Glacier hikes, world-class national parks, the northern lights, sleepy fishing towns in between towering fjords, and renown, year-round festivals are just a few out of the many unique things to experience in Norway. Planning your trip to Norway to take advantage of all of these great offers can be tricky, however.
Norway is like Colorado; you either go in the summer to hike and kayak, or you go enjoy winter sports (but different ones, like dog sledding and snow mobiling) during the winter months.
There are polar opposite things to do during various seasons, and there are many things to know about Norway while planning your trip since this country has it all.
Since we just went to Europe in September, we weren’t necessarily trying to take another big trip abroad anytime soon but instead, we were hoping to visit friends that have recently moved to new exciting cities around the country. However, when you see $350 tickets to Europe, how can you pass that up!?
Especially when some of your best friends are down to come with you! (YAY Coyle and Taylor!)
To be able to travel frequently, we don’t usually pick a destination to visit. Instead, we follow cheap airline fares instead. Norway isn’t a place that I know a lot about. I’ve had to research it more than any other place I’ve traveled to since I only know one or two people who’ve traveled there before.
But thanks to the incredible Norwegian Airlines, Norway (as well as many other parts of Europe) has just become exponentially more accessible.
If you need more convincing as to why Norway should be on your travel list, I’ve got you covered.
Here are some things I have found doing my research that could help you determine your choices when planning your trip to Norway:
There are defined high, shoulder, and low seasons.
I discovered that there are firmly defined tourism seasons because I was researching on things to do in April in Norway and really could not find very much information. During the high seasons of summer (June-September) and of winter (October-February), all accommodations are up and running and many tours are offered for various activities.
The shoulder season is exactly what it sounds like. This is when tourists are not traveling to Norway as much, and some shops may begin to close down. However, after looking at some tours and accommodations, it does still seem like most visitor services are still made available during shoulder season.
During low season, the tourism employees pack up their bags and go do their traveling. However, with this, I haven’t had any trouble trying to find an available Airbnb. In fact, the prices are much better than I expected.
You can only see the northern lights during the darkest months of the year, aka the winter.
As we are going to Norway in April, it was certainly disappointing to learn that we would not see the northern lights, or the aurora burealis, due to the brightness of night during this time of year. Of course, this is one of Norway’s most renown highlights. There’s no where else in the world that provides the view of the dancing colors like Norway does.
During the winter time, darkness consumes the sky for the majority of the day. And if you visit a city like Tromso or Svalbard that are right on the arctic line you have a much better opportunity to experience the northern lights.
I have found that there are many warnings to inform visitors that there is no guarantee that you will see the northern lights, even if you’re in northern Norway during the darkest month of the year. It all depends on how clear the sky is, so it would be wise when planning your trip to Norway to not only center it around trying to see the northern lights.
There are many national parks with different types of nature to explore.
Norway has the highest mountains in Northern Europe and the fourth largest landmass in Western Europe behind France, Spain, and Sweden.
In the national parks of Norway, you can see glaciers and fjords, but also arctic plains in the northern parts of the country.
Off of the coast you’ll see the shape looking like shards of shattered glass. Fjords are thought to have been the result of the cutoff of the North American crustal plate. But Svalbard is essentially an island off of Norway and sits deep in the polar region.
After doing some preliminary research, these parks would be easiest to reach from Oslo in the southwestern region according to Lonely Planet’s guide:
Jotunheimen National Park – known for the highest mountains in Norway and glaciers. July and August are the best times to go.
Folgefonna National Park – known for the famous Folgefonna icecap and glaciers. It’s a bird watcher’s favorite. May through September is best to explore.
Hardangervidda National Park – gorgeous, vast plateaus and the largest wild reindeer herd in Europe are this park’s favorite aspects. Check it out between July and August.
Jostedalsbreen National Park – the Jostedalsbreen icecap and glaciers. This was the top on my list, but due to our time constraints we aren’t able to hit this amazing natural beauty. June through August are when this park flourishes.
There’s an area off the mainland called Svalbard where you can see polar bears.
The Svalbard’s archipelago is as close to the North Pole as it is to Norway’s mainland. It’s referred to as “one of the natural world’s greatest epics.”
