Driving in a foreign country can be stressful. Road signs, if any, might be in a foreign language, the condition of the roads might be poor, they might drive on the wrong side of the road, and car rental companies might be sketchy. In Norway, none of those valid concerns are an issue. In fact, driving in the fjord region of Norway couldn’t be easier with modern, well-posted roads, traffic flowing on the right side, and the presence of popular, well-known rental car brands.
Nothing should stop you from getting behind the wheel and feeling the freedom of the road when visiting the fjords. You’ll be able to enjoy the scenery from vantage points that are only reachable by car, stop at roadside restaurants and shops, and see exactly what you want to see. Best of all, you can do it all at your own pace. But before you jump in the driver’s seat, take a look at my 10 tips for driving in Fjord Norway.
1. Experience a National Tourist Route.
Norway has 18 designated National Tourist Routes (some are seasonal due to the winter weather making some roads impassable) with half of them being in Fjord Norway. These routes make it super easy for tourists to hit the road to see the spectacular sights in the country because they’ve been carefully selected as the ones offering the best scenery. Best of all, each route has its own map highlighting a scenic route and pointing out the best viewing points as well as rest areas, places to eat, and hotels along the way. These maps can be purchased online at the map shop website and also at tourist offices, gas stations, bookshops, and places offering overnight accommodation along the routes.
Even without a map, you will have no problem finding the scenic overlooks along these routes. Many, if not most, have parking available, and are located right along the roadway making it easy to pull over.
2. Be prepared to take a car ferry.
Some routes will require you to use a car ferry to get across the many waterways you’ll encounter on your journey. No need to try to “time it just right” to get the next ferry. Most run very frequently with the wait for the next one not being too long.
When you arrive to the car ferry, you’ll see lines for queuing up your car. Just get behind the last car in the next line that has space available. If you are arriving just in time to catch the next ferry, chances are, all the lines will be filled with cars already. Don’t be tempted to squeeze your car at the end of the one of the first few lines just to get on the ferry.
Also, for short ferry rides, just sit in your car (there is no passenger standing area but there is a bathroom) and someone will come by the driver’s side to collect the fare for you and your passengers. Credit cards are accepted.
3. Buy the “super” insurance for your rental car.
I’m not one for buying the extra insurance for my car rentals because I always assume (probably incorrectly) that my credit card provides the extra protection I might need. Before renting a car, be sure to check about the coverage offered by your credit card, and if it’s applicable in Norway.
If your credit card company does not provide additional coverage for collision and liability, you should consider buying the super CDW when renting a car in Norway. Similar to European car companies, the basic CDW comes with a huge deductible (we were quoted somewhere in the thousands of dollars that we could possibly be liable for). For a few dollars more, we were able to buy the super CDW coverage, which got our deductible down to $400 (Avis could not get it any lower than that).
4. Don’t call the “po-po” if you’re in a fender bender.
If you find yourself in a minor accident, chances are, you won’t be too close to a town or a police station when driving through the fjords. Instead of filing an official report with the cops, car companies will provide you with a blank incident report to keep in the car for such instances. Just fill it out, and as long as your car is drivable and no one is injured, continue on your merry way.
5. Watch out for road hazards.
There aren’t many road hazards when driving along in Fjord Norway, but there are a few things to be aware of. First, you may come across a cow or two wondering too close to the road. If you think that slowly approaching them and yelling out your window to “mooooove out of the way” will get them to budge, you’re wrong. Trust me, it doesn’t work; and sadly, I don’t have a snapchat to share with you for the moment I tried this method. Just start blowing your horn and pass them with caution.
A more serious road hazard is probably your fellow tourist. Whether they are riding the shoulder or the middle lane due to being distracted by the amazing scenery, or stopping short to try to make a turn they almost missed, the tourist behind the wheel can surely be a hazard. However, I’m talking about the tourists disembarking a tour bus. When they are let loose, it’s as if they throw caution to the wind and forget where they are for a moment as they become mesmerized by the scenery they stopped for. Just lay on your horn and watch them scatter as panic sets in when they realize they are in the middle of the road.
6. Pack a snack for the road.
When driving along some of the tourist routes, you might not see a spot to stop for a bite to eat for a long time. Moreover, you might be on a tight schedule and may not even want to use the time for a sit down meal.
So, visit a local bakery to pick up a sandwich to go before getting on the road, or, just make a sandwich from the breakfast buffet at your hotel. I had no shame in doing this. The breakfast buffet always had a nice selection of ham and cured meats, as well as cheese, lettuce, red and orange peppers, cucumbers, and the most delicious brown bread – all perfect for a sandwich. Encourage your co-pilot to do this, too, because it’s not fun driving around with a “hangry” passenger.
7. Be prepared for hairpin turns, switchbacks, and long tunnels.
Driving around the fjords of Norway means you’ll be going up, down and through mountains. In order to get up or down many of the steep mountains, you’ll encounter a series of switchbacks with hairpin turns. Most that you’ll encounter along the main tourist routes are wide enough to get two cars by, or at the very least, have widened areas along the road to pull over to allow another car or large tour bus to get by.
However, don’t be surprised if your journey puts you on a very steep and narrow switchback, enough to make you dizzy. Kristin and I encountered one of these switchbacks on our journey from Gudvangen to Voss, but thankfully, we weren’t behind the wheel yet. The few moments of the thrill ride were courtesy of our expert bus driver.
8. Know how to drive a manual transmission.
Scandinavia is no different than Europe when it comes to renting a car and being offered a stick shift over an automatic. The majority of cars as well as the best prices are for manual transmission vehicles. And this is not the country to learn how to drive stick. If you are not comfortable using a clutch to pull out from a dead stop on a steep incline, then plan to pay for a more expensive automatic transmission rental.
9. Have cash for fuel (or at least a card with a chip and pin code).
Credit is widely accepted everywhere you go in Norway regardless if you have a chip in your card or not. You can use a credit card to buy something as inexpensive as a bottle of water. However, when it comes to gas stations and paying for fuel, that’s not always the case.
With little time to spare before returning our rental car and catching a train in Andalsnes, we stopped to get gas as soon as we arrived in town. I use my card with a chip at the pump, but it was would not process. The attendant told me that I could only use my card if it had both a chip and a PIN code. I’m not sure if this fuel station was the norm or an exception, but if the credit card is not working, you’ll only other option is to use cash. I do know that I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a desolate roadway with just one gas station that didn’t accept my American credit cards, so keep some cash handy for emergencies like this!
10. Have a competent co-pilot.
You can definitely enjoy driving around Fjord Norway solo, but it’s much easier and a lot more fun if you have a co-pilot. Your passenger can take photos while you are driving, keep an eye out for good spots to stop for pictures or a bite to eat, read some snippets to you about the different areas you are driving through, and help you with directions.
Providing you with good directions is the most important job of the co-pilot, so make sure yours stops playing with their phone and knows how to read a map or you might find yourself running your fastest sprint to catch a train.
Have you driven around the fjords of Norway? What tips do you have for a smooth ride? Share in the comments below.