Norway had been so sky high on my list of travel goals. Having visited and loved the rest of the Scandinavian countries, Norway – with it’s dramatic landscapes and unpredictable weather – was calling my name from the tops of the fjords. So, with one of my long-time travel buddies living in Stavanger for a few months, it was too perfect to pass up a reunion in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
Norway is not known for impressive cities, its known for its staggeringly high mountains, fjords, and waterfalls. Therefore, the experience lies in the countryside, and the more north you travel, the more dramatic the scenery. This meant one thing : ROAD TRIP!!
So without further ado,
Here is my guide to road tripping through Norway!
– Where to Start –
The best starting point is from Bergen, though I technically started in Stavanger. It’s actually been nicknamed the “gateway to the fjords” because of its prime location on the coast but conveniently right at the start of the major fjords and hikes.
– The Best Time to Go –
For a road trip that includes any hiking or camping, the best time is summer due to the more predictable and mild weather. The months of June-August are prime, which unfortunately means everyone else will be there too. But fear not, the country is big enough for everyone and the amount of tourists never impacted us too much; we were still able to find accommodation at a last moments notice (though some prime spots may have been available had we booked in advance).
Because so much is dependent on the weather, it also means that certain hikes, ferries, and roads are only open certain times of the year, the earliest in maybe April and the latest by early October. If you want to try in winter, you may need to do some intense research and plan for closings and detours.
– Renting a Car –
As is everything in Norway, renting a car can get pretty expensive. I recommend finding deals or specials online, booking early, and picking one with great gas mileage (or a hybrid). We were upgraded to an Audi a3 hatchback and it was thee perfect car for the drive. The gas mileage, Appleplay with pop-up nav screen, and heated seats were so essential and worth every penny. Renting from a company at the airport is usually cheaper because they store their cars there, so picking one up there after a few days of exploring Bergen (to avoid parking costs in the city) may work best. Also, its typically cheaper to rent for full weeks rather than an odd number of days, so try to arrange this.
Here are some more tips for taking a car rental road trip
– Toll Roads & Ferries –
One of the main factors in planning your road trip is accounting for the tolls and ferry crossings. Most rental companies will offer some sort of toll pass that allows you to pay for individual tolls or a set cost each day for unlimited toll crossings. Seeing as we were splitting the cost of our car, we didn’t want any charges after the trip and chose a set amount of 87NOK per day to cover as many tolls as we’d go through. Even though some days we didn’t encounter a toll, the days we did really made the set pass worth it.
The ferry crossings are incredibly easy, but will add on an extra 20-30 minutes each (during which you can get out of your car and walk around) to your journey. We had multiple legs that we’d hoped to crank out in a long single journey, but the fear of the ferry not running at night forced us to re-plan. Not all the ferries run year round, so it’s ESSENTIAL to plan your trip accordingly or you’ll be driving hours out of the way.
Look out for the sheep on the mountain roads!
– Accommodation –
Though I wanted to be fully in nature by camping and sleeping under the stars, the weather was just too crazy, our time too short, and our supplies seriously lacking. So my second choice was rustic, secluded cabins on the edges of the fjord lakes. There is no shortage of these and they’re easily booked via airbnb (this link will give you a free $30 toward your first reservation!) and booking.com.
If you are planning to camp, there’s a fantastic law legalizing camping everywhere in the country. There are some main stipulations : set up at least 150m away from a building/home, be out of sight (if technically on someones property), avoid no camping signs (typically if someones property or a dangerous area) and leave the land cleaner than when you arrived. Otherwise, you can set up virtually on a cliff or in the middle of a valley. This does allow you to pull off and sleep on the side of the road, but it means towns are less saturated and you get to choose the view you wake up to.
– Planning Your Itinerary –
This is the fun part! There’s a plethora of fjords, overlooks, impressively scenic drives, day hikes, prime camping locations, and small towns. Myself and my two friends had a handful of places on our must-see list which I tailored the schedule around and the rest of the stops were spur of the moment, but no less impressive.
When planning your stops, I suggest an ovular route starting from Bergen, weaving through the fjords up as far as you can and back down the coastal route.
Here’s our trip as an example (Yes my google is in Spanish) :
- Hike Trolltunga (stay in Odda or near to get up early for the hike)
- Fjord cruise from Flåm or Aurlandsvagen to Gudvagen (Car ferry)
- Mountain Drive from Skjolden to Trollstigen
- Stegastein Overlook
- Ørnesvingen-eagle Road, overlook & Gierangerfjord : Definitely one of the most impressive drives down to the fjord from the mountain. The overlook at the top with the sun streaming through the puffy, looming clouds was a jaw-dropper for sure.
- Borgund Stave Church : To be honest, this one is the oldest preserved of the stave churches, but it was so crowed that I just wasn’t fussed to even go in. If old architecture is your thing, definitely add it to your journey.
- Bergen Railway journey from Bergen to Oslo : I didn’t take this, but heard plenty of ravings about it. With Stavanger being my hub but flying out of Oslo, I took the train twice that went through the South. It was very lovely but more out of necessity.
Of course, we had a little over a week and didn’t get to explore further into the Arctic all the way to the Lofoten islands or even to Trondheim. I would have tried to add the coastal road, a few more hikes, and camping.
– Fails –
Luckily we only had one fail and that was the Aurlandsfjellet Ice road. Every bit of research we’d done said this road was bordered by huge ice walls all year round. So we made the 45 minute journey out of the way for…. no snow.