If I could do it all, this would be a place I’d want to go in Norway. You can go hiking at midnight, go dog-sledding, spot polar bears (from afar), and see Magdalenefjord, arguably the ultimate and beaut of all fjords in Norway.
Glacier hiking is a thing.
There are organized tours year-round, but ironically it seems like the summer is the best time to glacier hike. Being a Floridian, this blows my mind.
Glaciers cover 0.7% of mainland Norway and 60% of Svalbard. 15% of Norway’s electricity comes from river basins below glaciers. Pretty amazing.
One thing to note about glacier hiking, or glacier walking, is that you really should go through a local tour program. They provide you the gear and education on how to do this and be safe, all while doing one of the most unique outdoor activities.
The popular Norwegian cities have big personality.
We will be visiting Oslo and Bergen, so those are the two big cities I’ve read the most on. We picked these because they’re very accessible and easy to get in and out of and provide access to beautiful fjords.
Oslo is known for its world-class museums and art galleries. This is something I definitely didn’t know about at first. Cafes, bars, and restaurants create a vibrant and busy atmosphere, and I imagine it’s easy to forget you’re in an arctic country when you’re there.
All of the big sights of Oslo have to do with art – the Opera House, the cityscape architecture, and art museums. However, for the nature lover, your favorite pastimes are waiting right outside the city for you. Skiing over the winter, hiking during the summer, rock climbing and ice skating are just a few of many things to do if you’re up for some adventure in Oslo.
Here’s how we spent our time in Oslo, and some cool hot spots we uncovered during our short time there.
Though I can’t wait to see Oslo, Bergen is a special place. It’s easy to tell without having been that it’s history resonates within the walls of the fjords that surround it. You can take a cable car up to the top of a mountain to soak in the view, or you can walk the colorful boat town area of Bryggen, one of Bergen’s most famous spots.
The best part of Bergen to me is that you can have a fine craft cocktail and see fjords the same day, which leads me to my next point.
Fjords. Enough said.
These line the western coast of Norway. For our itinerary, we have 2.5 days to explore Bergen. As great as it would be to hop on a train and see fjords either in the southwest or fly up to a city like Tromso, it is a little bit difficult to travel Norway with its mountainous terrain making travel elongated.
But here are the fjords I’ve looked into near Bergen, and that I’m contemplating which to visit:
Hardangerfjord – runs from the Atlantic to Norway’s Hardangerfjord is classic Norwegian fjord country. This one is easily accessible from Bergen.
Lysefjord –The Pulpit Rock and Mount Kjerag are the most well-known sights in the Lysefjord.
Preikstolen – also known as Pulpit Rock, one of Norway’s most iconic fjords.
Scandinavia isn’t as expensive as you may have heard.
I will have a more realistic idea for you on what it’ll cost to travel to Norway, but so far, it isn’t as bad as what I was expecting. There are very well located Airbnb rentals in the Oslo city centre for about $150/night for four people.
That’s been about what we’ve paid in other cities in Europe ($75/night for just the two of us). So I was pleasantly surprised Scandinavia was not more expensive for accommodations. However, I have not looked into hotels.
The Lonely Planet guide suggests eating ethnic food in Oslo, like middle eastern cuisine (one of my favorites so I can’t wait). The pricier meals will be traditional Norwegian food.
The train ride from Oslo to Bergen is one of the most beautiful in the world.
This is actually ranked #7 out of 15 for top things to do in Norway according to LP. It says it’s an opportunity to sample some of Norway’s best scenery.
It’s a 7-hour train ride, and I absolutely love taking the train in Europe since they are so comfortable, affordable, and provide you beautiful things to look at the whole time.
This is something I’m actually most excited for!
So. Many. Festivals.
I was quite surprised to see how many incredible-sounding events Norway hosts year-round. Many are music festivals, like Moldejazz in July. Most events seem to fall during the summer, as I’m sure Norwegians are happy to see the sun and want more excuses to celebrate outside.
But there’s a dog- sledding festival in Alta in March to welcome the winter’s end, how cool is that!
So be sure if you’re visiting Norway to check out what’s going on in the country.
I can’t wait to share what it’s really like to travel around Oslo and Bergen in just a few weeks. I hope my research helps your planning for your amazing adventure in Norway.