For years I have been enticed by this bucket-list country with the promise of majestic fjords, modern cities, and legends of Vikings and trolls. But despite having visited nearly all the Scandinavian countries (some multiple times), I still hadn’t visited Norway. My concerns were vague and (as I later discovered) unfounded– “oh it’s expensive” or “it’s too confusing to get around.”
With the recent drop in the Norwegian kroner and plentiful flights from New York, I forged ahead and decided to see for myself if this country could be seen properly in a week’s vacation time. Spoiler alert: the answer is a resounding yes– as you’ll see in my detailed guide to follow, Norway is easily navigable, no more expensive than a city like New York, with scenery that blows away any other Nordic (or even European) country.
You will need some time to see the entire country with many of the cities separated by good distances. If you are like me and many others in corporate America, you may only have a solid week to devote to the trip before you have to return your day job. So I recommend sticking with the Western Fjord region for your first visit, and on your return visit, venture further north. You’ll want to save something for another trip, because after seeing this beautiful country, one thing is for sure, you’ll be planning to go back soon to see more of it.
So without furher ado, here it is – the best 7 day itinerary for your first trip to Norway. Get ready to experience the cosmopolitan capital, Oslo, charming Bergen, the fairytale city of Alesund, and quaint Geiranger, while taking in the unspoiled, magnificent scenery of the fjords.
Day 1 and 2: Oslo – A cosmopolitan capital with Scandinavian flair
You’ll arrive in Oslo and will want to leisurely explore the city today as you adjust to the time difference. Plan to stay in the city center, as close to the train station as possible. This area makes for a great base to explore the city on foot and by using Bus 30 and Tram 12 to easily get to some of the sights just outside the center. You’ll also be using the train to get from the airport to the city and again to go to the fjords, making this area a super convenient location overall. (Read here for more information on how to get to Oslo’s city center from the airport).
There are quite a number of things to see during your two days in Oslo, so be sure to plan your itinerary wisely to include these must-see sights: Opera House, Vigeland Sculpture Park, Karl Johans Gate (pedestrian shopping street), The National Gallery (home of Munch’s “The Scream”), The Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, and the Nobel Peace Center. Read here for my day itinerary for Oslo.
If you are also interested in buying some high quality traditional souvenirs like Viking drinking cups, trolls, national dresses, etc., you’ll want to make a stop at the Den Norske Husfliden store located in the basement of the GlasMagasinet Stortovet on the corner of Stortovet and Torrggata (across from the Oslo Cathedral).
Hotel Recommendation: There are quite a number of hotels in the immediate vicinity of the train station. Consider the modern, upscale Thon Opera Hotel, which is directly across the street from the Airport Express Train using the south exit ($155/night). Another option is the Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania ($145/night), which is also conveniently located right outside the train station using the north exit. This hotel is popular with tour groups.
Day 3: Sognefjord – Norway’s longest, deepest, and most well-known fjord
Today, you will begin your journey from Oslo to Bergen with a stop to see and cruise on Norway’s largest and most visited fjord, the Sognefjord. You’ll be using a combination of trains, buses, and ferries for the 12 hour trip. Yes, I said 12 hours! But don’t worry, you won’t even think about the time because you’ll be constantly distracted by the scenery. It’s a long day, but it flies by!
You can book your own transportation from Oslo to Bergen via the Sognefjord, but it requires a lot of coordinating of train, ferry, and bus schedules. Most visitors book this trip through Norway in a Nutshell for convenience and ease. For example, if there is a delay along the way, your Norway in a Nutshell tickets will be honored for other ferries, buses, and trains, and in some instances, additional buses or ferries will be added to accommodate you to keep you on schedule. You simply flash your Norway in a Nutshell ticket, and you’ll be given directions. Best of all, you can be sure you are on the right mode of transportation at the right time!
