I was sixteen the first time I visited Norway. As part of a European cruise I was on with my mom, we stopped at Flåm, Geiranger and Bergen. For an awkward teenager, it was almost two full weeks of being high on the exhilaration of realizing that the world is a great big place that extends so far beyond the small town life I was used to. Maybe it was that feeling that did it. Or maybe it was the breathtaking landscape of the country that drew me in. Whatever the reason, Norway stuck with me, and I proudly proclaimed it as my all-time favorite place, even as my travels took me to other incredible spots.
Twelve years later, I had just quit my job. I had all the time in the world, no obligations, and an email came in with an unbeatable fare from Boston to Oslo. I begged Dan to make a snap decision, and that afternoon we were booking tickets to Norway.
This post has been a long time coming, but even a year and a half later I remember the thrill of hitting the ground in Oslo. Looking outside, at a landscape so different from airports I was used to, and realizing immediately that this trip was not going to disappoint.
I’d spent months planning the perfect itinerary. One that would showcase the spots that had hooked me years ago, but also bring us through some new territory we were looking forward to exploring. I wanted to cover as much ground as possible without being totally overwhelmed. In my opinion, 10 days was the perfect amount of time for this trip. If you have more time, GREAT. Spend a little longer relaxing or get a little further off the beaten path.
Day 1: Oslo – Flåm
We were saving Oslo for last, so after arriving at the airport we immediately picked up our rental car and hit the road. Flåm was our destination for night #1 and if we had to do it again, I’d probably be less ambitious. Knowing we had lots of ground to cover, I didn’t want to waste any time, but the jet lag caught up with me sooner than expected (and let’s be honest, a sunny car ride will put me to sleep every time, not just when I’m out of my time zone) and we ended up pulling over for a power nap in the car.
Soon enough we were feeling refreshed, and the scenery got increasingly more epic as we drove, so there was plenty to keep my attention as we made our way west. We opted to stay in Aurlandsvangen, near Flåm, which had more options in the way of Airbnbs. We made ourselves at home and then quickly over to Flåm, where we had dinner at the Aegir Brew Pub. They say its inspired by Norse mythology and built to look like a stave church. Maybe it’s a tourist spot, but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and it was just the cozy experience we needed to make it set it in that after all our traveling, we were indeed in Norway.
Day 2 & 3: Flåm – Bergen
The next morning we were able to thoroughly appreciate the view from our apartment, which was maybe the perfect spot for a first morning of a Norwegian vacation. We packed up and drove to Stegastein viewpoint. Still getting used to our rental car, narrow roads, and the thrill of driving in a foreign country, the drive was a bit nerve wracking and I thoroughly appreciated the fact that we were visiting in September, not the height of tourist season when we would no doubt be sharing the road with a number of large buses. Another perk of visiting at an off-peak time – we had the place to ourselves. One other group arrived as we were finishing up, but otherwise we got to soak in all the beauty of the fjord from our own private lookout point. This turned out to be common for most places we traveled, and I would absolutely recommend visiting in the fall for that reason.
One of the memories that stuck with me from my earlier visit was a particular spot on the Flåm railway. So many years later, it was more like a dream than a memory, but there was no way we were passing through Flåm without a ride on the Flåmsbana. My nose was glued to the window the whole time, and I felt that even if our trip didn’t get any better than it had been in the first 24 hours, we’d still go home happy. Flåmsbana is high on the list of things to do in this area, and if you have the time, it’s worth the trip.
From Flåm, we headed toward Bergen. This was when we really started to notice the tunnels. Norway has lots of mountains and lots of fjords (duh). This means that traveling by car you go through lots of tunnels, and though things might look close on the map, you’ll need to rely on ferries in certain spots. (We opted to take a different route, but if you have time you can drive through the world’s longest tunnel while you’re in Norway)
Bergen was another place I’d visited with my mom. My only memories are of Bryggen and Floyen. Which, realistically, were probably the two things we experienced while we were there during a one day visit from a cruise ship. If you’re short on time those are probably the two most Bergen-y things you can do. Beyond that, we spent our two days in Bergen exploring the city, finding a new favorite restaurant in Pingvinen, and enjoying the rainy weather we’d heard so much about. (Bergen also happened to be the place we realized that Norway’s full of rainbows!)
