One week in Norway
I’ve planned lots of road trips over the years and I have to say this was one of the hardest to put together. Norway is vast and punctuated like a doily with rivers and fjords meaning a lot roads suddenly turn into ferry crossings which can add some unexpected time. Add in the winding, single lanes and hairpin mountain passes and you’re not getting anywhere fast. But when the view out the window is that good, who cares where you’re going?
This is an itinerary for the summer months (although we missed the winter snow by only 2 days!) and is focused on the south of the country starting and finishing in Oslo for ease of flying in and out of Norway. Here’s the full route with more detail below on points of interest.
- Day 1 – Arrival and dinner in Oslo
- Day 2 – Oslo sightseeing
- Day 3 – Heddal Stave Church, Haukeli Pass, Odda
- Day 4 – Hiking Trolltunga
- Day 5 – Exploring Bergen
- Day 6 – The Flam Railway and Lustrafjord
- Day 7 – Nigardsbreen and Geirangerfjord
- Day 8 – Geirangerfjord and Trollstigen road
- Day 9 – Return to Oslo
Day 1 – Arrival in Oslo
We arrived in Oslo on Saturday evening off a 1pm British Airways flight. I’ll spare you the details of the catalogue of BA failings that led to us almost missing the flight but we got there in the end!
The train journey from Oslo Airport to the centre of the city is extremely easy, takes about 20 minutes and costs around £15 / $20 a person. We bought tickets from the ticket machine in the airport when we arrived and hopped straight on the train.
It was after 5pm once we got to Oslo so we headed straight to the Hotel Thon Spectrum (a 10 minute walk from the station), got changed and headed out to explore. I struggled to find decent hotel options that didn’t come with a hefty price tag. I like a luxury stay but there isn’t much point if you’re out exploring all day and only sleeping in the hotel. The hotel itself was nice, with free tea and coffee downstairs, a great choice at breakfast and comfortable well-appointed (but miniature) rooms. The major downside is that it’s on a street where drug addicts seem to hang out (although they actually don’t give you any trouble) and opposite a few bars, so the room we stayed in was noisy until about 3am on the Saturday. For that reason I wouldn’t recommend it, but there are a number of hotels in Oslo in the Thon group which look decent and are centrally located.
One of the few things open later (and early) in Oslo is the Fortress, Akershus Festning (daily 6am – 9pm) so we headed there and wandered about. It was a great first activity as you get a beautiful view across Oslo’s harbour, which makes it a great sunset watching spot and also a great place to get your bearings when you first arrive.
The fortress was built in 1299 when Oslo became Norway’s capital and was added to over the centuries to build the sprawling complex that remains today. Entry is free but you can pay for guided tours. At 1:30pm each day you can watch the changing of the guard. There’s also a charge for the castle (Akershus Slott – 11am – 4pm) where there’s the option of joining free guided tours of the banquet halls and dungeons.
After grabbing some panoramic shots of Oslo under the setting sun, it was time for dinner.
A short walk from the fortress and still offering panoramic views of the harbour is Solsiden Restaurant which offers a magnificent array of fresh seafood dishes (it was nearly impossible to choose what to have) from raw shellfish sharing platters to lobster gratin. A wine list of 250 bottles adds to the difficulty in choosing what to have. They also do a good value daily set menu.
We were lucky to get a reservation the same evening after phoning when we arrived in Oslo. Service was excellent and the view epic. The restaurant is only open during the summer months between May and mid-September, so get it while you can.
Day 2 – Oslo sightseeing
For some more detailed ideas about spending 48 hours in Oslo if I did it all again, I’m writing a separate post, but this is what I did with my day there.
There are a collection of museums to the West of central Oslo in Bygdøy that it’s sensible to see in one go, they also open a bit earlier than a few other museum in the city during the summer months so you can get a bit more out of your day if you may an early start when they open at 9am. It’s easy to get the 34 bus there from the centre and takes about 20 minutes.
