Everyone has seen unbelievable pictures of the stunning Norwegian landscape, probably while scrolling jealously through a better-travelled friend’s Instagram feed. Endless fjords alternate with impressive mountains and forests, home to moose, bears and wolverines to this day. A trip to a glacier, a rafting tour on a mountain river, or a pleasant walk through the apple orchards in the South – all this and more is just waiting for you in Norway. It’s no wonder that the Visit Norway website markets itself with the slogan “Norway – Powered by Nature“!
There’s only one drawback – if you want to discover all the wonders that Norway has to offer you need a lot of time on your hands, which most of us don’t have. Today I’m going to try and show you how to bring the best out of your Norwegian adventure. To really find you the best way to go about things, I’ve tried the two most popular methods – after arriving in Oslo I travelled by train to the beautiful city of Bergen, and, after a short stay, headed back to Oslo with arental car from Sixt, travelling along fjords, past waterfalls and through magnificent gorges as I went.
Want to pack as much landscape into as little time as possible? Problem solved with the train to Bergen. And what a solution! If you bag yourself an Economy ticket far enough in advance you’ll only pay £25 each way, and amazing price considering the journey takes six and a half hours. For a First Class seat you’ll have to fork out a few Norwegian Krone more, but you’ll get lots more leg room and unlimited tea and coffee for free – surely the dream of every British traveller! There’s free WiFi in the train (like almost everywhere in Norway) and children have their own carriage with toys and entertainment for the journey. If you head one carriage further down you’ll find the Restaurant Carriage, which is decked out a little bit like an American diner with its groups of red seats.
The journey of the Bergen railway leads from Oslo out up to Europe’s highest plateau, the Hardangervigga. The Finse station is located at 1222 meters (4000 feet) above sea level, and even in July there’s plenty of snow up here. On the way up to the plateau, the train winds its way through beautiful countryside, going along fjords, past pretty colourful wooden houses and through woods and meadows where horses graze. A place that particularly piqued my interest along the way was the ski resort of Geilo – with its the wooden huts, ski slopes and lakes this place a real highlight. In winter this is where the post goes from. After a long climb to the snowy Finse railway station the Bergen train slowly makes its way back down from the plateau. Several cosy hours with fantastic views later the train finally arrives in Bergen.
The Bergen railway is the perfect start to a Norway tour, giving you a first impression of how diverse, varied and impressive the scenery is. Now that Norway’s got you under its spell, time to head out into nature!
Norway By Rental Car
After a day of sightseeing in Bergen, it’s time to get going – nature calls. Picking up your rental car at the airport in Bergen is not a problem. The Sixt office is located right at the entrance, with the car park a few hundred meters away. Within minutes everything has been taken care of and the journey can begin! The-new VW Golf that I get is perfect for my Norwegian adventure – small and agile, it can meander through the narrow mountain roads and has enough horsepower to speed along the motorway on the longer stretches of my journey (keeping within the speed limit, of course.) The comfy interior and gadgets and gizmos are really helpful too – the cruise control and the automatic transmission are especially useful in Norway. You can relax on the longer (2-3 hour) stretches of your journey and just enjoy the scenery passing your window.
My plan is to take my time, driving south from Bergen and seeing what I discover. Before this though, I’ve decided to go on a small detour towards Eidfjord and Vøringfossen, one of the largest waterfalls in Norway.
After this I’ll be heading back towards Odda, the nearest big town to the Trolltunga, probably the most famous promontory in the world. (That’s the one in all of those sickening Instagram pictures, and an obligatory photo opportunity on my Scandinavian roadtrip) After that the journey will continye towards Preikestolen, or The Pulpit Rock – a place that’s been on my bucket list for years. Once I’ve ticked these off my checklist, I’ll just drive south and see what I come across. I have made up my mind to go along the coast towards Kristiansand and to stay there relaxing by the sea. After six days and 800 odd miles (1300 km), I’ll catch my flight back home.
Tips On Driving In Norway
Driving in Norway is extremely relaxed, with no-one really using the horn and all drivers adhering to the prescribed speed limit. Speeding is expensive here – just 6-8km too fast will earn you a fine of around £60.
Many roads in Norway operate a toll system – all hire cars from Sixt have a chip installed which is automatically registered by the toll booths, and you can pay them all at the end. Unlike the UK you can see the influence of the tolls – roads are constantly being repaired and renewed, with the kind of potholes that we’ve become accustomed to back home unthinkable in Norway. Filling up the tank won’t be too much of a shock either – many petrol stations are actually cheaper than the average UK price. My economical compact car manages around 850 kilometers on a single tank of fuel.