For those interested in hiking, I would absolutely recommend the Vidden Trail. It’s a full day adventure, but having since revisited Bergen with the specific goal of hiking this trail, I only wish we’d made time for it on our first visit so we’d have been able to do it twice.
Read more: Four Days in Bergen
Day 4: Bergen – Byrkjelo
Our next stop was less well known, and I chose the location based purely on finding a cozy spot between Bergen and Geiranger to break up the drive. We ended up with an amazing Airbnb cottage with a glacier view (New to Airbnb? Sign up with my code and you’ll get $40 toward your first trip). It was rainy the entire time, but we ventured out and enjoyed what we could of the view, then settled in for a cozy night. If you’re planning on taking this route I’d suggest doing something similar. Find somewhere a little out of the way to break up the trip and spend a night enjoying the surroundings.
Day 5: Byrkjelo – Geiranger
Making the pit stop in Byrkjelo gave us plenty of time to travel to Geiranger the next day, and this portion of the trip was a stunning drive. We had time to work in a detour to Briksdalsbreen, an arm of the Jostedaslbreen Glacier. It wasn’t too far out of the way, and the drive to the glacier itself is totally worth it. The glacial water that flows along the road is the most brilliant color (I may have audibly gasped going through these photos now, a year and a half later).
It was a rainy day so we opted to do the short 3km trail from the lodge to the glacier (there are other longer hikes you can take), and it ended up being one of my favorite parts of this trip. There are also “troll cars” to drive guests to the glacier, so this is a spot you can visit even if you’re not up for the hike.
Heading toward Geiranger, we took the route that led us past Dalsnibba. Getting higher into the mountains, the fall colors really started to come out.
We were the only people at the popular Dalsnibba lookout point. On a clear day, you can see out over Geiranger. On a rainy, misty day like the one we visited on, well, it’s still pretty magical.
Our home in Geiranger was Westeras Gard, where we had our own cabin overlooking the fjord. We stayed at so many amazing spots during this trip, but this one was hard to beat. There are a variety of cabins available here, and we opted for one of the smaller offerings, but I don’t think you can go wrong. There were jaw-dropping views just standing in the front door (emphasized by the sun peeking through rain clouds), waterfalls in nearly every direction, and the double rainbows we’d become accustomed to at this point. The property does have its own restaurant, and while it was closed for the season during our stay, the kitchenette in our room made it easy to make dinner ourselves.
Day 6: Geiranger – Ålesund
I’m not ashamed to say that the only thing on our agenda while we were in town was Geiranger Sjokolade. If you’re a chocolate fan, you must stop here. Plus, it’s a great spot for souvenirs to bring home to those not lucky enough to enjoy the trip with you.
If you have more time, Geiranger is a popular spot for fjord cruises (the best way to see The Seven Sisters), or you could look into hiking to take in more of the beautiful scenery. We drove up to Flydalsjuvet for a better look at the fjord and then opted to move along as we were excited for our next stop – Ålesund.
Day 7 & 8: Ålesund – Lillehammer via Trollstigen
Prior to planning this trip, Ålesund wasn’t really on my radar. But images of the city from Aksla Viewpoint kept popping up as we were planning the trip and it quickly made the decision of where to spend a few unaccounted for days an easy one.
If you’re staying in town, you can reach the popular viewpoint by heading to the town park and taking the 418 steps up to the top. Alternatively, you can drive or (according to the website) take the city train up. If you choose to walk, there are a few stopping points to see how the view improves as you get higher. And try to remember it’s okay to take your time, even as the fit Norwegians pass you, out for their daily jog up the stairs 😉
Our apartment was nearby a walking path, so we actually approached Fjellstua from the top and then made our way down to the park. Arriving from this direction, we came across shelters from WWII.
