Best of Norway in a week
Ready to take in the most beautiful landscapes in Norway’s fjords and capital?
You must have heard of "Norway in a Nutshell" if you googled this destination. The tour spotlights the Aurlandsfjord, the historical Flåm Railway, the mountain station of Myrdal and the scenic fjord town of Gudvangen. However this isn’t a guided tour, providing you with a set of tickets, all of which you can book independently for much cheaper. Plus, booking through the tour, you’re going to be traveling on all of the busiest buses, ferries, and trains. For those with little time a DIY version of it would surely help save money and provide more flexibility. You just need to book in advance to get better prices.
The reason why I didn't opt to do it in the first place was because it was only one-day tour. Why rush a marathon when I had time and could enjoy each with a similar itinerary but let's admit, it inspired me for the route with stay overs. Here's my DIY version of the Norway in a Nutshell, enjoy!
As I flew to and from Oslo, my itinerary has 2 days of Oslo in 2 pieces, in the beginning and end. First a day to wander around in the city, then spend the night on train to Bergen to save time & money as it's a 7 hour trip (Fyi, I opted for only one 7 hour journey during day time from Flam to Oslo). 2 full days in Bergen, 1.5 half in Flam and return back to Oslo from Flam by train. Here's a breakdown of my one week;
Day1: Oslo, spend the night
Day2: Oslo, sightseeing, night train to Bergen
Day3 & 4: Bergen
Day5: Take Nærøyfjord Fjord Cruise to Flåm from Gudvangen
Day6: Flåm, Stegastein viewpoint, midday train to Oslo
When people talk about Norway, it's mostly the fjords, the mountains, the incredible scenery and natural beauty isn't it? But you hardly hear anyone rave about Oslo, the Norwegian capital. There are in fact so many cool things to do in Oslo, you'd be sorry to skip.
With such an eclectic collection of museums, from the well-known Edvard Munch Museum, to the Nobel Peace Centre and the popular Viking Museum, Oslo is a great destination for curious travelers who think they’ve seen it all. It wouldn't be wrong to call Oslo an art capital in fact. You can find all the details of Oslo's art corners in a previous post of mine called "Did you know Oslo is full of art?".
Start with a walk down Karl Johans Gate, the main street in Oslo is open only to pedestrians. Stores and restaurants line the sidewalks of the street, which takes you past the Norwegian Parliament building and National Gallery to the Royal Palace. Vikaterrasen houses a shopping mall with the historic building home to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Aker Brygge is a lively pier lined with shops and restaurants. Just beyond it is Tjuvholmen, a manmade island that sits in the Oslofjord. Walk onto the dock and enjoy the sun on the comfy benches. The Astrup Fearnley Museum is at the very end of the pier.
Grünerløkka, the ‘hip’ neighborhood, especially Torggata Street is filled with street art, vintage shops, and a vibrant night scene. Stores are closed on Sundays but if you follow up to River Aker's edge, there's the Sunday Market at Blå, with handmade crafts and second-hand treasures. Just around the corner from Blå is Mathallen Oslo, a large food hall with cafés & eateries.
Back to Oslo’s waterfront, the Norwegian Opera House is an architectural gem allowing visitors to walk on the diagonal roof of the building. This alone is a must do, guys!
Most of the museums are situated in Bygdoy, a peninsula to the west of the city. During the warmer months, this is a great area for hiking and biking, or relaxing on the beach.
Stave churches are the unique expressions of the Norwegian national heritage. Norwegian Folk Museum is a large open-air Museum with Gol Stave Church from around 1200 as the main attraction. The museum focuses on the time period from 1500 until present time, and in-door exhibits feature Norwegian folk costumes, folk art, church art and Sami culture.
Everybody knows Vigeland Sculpture Park, the world's largest sculpture park made by a single artist. But another sculpture park, Ekebergparken also deserves attention. This is where Edvard Munch painted his "Scream" in fact. The park has a wealth of history which ranges from being an area of burial ground, to hunting grounds, being a battleground and even a ceremonial ground for the Nazi's. Today you can enjoy trails of art, greenery and panoramic city views. Keep in mind, the park is hilly but super peaceful.
