Previous Next

Photo: orse

Matador’s destination expert on Oslo, Norway, lays out the country’s avoidable attractions…and what you should do instead.
1. Don’t… visit during the cold season

Even skiing enthusiasts might struggle with the below-zero temps and short days. Winter is a beautiful, magical time, but it’s not for beginners, nor for travelers on a budget.

Photo: artic pj

Do… set your sights on summer

In Oslo, the sun sets for a mere 3-4 hours a day. Then, you can sleep under the stars — or, if you head just a bit farther north, under the midnight sun.

Summer also means friendlier and more extroverted locals who have discarded the last vestiges of winter — i.e., their inhibitions and most of their clothes.

2. Don’t… underestimate the country’s size

Norway may be small in terms of population, but not so in land. From Oslo to Kirkenes in the Norwegian Arctic is about the same distance as Oslo to Rome.

Do… set aside at least a week

This is the minimum you’ll need to see Oslo, the mountains, the West Country fjords, and Bergen.

3. Don’t… fly between Oslo and Bergen

Or between Bergen and points north. It may be fast, and flights are often cheap, but you’ll miss spectacular mountain scenery.

In this case, the journey is as important as the destination.

Do… take the Bergen Line

You’ll be doing your bit for the environment and experiencing one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys at the same time, cruising across the mountain and through Hardangervidda National Park. The lucky will spot herds of reindeer on the Hardangervidda plateau.

Photo: t a k k

North of Bergen, try a voyage with Hurtigruten. Abroad, it’s best known as a cruise line taking tourists along the spectacular coastline all the way to the Russian border in the Arctic.

But Hurtigruten is also local transport, hauling passengers and goods between remote outposts where the quickest (or only) route between points A and B is by sea.

4. Don’t… do the famous Norway in a Nutshell Tour

At least not in one day! You won’t have time to savor the experience — plus, it’s quite expensive.

Do… take your time biking along the Bergen Line

Get off at Haugastøl (or Finse, to avoid the initial steep incline), and bike along Rallarvegen, the construction paths built and used by the rail workers who laid the tracks across the mountain 100 years ago.

5. Don’t… restrict yourself to hotels

The best and most unique hotels are expensive. Also, you’ll miss Norway’s major attraction: being outdoors, being in nature.

Do… stay in mountain cabins

Or even better, sleep for free. Bring a tent and pitch it anywhere. Locals do this often.

Photo: Ernst Vikne

Allemannsretten, an ancient right now formalized as the Outdoor Recreation Act, means anyone has access to uncultivated land such as mountains, forests, lakes, and beaches, regardless of official ownership.

You can camp out for two consecutive nights on any uncultivated land, (more than two nights and you have to ask the owner). The only requirement is that you stay at least 150 meters from the nearest house or cabin.

In the mountains or more remote areas, the two-night-limit doesn’t apply.

You’re also free to pick berries and mushrooms and drink water from mountain streams. If you go this route, check out Matador’s Beginner’s Guide To Foraging For Food.

6. Don’t buy groceries at kiosks

These include chains like Deli de Luca, Narvesen, and 7-Eleven. Prices here are often three times higher than elsewhere.

Do… find a local supermarket

Even if it means you have to walk an extra block or two, hit up a supermarket like Kiwi, Rimi, or Rema.

7. Don’t… shop at Oslo’s fashionable Bogstadveien

That goes for the renovated shipyard Aker Brygge as well. These two spots are good places to watch your money disappear.

However, if you must, be sure to look for the “tax-free” sign to save the 25% VAT/sales tax.

Do… go to Grünerløkka or Grønland districts

These lively enclaves are filled with small, independent Norwegian and Asian shops, respectively. Lots of cool finds at bargain prices.

Photo: Author

8. Don’t… dine on Oslo’s Karl Johan Street

The main drag is hit or miss when it comes to restaurants and taverns. The only sure thing is that you’ll be overcharged.

Do… walk 5-10 minutes in any direction

Taste goes up, prices go down. In the Grønland area, try one of the many Indian or Pakistani restaurants.

