Fly, drive, sail, or ride the rails!
Getting around Norway
Maps can be deceptive. Look at Norway on any flat map and you’ll get an unrealistic impression of distances between the main cities, especially between Oslo and the north.
Roads are mostly single-lane and speed limits are low. Throw in the stunning landscapes that create natural barriers for efficient ground transportation and you’ve got a country that slows down travel.
I’m often contacted by people planning a trip, and my advice for transportation is always the same. The best option depends on how much time you have, and how much you’re willing to spend.
SAS and Norwegian fly daily from Oslo to a whole host of destinations too numerous to list here. Aside from the big cities Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, and Stavanger, there are useful hub destinations like Bodø and Tromsø from where you can connect to local flights or long-distance bus routes.
If you collect frequent flyer points with a Star Alliance airline (including United, Air Canada, and Lufthansa), it’s worth knowing that paying with points for domestic SAS flights within Norway can often be better value than stumping up for the ticket in cash, especially with less than a week’s notice.
Don’t forget to look at the Widerøe network, especially if you want to visit smaller towns in the western fjords or the northern region. Widerøe is Norway’s domestic airline and serves many short regional routes of less than an hour. One of the more popular routes is Bodø to Svolvær and Leknes on the Lofoten islands.
Widerøe flights are rarely cheap, but they can often work out to be the best value option for reaching out-of-the way places. Because some flights are as short as 20 minutes, they stay low and can provide a spectacular view. Just be sure to book in advance, as there’s only room for a handful of people on the small propeller planes used on some routes.
If you’re traveling during July and August, take a look at the Explore Norway ticket. This gives you unlimited flights on the Widerøe network for two to three weeks for one fixed fee, and it’s a lot less than buying individual flights. There are limitations and you may have to take connecting flights on some routes, but the deal is hard to beat especially if you want to see a lot of the north.
I highly recommend train travel in Norway. It’s a terrific way of combining necessary transport with sightseeing. The Oslo to Bergen line and the Flåm railway are quite rightly world-famous, but there are other underappreciated lines too.
The Oslo to Trondheim line passes over mountains, and musk ox can sometimes be seen from the train. The Nordland line from Trondheim to Bodø takes more than nine hours, but it’s a bargain way to see rural Norway. It’s also a popular budget option to reach the Lofoten islands. Once in Bodø, you can take a ferry across the sea to Moskenes or Svolvær to complete the trip.
National train operator NSB holds regular sales during which one-way fares can drop as low as NOK 249 (about $30). If you’re doing a full trip, it’s worth paying the additional NOK 99 for a “Komfort’” class seat. They are more comfortable, come with in-seat power, and you can get free tea and coffee from a machine.
I can’t talk about getting around Norway without mentioning Hurtigruten. While many foreign tourists take the one-way cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes or the epic 12-day round trip, locals use Hurtigruten ships as a local ferry service. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
When I took the full voyage earlier this year, I met a group of film students traveling from Tromsø to Svolvær, a family returning to Mehamn from a visit to relatives in Kirkenes, and even someone with their arm in a sling traveling from Brønnøysund to the regional hospital in Trondheim!
Also watch out for regional ferry services, in particular the Bergen to Stavanger and Trondheim to Kristiansund services.
I rarely recommend renting a car for the duration of your stay, which seems to be second nature for many American visitors. The reason is simple: driving in Norway is incredibly expensive.
Rental car rates are up to double the cost of many other countries. Road tolls in and around cities are ever increasing, as are charges to use new tunnels and bridges. Parking in towns and cities is becoming more difficult—especially in Oslo—and if you do find a space, the cost can be eye-watering. Last but not least, there’s no subsidy on fuel prices despite the high levels of petroleum production. Of course, if you’re staying longer than a few days, the per-day fee drops substantially, and in many rural areas a car is all but essential to see the sights.
If you want to move between regions, take the train or fly if there’s no rail link. Use public transit when you stay in a city, and only rent a car when you venture out. Enjoy your trip!
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.
This article originally appeared in the April 5, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.