Diary of a Guidebook Writer: How to plan your 2017 trip to Norway

Photo: David Nikel
Norway’s dramatic Lofoten archipelago mixes pristine beaches with snow-capped mountains in the springtime.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

Hei folkens, and a belated Happy New Year to you all. I know that many of you are planning a trip to Norway in 2017, so today I’ll be offering some advice for those of you still in the early stages of planning your trip.

A key decision you need to make early in the planning process is the time of year you intend to travel. Summer in Oslo is a very different experience from Finnmark in the winter! The best time to travel depends on what you want to see and your tolerance of cold climates.

Visiting the Lofoten Islands in spring

The Lofoten archipelago is an outstanding travel destination that you must try to include in your itinerary if you ever come to Norway. Unfortunately, in recent years the islands have suffered from overcrowding with accommodation hard to find during the summer and some of the most famous hiking trails starting to show signs of wear.

I visited in the spring, and I highly recommend this time of year. First and foremost, it’s so quiet. For many miles, I saw no other cars—even when I pulled over to take photographs, which of course I found myself doing every ten minutes or so. Although some cabins are only available during high season, the availability of accommodation is generally much better during the spring. There is still a high chance of a dusting of snow, which makes the scenery look even more spectacular. Finally, if you travel in March, there’s still a reasonable chance of catching a glimpse of the northern lights dancing overhead—if the clouds stay away, of course.

Don’t let my spring recommendation dissuade you from visiting at another point in the year, though. Traveling to Lofoten is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can absolutely be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Joining in Norway’s national day
I had an email recently from a reader planning to spend Syttende Mai—Norway’s Constitution Day—in Norway. I know that’s a dream shared by many Norwegian Americans, so is the 17th of May a good time to visit Norway? The answer: It depends what you are looking for.

Foreign visitors are generally welcome at the festivities, but this is Norway’s day and, as such, tourists are not the priority. Hotels are open, of course, but many restaurants will be reserved for private events and all tourist attractions will likely be closed or hosting special events. The number of domestic flights is limited, and prices for flights, trains, and buses are likely to be higher on May 16 and May 18.

That said, being in Norway on the 17th of May is a really unique experience. For me as a Brit who has never had a national day of my own to celebrate, it was all new. The memories of the noise and the color of the morning parades along Karl Johans gate, the sheer number of people in the streets, and the usually reserved Norwegians suddenly turning into extroverts for the day will stick with me for a lifetime.

Photo: David Nikel
Popular attractions in big cities such as Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park can be surprisingly quiet during the Norwegian holiday month of July.

Traveling in the summer
July is a fascinating time to visit Norway. As the national holiday month, most Norwegians are either in their cabins or sunning themselves in the Mediterranean. This means Norway’s major cities are incredibly quiet, so it’s a great time to visit Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, or Trondheim. Even though some restaurants will be closed or subject to shorter hours, most attractions are open and accommodation can often be snapped up at bargain prices.

In contrast, more rural areas such as Lofoten, the fjord region, or the various national parks are likely to be very busy, and advance booking for all accommodation will be essential.

Choosing between fall and winter
As the leaves begin to fall, so does the rain. September through November tend to be the wettest months across most of the country. August and September are popular months to go on hiking trips before the snow falls, while October is prime time for seeing the northern lights across the Arctic region.

Before Christmas, snow is not as common as you might think, which means the ever-shortening days can feel extremely dull and dreary. In 2016, Tromsø didn’t receive its first snowfall until December. It’s the snow that really brightens up the Norwegian scenery, which means January through March is the best time for a truly wintery experience in the Norwegian Arctic.

If you’re not used to extreme cold, stay close to the coast where temperatures tend to be milder. Tromsø ticks that box, as well as offering a dazzling range of outdoor activities (dog-sledding anyone?) and cultural experiences (museums and festivals galore) that would be impressive for a city five times its size.

The further inland you travel, the colder it will be. The population of Kautokeino in Finnmark, the heartland of Sámi culture, had to endure an astonishing -45F in the middle of January this year.

I’m still hard at work on the editing phase of Moon Norway, but it’s still on course to hit the shelves in time for anyone traveling to Norway later this year. Whenever you choose to take your trip, enjoy your vacation and don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at norwaytraveller.com if you have any questions.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.