In Vika, there’s a good vegetarian buffet at Vegeta, or head to the Oslo harbor to buy shrimps straight from the boats.

Beer’s never dirt cheap, but prices vary from NOK 30-90 (USD 5-15) for a pint. This beer list, along with this one, have been compiled for beer enthusiasts on a budget. (They’re in Norwegian, but I’m sure you’ll get the important parts — addresses and prices. NOK is abbreviated kr.)

Community Connection

Norway is one of those places that inspires wanderlust, and it also has several spots to get close to the EDGE.

What NOT to do


 

About The Author

Anne-Sophie Redisch

Anne-Sophie Redisch is a bilingual writer who loves hopping off a train in a new city. Her two daughters often come along, enlivening the travel experience. She has lived in the USA, New Zealand, and Norway, and her work appears regularly in in-flight magazines and various Scandinavian and English media. She blogs at Sophie's World and tweets as SophieR.

  • http://www.traveling-savage.com Keith

    Great article! I’ve been thinking about Norway a lot recently, and these tips will come in handy. I’m a huge nature enthusiast and the Bergin Line sounds right up my alley. Thanks!

  • http://www.backpackingmatt.com Matt

    When I was living in Ireland, I booked myself a cheap flight to Oslo in the middle of January – not a great decision! I was short on time and money (and sunlight!) and actually ended up doing the Norway in a Nutshell tour. I found it to be a good way to get a quick glimpse of how beautiful a country Norway is.

    I will be back … but without a backpack and a budget!

  • http://www.erremedia.com erre

    And don´t do the Flam train trip… or do it but just if you want to descend on a rental bike from the railway station atop. The train trip is not worth: too many people and few things to see. The whole country is full of much more beautiful places.

    But… a hike to the Preikestolen will show you a breathtaking scenario from a different point of view. This is really worth.

  • http://www.kaleidoscopicwandering.com JoAnna

    I love taking the train in Norway! Such a beautiful country … I can’t wait to go back!

  • http://www.theaussienomad.com Chris – The Aussie Nomad

    Great tips, I’m not hitting Norway till next summer but will take these on board for when I do.

  • Robert

    I’m in Norway now! Winter is beautiful here but after reading this, I want to come back in summer and sleep outdoors.

  • http://VagaBen.com VagaBen

    Great list! Being norwegian, I feel pressured to leave a few extra tips as well.

    Don’t spend too much time in Oslo. Oslo has its qualities, but doesn’t really show you the real glow of norway, which is the nature. Either minor hikes to Preikestolen/Trollstigen or full-on hiking in Trollheimen/Femunden. Lot’s of places to choose off. Cities I would recommend is:
    Bergen
    Trondheim
    Kristiansand

    • http://VagaBen.com VagaBen

      *are

  • Kim

    I’m very interested in Norway these days and saw this article. Very interesting about the allemansretten (difficult word). If I understand it right, anyone can use nature and private owners cannot restrict? That’s incredible.

    • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

      Thanks for your comments, everyone. Good to see so much interest in Norway.

      @Kim and @Dark Nomad: Yes, allemannsretten (meaning “right of everyone”) is an ancient custom considered so valuable it was formalised into a law. It’s a right, but duties come with it: don’t leave rubbish, take care when lighting fires, don’t harm or unnecessarily disturb domestic animals or wildlife (common sense, really). It’s a very social-democratic way of thinking and most are quite happy with it. There are similar customs (even laws, I think) in Sweden, Finland and Scotland.

  • http://www.greenygrey.co.uk/blog Marc Latham

    I can vouch for the great scenery in Norway. Flew from Oslo to Tromso in the Arctic Circle and it was non-stop wonderful views below: forests, mountains and lakes. Then we reached the fjords and colourful houses of Tromso, framed by the surrounding mountains.

    Whale-watching cruise was great from Tromso, and got to see a lot of other wildlife and the fjords, islands and sea-cliffs along the way. The Tromsdalen Valley on the mainland near Tromso was also a wonderful hike.

