Welcome to the land of a million waterfalls, trolls, and Vikings. Where every corner you turn the dramatic landscape changes within the blink of an eye. Where seafood is fresh and abundant and your pocket is constantly empty from the astronomical cost of EVERYTHING.
Clever Norway tourism coupled the best bits of the region’s most popular sites and made hopping around to them very easy through their Norway in a Nutshell itineraries. Simple and effective, anyone, all ages can easily book online and craft an itinerary through breathtaking landscapes and (no longer) hidden secret places either on their own or as part of a guided group.
Jamie and I decided however that we would go rogue and take the best of Norway in a Nutshell and craft our own agenda while booking independently. We worked out that albeit slightly more expensive since the box-set tours book the cheapest train times, which aren’t always convenient, this gave us more flexibility to stay where we wanted on our own clock.
Even better, budget airline Norwegian Air run flights daily from London Gatwick. Flights can be reasonably priced and include free Wi-Fi on board.
Lisa & Jaime’s Norway in a Nutshell itinerary:
Day 1: Bergen
Known to be the cutest and most picturesque in the country, I wish I had more than just one day to explore this coastal city. Apparently it’s also the happiest place in the country too. We rented an Air BnB from an attractive local, centrally located between the train station and the historic area of Bryygen.
Despite a down pouring of rain all afternoon, our efforts to explore were not tainted. I tried my first (of many) classic fish soups over lunch at Café Opera, a casual bar and restaurant situated in the heart of the city across from the Opera. In fact, I didn’t realize at the time how affordable the food truly was there. It was where I first learned how large portions in Norway can be, evidenced by Jaime’s huge salad, so you could argue the astronomical costs are value for money.
The wooden boardwalk streets and pointed houses of historic Bryggen are so cute they definitely visually ticked the box of classic Norway in my mind. The entire city, and country for that matter, plays the part and is dressed for the outdoors and the brisk summer cold. Yes, you read that right, 50 F degrees in August. It reminded Jaime of a mini-Seattle, each shop selling lightweight puffers, wool, reindeer slippers and of course, the iconic country mascot – the troll.
To escape the rain we stopped in at Una, a modern bar serving a range of over 20 craft beers on tap plus a wide selection in bottles. It was there we met Skip, a 70-ish-year-old American from Virginia who had been traveling around Europe solo for the last five months. Looking like a hippie version of Santa Claus, we couldn’t help but be friendly and share a beer to hear about his wild stories of a 3-week rage in Greece; learn that Bergen is considered the Nashville of heavy metal deemed as such by Crazy Dennis who runs the nearby music venue The Garage, and politely excused ourselves after finishing up with the full history of his ex-wife and funeral home business.
The night ended walking through the quiet backstreets of the hillside above the city, then on to dinner in the heart of the fish market. King crab claws, lobster, mussels, and prawns at Fish Me. Some things in life are worth the splurge in cash.
Day 2: Voss
Known as the adventure capital of Norway and home to Extreme Sports Week, this was one stop on the Norway in a Nutshell’s standard itinerary we changed to accommodate a full day of adrenaline pumping fun. So we decided to go paragliding! If you aren’t familiar with the concept, we basically ran down a hill then off the side of the mountain. Then we safely floated over the amazing scenery of Vangsvatnet Lake, mountains and the small town, thanks to the large glider attached to my tandem pilot’s back.
It was totally awesome! I enjoyed it so much more than my skydiving experience in New Zealand (read here) as there is no free fall at all. Basically, I hung out on a comfy seat floating about the world like Edward Cullen in Twilight for a quick five minutes before landing in a run on the ground. You start with a run, which I apparently still did for a long time once airborne, and land in a run as well. I also started screaming before I even left the ground but I must note that at no point did I ever feel unsafe.
The best part about Voss Tandem is that it’s all certified. The booking system is also super easy. I put in my contact details and date, and a few minutes later I had a text from Biorjan, my pilot, confirming I was booked. Almost too easy! Jaime referenced my booking in a second submission and the two pilots hooked up behind the scenes to ensure we could ‘fly’ together.
Biorjan told me his whole story to calm my nerves. He’s been jumping off things such as this since 2005, is a carpenter by trade and does it for fun to help support his new born twins. I knew most of that though because I looked him up on Facebook in advance and the pictures of him gliding off of a mountain with a parachute wearing a pair of skies gave me the confidence I needed. I almost tried to trade Jamie though after learning that her pilot Oyvan is somewhat of a local legend, the ‘grandfather of paragliding’ they say.
Following our big success, it was straight down to the popular Tre Brør (Three Brothers) in town for a magnificently huge and delicious cheeseburger coupled with a beer from the Voss Brewery.
Day 3: Stalheim
If you ever wondered what a cross between the Grand Budapest Hotel and the hotel featured in the thriller The Shining would be like, then the Stalheim Hotel is worth a visit. Once the golden hotel of Norway in the 80s, it certainly has seen its day. But what draws the tour buses and tourists stopping in off of on their Norway in a Nutshell adventures is simply, the view!
After finishing up in Voss it made sense to us to go the short distance to the hotel to relax for the night before carrying on. And I must urge, if you don’t stay in a room with a view you shouldn’t stay here at all. Sure, it’s cute with baby pink linen, a mint green bathtub with powder blue tiles and has a very weird charm to it and all but for the most expensive accommodation on our trip (again, we were paying for the view) you’d at least expect a working ice machine, an upgrade from paper cups, a step up from generic toiletries in the bathroom, and a functioning gift shop.