Tip: If you don’t want to be burdened with your luggage on this journey, use a porter service to transport your bags from your Oslo hotel to your Bergen hotel. I used Porter Service AS and made the arrangements prior to my trip via email. For $30, they promptly picked up my suitcase at the designated time of 7AM in the lobby of my Oslo hotel, and it was waiting for me in the lobby of my Bergen hotel when I arrived at 9:30PM. This service was worth every penny spent. They accept cash or credit card, and you pay when they pick up your luggage.
Day 4: Bergen – A colorful city that serves as the gateway to the fjords
Bergen, with its young vibe and colorful historical buildings, is a nice retreat from the bustling city of Oslo. In just one day, you’ll have plenty of time to walk along the historical wharf to see the famous wooden houses, grab some lunch at the popular Fish Market, and shop for souvenirs if you missed your chance in Oslo.
If you are in the market for a traditional, well-made Norwegian sweater, consider a visit to the Dale of Norway Factory Outlet and Museum in the small village of Dale (pronounced Dolla), just 45 minutes by train from Bergen. Here, you’ll learn about the history of the famous sweaters of Norway and see production in action at the “living museum.” Afterwards, you can shop at their store which carries everything they make and also offers a large selection of sweaters, coats, and accessories at a 50% discount (plus tax savings, too!). You can easily make a morning trip out to Dale and get back to Bergen in time for lunch and still enjoy all that Bergen has to offer during the afternoon hours. You can find more information about the Dale of Norway Factory Outlet and Museum here.
In the evening, be sure to take the cable car to the top of Bergen’s highest of its seven mountains for a bird’s eye view of the city and to enjoy the sunset. There’s a bar, café, and souvenir shop at the top, too. You can read more about a perfect day in Bergen, here.
Recommended Hotel: You can’t go wrong with the Thon Hotel Bristol Bergen, as it is located right in the heart of the pedestrian zone, just two blocks from the wharf. Everything from bars and restaurants to the train station are in close proximity to the hotel making it super easy to get around on foot. Just be warned, it is above a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant, which results in a bit more pedestrian traffic (and noise) at night. However, just ask for a room that does not face the main walkway.
Day 5: Alesund – A fairytale town with friendly locals
You’ll not want to miss this art nouveau city on your first visit to Norway as it serves as the entry to Geirangerfjord, and it’s rich in history, brimming with culture, and filled with beautiful architecture. The quickest and easiest way to get to Alesund, Norway’s fishing capital, is to take a short morning flight for less than $100 (including luggage).
Things not to miss in Alesund include a stroll along the harbor and the pedestrian street, Kongens Gate (King’s Street), to admire the art nouveau architecture; a visit to the Art Nouveau Center to take a trip in the time capsule to learn more about this unique town and to try their famous chocolate cake baked daily in their cafe; a walk up to the top of the town’s mountaintop to the Aksla Viewpoint for a bird’s eye view of Alesund; a salty cod dinner at XL Diner; and a visit to the family run Martin Walderhaug Bakery where you’ll sample local Alesund sweets like the grovkake and skilpadde that are still made from secret family recipes that date back to 1893. You can read about my day in Alesund here.
Recommended Hotel: For a conveniently located hotel, check out the First Hotel Atlantica ($77/night). A stay here puts you in walking distance to all the sights, restaurants, and bars. In addition, there’s a large grocery store across the street, which is great for picking up chocolate and other edible souvenirs, as well as bottled water and other snacks for the upcoming road trip you will embark on for the next two days. Finally, you’ll be renting a car the next morning, and it’s an easy 15 minute walk to the Avis Car Rental Office from here.
Day 6: Geirangerfjord – A UNESCO World Heritage site and the jewel of the Norwegian fjords
In the morning, get your rental car from Avis and get on the road early so you can take your time getting to the town of Geiranger. It’ll take you about 3 hours to drive to Geiranger, but that’s with about 4 stops for photos and a ferry ride built in to the travel time. It’s just 66 miles away, but you’ll want to take your time on this pleasant drive to enjoy the scenic views.