  • http://www.nehasweb.com neha

    Norway is such a drop dead stunning country. There is so much to see and never enough time. The late night sun completely freaked me out though; I was exhausted but I just couldn’t sleep.

  • http://nancythegnomette.com Nancy

    Awesome tips! I’ve been dreaming of getting to Norway for the past 10 years. I’ll be consulting this article when I finally go!

  • erre

    Some more… Oslo transport authority (Trafikanten?) rents bikes, and this is a great (and healthy) way to move around. Get your card at the tourism office near the railway station and ride!

    And if you´re a jazz lover, don´t forget Norway has one of the most innovative scene.

  • http://www.darknomad.com Dark Nomad

    Wow – that option of camping or staying in cabins looks pretty cool. And being able to stay on any uncultivated land – what an awesome law!

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

    Yes, beautiful scenery and great tips. I vote for the warmer months, though!

  • http://www.offtoeurope.com offtoeurope.com

    Would have to agree with your tip of not flying between Oslo and Bergen. I have made the train trip before and it was one of my favorite train journeys. My tip: Pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon at Vigeland Park. The sculptures are stunning and entry is free.

  • Eric

    I’m traveling in the Scandinavian countries right now on business and I’m absolutely enchanted with it all. I especially loved Oslo. It’s so beautiful and the way nature is such an integral part of everyday life there was so amazing. I’m getting married next winter and I’m now thinking I’ll suggest to my fiance that we spend our honeymoon there. We’re both really into winter sports. I’d love some tips on romantic places to stay.

    • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

      Eric,
      Glad you’re liking it up here. Some friends of mine married in a wooden chapel on top of a hill at the forest’s edge, then skied down the hill to the hotel where they held the party after. Great fun to watch, but a bit chilly for the bride…

      You’ll find a few suggestions that might be fun for an active honeymoon at http://www.nileguide.com/destination/oslo/trips/active-and-romantic-winter-oslo/6041178

      Or feel free to e-mail me: redisch at gmail dot com

  • Finn

    Something else I want to add:

    Don’t… go bicycling in the Lofoten area – The roads there are not bicycle-friendly, to the extent that it’s dangerous.

    Do… enjoy Lofoten by boat
    Option 1: Hurtigruta may be a bit upmarket, but worth the fare for shorter journeys in the regions of Lofoten and cruises that take you further north from there.
    Option 2: If you want to grasp more of the Norwegian “proximity to nature” essence, and enjoy an extra shot of adrenalin, why not go on a guided RIB cruise of Lofoten?

  • maetl

    Great article. I’m relieved to see that the plans I’ve made already don’t contradict any of these tips.
    I’ll be getting the Hurtigruten from Bergen to Kirkenes next May stopping at the major towns and cities along the way for a night or two each. Just wondering if anyone has any tips of what to do once I reach Kirkenes. I was thinking of just flying to Stockholm but it seems like a bit of a waste being so far north and not checking out some of the other destinations in northern Finland, Sweden and Russia. Any suggestions of a more scenic route down to Stockholm or Helsinki?

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

    There’s heaps to do in Norwegian Lapland, though most are nature-based activities, like hiking (overnight hikes with sauna is fun), spotting brown bears, husky sledding, fishing for king crabs, and more. Kirkenes is a good base for activities in the Russian border area.

    Or you can pop across the border and visit Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula for some Soviet-era nostalgia. Murmansk is Russia’s major submarine port, home to the world’s only nuclear-powered ice breakers and some seriously ugly – but interesting – architecture. Pasvikturist operates busses and tours to Murmansk and other interesting destinations – http://www.pasvikturist.no/wips/1375337801/

    With Hurtigruten, you’ll see Norway’s coastline. Going south from Kirkenes, you could go inland and visit Karasjok, centre of Sami culture and/or Alta (with amazing UNESCO-listed Stone Age rock carvings).