Perhaps you could pay a visit to the Botanical Garden of the University of Oslo while you’re around Tøyen, visiting Munch Museum. But, frankly I wasn’t that impressed with the garden. Perhaps it was the weather and few greenery or my higher expectation.
From Oslo, you can take ‘The Bergen Railway’ which embarks you on a 7-hour train journey. I preferred to travel at night, to make use of time & money but you may want to opt for a day ride for the scenery. At its highest point, you're 1237m above sea level, on the Hardangervidda plateau. On your way, in Finse, you're just 3 miles from the Hardangerjøkulen glacier, imagine!
I have to admit I've been very lucky weather-wise in Bergen. I came across two consecutive sunny days in the rainiest city on earth – it rains 240 days a year, yay
Norway’s second largest city's foundations date back to the 12th century. Once the capital during most influential periods, Bergen still plays an important economic and cultural role as the picturesque city in between the seven mountains and breathtaking fjords.
In 1070, shortly after the Viking Age, Bryggen started to be the main hub for trade between Norway and the continent. This old wharf is a reminder of Bergen’s importance as part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16th century. The Hanseatic League established a total of 4 overseas Hanseatic Offices and Bryggen is the only one preserved today. The wooden structures, rebuilt following a fire in 1702, later became recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The iconic structures house a small museum, shops, restaurants and cafés.
Wander off from the main drag to the backstreets where it's quiet and tourist free. You can get lost in alleyways and take your time here for photography, even discover some graffiti. Add Bergenhus Fortress, Rosenkrantz Tower to your itinerary if you have more time.
The two most popular mountain viewpoints over Bergen are Mount Fløyen and Mount Ulriken. You can either hike further up Fløyen from the city center along a paved walkway, enjoying stunning views out over the city or just take Fløibanen funicular up and be there in 8 minutes if you don't have much time.
For Mount Ulriken, you can follow a similar way but remember you need to start either from Montana to hike or Ulriken Cable Car to be lazier, and both need a bus ride from the city center. The incredible panoramic views from the highest of the 7 mountains will surely take your breath away. Watch out the wind though. Don't forget to reward yourself with some gulash and or red wine at the restaurant.
With the busiest seaport in the country, it is only natural that Bergen is the place for fish and seafood. Take a trip to the outdoor Fish Market (Fisketorget) in the city center to experience the lively atmosphere and the colorful selection of treasures of the sea but keep in mind, it's highly priced.
Across the street from the Fish Market, you’ll see Vagsallmenningen, an attractive square with Ludvig Holberg's statue and Kraft - center for contemporary craft behind.
While you're at the Vågen Harbour, remember the wonders of the famous Norwegian landscape are only a ferry ride away. The surrounding fjords and mountains have different cruise alternatives, many of which are within day-trip distance of the city. I opted to explore Osterfjorden for about three hours as it is available year-round. You can get to see the photogenic Mostraumen Strait, Modalen town, soaring mountains, colorful villages, and mighty waterfalls. It was cool to sail our bow right up to one of the waterfalls to catch a bucket of ice-cold mountain water to taste. The catamaran's sun deck isn't everyone's cup of tea with the sun and the wind, beware 😉
Sailor's Monument (Sjømannsmonumentet) in Torgallmenningen showcases Norwegian seamen's contribution to the ocean since the Vikings.
Lungegardsvann Lake, with its fountains surrounded by the tranquil greenery and pretty flowers, lies in the center of Bergen. There are numerous galleries (Kode to name one) lining this picturesque lake.
Marvel at the gothic-revival St. John’s Church (Johanneskirken) at the highest point in the city. The largest church in Bergen charms you with its bright-red gothic revival exterior details. The surrounding neighborhood of Sydnes is rather residential and worth a wander around for more local Bergen life.
St. Mary's Church is the oldest building in the city. It was constructed in the XII century for the king’s request and still holds church services.
Old Bergen Museum is an open-air museum with some 40 wooden houses in typical Norwegian styles from the 18th and 19th centuries. The preserved memories help you experience the distinct atmosphere of the old city. The life back then is in fact revived with actors from May to September (it can still be visited throughout the year).
