Diary of a travel writer: Frequently asked travel questions

 Photo: David Nikel The Geirangerfjord is one of Norway’s most famous fjords, but many others are just as spectacular.

Photo: David Nikel
The Geirangerfjord is one of Norway’s most famous fjords, but many others are just as spectacular.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

I’m celebrating completing the second draft of Moon Norway by doing as the Norwegians do—heading to Spain! Two weeks in the sun is just the right antidote to the plummeting temperatures and rapidly shortening days that define this time of year in Norway.

As I wait for feedback from the editors, I’m casting my eyes over the many questions I’ve received both from readers of this column and my own blogs. Now seems the perfect time to answer some of your burning travel questions!

Q: Where should I go on my first trip to Norway?

A: This is actually my remit for the first edition of Moon Norway! Whereas other guidebooks compete to be the most comprehensive, my guide will deliberately exclude large parts of the country that will not interest a first-time or even a return visitor. This means I can cover the areas that are likely to interest a first-time visitor in much more depth.

The areas I recommend include Oslo (where you should spend at least two days at the beginning or end of your trip), Bergen, the western fjords, and, if you can afford it, parts of the Arctic including Lofoten and Tromsø. If you’d rather spend more time farther south, then Trondheim, Ålesund, and Stavanger are all solid options too.

Where exactly you choose to go depends on your personal preferences and time available, not to mention your budget. My recommendation for a week on a relatively small budget would be Oslo and Bergen, plus at least one fjord, using the public transit options. Book using the Norway in a Nutshell deal from Fjord Tours or compose your own itinerary to better suit your wishes. Book in advance for bargain train deals with national operator NSB.

Q: What’s your advice for eating well on a budget?

A: Firstly, all hotels and even many campsites and hostels serve a breakfast buffet, usually consisting of bread with pålegg (toppings) and sometimes also hot options. Take advantage of this and fill up!

Many places will permit you to make up a matpakke (packed lunch) from the buffet. Although this comes at an extra cost, it’s still cheaper than buying lunch elsewhere and will keep you going until dinner.

Wages make up the biggest portion of the cost of a meal, which means the cheaper restaurants are much more expensive than cheaper restaurants in the U.S., relative to the equivalent high-end restaurants. Generally speaking, Asian restaurants provide the best value meals.

Wherever you eat, replacing wine with tap water (which is excellent throughout Norway) and avoiding starters will save you a big chunk of cash—which you can splash out on that reindeer steak or Arctic cod.

Remember that mealtimes run much earlier in Norway, and it can be hard to find a place to eat in smaller towns after 9:00 p.m.!

Q: Is the Hurtigruten a good value way to see Norway?

A: First of all, I have not (yet!) traveled on the Hurtigruten, the ferry/cruise that snakes its way up the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again, but I have spoken to many people who have, so here’s what I do know:

The Hurtigruten gives you a more authentic experience than almost all other cruise ships, as you will be mixing with locals who are using the service as a simple coastal ferry. Off-season the cruise packages can be extremely good value, bearing in mind accommodation and three meals a day are included. My only concern with the full 12- to 13-day itinerary is the potential for boredom, but I plan to take the route next year to find out for myself!

Perhaps a happy medium is to incorporate a stretch on the Hurtigruten into your own itinerary. For example, traveling one-way from Bergen to Tromsø takes in Ålesund, Trondheim, and the Lofoten Islands in less than four days.

Q: How can I visit the area my great-grandparents came from?

A: First of all, take advantage of the online tools available to understand your family tree. The Norwegian National Archives (arkivverket.no/eng) is a great starting point. The service is in English, although the data will of course be in Norwegian. Be aware that the spelling of place names may have changed over time. You can also download “A Handbook of Norwegian-American Ancestry” from the same website.

Many people find their ancestral farms have been destroyed or abandoned, while others are still in use by distant relatives or different families. These rural communities are often hard to reach and tourist facilities will be minimal, so it’s best to base yourself in the nearest town.

Q: Which is the best fjord to see?

A: Ask 10 Norwegians this question, and you’ll most likely receive 10 different answers! My answer is that a trip to Norway shouldn’t be about seeing one specific fjord but appreciating the spectacular natural scenery of which fjords are just one part.

The best way to plan a trip is to work out which region you want to visit and then include the nearest fjords into your itinerary. From Ålesund, visit the Geirangerfjord and underrated Hjørundfjord. Form Bergen, visit the Hardangerfjord and its narrow arm, the Sørfjord. From Stavanger, the Lysefjord is within easy reach, while the dramatic Troll­fjord is an enthralling RIB-boat ride away from Svolvær on the Lofoten Islands.

If you have any burning questions about traveling to Norway, get in touch and I’ll answer some more next month.

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 Dec. 2, 2016, 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.