Norway: Your Fjord Escort to the North

Norway is a sprawling winter wonderland, home to numerous cliff-lined narrow inlets called fjords all along its coasts. These alone are worth the price of admission, which is unfortunately as steep as the gorgeous cliffs. Because of its proximity to the North Pole, travelers to Norway have the opportunity to experience a sunny day at midnight, or, conversely, depending on the time of the year, darkness at noon. Despite Norway’s high prices, budget travelers can still enjoy a vacation here because so many of the activities are free, and if your budget can handle the high expenses for food, lodging, and transportation, you’ll find your Norwegian vacation captures the spirit of country that consistently ranks at the top of worldwide happiness indexes.


Getting in, out, and about Norway


Norway is a participant of the Schengen Agreement even though the country is not a part of the European Union. For travelers with a US passport that has at least 90 days validity beyond your departure from the Schengen area, you can travel freely across the borders of member countries and stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a six month period. However, since Norway is not a member of the EU, you still have to pass through customs controls. This can pose an additional step for travelers first entering Norway via air travel when that’s not your final destination. You have to pass customs first and re-check your luggage before traveling on to your final destination.


One unique aspect of Norway is that US travelers are eligible to work in Norway during their 90 day stay without having to apply for a work visa, but in order to stay and work beyond the 90 day allotment, you would have to get approval from the Norwegian government.


Norway does not require any vaccinations in order to enter the country; however, the US Center for Disease Control does recommend that travelers remain up to date on the common standard vaccinations against such things as small pox, tetanus, and measles. Depending upon what activities you engage in, you may find it advisable to get additional vaccinations. Consult with your local physician about which, if any, vaccinations would be appropriate for you. The water and food quality in Norway is commensurate with US standards, so it is safe to drink the tap water.


Because of its rocky and mountainous terrain and extreme cold in places during certain times of the year, getting around Norway, particularly to some of the northernmost places, can be tricky. Domestic flights to different cities are popular. The train system is not particularly extensive, with Oslo operating as a hub connecting to all other major cities. While cycling has grown more popular in Norway recently, extensive bike trails tend to be limited to within and around the major cities.


Norway is a wonderful place to see via automobile travel, even when you consider that some mountain roads are closed during the country’s long winters. From the months of November through April, you must have winter tires on your car regardless of where you are traveling. Keeping your headlights on is mandatory when you drive, whether it is day or night, as is wearing a seatbelt for drivers and all passengers. Using a cell phone while driving is prohibited, but hands-free devices are acceptable. Norway’s laws against intoxicated driving are stricter than much of Europe. A blood alcohol level of .02% is the highest legal level.


Norway’s roads are narrower typically than what US drivers may be used to, and long stretches through tunnels are common. However, unlike much of Europe, drivers in Norway tend to be conservative, so you rarely have to worry about haphazard road behavior. The gorgeous vistas you get through driving around the country make renting a car (or a camper) well worth it.


The traveler’s tongue


Norwegian, the language of Norway, lacks a standardized form for the spoken language, and varies in dialect throughout the country. Even public broadcasts can differ. However, Norwegian is intelligible to all speakers regardless of the dialect, and can even be understood by Danish and Swedish speakers. If you’d like to give the language a try, remember that you may speak a dialect other than the local one.


If you don’t speak a lick of Norwegian, however, you won’t be disappointed since over 90% of the population speaks English rather fluently. Other popularly spoken foreign languages include French and German, but English speakers are far more common.


In northern parts of Norway, the Sami language is used. This language is related to Finnish and only spoken by the indigenous ethnic group in this area, although most speak Norwegian and English in many cases as well.


Money matters in Norway


Norway is an extremely liberal country that provides its citizens with high wages, one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, free health care, and free public education. Consequently, citizens pay high taxes and have some of the most expensive prices in the world. This makes Norway an extremely expensive place for travelers. For example, a Big Mac value meal at a Norwegian McDonalds can cost over $15 USD. More high-end meals start at around $35 per entrée.


The main unit of currency in Norway is the Norwegian krone (crown), which is abbreviated kr within the country, and NOK when compared with other international currencies, since Denmark and Sweden also use kr abbreviation locally. Prices are displayed with the kr abbreviation first, followed by the numerical price.


If you’re a budget traveler, pack a tent because even the hostels in Norway are on the pricey side, but it is legal to camp on public property so long as you leave no trace when you leave and only stay in the same place for no more than two nights. Even the cheapest hostels in Oslo come in at over $35 USD a night per person. Budget travelers can limit the hit on their pocketbooks by planning and booking transportation arrangements in advance. You can even find services that match travelers with locals who will provide a couch to sleep on for free or for a much smaller fee than booking accommodations will run you. If you stay in a hostel, take advantage of the breakfast buffets that many of them provide. Some will even let you fill up a lunch box to enjoy later. Your best bet is to budget for around at least $250 to $300 a day.


Mid-range accommodations start at over $100 USD per person per night, and go up from there, so if you prefer not to rough it when you travel to Norway, expect to break the bank.


Since Norwegian workers earn high wages in the service industry, tipping is unnecessary in most cases. In higher end restaurants, if you liked your service, a tip of 10% is considered generous. While tipping taxi drivers is not frowned upon for longer trips, it’s also not considered rude to not tip.


Fortunately, many activities, such as museum trips and hiking, are free, and if you plan your trip carefully in advance, you can find numerous ways to save money.


Highlights of a Norwegian vacation


The best time to visit Norway depends on your planned activities. If you are looking for winter sports, the period between November through April is the best time for a visit. During the summer in Norway, from June to August , the weather is at its nicest for enjoying outdoor activities of the non-winter sport variety. Here are some highlights for a trip to Norway:


  • Tour the capital city. Oslo features numerous fine museums including ones dedicated to playwright Henrik Ibsen, painter Edward Munch, Viking ships, and the Nobel Peace prize. The city also features numerous parks that are perfect for bicycle riding or hiking. One particular highlight is to hike around the Nordmarka Wilderness Area in the northern part of Oslo. The Vigeland Sculpture Park is another great area where the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland are featured. The city district of Grünerløkka is a great area to relax at one of its numerous cafes or experience Oslo’s vibrant nightlife.
  • Explore the fjords. Driving or hiking and camping through Norway’s numerous fjord systems is a great way to enjoy Norway’s breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Nærøyfjord, a part of the Sognefjorden system, is a popular destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Another option is to drive along the Atlanterhavsveien, a road in Western Norway that connects the mainland with numerous islands. Take the Golden Route into the mountains from there, but only in the summer, and wind your way through the Trollstigen mountain pass.
  • Visit the land of the giants. In the Jotunheimen mountain area, you can hike in the summer, cross-country ski in winter or even climb the mountains and glaciers there on a guided tour, if you’re feeling adventurous.
  • Enjoy the art nouveau town of Alesund. The center of this town was destroyed by fire in the early 20th Century. It was rebuilt using the popular architectural style of the time, art nouveau. This town is also part of the Geirangerfjord, another UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Slide down a mountain slope. Norway has some of the best skiing areas in the world and is a go to place for every kind of winter sport from sledding to ice skating. One of the most popular ski resorts in Norway is Hemsedal.


These and numerous other attractions await travelers looking for an exciting adventure in Norway.