We started with the breath-taking Vikingskipshuset (100 kr daily 9am -6pm May – September and 10am – 4pm October to April) which houses the finds from Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships.
The display is extremely simple but effective, with the 3 ships laid out in a purpose-built building in a cruciform shape with the largest ship, the Oseberg, in the central hall, the two others off to each side and a smaller hall at the back to house the other items discovered at the dig sites. A film is projected onto the ceiling of one of the halls telling the story of the Vikings. Items including jewellery, carriages and weapons were buried with the ships and their owners and are on display in the Vikingskipshuset.
A 10 – 15 minute walk from the Vikingskipshuset is the Polarship Fram Museum (100 kr, daily 9am – 6pm June – August, 10am – 5pm May & September, to 4pm October – May) which contains the 1892 Fram, the ship that carried Roald Amundsen to Antarctica to become the first man to reach the South Pole, just a few months between Scott’s ill-fated expedition.
You can walk the decks and explore the cabins which is all accompanied by an excellent exhibition of artefacts telling the story of polar exploration.
The Fram museum is situated next to the pier where the Bygdøy ferry will take you back to Aker Brygge (75 kr return for adults). This isn’t included in Ruter tickets for Oslo public transport (which can otherwise be used on trams, buses, T-Bane (the metro / underground) and ferries…just not this ferry).
By now you’ll probably want some lunch and there is loads on offer in Aker Brygge (as long as it’s not Sunday, which it was when we visited!). We tried out the innovative burgers at Burger Joint, which serves up juicy burgers in various combinations along with loaded fries (the truffle ones were amazing). Delicatessen, Ling Ling, Lofoten Fiskerestaurant and Louise also have good reputations if you’re looking for something more refined than meat juice dripping down your arm.
After lunch we mixed it up with some modern art at the Astrup Fearnley Museum (120 kr, 11am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday, 12pm – 5pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and 12pm – 7pm Thursday) which is housed in a beautiful building designed by Renzo Piano and displays its collection of contemporary art including works by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Anselm Kiefer and a number of Norwegian artists.
There’s a nice area outside that looks across the harbour and includes a few other contemporary sculptures. From there it’s about a 15 minute walk back to central Oslo where you can pick up the T-bane or stop at the Nobles Fredssenter and see the rather ugly ‘50s Radhus (town hall).
Sadly the Nasjonalgalleriet was closed when we went and has been since January 2019 while they construct the New National Museum which will open in autumn 2020. Instead we headed to the Munchmuseet (daily 10am – 4pm, to 5pm mid Jun – late September) to see the works of Norway’s best known artist. The museum only shows a small portion of its collection of Munch’s work. It includes a version of The Scream, the best known of which is held by the currently closed Nasjonalgalleriet. A T-bane will take you from the centre to Toyen, from which it’s a very short walk.
We called it a day after that as we had booked tickets to see the Marriage of Figaro at the Oslo Opera House.
The Opera House is a stunning piece of architecture and should be on your list whether you have tickets or not. You can access the foyer area for free to see the interior 10am – 9pm Mon – Fri, 11am – 9pm on Saturday and noon – 9pm Sunday and you can explore the outside, including walking right up on to the roof anytime.
I definitely recommend getting tickets, we got ours only a couple of weeks before travelling and they were about £70 each. English and Norwegian translations are available on tiny screens on the back of the chair in front of you so you can follow what’s going on.
Day 3 – Oslo to Odda
To save worrying about parking we picked up our car from the Hertz booth at the Central Station on the Monday morning we were leaving Oslo, which was really easy and a good price (around £250 for 6 days hire returning it to Oslo airport).
We set out into the unknown, quickly leaving Oslo behind and travelling through the countryside. This part of the country is rather flat and didn’t have the alpine qualities or numerous fjords we were expecting (and happily found the next day).
