest railway in the world. Known for its incline, but also for being one of the world’s most beautiful train rides, you’ll be awestruck by nature on your short journey.

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Back to Bergen

Once you reach Myrdal, you’ll board a train back to Bergen, which takes a little over two hours. The first part of the journey will be new, descending from Myrdal to Voss. Think: mountain valleys and snow capped mountains. Then, once you hit Voss, it’ll be the same journey from the morning, but no less beautiful.

We arrived back in Bergen early evening, perfect timing to have dinner and relax.

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Have you ever been to Bergen or Oslo and done the Norway in a Nutshell tour? 

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3 Reasons to Love Stavanger, Norway

In the weeks leading up my trip to Norway, I’d tell people I was visiting Bergen and Stavanger, and more often than not, they’d ask, ‘Where is Stavanager?’

A southwestern port city in Norway, Stavanager is surrounded by fjords, mountains and sandy coastlines. Wood houses dot the hillside above city center and cobblestone streets abound. It’s a place that oozes charm in every sense of the word.

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While booking our trip, I knew I wanted to see more of Norway than Bergen, but didn’t want to lose a day on the train to Oslo. So, faced with the decision of going north (to Alesund) or south (to Stavanger), I ultimately landed on south after scoring a cheap return flight to London, and finding an affordable ferry ride from Bergen to Stavanger.

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In the weeks leading up to our adventure, we decided not to book tours because we were worried the weather would be less than ideal. Once we realised we’d have five days of blue skies and sunshine, I booked us on a 3 hour fjord cruise, but left the other days open for us to wander.

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In total, we were in Stavanger for two days- arrived Saturday evening and left Monday evening.

~48 hours was the perfect amount of time to explore this Scandi city. If you’re thinking about visiting Norway’s western coast, these are my top reasons for spending a few days in Stavanager.

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Mountains to Hike

Stavanger’s most popular hike, Preikestolen is known to most visitors as Pulpit Rock. It’s said to be a stunning four hour return hike that ends in an incredible view of the fjord below. When we visited, the hike wasn’t officially open for the season and we’d been told to only consider it if we hired a guide and rented a car (ferries/buses don’t run often in the off-season). Interested in doing neither, we decided to busy ourselves with alternate activities, and managed to get our hiking fix while in Bergen.

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Fjords to Cruise

Lysefjord is one of Norway’s most stunning fjords. We’d cruised fjords while in Bergen on Norway in a Nutshell, but found Lysefjord to be our favourite. The boat we cruised on for Lysefjord was much smaller than the one we’d been on for Norway in a Nutshell, which meant we were close to the mountain walls- even cruising right up to a waterfall to get fresh drinking water.

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Our cruise left at 11 am Easter morning, which meant we had time to pick up breakfast from 7-11 (cinnamon roll and coffee, everything else was closed) before boarding the boat. For the first part of the cruise, as we sailed past fishing villages and mountains, we enjoyed the landscape through the boat’s panoramic windows- it was pretty chilly outside.

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Once we slowed speed and entered the fjord, we headed to the front deck- the perfect place to see and get shots of the fjord ahead. Also ended up being a prime spot for seeing the waterfall up close 🙂

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We brought breakfast on board, but there’s a kiosk offering snacks and beverages in case you get hungry while cruising.

Wherever you are in Norway, a fjord cruise is a can’t-miss activity. They’re magnificent.

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An Old Town and Modern City to Wander

Oh Gamle Stavanger, Stavanger’s Old Town. Cobblestone streets, white wooden houses, groomed flower boxes- it’s picture perfect. An area composed of 173 white houses, Old Town is thought to date back to the 17th century and regarded as the largest surviving wooden house settlement in northern Europe.

Rumor has it painting your home white was a sign of wealth in old times- in a seaside city like Stavanger, the upkeep needed to maintain a white finish in salt air equated to serious money. In fact, some home owners even went so far as to paint the front of their homes white to create the illusion of having more than they actually did.

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The cuteness doesn’t stop in Old Town. Areas in city centre ended up being some of our favourite places from the trip.

Øvre Holmegate is one of the most colorful streets you’ll come across- the restaurants, shops and cafes are every shade of the rainbow. Check out Cirkus for a beer, Froken Phil for brunch or a cocktail, and Boker and Borst for a coffee or beer pick-me-up with plenty of games to play.

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Next to Øvre Holmegate, you’ll find The Norwegian Petroleum Museum. We didn’t visit the museum, but adjacent to the building is a playground made out of retired oil rig parts, Geoparken. Bright graffiti and a waterfront view made this one of our favourite discoveries.