Beyond the famous view, the other most popular activity in Ålesund seems to be just wandering around, admiring the architecture, which we were eager to do. We walked through the streets and along the water, not quite getting lost as the city is just small enough to keep your bearings.
Dan had been interested in checking out Ocean Sound Recordings and our server at a cafe in town recommended driving to see the lighthouse in Alnes, so some island hopping was our next activity.
Ålesund is spread over a series of islands, the furthest of which are reachable by a series of underwater tunnels. The studio is on Giske, a small island that we drove slowly around and spent some time walking down a deserted beach. Through one more underwater tunnel to the island of Godøya and a one-way (but otherwise regular old above ground) tunnel, you’ll arrive in Alnes. The lighthouse is here, and we spent some time watching surfers in the water. Time and weather were not on our side, but if you arrive more prepared than we were, I’ve read there is a beautiful hike to a mountaintop lake.
This should go without saying, but especially when you’re visiting more remote areas, please keep in mind that these small villages are people’s homes. Be respectful of your surroundings and the people that live here.
A logistical note about the route mapped out above – I can’t get it to cooperate (maybe because I’m posting this in winter and the road’s closed??) but from Ålesund we drove back toward Eidsdal to Valldalen and took Fv63 in order to work Trollstigen into our route. In my opinion, this was one of the most stunning parts of our drive and I would recommend this route if it’s feasible during your trip. Taking E136 next to continue toward Lillehammer will allow you to drive right next to Trollveggen (Europe’s tallest vertical mountain).
Day 9 & 10: Lillehammer – Oslo
Mostly to break up the trip back to Oslo, Lillehammer was where we spent the night after Ålesund, at another place I’d chosen on Airbnb based mostly on location. It was a farm outside of downtown Lillehammer called Sygard Toft. We had a cute little cabin, with access to a shared kitchen and bathroom in the main guesthouse.
As with every other place we stayed during this trip, I wish we’d had more time here. We arrived with a bit of daylight left, our host said we were free to roam the wooded trails on the property, and we spent a bit of time exploring alongside the farm cats, who eagerly guided us along.
That evening we got dinner in downtown Lillehammer, followed by a drink at Lillehammer Bryggeri getting to know some of the locals. Before we left the following day, we made sure to drive by Lillehammer’s famous ski jump, built for the 1994 Olympics.
Our last two days were spent in Oslo, a city that deserves much more recognition than I can give it here. We stayed in the trendy Grünerløkka neighborhood, which was the perfect location for how we wanted to explore the city. We spent most of our time eating, drinking lots (and lots) of coffee, visiting vintage shops, and covering as much ground as we could in such a short time.
One of my favorite things to do in new cities is explore their botanical gardens, so while Dan was visiting with a local coffee importer I wandered the gardens, enjoying the sunshine.
There’s no shortage of things to occupy your time in Oslo, but our visit to the city was spent winding down from a whirlwind trip and enjoying our last few days in Norway.
Phew! It was almost easier planning this epic adventure than putting it all into words. Planning your own road trip in Norway? Here’s the short list of things to keep in mind:
- Book accommodations and car rentals as far in advance as possible. Especially during busier times of year, these things get harder to find if you wait.
- Speaking of car rentals, be prepared for this to be VERY expensive. Especially if you want an automatic. Or a one-way rental. Our rental car cost more than our plane tickets to Norway. By a lot. (We got a great deal on tickets, but still…)
- When calculating travel times, don’t forget to account for ferry schedules. Here’s an overview to help you plan.
- If you’re visiting outside of peak season, double check that the roads you want to take are open.
- Sit back and enjoy the ride! Road trips are all about the journey, and driving through Norway will only leave you wanting more!
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