On the way between Oslo and Odda (the base for hikes to Trolltunga) a great stop is Heddal Stave Church, the largest of Norway’s remaining stave churches. The wooden carving is spectacular and the inside features 17th century paintings. Entrance is 80 NOK for adults and guided tours are included in the price. You can find up to date opening times on the website, but it’s generally open 10am – 5pm in the summer months (May to mid-September).
Back on the road the countryside gets more and more spectacular as you head towards Odda with beautiful mountain lakes and winding roads through ski resorts. This includes the beautiful landscape around the Haukeli pass.
On the way we came across Hardanger waterfall where we parked up and got out for some photos. We aimed to arrive in Odda early enough to buy groceries and any remaining items for our hike the next day and get an early dinner and early night.
There’s a Rema 1000 in town for groceries (we bought ingredients to make ham and cheese rolls for breakfast and lunch on the hike to Trolltunga) and a discount sports store in the same building which sells hiking clothes, shoes and other equipment. I picked up some extra socks here to be on the safe side!
Restaurant choices in Odda are limited and there’s nothing spectacular but we had decent, filling meals in both Glacier and Smeltehuset. Glacier offers decent Middle Eastern fare and Smeltehuset has pizzas and more traditional Norwegian dishes like fish and stews.
We stayed in Trolltunga Guesthouse which was clean, comfortable and spacious and offered a full kitchen as well as beautiful views across the valley around Odda. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the Trolltunga trail head and a 10 minute drive from Odda.
Day 4 – Hike to Trolltunga
For a much more detailed look at the hike to Trolltunga, see my separate post with everything you need to know. What I will say is that it is totally worth it for the beautiful views and sense of accomplishment!
We took the option of cutting out the first 3km by starting at parking lot number 3 (‘P3’) at Mågelitopp. Trolltunga guesthouse offers a lift up to P3 in an ATV for a fee (250 NOK pp if my memory serves me). They had spaces open at 4:45am and 5:30am. We got the 5:30am shuttle up meaning we arrived just before 6am to begin our hike.
We arrived at the top at 10am after just over 4 hours of hiking to cover the 10km from P3. We started in a fine rain which persisted most of the hike, although it wasn’t terribly cold (at least until we got to the top!). We spent around 45 minutes at the top before heading back. We only had to queue 5 minutes or so to walk out onto the troll’s tongue itself because we had arrived early and I suspect September is also a quieter time to hike.
Trolltunga is hard work – you need to be fit, have the right equipment and pay attention to the various warnings about the dangers of the hike, including not attempting it when the weather is bad and turning back if you do not reach specified markers by a given time. 2 days after we completed our hike the trail was blanketed in snow and people were being warned not to attempt the hike. During winter (mid March to mid June and mid September to mid October) you need to be accompanied by a guide to hike Trolltunga.
On the way back we missed the last shuttle for several hours from P3 so we opted to walk down the last 3 km of road to make it to the P2 shuttle and back to our guesthouse. It took us around 4 hours to get back to P3 and then another hour to get back to P2 for the shuttle back to the hotel. All told it was 10 hours of hiking some absolutely stunning scenery and totally worth it.
Day 5 – Exploring Bergen
In Odda the next morning we shuffled around our hotel room stiff from the hike while we packed our stuff ready for the next stop in Bergen which is just a 3 hour drive from Odda. Bergen is small but there are an array of museums, restaurants and bars to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. Come prepared for the weather because Bergen is WET. I came with some cute outfits for city sight-seeing and spent our whole 24 hours there in waterproof trousers and hiking boots to stay dry!
To get your bearings start the morning by heading up the Fløibanen – Fløyen funicular for panoramic views over Bergen. You can buy tickets at the ticket station in central Bergen and a return ticket costs 95 NOK for an adult. At the top there’s a shop, cafe and restaurant, the start of lots of hiking trails and…a herd of goats (obvs).
While in Bergen you must see the UNESCO listed Bryggen and its colourful wooden houses. Here you can take a walking tour of the shop fronts and the old assembly hall (Schøtstuene) – there’s another larger part of the museum you can see which was closed when we were there.