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Between Gamle Stavanger and Øvre Holmegate, you’ll find Vagen (the harbour), a bustling waterfront area where cruise ships sail in during the summer months. I was worried restaurants in the harbour area would be too touristy, but we really enjoyed Fisketorget, the fish market, and N.B. Sørensens, a gastropub with great fish soup and seafood pasta.

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And, don’t miss Breiavatnet Lake, a small lake adjacent to city centre. It’s a beautiful, calming place with a few cafes on the perimeter worthy of popping in for a coffee- two favourites: Steam Kaffebar for serious hygge vibes and Blue Bird Kaffebar.

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Have you ever been to Stavanger? Where’s your favourite place in Norway?

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10 Tips for Saving Money While Traveling in Norway

Norway, a country known for its indescribable natural beauty, and for being one of the most expensive places in the world.

Norway hovers on many travellers ‘to visit’ lists for years- much like Japan, I’ve been told people are hesitant to visit because they’ve heard it’s expensive.

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While planning my March/April bank holiday trip (the UK has Good Friday and Easter Monday off), I knew I wanted to go somewhere I’d be less reliant on restaurants/bars/museums being open (after visiting Stockholm last year), and settled on somewhere scenic. Once I decided I wanted to spend as much of the weekend in nature as possible, Norway was an obvious contender (along with the Faroe Islands and Scotland).

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Ultimately, I decided to do Norway because I’d be able to take trains/buses/boats everywhere, which meant I wouldn’t need to rent a car.

And, as for the question of whether it’s expensive?

Yep, sure is. On our first day, we bought six beers, two kinds of cheese, and crackers from the grocery store near our Airbnb and gaped when the total came to nearly £40.

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Fortunately, as with any trip, there are ways to keep cost down. For me, staying on a budget on my trip to Norway was important- Norway was the first trip in a month where I had two other city breaks (to The Netherlands and Krakow, Poland) planned. While I knew those trips would be considerably cheaper, I also was in the midst of planning summer and early fall travel, and wasn’t looking to break the bank, so to speak.

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Yes, Norway is expensive. Accept it. The fact that it’s expensive though is no reason not to visit. With a few of my tips and a bit of planning, you can enjoy a long weekend in Norway at the cost of only slightly more than if you’d spent the time in another major European city- Paris, London, Amsterdam, etc.

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10 Tips for Saving Money in Norway While Travelling