You’ll even get a taste of driving on some switchbacks with hairpin turns as you make your way down the steep mountain to Geiranger at the end of your journey today. But don’t worry, the switchbacks are wide and not scary at all. Actually, the only road hazard you may encounter might be a cow or two wandering too close to the road. You can read more driving the roads of Norway, here.
Once you arrive in Geiranger, you’ll probably be eager to explore the little town. Be warned, it’s a small town but very quaint. There’s just one small street right by the harbor with a few restaurants (including one that makes great pizza), a must-stop chocolate shop, a few souvenir shops, a gallery, and a grocery store (closes at 6PM). It doesn’t take much time to explore Geiranger at all. Instead, take this evening to relax and reflect as you enjoy the scenery and slow pace of life in Geiranger.
The next morning, pack up the car and then head to the harbor to take the Geirangerfjord Sightseeing Cruise at 9:30AM. The ticket office opens at 9AM, and the 1.5 hour cruise costs 22 Euro per person. As soon as you get back to the shore, hit the road. You’ll need the rest of the day to get to and enjoy the Trollstigen. You can read more about Geiranger, here.
Recommended Hotel: The Hotell Geiranger ($177/night) is the large hotel in town. It sits right above the harbor and the main street. Book a room with a balcony that faces the fjord. It’s a great place to sit after a day of driving to relax and enjoy the view.
Day 7: The Trollstigen – A dramatic serpentine mountain road that gets the adrenaline pumping
Your next and final destination is the Trollstigen (Troll’s Road), a serpentine highway along a mountain with 11 hairpin turns and a steep 10% incline. As long as you are traveling between May and October (I recommend early September as a great time of year for this itinerary), this National Tourist Route will be open. Although it’s only 65 miles from Geiranger to the Trollstigen, the 65 miles are packed with glorious views of steep mountains with jagged peaks, deep blue mirror-like fjords, and waterfalls just begging you to stop to admire and photograph. It’ll be hard to keep your eyes on the road as you drive through this intensely scenic area of Western Norway. So plan at least 2 hours to drive to the Trollstigen (with stops).
Once you arrive to the Trollstigen, be sure to stop at the scenic overlook located at the 2,300 foot plateau before descending down the mountain to the town of Andalsnes. Opened in 2012, there are two overlooks here. One will have you standing at the top of the Stigfossen Waterfall, with the other one providing a perch high above the roadway. Both offer great picture opportunities. Plan to spend about 40 minutes here, as the walk to the second lookout over the roadway takes about 15 minutes.
Once you get your photos, continue down the Trollstigen. It shouldn’t take too long to descend. It is in your best interest to take your time for both safety reasons and to enjoy the scenery and the rush you’ll get from driving on it.
You’ll continue for about 25 minutes to the town of Andalsnes where you’ll drop off your rental car and begin your train journey back to the Oslo Airport. Take the Rauma Railway to Dombas where you’ll have an easy connection (just across the platform) to the train that will take you directly to the Oslo Airport.
Tip: The Avis car rental drop off was in the lobby of a hotel that sits on a hill above the train station. It’s a short walk back down to the station once you drop the car off, and if you have a lot of bags, they will drive you to the station (they offered me a ride). Try to get exact directions before you get to town. My GPS kept taking me all over the place.
Recommended Hotel: Book a room at the Thon Hotel Oslo Airport ($98/night) to make it convenient to catch your flight home the next morning. I recommend this hotel (not to be confused with the Thon Hotel Gardermoen which is close by) because it’s easy to get to on the hotel shuttle ($21/person for round trip transfer), offers a decent complimentary continental breakfast in the wee hours for early morning departures that includes shrimp and crawfish, and a full hot buffet breakfast during normal breakfast hours. It’s also reasonably priced for a large, comfortable, clean room with good amenities.
Have you been to Norway? Would love to hear about your experience and itinerary in the comments below!
Disclaimer: My visit was hosted by Visit Norway USA and their partners, but all opinions are 100% my own.