The lobby confused me, and maybe that was the point. Furniture from many different periods scattered between rooms set against fire places, cozy corners, and the huge windows that looked out to the famed ‘view’. But when there is nothing around but the great outdoors, confined to an overpriced, tired buffet attended by large Asian tour groups and a few honeymooners, dinner did the trick, but only just. A sneaky hint of peanuts in the pesto sauce nearly set Jaime’s allergy off. Even scarier, this is a country that takes food allergies very seriously as signs with food contents and potential allergens are posted in nearly every eatery.
“Excuse me what type of deer is this? Rein?” At least we tried the country’s meal of choice, reindeer, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to ask without being awkward if it was the real thing. Good news though, she nodded back with a yes.
Despite waking up to rain in the morning, the second best part was then driving down from the top of the mountain through ‘the view’. A super-steep, windy road took us away from the hotel, further into the Nærøy Valley. Stunning waterfalls, 25 in the Valley alone to be precise, sprung from each corner as the countryside further presented itself.
Day 4: Nærøyfjord
On my bucket list for years has been to see the famed fjords of Norway. So here we were, boarding a vessel at Gudvangen to take us 2.5 hour through the most famed and picturesque fjords of the country, and it was pissing rain! Everyone knows everything looks better in the sun. Reduced visibility from the fog and clouds, I can still say that it was totally awesome.
Sure, the whole boat is full of tourists, but like anywhere else that’s what happens when you do the most touristy thing in a place. Yea, it was so cool. Waterfall, waterfall, waterfall…did you just see that waterfall? Oh, and the village of Undredal. Cutest thing I have ever seen!
People watching is also a favorite past time so we sipped a few beers, stayed warm and came out during the really good bits to take some photos and chat to a young couple from New Jersey who gave us tips on what to do in Iceland as I’ll be there this coming New Years. We were lucky there were a few breaks in the clouds and it didn’t rain the whole time. I must go back though! Sneaky tip – try the porthole in the loo to stay dry while also getting an amazing view.
Day 5: Flåm
What a name! Flåm. The final stop on the fjord cruise ends in the small village of Flåm. There’s nothing much there other then another stunning view of more waterfalls as the primary reason so many tourists and cruise ships stop in is to begin their journey on the scenic Flåm Railway.
Jaime and I stayed the night in town at the Flåm Marina & Apartments. It was very quant and the rooms were clean, with nice balconies overlooking the fjord. The village is so small it’s a short walk to the main bit, with a few restaurants and gift shops. The highlight however was the Ægir BrewPub. The food portions upstairs at Flåmsbrygga are huge and delicious and the beer sampling is what they do best. Set in an old stave church, the wood beam and stone Viking-looking interior and interesting shape made it an ideal place to spend the evening as the rain continued down.
If traveling on the Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana) from Flåm you want a seat on the right hand side facing away from town. This showcases the most dramatic views of the landscape as the train travels across steep terrain. It makes a tourist stop on a viewing platform at Kjosfossen to view the massive waterfall 93m tall. Quite an eerie experience to view the overwhelming falls in the rain, as a woman with long hair in a red dress stood twirling on the edge of the mountain singing to the sound of spiritual music coming from what looked like an old abandoned shed.
Day 6: Geilo
When people describe taking the train across Norway from Bergen to Oslo they are not joking when they express how magnificent the journey really is. The stretch from Flåm to Geilo was straight out of something I only ever dreamed. Rivers and rapids, lakes, glaciers, snowcapped mountains, rock formations with a single fire-engine red house standing out in the distance. There’s a huge mountain biking culture here as well and many bring their bikes along to trek across this awesome terrain.
We stopped in Geilo, only to later learn that it’s an upmarket ski resort. In the summer, it’s a great place for hiking. We imagined we’d be a lot more physically active up until this point in the trip but due to the rain we swapped exercise for beers. Luckily for our stay in Geilo the weather was perfect for a 12K hike around the Ustedalsfjorden. It was pretty quiet, bar a few other hikers so it was just us and the massive valley to explore. We packed a picnic, with wine and cheese of course, and set out to do what Norwegians do best – explore the great outdoors.
We were massively disappointed to learn that the two best restaurants in town Hallingstuene and Ekte were fully booked. Even in off-season you must book well in advance. We ended up at Karma Spices of India, run by an Iranian family, and it was quite average. I’ve never before seen cheeseburgers and fish soup on any other Indian restaurant menu.
Day 7: Oslo
It’s about 4 hours from Geilo on the train to finish off in Oslo. Oslo has a reputation of being even more expensive, but also lacking in the tourism department. With just a half a day to spare we opted to go the Nobel Peace Center. It’s a great place to spend a free hour and really brought to light some of the applauding humanitarian efforts happening all across the world.
We finished with what could only be a perfect meal. Solsiden is rated one of the top seafood restaurants in the city and overlooks the Oslo Fjord and trendy Aker Brygge waterfront. We divulged in sashimi of scallops, halibut, octopus and salmon before each devouring a delicately prepared fish main course.
We sadly left Oslo with empty pockets and a bit fatter than when we arrived but with happy memories, great vibes of the local people, and amazing pictures, until our next adventure as traveling buddies presents itself again.