Afterwards we headed to Håkonshallen (100 NOK, daily 10am – 4pm in summer and 12pm – 3pm in winter), a 13th century Viking hall built for King Hakon which is the largest medieval secular building in Norway.
The other reason to go to Bergen is the great food on offer. We tried traditional Norwegian fishcakes and fish soup at Søstrene Hagelin, which has been using the same recipes since 1929. It’s a great informal place for lunch (and somewhere to get out of the rain!)
Make sure you stop by Trekroneren for authentic Norwegin Polse (hotdogs!). I had the reindeer one complete with mustard, lingonberry and crunchy fried onions. It was out of this world and made a great starter to the huge meal I ate later in the evening! It would also make a great end to a beer-fuelled night!
Speaking of beer, if you want to sample a load of different local ones then head to Henrik øl-og vinstove which has more than 50 beers on tap as well as board games, lively conversation and a cosy, friendly atmosphere.
They don’t do beer flights but you can get small measures and if you share with someone you get through lots more (…top tip). We got stuck into sampling the beers, pausing to make a tipsy booking for glacier hiking, before we headed to dinner. There was a really interesting spicy ginger beer that you should try.
After beers it was dinner time and we headed to the harbour front for fresh seafood at Fjellskål Fisk & Skalldyr, which is a fish restaurant and fishmonger so you know what you’re getting is super fresh. They have a huge menu of fish and shellfish. I opted for caviar and king crab (two of my favourites) and they did not disappoint.
You can get tables outside (they’re covered and heated) which is where we sat with amazing views over the harbour. Food and service was great and the location outstanding. The only downside is that the toilets are the ones that serve the harbour so they’re a bit gross!
We stayed at the Bergen Harbour Hotel for our one night in Bergen and I’d totally recommend it, it was clean, comfortable and had really helpful friendly staff and a super tasty breakfast. The location is amazing – you’re just a couple of minutes walk from Bryggen and you can park in Rosenkrantz P-hus, which is just around the corner (it cost us £12 for 24 hours).
There’s loads more to do in Bergen which we didn’t get around to as we were still tired from our hike the day before and tried to take it easy. With more time (and better weather!) I think I’d have gone to the Old Bergen Museum and the Norway Fisheries Museum (because how often do you get the chance to visit a museum dedicated to fish?).
Day 6 – The Flam Railyway, Lustrafjord and Nigardsbreen
Today is quite a heavy driving day (over 6 hours in total with the detours) but there’s plenty to see to break up the journey on the way and, as ever, amazing scenery to keep you entertained. Due to the terrible rain we more or less drove straight through (and missed the two starve churches I’ve added to the map), but we managed to make a detour to the Flåm railway, which I thought we weren’t going to find time to do when I first planned the route.
Despite it’s huge popularity and reputation as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, I would actually recommend skipping the journey on the Flåm railway. It was a nice experience (and it’s possible the driving rain didn’t help my opinion) but we drove through more dramatic and beautiful scenery just about everywhere we went in Norway, especially around Geirangerfjord, so I’d have rather saved the 3 hours or so it took us in total and visited Borgund and Urnes stave churches which we ran out of time for.
If you still want to go ahead, the timetables are available on their website. It takes just under an hour in each direction with a short stop at the top in Myrdal and costs about £50 each, which I think is steep for what it is. There are shops and restaurants at the station and plenty of parking.
Despite booking our overnight stop based on it being a day’s driving from Bergen and not much else, I am so glad we stopped there because it was breathtakingly beautiful. We also had the most wonderful host at our guesthouse, Nes Gard, which was clean and comfortable. They serve a dinner every night of delicious homemade food (which was really really good and well priced) and you all sit together on long tables which was rather fun.
It makes an excellent base for a variety of activities, which we hadn’t realised until we made our last minute booking to explore the glaciers in the nearby Jostedalsbreen National Park.