  1. Visit in the Off Season: Hear me out- I know Norway is spectacular in summer (May-August), and there’s a greater chance you’ll have good weather. We were extremely lucky with our five days of sunshine in early spring (definitely not the norm for the region), but I’m a major fan of first time visits to places in the off-season. Chances are you’ll save on just about everything and it’ll be less crowded. Also, everything we did (sans hike to Mount Ulriken) could have been done rain or shine. If you’re set on going during a certain time of the year, say peak season- book as early as possible
  2. Plan Ahead: I’ve said it again and again, but it’s truly the secret to traveling on the cheap in Europe- book things as early as possible.
    • Flights/Ferry: In early January, I booked a one way flight from Stavanger to London for £25, slated to leave early evening Easter Monday. My one way flight to Bergen cost a bit more (£120), but that’s because I waited too long to reserve it. We also booked the ferry from Bergen to Stavanger fairly early (£22 a person) because we were concerned prices would go up
    • Lodging: Because I started looking at Airbnbs in January as well, I was able to snap up great deals for awesome places during Easter weekend that were £50 or less a night
    • Activities: The only area we fell short in the planning department were our activities. We waited until arriving to plan out our days- namely because we were concerned the weather wouldn’t be in our favour and didn’t want to book outdoor tours if it was going to rain/snow all day. Turns out we had nothing to worry about- we enjoyed five days of sunshine and blue skies during our late March visit. I’m not sure how much we would have saved on the Norway in a Nutshell tour or fjord tour we did by booking in advance, but always worth looking into before you travel- every quid (dollar) counts!
    • Transportation: We didn’t rent a car in Norway- that’s the reason we chose to visit it over Scotland or the Faroe Islands, actually. We walked around the cities we stayed in, hopped on local buses only as needed, and took airport shuttle buses
  3. Ditch the Hotel: Airbnb in Europe is the only accommodation I consider 80% of the time. There are exceptions- Amsterdam, a city where a hotel can be cheaper than Airbnb, is one of them. But, for the most part, Airbnbs are a clean and comfortable alternative to hotel and their insane room mark-ups. Plus, you’ll have a fridge/kitchen at your disposal. In Bergen, I found an affordable Airbnb studio apartment near Hotel Clarion Royal that was a ~10 minute walk from the fish market- score! And, in Stavanger, we decided to stay in an Airbnb that was a ~13-15 minute walk from city centre in a private room of someone’s apartment. We totally lucked out when our host told us she’d be gone for the Easter holiday, and we’d have the entire place to ourselves
  4. Don’t Eat Every Meal Out:On our first afternoon in Bergen, we visited the grocery store and stocked up on goods for breakfasts, sandwiches, cheese boards, and picked up a supply of Norwegian ales and ciders to try. We ended up taking what we didn’t use in Bergen to Stavanger with us, which was a good move with the grocery stores closed for Easter. As for actual meals, we ate breakfast at our Airbnbs every morning. And, we made sandwiches/snack bags for some of our activities – hiking, the Norway in a Nutshell tour, our fjord cruise to limit the amount of money we’d spend on food out of necessity/availability. That said, we did enjoy a few great dinners out- especially at the fish market in Bergen. And, pro-tip: like in England, if you dine in at a restaurant that offers takeaway (such as, Fish Me in the Bergen fish market), you’ll be charged a small service fee. Twice, we got our sushi to go (saving a few pounds) and enjoyed it in our Airbnb while sipping beer/cider and relaxing/watching Netflix. Like most things in life, it’s about balance
  5. Limit Alcohol Purchases at Restaurants/Bars: Drinking in Norway is expensive- there’s a country mandated tax on all alcohol. On our first day, we discovered a Norwegian ale and pear cider we loved and stocked up on both in anticipation of stores being closed over Easter. Only three times did we visit a bar/order a drink in Bergen (once at the mountain bar atop Mount Ulriken), and we enjoyed each instance thoroughly. Same goes for Stavangar- twice, we shelled out for a beer/cider in restaurants. One was a really cute cafe that we spent the afternoon at playing games, and the other was a waterfront restaurant, where we sat in the sun for a bit and admired the view. Both times, we only ordered one drink because we knew we had more alcohol at our Airbnb and didn’t want to continue paying upwards of £9-12 per pint. But, for a few drinks, in the right places or environments, it’s worth it
  6. Refill Water Bottles: Norway has some of the best (and cleanest) tap water I’ve ever tasted. Even if you aren’t trying to save money on your trip, I’d still recommend drinking it
  7. Walk Everywhere: If you’re staying in a city, try to find accommodation that’s walking distance or on a bus route. If you’re taking local transit, buy your tickets before getting on the bus- it’s much cheaper (e.g. in Stavanger, buying beforehand at central station was ~£3 vs. ~£6 on the bus). Not only is walking a great way to get exercise, but you’ll also see and notice more than you would if you took transit everywhere. Of course if you’re in a bigger city, like Oslo, you’ll likely need to take public transit more, but we found Bergen and Stavanger to both be easily walkable
  8. Take Public Transit or Shuttles To/From the Airport: We never took a taxi in Norway, but I’ve heard it’s insane- worse than Japan, which is really saying something. We booked FlyBussen (available in most major cities in Norway) before our trip for both Bergen and Stavanger and thought it was great- easy to find outside the airport terminals, quick and clean. As with everything else, book the shuttle ahead to save a few Krones. If you’re really on a budget, there are local buses too you could take- although, they’ll likely take longer (e.g. in Stavanger, when we looked up city centre to the airport, FlyBussen was ~20 minutes and the local bus was ~60-75, and only £5 cheaper by comparison)
  9. Don’t Go Shopping: This was a tough one for me, I looooove Scandi everything. But, it’s essential- the conversion from Krones to GBP (or Euros / USD) just isn’t worth it. Unless you see something you can’t live without, try to find an alternative either where you live or on another trip
  10. Set a Trip Budget: One of the most essential parts of any trip, in my opinion. We set a daily trip budget and stuck to it, for the most part. Some days, we went slightly over, but we knew that just meant we’d have to re-budget slightly for other days to still come in even
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Favourite pear cider in Norway

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Tip: Takeaway if you can in places like the fish market to avoid a ‘dine in’ fee

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Have you ever visited Norway, did you think it was expensive in comparison to other destinations? If I missed any of your tired and true money saving tips, let me know!