    From Alta (or Karasjok), there are daily busses ( http://www.eskelisen-lapinlinjat.com/en/index.php ) – south to Rovaniemi, centre of Finnish Lapland (and home of Santa Claus :) )

    From Rovaniemi, there’s a direct train to Helsinki. Finnish railways are here: http://www.vr.fi/eng/

    From Helsinki, there’s an overnight ferry (like a small cruise ship) to Stockholm – http://www.tallinksilja.com/en/mainMenu/clubOne/default.htm

    (Tallinn, Estonia’s utterly adorable capital, is just a few hours’ boat ride from Helsinki, too, btw – well worth a visit).

  • travel

    hello,
    i find tips useful, but unfortunetely i am traveling to Norway in a few days time, so its winter :) I’ll have several days visiting friends in Vestfold municipality, and later few days at Oslo. Some tips about sightseeing around Vestfold (Tonsberg) would be very useful. I am wondering about finding cheap night stay at Oslo, and i’m going to visit Viking museum and Vigeland park (is it worth at winter?)
    We have skiing plans also, but weather forecast gives us some doubt, so we want to have as much as posible out of this situation.
    I apreciate any advice

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

    No worries, mate. Norway has heaps of things to see and do in winter – just remember warm clothes. There’s a saying up here that translates roughly as “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. It sounds much better in Norwegian (rhymes and all) – “det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær”. Also, it sums up an attitude.

    Vestfold county is an interesting area – and 1140-year-old Tønsberg is Norway’s oldest city with the remains of a Viking castle. Some excellently preserved Viking ships were discovered in this area about 100 years ago, now housed in the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo – definitely worth a visit. And while at Bygdøy, I’d recommend visiting the Polar ship Fram, used by Roald Amundsen for the race to be first to the South Pole (he won). That was in 1911, so this year will see centennial celebrations.

    I really enjoy strolling about Vigeland Park during winter; the nudes seem to take on a life of their own when covered in snow.

    For skiing, there’ s Svarstad in Vestfold county. In Oslo, Tryvann is just 20 minutes from the city centre (using public transport). You can also hire toboggans and do a cool 2 km run in the same area. Have a look here for more info on fun things to do in Oslo during winter: http://www.nileguide.com/destination/oslo/trips/family-fun-in-the-snow/5956627

    (although the guide is intended for kids – playing in the snow is fun for kids of all ages, no?)

  • guest

    When talking to Norwegians (especially those who aren’t from Oslo), they’ll try and make you skip the capital – but don’t be fooled! It’s one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. But it’s more the feel you get when just walking around (preferably on a sunny late Spring/Summer/early Autumn day) that enchants, than the actual sights. But be a little careful of certain places. Even though Grünerløkka and Grønland ended up being the two places I felt most at home, and I visited the most, try and look like you “belong” there. Don’t walk alone during late hours (especially not if you’re female). Try and not behave like a typical tourist, or anything else that might make you seem like an easy victim. A Norwegian friend of mine, a real butch, scary-looking man, was robbed blind by three men with guns in the eastern part of Karl Johans gate, in the middle of the day. Even though I love Oslo, I still find it important to remind people that it is an urban city, with both good and bad sides.  

Matador's destination expert on Newfoundland shares the island's avoidable...
Matador's destination expert on Chicago lays out the city's avoidable attractions...and...
Matador’s destination expert on Uruguay lays out the country’s avoidable...
Eman Ramos lays out his hometown's avoidable attractions...and what you should do instead.
Matador’s destination expert on Paris lays out avoidable attractions in the City of...
Former Moscow expat Jenna Makowski breaks down the Russian capital's avoidable...
Matador’s destination expert on Guadeloupe lays out the Caribbean archipelago’s...
Matador's destination expert on Chile lays out the country's avoidable attractions...and...
Melbourne native Rebecca Kinsella shares her tips on how best to experience her home city.
Stephen Lioy advises on some of the country's avoidable attractions...and what you should...
Matador's destination expert on Egypt lays out the country's avoidable attractions...and...
Matador's destination expert on Japan lays out the country's avoidable attractions...and...
Matador’s destination expert on Tibet lays out the country’s avoidable attractions...