“Norway? Why Norway?” is what most people would ask me when I’d talk about my then-upcoming trip to one of the world’s most beautiful countries. It was usually followed by “So, you’ll be cruising, right?”
With an area of 385,802KM2and a coastline of 25,000KM, Norway is the world’s most beautiful country. What really drew us to Norway were the idyllic fjords, mountains and lakes, and the lure of the midnight sun and the northern lights, not forgetting the Svalbard islands in the Arctic Circle.
Getting to Norway
We had to get Schengen visas to visit Norway and there are no direct flights, so Mom, Dad and I travelled from Nairobi to Amsterdam, where Diva joined us and we flew to Oslo together.At the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, our layover was five hours long. After grabbing a meal of those delicious Dutch French fries, we stocked up on chocolate and even checked out the Rijks Museum Schiphol in the airport, a small museum exhibit of the original classic paintings from the 17th Century. When we visited, they had a Rembrandt exhibition, showcasing the Dutch painter’s smallest painting ever.
When to Visit Norway
Norway experiences seriously different weather year-round, and deciding which season to travel to Norway will affect your experience there. We wanted to visit during the summer so we could explore the fjords. During the summer, you can also get to see the midnight sun in certain areas and during the winter, you can go skiing and see the northern lights.
What to Pack for Norway
Even if you’re visiting Norway in the summer, you’ll need some warm clothing – especially if you’ll be going up into the mountains. And if you have a good waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers, bad weather won’t stop you from enjoying Norway’s nature. Make sure to carry warm thermals to wear under your clothes, warm sweaters and jackets. For me, a beanie, warm boots and a good windbreaker were daily essentials. And a raincoat is always a good idea!
Driving in Norway
Norway is enormous so driving is a great way to get around, although we did have to drive on the right side of the road (opposite to Kenya – we drive on the left side here). Compared to using public transport such as bus and rail, we opted to drive as it was cheaper and so we could plan out our own itinerary. Most roads had little traffic, but what looks like short distances on a map with all those mountains and fjords can take a really long time to cover because the speed is modest at only 60-70 km/h. Our itinerary was created around where I could find an accessible car. Surprisingly, there is only one accessible car hire company in Norway – Funkis Bil. Based right outside Oslo, the owner agreed to deliver the car to Oslo so we planned our itinerary as a round trip to and fro from Oslo in order to drop the car back to Oslo.
Funkis Bil is an incredible accessible car hire company, whose owner – Ole Jørgen Gangnes – was very helpful especially when we found my wheelchair damaged upon arrival in Oslo. Not only did he guide us to a workshop to get it fixed, but he also helped us out in paying for it. We are so grateful for his kindness after such a nightmarish start to our long-awaited trip.
Norway has an absurd number of scenic roads, including the 18 Scenic Routes in Norway (previously called National Tourist Routes), which are incredible. We used Google Maps to plan out our road trip, but beware, there are plenty of tunnels to drive through and on average, most are at least 3KM long. We gave ourselves plenty of time for driving to allow for sightseeing stops along the route. Plus, the days were long and the nights were short in the summer, so we got more activities and driving done.Ferries are essential for getting around in Norway as there are lots of water bodies in Norway. For most, we just drove in and paid onboard using a credit card. For the popular ferries such as the Geiranger-Hellesylt tourist ferry and the Sognefjord cruise, we purchased our tickets beforehand so we wouldn’t have to wait till there was available space. The ferries were super comfortable with cafes and seats inside and a nice deck to soak in the views.
There’s really no way around it but fuel is expensive in Norway. Here’s a fun and rather semi-depressing fact: Norway has the highest gas prices in the world (yuuuup). Norway also has a several toll roads. The car tracked all the tolls we racked up and we were billed the total in a few weeks after our trip.
Wanting to initially visit the Lofoten islands and Tromsø and/or Bodø to see the midnight sun, I did a lot of research to plan out an ideal itinerary. The Norway in a Nutshell tour itineraries really guided us in planning our route.
After our final travel dates were confirmed, I realized that we would narrowly miss the midnight sun which ends in July (we travelled in August). So, our trip focused on fjords, the Atlantic Road and Bergen. But after we realized that the wheelchair accessible car was only available in Oslo, we changed the itinerary to the final version:
Arrive in Oslo.
Tour Oslo, the capital and largest city of Norway, with several museums, a beautiful setting and lively nightlife and cultural scene. We visited two museums: the Munch Museum and the Viking Ship Museum.
Drive to Sogndal. After a delay as my wheelchair had to be fixed, we drove to Sogndal, the gateway to Sognefjord – home to glaciers, mountains and picturesque settlements.
Drive to Kaupanger and then cruise the Sognefjord, Norway’s largest fjord, to Gudvangen, and then back to Kaupanger.DAY FIVE:
Drive to Geiranger, cruise the Geirangerfjord to Hellesylt and then drive on to Stranda.DAY SIX:
A free day in Stranda – perfect to hike or chill by the waterfront.DAY SEVEN:
Drive to Molde, passing through the Trollstigen.
Drive to the Atlantic Road – a spectacular road with bridges along islands on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Pass by Bud on the way back to Molde.
Drive to Forde and rest for the night.
Drive to Bergen, once the capital of Norway, an old Hanseatic trading centre with a rich culture and dramatic scenery, and explore the city a little.
Explore Bergen. We went to Bryggen and Mount Fløyen in a funicular.
Drive to Eidfjord, explore the town and then visit the Vøringsfossen Waterfall.DAY THIRTEEN:
Drive to Oslo.
Sightsee in Oslo. We checked out the Royal Opera House, Karl Johans Gate and the Royal Palace.
JAINI’S TRAVEL TIPS FOR NORWAY
Stay in a mix of hotels and self-catering accommodation
If you don’t know it already, Norway is expensive. So, opt to stay in a mix of hotels and self-catering accommodation, including camping. If in the cities, I’d suggest hotels are a great idea as you can easily get around. However, in the smaller towns, staying in self-catering accommodation is ideal as it’s cheaper.Carry your credit cards
In Norway, cash isn’t a huge deal and credit cards are used everywhere so make sure to carry one or two.
Cook and carry food from home
As vegetarians, we struggled with finding suitable food options in the smaller Norwegian towns, so cooking meals in our self-catering accommodation was ideal. Mom had carried tins of corn, beans and even tomatoes from Kenya so we could whip up quick hot meals. For lunches while on the move, we would grab gas station coffee (pretty good stuff!), their creamy ice cream and eat one or two of the theplas (soft Gujarati spiced flatbread) Mom painstakingly made and carried to Norway, along with a bottle of my grandma’s delicious home-made mango pickle. And don’t worry, we had enough chevdo to last us for over two weeks!
In the cities, finding suitable dining options was not difficult.
Drink tap water
The water is delicious and super safe to drink in Norway, so bring along a reusable water bottle to use.I can’t really take the credit of choosing our family holiday destination but it involved a lot of planning. It was all worth it and our trip was phenomenal.
Stay tuned for more as I unpack each stop on our trip, one by one!
Photos by Hitesh & Diva Shah