Last year I studied a semester abroad in Stockholm, I wanted to make the most of my time away and so I went out with the goal of trying to explore as much of Scandinavia and Northern Europe as I could. My first adventure was to Norway, in October 2018 I booked on a group tour ‘The Fjord Explorer’ with Scanbalt Experience who I highly recommend. I hope this post helps if you’re planning to organise a Norwegian trip yourself.
We started our tour of Norway in the capital Oslo. After a long, but doable coach journey which left Stockholm early morning, we arrived in Oslo in the late afternoon. We arrived at dusk at 16.00 (something to note at this time of year) and heavy rain but we pressed on and went on a guided walking tour of the city. One thing to note was the change in climate, even compared to Stockholm there was a significant temperature drop. I would recommend a thick winter coat or ski jacket with winter accessories. In most of my photos, I’m wearing three coats!
Despite the rain, we still saw the iconic sights such as the Oslo Opera House, the beautiful lit up harbour and promenade, and the government buildings where sadly the first explosion during the 22nd of July attacks happened in 2011. The nightlife in Oslo is a must see, enjoy a drink wrapped in a blanket looking out onto the harbour, or like us stumble across a pub with jive dancing and a games room. The only drawback is the high prices, a bargain is hard to find in Norway!
We stayed at Anker Hostel, just a short walking distance from the city centre for just one night before moving on. I would recommend staying in Oslo for a couple of days as there was still lots we could have explored.
We departed mid-morning for a seven-hour drive to Lærdal, a quintessential Norwegian town in the middle of the Norwegian Fjords. Normally, I spend long coach journeys catching up on sleep or listening to a podcast but during this drive, I couldn’t keep my eyes off our passing surroundings. The rain had cleared from the previous day as we travelled along long, winding roads with the stunning backdrop of mountains with early signs of snowfall and the occasional clear lake. As we got closer to our destination, the surroundings transformed into a Narnia-esque landscape with thick snow covering the trees and mountains, revealing a magical view. Around mid-afternoon, we stopped at Borgund Stave Church, built around 1180, it is one of Norway’s oldest preserved timber buildings. It is one of the most distinctive stave churches in Norway due to its lavish roof carvings of dragon’s heads.
We arrived at our site at Laerdal Ferie & Fritidspark by early evening and settled into our cosy cabins. The campsite was situated right by the mighty Sognefjord, the largest and deepest fjord in Norway. Those that were brave enough took an icy dip in the nearby lake, whilst others (me included) warmed up with a hot chocolate! We concluded the day with a barbecue outside in order to make the most of our stunning surroundings. Make sure you stock up on supplies before leaving Oslo as supermarkets were scarce in Lærdal.
The following day we were meant to embark on a glacier hike but unfortunately, this was cancelled by the organisers due to high winds and risk of landslides. Although this was a bit of a blow, our group guide helped us make new plans to visit Fjaerland. It was a short drive and ferry trip away, once there we made a visit to the Norwegian Glacier Museum and Norway's "Book Town" in Mundal. A village where most stores are dedicated to selling new or second-hand books. However, a highlight of the day was exploring Bøyabreen Glacier, although we couldn’t hike it, we could walk up to the lake in front of the glacier which gave us an amazing view.
The next day, we departed Lærdal and travelled to Gudvangen where we boarded a 2-hour cruise to Flåm which travelled along the Sognefjord. Although the weather wasn’t brilliant when the boat departed, it soon cleared up to reveal a beautiful rainbow and clear skies. From Flåm, we continued on the coach for a three-hour drive to Bergen. In Bergen, we stayed for one night at Hostel Montana, located near Mount Ulriken and a short walk from the city centre.
We spent our last day of the trip exploring Bergen. We met a local guide in the city centre and spent the morning on a city walking tour. I would always recommend joining a walking tour when visiting a new place if you can as they are a great way to learn more about the city and gain some tips, plus they usually only expect a donation in return! This trip was full of unpredictable weather conditions so of course, it had to be that the one day we were in Bergen, allegedly the rainiest city in Europe, the sun shone all day! I fell in love with this city and enjoyed capturing the colourful architecture, deliberately painted in bright colours to brighten up the darkest of winter days.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring more of Bergen, we took the Fløjbanen to the top of mount Flöjen (much quicker than walking!) to see a great view of the city. Make sure to spend a moment relaxing by the harbour where you can explore the UNESCO protected Bryggen, Bergen's old waterfront where the Hanseatic traders once lived and worked in traditional wooden buildings. I would have loved to spend more time in Bergen and especially explored more of the recommended hiking routes but unfortunately, our trip had come to an end. We boarded the coach and made our way back to Stockholm driving through the night and arriving midday the next day.
I hope this post has assisted you if you are planning a Norwegian adventure too! Norway has so much to offer with its combination of city life and breath-taking natural surroundings. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever visited Scandinavia or whether I’ve convinced you to give it a visit!