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The Best of Bergen, Picture Perfect Norway

Bergen is picture perfect. While planning my early spring bank holiday trip (the UK has Good Friday and Easter Monday off), I knew I wanted to go somewhere I’d be less reliant on restaurants/bars/museums being open (after visiting Stockholm last year), and settled on somewhere scenic. Once I decided I wanted to spend as much of the weekend in nature as possible, Norway was an obvious contender (along with the Faroe Islands and Scotland).

Ultimately, I decided to do Norway because I’d be able to take trains/buses/boats everywhere, which meant I wouldn’t need to rent a car.

Once I settled on Norway, I started researching different places- with 5.5 days, I knew I wanted to fit in at least 2 cities. Originally, I thought I’d start in Oslo and work my way west to Bergen for the weekend.

But then, I started looking at photos of smaller fjord cities in Norway (hi Flam), and began considering staying on the west coast for my first visit.

Ultimately, I decided to fly into Bergen for three days, and then take a ferry to Stavanger for two days. Fortunately, one way flights from both London – Bergen and Stavanger – London are affordable (scored Stavanger one-way for £25!).

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In the weeks leading up to our trip, I checked the weather in both cities and was nervous- rain, snow, frigid temps- I wasn’t sure how much we’d be able to do once there.

But then, like magic, a few days before we departed, the weather forecast for both cities changed drastically- sunshine, blue skies, 40s. Bergen is a gorgeous city, and would be worthy of visiting in any weather condition, but I can’t help feeling extremely lucky for how things turned out for us.

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Bergen is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. If you’ve never heard of Bergen, it’s because Norway is underrepresented as one of the world’s most beautiful countries (at least in comparison to other places in Europe, like Italy and Switzerland).

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And, before I get into the good stuff, what about price? Not just known for its beauty, Norway is also known for being one of the most expensive countries in the world.

Well, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t find it expensive. Our first day- we bought six beers, two kinds of cheese, and crackers from the grocery store near our Airbnb and gaped when the total came to nearly £40.

As with any trip, there are ways to keep cost down. Because we stayed in an affordable Airbnb studio apartment near Hotel Clarion Royal (£55/night, great location!), we ate breakfast at our place every morning and packed lunches for days we went hiking or on a day trip to avoid spending money on food we’d buy out of necessity rather than interest.

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We also walked everywhere and didn’t visit any museums- the only tickets we bought were for the funicular to Fløibanen, and the one-way ticket down from the top of Mount Ulriken. There’s a lot of great food options in Bergen, however- when we visited during Easter, many places were closed, which made the decision to save money on food, and instead spend it on activities, like the Norway in a Nutshell tour, easier.

Regardless of how you choose to spend money in Bergen, you’re pretty much guaranteed a spectacular time. It’s that beautiful.

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5 Reasons to Plan a Trip to Bergen

Fjords

Known as the ‘gateway to fjords’, Bergen is situated on the ocean between two of Norway’s most beautiful fjords- Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord.

To experience the fjords, you can book a morning or afternoon cruise (~2-3 hours) through the tourism centre or do a longer day trip, like Norway in a Nutshell.

We’d been on the fence about Norway in a Nutshell- it’s expensive, and with such limited time in Bergen, we weren’t sure we wanted to commit an entire day. However, after spending one afternoon in Bergen and mapping out the remainder of our time, we realised we actually had more free time to explore than we’d initially thought, and with the weather forecast being so great, decided to splurge.

Can not recommend the tour enough. Doing a separate write-up of it soon, but the views you’ll be surrounded by all day are spectacular. After traveling from Bergen to Voss to Gudvangen, we set sail on a fjord cruise through the UNESCO-protected Nærøyfjord.

There’s no way to do the fjords justice- towering mountains, quaint fishing villages, water sparkling from the late afternoon sun- it’s breathtaking.

Whether you do the Norway in a Nutshell tour or opt for a shorter fjord cruise, don’t miss out on seeing this part of Norway- it’s a must-do.

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Nature, Nature, Nature

Surrounded by seven mountains, there’s no shortage of natural wonder in Bergen. Blessed by truly great weather, we decided to take full advantage of the sunshine and spend a lot of time outdoors.

On our first afternoon in Bergen, we took the funicular that ascents Mount Fløyen up the side of the mountain (tickets are £9 return).

At the top, there’s a viewing platform that extends on all sides and a cafe with terrace seating. It’s a cool place to enjoy a beer while looking out at the city below. There’s also a playground for kids and a troll forest to explore.

We did the Fløibanen late afternoon, but it operates until 23:00 each night in peak season, making it the perfect place to watch the sun set.

You can also hike from city center to Mount Fløyen, believe it takes about an hour each way.

