Traveler: Kari Johnson
When: August 2016
Where: Oslo, Bergen, Fjords
Overall Experience: Norway is absolutely one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. The mountains are abundant with waterfalls, idyllic towns and farms scatter the countryside, and the fjords are breathtaking. If you have not already done so, check out my first blog, Scandinavia (part I), on Stockholm, Sweden, which covers a few more travel and flight tips.Disclaimer: I am writing this post in the same order that I took my trip by discussing Sweden first and then Norway, meaning I flew into Stockholm, travelled by train with my family around both countries and flew out of Bergen. Also, I did travel to Östersund, Sweden to visit family and on the way to Oslo, I had a few hours to spend in Trondheim, Norway. I would recommend visiting both and I have to mention that the eight hour train ride from Trondheim to Oslo provided stunning views.
Logistics: $2000-$5000 (USD) – As I mentioned in my previous post on Sweden, all of Scandinavia is expensive, so consider taking a longer vacation to see as much as you can, it might be more economical in the long run.
Getting Around: In Norway, the trains will be your best friend in getting around the country and are pretty nice, some even have Wi-Fi. I purchased the 3-day Scandinavian Pass from RAIL EUROPE for about $247 (USD). A couple of key things to note, there will be an option to purchase First Class rail passes, but in both Norway and Sweden this is not an option. Let me be clear, do not spend the extra money on First Class tickets, because there are no First Class train cars on standard trains. It is also important to note that in both Sweden and Norway you will need to ensure that you have reserved seats, once you acquire your passes, call RAIL EUROPE for assistance if you are unable to reserve seats at the same time of booking online. The pass does not allow for access to the high-speed trains unless you pay the difference, but the standard trains are still great.After arriving in each of the cities, walking is the best way to get around, but bikes are also an option. Oslo has a bike sharing system and a day pass will cost roughly $6 (USD). Bergen does not have a specific bike sharing system, but there are rentals available from a variety of different companies.
If you decide to end your trip in Bergen and fly out from there, I would recommend taking the Flybussen to the airport, which will cost about $10 (USD). There are multiple pick-up/drop-off locations in downtown Bergen. They also operate out of Oslo and will be the cheapest option to travel to and from the airport.
Accommodations: Oslo has a lot of terrific hotel options, but I can only speak for where I stayed, the Thon Hotel Opera. It is reasonably priced, conveniently located near the train station and downtown area, and has a fantastic free buffet style breakfast. Given that Oslo is an expensive city to visit, a hotel that provides free breakfast is a great perk and a nice way to start your day before doing a lot of walking.
Bergen is a more popular tourist destination than Oslo, so the hotels will be significantly more expensive and a free breakfast is usually not included. Planning your trip far enough in advance will help you secure a decent and more affordable (for Bergen’s standards) hotel.
Tips: Bring a water bottle, the tap water is probably some of the best in the world and bottled water could cost more than $3.00 per bottle. Because of Norway’s location, there is a good chance it will rain at least some of the time, so bring an umbrella and warm/waterproof clothes. Plan to do a lot of walking on some old streets, so decent shoes are a must. Also, tipping in Scandinavia is appreciated, but not mandatory. I have been told that somewhere between 10-15% is normal for good service in Scandinavia.
Oslo – During the reign of Haakon V of Norway the center of government was moved from the Viking capital in Trondheim to Oslo around the year 1217. Oslo is filled with a rich history of Viking culture along with strong references to independence, especially given that Norway did not gain true independence until 1814. Oslo’s City Hall is a prime example of this and is open to the public. It is really more of an art gallery than a place of government and many of the rooms are covered in murals that depict Norwegian life and culture.
After visiting City Hall I would recommend visiting the Nobel Peace Center. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of history I learned at the museum, both of the recipients of the award as well as the history of the prize. Another point of interest worth visiting is Akerhus Fortress, which is a large and ancient fortress. A walk to the Royal Palace is also a great way to see more of the city. I went later in the evening when it was lightly raining, and no one else was around, so it was pretty peaceful.The Fjords – Visiting the fjords of Norway was on my bucket list, and I have to say the natural beauty of the fjords almost does not seem real. Logistically, there are a few ways to get to the fjords including renting a car and driving, but the tours are probably the easiest and you can see the fjords in a day. Also, while I did not do this, you can schedule your fjord tour to line up with train travel from Oslo to Bergen and have your luggage sent ahead to your hotel. However, you can keep your luggage with you on the tour, it is not ideal lugging it around a train, boat, and bus, but there will be room. The most popular tours are run through a company called Norway in a Nutshell and will take you to two of the largest fjords, Aurlandsfjord and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Naeroyfjord. After taking two trains to get to the village of Flåm, you will have time for lunch and I recommend a Viking inspired restaurant called, Aegir Brewery & Pub. Once you are on the boat, you just have to let the fjords speak for themselves. While it was chilly and super windy, I lucked out because at least the sun was shining. I still struggle to put into words how I felt when I was in the fjords, because the views of rugged rock, snowcapped mountain tops, and aquamarine water left me in awe.
Bergen – Because of its location, Bergen is considered the gateway to the fjords. Norway’s second largest city is filled with iconic buildings and beautiful views, but it is overflowing with tourists. A majority of the time I was in Bergen the weather was not ideal, it rained and it was pretty cold, but down by the harbor there are often stands selling wool mittens and hats at a fair price. Yes, I bought mittens and a hat in August and actually wore them!
One of the main attractions in Bergen is Mount Fløyen. For hiking enthusiasts, you can hike the mountain, but I ended up taking the Fløibanen funicular which is a trolley of sorts. At the top of the mountain, take in the views of the city, harbor, and mountains. You will also find goats at the top, a few trails to explore, a café, and one of the famous Norwegian trolls.
Back down in the harbor, check out the iconic buildings along the docks, which is called the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf. For the most part the buildings have all been turned into gift shops, but the architecture is beautiful and some of the buildings date back to the 1700s.There are tons of great restaurants in the city that highlight traditional Norwegian cooking, and I would recommend making a reservation in advance if you are interested in dining in one of them. But, there is also the fish market down at the harbor that dates back to the 1200s, where you can find fresh (caught the same day) salmon, crab, and lobster available for purchase and chefs will cook it for you on the spot!
Basic Phrases:Skal vi ta en kaffee? (Shall we have coffee?)
Hei, Jeg heter [insert your name]. (Hello/hey, my name is __________.)
Ha en fin dag. (Have a nice day)
God morgen. (Good Morning)
God natt. (Good Night)
Vi sees snart. (See you soon).
Tusen takk. (Thank you so much)
Note: A special thanks to my Norwegian friend Gry for help with the basic phrases and my brother Steven for some of the photos.