Breathtaking - the first word that comes to mind when I think of Norway. Oh yeah...and then the inevitable second thought - expensive. But all too worth it if you know how to travel on a budget and prioritize your personal "must-see's."
Before I go into my own highlights, let me be completely real about what I experienced in terms of prices. This shouldn't prevent you from enjoying the highlights of Scandinavia, especially if you go in with the right expectations and use tricks to prevent breaking the bank. Some of the most startling examples: A normal food-court style meal ran upwards of $20-$30 and Norway has the most expensive McDonald's big mac in the world - priced around $15.
But keep in mind, there are plenty of ways to strategize and save money in Norway. I used Couchsurfing for free accommodation and was able to see Bergen from a local's perspective. Right away, I found a grocery store in Bergen center and cooked quick and simple meals. No matter where you are in Norway, the scenery is incredible and hiking is typically free! Keep in mind, if you're going in the summer it stays light until ridiculous hours - depending on where you are, the sun will not even go down fully. This is great news for evening hiking (not so great for trying to recover from jet lag). Look for free tours in each city you visit (Sandeman's is a great company). Free activities in Oslo: take a short walk from the main train station and climb to the roof of the opera house for a great areal view of the city, walk the castle grounds, visit the Frogner Park and walk amongst massive sculptures. I happened to be in Oslo during pride week so the Nobel Peace Prize Museum was a free and enlightening stop. And my final tip, prioritize some of your highlights in advance.
My absolute favorite experience in Norway was the "Norway in a Nutshell" tour through fjordtours (www.norwaynutshell.com). I had decided in advance to book this tour and as a way to experience Norway's landscape in a variety of ways - train, ferry, and the famous Flam rail. It was a bit of a financial commitment (about $100) but it also provided a means of transport from Bergen to Oslo that I would have paid for regardless. We planned to carry on by train to Sweden from there.
My friend and I woke up early that morning and bought picnic lunches and snacks at the grocery store. My personal trick for water is to bring a reusable bottle with a filter - it is really rare to find places that offer free tap water in Europe. We arrived at the main station and boarded our first train of the day.
We spent the first couple hours, although sleep deprived, captivated by the surrounding fjords and crystal clear water flowing by. Eventually, we left the train and continued our journey by bus, weaving amongst steep mountains, vibrantly-painted wooden houses, waterfalls, and stunning panoramas. After reaching the summit of the mountain, we slowly descended through hairpin bends to the picturesque valley below. Next came the part of the day I had anticipated most - the awe-inspiring boat cruise through the Naeroyfjord (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Aurlandsfjord. The destination: the remote village of Flam, nestled amongst impressive mountains and glass-like water.
We arrived in Flam a couple hours later and splurged on a nice lunch on the water (photo in gallery below). But we weren't there too long before boarding the next train, the world-famous Flam Rail. Another option is to stay overnight in a small inn and enjoy hiking, kayaking, and speed boat tours the next day. As much as we would have loved to stay, we were in the first of 9 countries of the trip that summer!
So off we went, boarding the Flam rail, an old-fashioned train that is composed of 20 tunnels (mostly made by hand), took over 20 years to construct, and climbs to extreme elevations. The ride itself is impressive and you also make a stop at a waterfall. We reach the top of the Flam rail and board our final train Oslo, passing snowcapped mountains.
The Norway in a Nutshell tour was, by far, one of the coolest experiences I've had traveling. It was amazing how much we got to see that one day, while also keeping the pace we needed to reach our final destination a month later. The tour was well put together and they basically guide you everywhere you need to go. I would recommend you book in advance on their website but, even during high season when crowded, it is still easy to block out the noise and enjoy the beauty and tranquility around you. We were extreme travelers that summer, hopping around every couple days or so, but this day provided serious inspiration and rejuvenation for the journey ahead.