On our second day in Bergen, we decided to hike to Mount Ulriken. We stopped at the tourism center underneath the fish market to buy return bus cards and a ticket for the cable car on our way down (we anticipated wanting to save time by only hiking one way).

You can start your hike in city centre, or if you want to shave ~45 minutes off as we did, take the 2 or 3 bus to Haukeland Hospital to start your hike. In the summer, believe the tourism centre runs an express bus directly to the cable car base. If not though, taking the local bus is easy- buy your tickets from the tourism centre, it’s much cheaper than buying them on the bus.

As a note, from Haukeland Hopsital, you could also hop on the cable car and take that directly to the top. Or, if you’re up for the challenge, spend the next ~1.5-2 hours hiking to the top of the mountain as we did. It ended up taking us just over 2 hours, but that’s because the trail was covered in ice and snow and I didn’t have on appropriate footwear (mistakenly wore trailers, ugh).

Whether you hike or take the cable car, visiting Mount Ulriken is a must-do if you have nice weather. Ulriken is the highest of Bergen’s seven mountains, so as expected, the views are incredible.

And, there’s a great restaurant at the top. We didn’t eat here- but everything looked delicious. We did have a post-hike beer at the outdoor terrace, which I can highly recommend. Lovely way to finish a hike.

On our third day, we did the Norway in a Nutshell tour (see above), and finished the day with a walk around Byparken, Bergen’s city park.

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Historic Town Centre

Bergen’s Old Town, Bryggen, is built around the harbour. Chances are, if you’ve ever seen a photo of Bergen, you’re familiar with the colourful wooden warehouses that stretch along the northern side of the harbour.

These buildings were the province of the Hanseatic League (German) merchants from the fifteenth century and used to be filled with goods the merchants sold. The current buildings were rebuilt in 1702 after being damaged by fire, but were done in the same style you’d find historically.

Definitely plan on popping in them while in Bergen- there are a bunch of shops to check out- two favourites: Ting for Scandi housewares and Juleshuset, a Christmas shop. And, on the other side of the harbour, another shopping reco- Illums Bolighus, a Danish store selling some seriously chic clothing and home goods.

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Foodie Haven

If you’re looking for good eats in Bergen, you’re in luck. We visited during the Easter holiday, which meant some of the top restaurants we wanted to try were closed but we still managed to have awesome meals everywhere we went.

Where to Eat 

  • Fisketorget: Bergen’s fish market has been in operation since 1276. Even if you’re not a seafood fan, this market is worth a visit. Norwegians love seafood, their culture was built on it. This market was near our Airbnb, so we popped in and out several times during our trip- we really enjoyed the fresh made-to-order sushi and a few of the restaurants with seafood soup
  • Godt Brød: Excellent bakery, good for breakfast for dinner
  • Pingvinen: Great beer selection and traditional Scandi eats
  • Other places that were recommended but closed during our stay because of the holiday: Smakverket, Potetkjelleren Mat & Vin, Bergen Kaffebrenneri (pizza), Marg & Bein

Note: For some of our meals, we bought groceries and made sandwiches or cheese boards in our Airbnb to help save on costs. Norway is an expensive country, and I had a few more trips planned during the month we visited that I was trying to budget for.

Where to Drink

Drinking in Norway is expensive- there’s a country mandated tax on all alcohol. On our first day, we discovered a Norwegian ale and pear cider we loved and stocked up on both in anticipation of stores being closed over Easter.

Twice, we grabbed a drink at bars and really enjoyed-

  • Henrik Øl- & Vinstove: If you’re into beer, this is a must visit- tons of Norwegian and Scandi beers on tap, plus a few local ciders
  • Terminus Whisky Bar: We finished our stay in Bergen here, trying a few different Scotch whiskys

Where to Have Coffee

  • Kaffemisjonen: Pretty large cafe with lots of seating, good espresso
  • Det Lille Kaffekompaniet: Cute and cosy, great for an afternoon pick-me-up while wandering
  • Other places that were recommended but closed during our stay because of the holiday: Nopel Bopel, Blom, BKB Vagen

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Cute Streets to Wander

Bergen is adorable. The backstreets from city centre are idyllic. Literal picture perfection.

Two areas I recommend exploring to see how beautiful some of the local neighbourhoods- Steinkjelleren and Mitzells Smug. You can expect a mix of pastel and white homes with cobblestone streets, flower baskets and rustic lamplights. Heart eyes.

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Have you ever visited Bergen? What was your favourite part of the trip?

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