If you didn’t have time for one in Oslo, there’s a stave church near Bergen, too. Fantoft Stave Church was built in 1150 in Fortun but was moved to Fantoft in 1883. That is, however, a reconstruction, but still very much a spectacular example. It was completely destroyed in 1992 in a fire, believed to have been started deliberately by Varg Vikernes, the Norwegian black metal artist who was jailed for arson of several churches.
Also a popular stop for major cruise ships, I got to Flåm by ferry. I in fact did the Flåmsbana, the scenic railway on my departure, as first part of the Oslo train journey keeping straight on from Myrdal. That's why it wasn't a round trip for me as I spent one night there. The trip is described in many publications as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, but it's more publicity if you ask me. The Oslo-Bergen railway is just as good and I'm afraid Flåmsbana cannot cope up with Peru's Cusco ride to Macchi Pichu.
The train makes a short photo stop by the impressive Kjosfossen Waterfall falling for 225 metres. In summer, the huldra, spirit of the forest, (a dancer in fact) appears on the mountain. What Norwegians won't do to please you . More waterfalls come into view as you head on and lush green of the grass & trees and the greys of the rock make up the color palette.
Only the first and last seats of every wagon have windows that can be opened. Keep in mind if you are planning to take pictures. Right side (departing from Flåm) of the train will give you slightly better views most of the time.
Flåm Railway Museum is located at the Flåm railway station and the entrance is free. You may take a quick look at it still even if you're not staying in town. Have a quick coffee at the disused train being converted into a cafe. If you're up for beer and have more time, you can check out the Aegir Brew Pub that looks more like a stave church than a cafe.
Stegastein Viewpoint is located about half an hour’s drive from Flåm and therefore requires a guided tour to get there. A narrow road with twists and turns brings you to the viewpoint, 650 metres above Aurlandsfjord. You have to be lucky to visit on a clear day to enjoy the panoramic view, though. In my case, it was snowing up there, - a totally different climate🤣- and fog welcomed me unfortunately. But the ambiance was totally worth it 😉
See if you can pay a visit to the Viking era to see how they live that way today. I wasn't able to visit Gudvangen itself but I was able to do the Nærøyfjord cruise from Gudvangen, which was the highlight of my trip. I took the NX450 bus from Bergen to Gudvangen for this. I decided to do the express bus trip, instead of the bus-train combo as the scenic route taking the steep Stalheimskleiva Road with 13 sharp hairpin bends, is closed in winter. Back to the world's narrowest fjord, the 1.5 hour cruise was so good. I definitely recommend the premium boat (vision of the fjords) whose design is inspired by a typical Norwegian mountain trail, twisting and turning up the steep mountain sides. You could easily go out to the viewing deck spaces and back indoors it feels more like a lounge with panoramic large windows and cushioned seats. Perfect timing to enjoy a glass of wine, cheers!
At the end of the Nærøyfjord is a bastion where a festival each year is conducted to celebrate the history and culture of the fjords and its people. Alternatively you can do a fjord safari using RIB boats available where instead of seeing the fjords at a gentle pace, you’ll rocket round the water 😉
Did you know?
- It's veeeeeery expensive! I mean it really is, I thought I knew but after seeing the prices, apparently it's another league. For instance a taxi ride from the airport or a meal for two at a mid-range restaurant are both around 100$ . In the centers, you can easily get around by foot. Stick to using public transport or get around by foot. Utilise many free attractions and why not cook your own food
- The Nærøyfjord, along with Geirangerfjord feature on the Unesco World Heritage List.
- The country is famous for its love & respect to trolls. The statues of these fairy creatures can be seen everywhere, from souvenir shops to gardens. People leave treats in front of their houses. Even Flay Mountain is devoted to trolls!
- Apart from music festivals in summer, there's also a ski festival held in Oslo each March and a big Pride festival usually in June/July.
- Skiing was invented in Norway. The country has the most gold, silver and bronze medals for Winter Olympic performance, making it the most accomplished country in the winter games.
- IKEA names beds, wardrobes and hall furniture after places in Norway just as it does sofas, coffee tables, bookshelves, media storage and doorknobs after places in Sweden; carpets after places in Denmark and dining tables and chairs after places in Finland.
Ready to find out more?
Check out my photo gallery on Norway!