Day 7 – Nigardsbreen and Geirangerfjord
We were up early for the 45 minute drive to meet our guides from Ice Trolls at for our motorboat and glacier tour (about £85 per person for a 4 hour tour). I’ve done similar things before in Iceland and I felt this was excellent value for what you got. It was really well conducted with fun and knowledgeable guides and decent equipment. They have lots of other activities on offer and I would totally recommend booking with them as they were truly excellent.
You meet the guides at Breheimsenter, one of the visitor centres at Jostedalsbreen National Park (and the last place you’re going to see a toilet for a while!) for the 20 minute or so drive up to the starting point.
You spend around an hour in the motorboat exploring the glacial lake including waterfalls and icebergs (we even got to stand on one!) and then hike to the glacier’s edge, pop on some crampons and spend another hour or so stomping around on the glacier and climbing down inside some moulins.
After 4 hours or so of exciting I had a 5 hour drive ahead (yay). This was a much trickier drive with a lot of hairpin bends and steep grade. We were also high enough that for a lot of the journey we were in driving snow. Luckily we got to Geirangerfjord before the light started to fail. If you’re arriving with enough time, don’t miss the Geiranger Skywalk at Dalsnibba like we did (hadn’t realised it was on our journey into Geiranger). We drove back the next day but the snow had closed the road. According to the website the toll road up to the platform is open 24 hours, but that was certainly not our experience! The photos of it look amazing so I was disappointed to miss it. Luckily there are plenty of other viewing points on the journey in which we were able to make use of.
We had enough time to get some dinner in our hotel, the Hotel Union. The hotel was decent and well located with parking near the entrance just off the road. The hotel has a spa which includes an indoor and outdoor pool overlooking the fjord. We headed here after dinner to finally sooth our still-stiff limbs from our Trolltunga hike!
Day 8 – Geirangerflord and the Trollstigen Road
We only had a short drive lined up (less than 3 hours) through the famous Trollstigen road to Åndalsnes so had a day to spend in Geirangerfjord and decided to take it easy. After a lazy breakfast we made use of the spectacular pool once again and then headed down to the fjord for a fjord tour on a RIB boat, which we booked through Geiranger Fjordservice.
The tour was about £65 per person (but that covers the boat, tour and all the kit) but I felt it was worth it for an hour speeding around the fjord and seeing all the waterfalls and other sites around the fjord. You don’t go too far along it (it is huuuge) but I really enjoyed it.
There’s plenty to do around Geirangerfjord and there’s some spectacular scenery (but probably no more so than what’s lurking around every corner in Norway!). I totally recommend driving the Trollstigen road, but check before you drive because it’s not open year-round. It’s a really spectacular drive, although it’s over all too quickly with only 11 hairpin bends. It’s more like a rollercoaster than a road!
We arrived at the Hotel Grand Bellevue in Åndalsnes in time for dinner. The hotel was ok although slightly damp smelling (I think due to being a base for lots of hikers who clearly dried out their sweaty clothes in the badly ventilated rooms!) But the restaurant was excellent for both dinner and breakfast and we both got a good night’s sleep – I’m not sure there’s much else on offer there! It was obviously another part of Norway rich in potential adventures but we had sadly come to the end our time in Norway and it was our last night before we headed back to Oslo airport for the flight home.
Day 9 – Return to Oslo
Ok so this sucked big time, a 6 hour drive back to Oslo airport. The first few hours were relaxed and enjoyable courtesy of the spectacular landscape but this quickly gave way to boredom after the first hour on the motorway.
I’d recommend make an extra day of this, or stopping a couple of hours closer to the airport the night before, and stopping at Lillehammer on the way back. If you book far enough ahead, which we didn’t, you can try out bobsledding, tobogganing and other activities at the old Olympic park. I am still supper gutted that we didn’t manage to do that because it sounds amazing!
In conclusion, Norway is amazing and I look forward to exploring more of it and at different times of year in the future.