Along the fjords the roads wind along, hugging the mountain side – be prepared for traffic from the other direction getting pretty close, as the majesty of the fjords are no secret among Norwegians and this is a popular camping area. Some places have huge bridges that span the rivers and valleys, but many are served by ferries that carry cars and pedestrians alike. These cost a small fee, but the crossing is well worth it if only for the view!
The journey is the reward: In Norway, the same kind of attitude to roadtrips as in the States applies.Quite often you’ll come across something spectacular by the roadside that deserves a little break, and maybe a photo or two. In Norway thoughm something spectacular really does mean spectacular – you’re sure to stumble across a natural wonder en route. On the route from Odda to Jørpeland for example there is the Låtefossen, a two-tier waterfall, which you discover just in passing. There is a small car park and a hut where you can buy souvenirs. The water here rushes down the mountain, making such a din that you can hardly hear yourself speak. Impressive!
So that I could be more flexible I only booked accommodation for the first two nights of my trip, finding somewhere to stay in the places that take my fancy along my route. Spontaneous hotel and Airbnb bookings reallu aren’t a problem in Norway – even just half a day before arrival it was still possible to rent a small cottage by the sea.
The Incredible Trolltunga
My first daytrip is the impressive hike to Trolltunga, a stark rocky outcrop near Odda, whose name means “Troll’s Tongue”. The climb up takes three to four hours, so it can be a bit challenging for those of us not used to physical activity. Even in June you should still expect snow up here, so pack well with enough water, provisions and decent hiking gear. The hike leads up over moorland, rocks, meadows and along the water – the red-painted T on rocks and trees is what you should be looking out for, as they mean you’re going the right way. Once you reach the top though, it’ll all seem worth it – the views are truly extraordinary. Trolltunga is one of the most dramatically beautiful cliffs in the world, and, much like the Pulpit Rock, a popular photo opportunity.
The Climb Up To Preikestolen
In Norway the sheer scale of the many natural wonders can leave you feeling small and insignificant. This is exactly what comes to mind when you stand on one of the most impressive cliffs in the world, and look down into the Lysefjord. Far below you, approximately 600 meters (2000 feet), boats go slowly across the deep blue water, and around you on the clifftop other hikers stare in awe at the scene that unfolds before you. Many take daring photos here, with their feet dangling over the edge hight above the fjord below.
The path to the Preikestolen, which translates as “The Rock Pulpit” is somewhat cumbersome, and on my trip up I was waylaid by rainclouds every few minutes. The climb wasn’t made easier by the fog, lingering snow and steep path, but even this journey is so worth it. As you climb the path leads along moorland, up hand hewn stone steps and past small lakes. Once at the top the sun breaks through the clouds and illuminates the Pulpit Rock and the fjord.
Fairytale Lanscapes at the Hardangerfjord
My tour leads me along the Hardangerfjord in the direction of Ullensvang. There are loads of AirBnBs here that give directly onto the fjord, offering stunning places to spend the night. From the living room window of my AirBnB I have a perfect view of the blue waters of the Hardanger Fjord. The mountain tops still have their dusting of snow, and the many waterfalls bubbly happily, emboldened by meltwater. Down in the valley, however, are the apple trees are already in bloom.
Sunbathing On The South Coast
The further south my journey takes me, the less snow I see on the mountain tops. The forests are dense with lush green birches, and the beaches on Norway’s south coast could very well be among the loveliest spots of the UK coastline. I reant a small cottage on the beach, ready to enjoy a little seaside relaxation after all the hiking in the fjords. Time seems to slow down to a gentler pace here, with many locals indulging in their passion for sailing – I suppose they are Vikings at heart! In bright sunshine and 23 degree heat, you can sit back on the beach, put your feet up and enjoy life. After two last days in the sunny south, the trail then leads me back up towards Olso. I spend my time reflecting on the beautiful places I’ve visited, more in awe of Norway’s gorgeous landscapes than ever.
The combination of rail travel and car rental is just perfect. The initial train journey gives you a wonderful first impression of the countryside, starting off the trip gently by relaxing and enjoying the scenery rush past your window. The only disadvantage is that, although you can get out, you can obviously only do so at a train station where you only have a few minutes to look around, before heading back.
Once you’re on the road, the tour can start properly. The total independence that a car brings you is perfect for a landscape so full of beauty – Norway provides a new surprise around every corner, just crying out to be appreciated. So stop the car, get out, and enjoy.