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Travel Tips for Norway

Twelve Travel Tips for Norway You Need To Know

written by The Travel Captain August 11, 2015

It’s true.  Norway is incredibly beautiful just like all the pictures you see on the travel channel, online and in the magazines.  After spending nine full days and nights in the country, I’m sharing some interesting tidbits and twelve travel tips for Norway.  If some of these sound like I’m bashing Norway, I assure you its not the case.  I loved the places I visited on this trip.  Every destination has its pluses and minuses and here are twelve travel tips for Norway that will help you prepare for and embrace them:

 

Travel Tips for Norway

1. It smells like bacon hotdogs everywhere

Norwegians love their hotdogs and they’re made from many different kinds of meats including reindeer, lamb and pork.  Many of the hotdogs are wrapped in bacon and sold everywhere.  The smell permeates the whole area in delis and cafes and supermarkets and cruise ships and trains .  So be prepared for the pungent smell that can get into your clothes and hair.  Sometimes there’s no way to escape it.  I love the smell of bacon generally but when mixed with hot dog meat while turning for hours on a spit with little ventilation…. lets just say I would be happy not to experience the smell for some time.  The hotdogs I sampled (without bacon) were delicious though!

 

2. Alcohol, especially liquor, is strictly controlled.  

This may seem like an odd one in a European country, but residents can only buy alcohol for home consumption at a government designated distributor.  Similar rules apply across Scandinavia to limit consumption.  Alcohol is sold everywhere in restaurants and cafes but liquor is sold only after 5pm.  This rule put a damper on my plans to order a dirty martini at noon in Oslo and an Irish coffee one late afternoon on a cold day in Stavanger.  Beer and wine are available whenever.

As for residents, they’re faced with high costs, limited opening times and restrictions on quantity at Vinmonopolet, the gov’t owned only alcohol retailer.  I spoke to a couple of locals about this to get their opinion and although its an inconvenience, all agreed that the country had a history of extremely high consumption.  Maybe its the cold winters?

Travel Tips for Norway

Government owned alcohol retailer. Travel Tips for Norway.

 

3. Many hotels don’t provide basic toiletries!

This one got on my nerves a bit.  Who wants to use the same soap from a dispenser for their face, body AND hair???  Even the higher end hotels don’t provide toiletries.  The only two hotels that provided toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, lotion, vanity kits, etc (I stayed in 6 different ones) were the Grand Hotel in Oslo and the Radisson Blu near the Oslo Airport (and only because I had a premium room with the latter).  If like me, you need some varieties in your soaps, bring your own travel size toiletries when traveling to Norway. Separate post on where to stay coming soon.

 

4.  Order and pay at the counter before your meal

Many restaurants, especially in the smaller cities, require you to order and pay upfront at the counter before you sit at a table.  And I’m not talking about just the delis or cafes.  So if you sit at a table and you don’t see a server or menu coming your way after ten minutes, you’ll know why.  However, some establishments in Oslo have caught on and bring the bill to your seat after the meal.  On the plus side, tipping is expected at only 6-10% of your cost.  Just round up.

5. The beer is fantastic

You probably already knew this but I had to make mention since I’m not a big beer drinker.  Of course I’ve enjoyed a good Carlsberg in the past.  Norway’s microbrewery scene is amazing with lots to choose from.  I enjoyed Flam’s Aegir Brewery and their creation won “Beer of the Year”  in 2012.  I was personally hooked on the Rallar Amber Ale, totally excellent.  Make sure you stop by the brewery and restaurant when you’re in Flam.

6.  It is THAT expensive!

It’s as expensive as you’ve heard, even more than that.  Americans would have a cow, quite literally, if they saw the “Deal of the Day” which I witnessed at the airport – three slices of pizza (slightly bigger slices than the chains of Domino’s and Pizza Hut) for the equivalent of $15.  What a deal.  Maybe that’s why there are hot dogs everywhere.  But even those start at $7 a piece.

Food and alcohol are incredibly expensive even at casual restaurants and cafes.  I know, I know – there are heavy taxes but domestic stuff is even expensive.  Oslo is horrendously expensive, Bergen a bit better.  A cocktail in Oslo starts at $15.  That’s one of the highest prices I’ve encountered for a basic cocktail at a regular bar.  In Bergen, they started at $12.  A seafood soup and glass of Chablis in Bergen’s casual open air Fish Me restaurant was NOK 330 ($36 including a small tip).  The portion was tiny but I will say it was an outlier.  Generally, portions are well sized but still extremely expensive.

Another meal of Norwegian salmon, no beverage, at the Bergen fish market was 220 Krone or roughly $24.  It’s meant to be street food by the wharf!  And it’s not just tourist areas.  I had an overnight stay in the less popular smaller town of Aurland.  A portion of chicken with potato and root vegetables and a glass of red was 270 Krone or roughly $30.  All casual places.  Undoubtedly, the seafood was excellent.

Make sure you wake up on time and utilize your hotel’s free breakfast.  If you don’t plan on eating hot dogs and fast food everyday, I would average at least $60-$70 per person per day for food.  If you drink a lot or want to eat at fancier restaurants, double that.   You can go into the supermarkets or Deli de Luca and grab ready made sandwiches and other food but it can get boring after a while.  Goods, tours and transport are expensive as well.  The tram from Oslo Central Station to the airport (a 20 minute ride) is $20 each way, a taxi would be over $100. And side note, don’t complain about the prices to Norwegians.  They’re proud of their system and accept the hefty prices and taxes.

On the plus side, the hotels are well priced by European standards.  You can find 4 star hotels between $150 and $200 a night – unheard of in the more visited European capitals.  Even a superior room at the Grand Hotel was below $275 per night.  Never would you find a room at that price for this caliber of hotel in Paris, Rome, London, etc

P.S.  Know your currency conversions.  The vendors at the Bergen Fish Market had some very incorrect conversions listed on the Euro.

Travel Tips for Norway

Travel Tips for Norway. Know your price conversions. Vendors in Bergen were pretty off. 250 Krone certainly does not equal $50 and 175 Krone does not equal 24 Euro

7.  It can be cold and rainy even in the summer, dress appropriately

I loved that Norway is generally casual.  You can get away with wearing jeans and trekking pants most places.  And that’s important since it’s sometimes hard to put on the layers, pack for hiking and still stay fashionable while traveling.  That takes planning.  Summer is hit or miss and of course depends on where you are.  Stavanger and the hike to Pulpit Rock was surprisingly cool and I found myself wearing a wool scarf in the beginning of August!  If you’re planning on hiking in the higher altitudes, do bring warmer clothes.  And never go outside without an umbrella.  A few ill prepared tourists could be seen freezing in the rain wearing shorts and t shirts.  There are warm days in summer but nights can get cool, dipping as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 degrees Celcius in certain parts.

Travel Tips for Norway

Snow capped mountains in August as seen from the Bergen Railway. Travel Tips for Norway.

8. Leave plenty of time between places

The beauty of Norway is in the travel between places whether on the railway, by car or cruise ship/boats.  That being said, its important to leave time for the cities such as Bergen and Oslo.  Many are so preoccupied with seeing the fjords that they don’t factor in the cities.  I would stay two nights in both these places.  Each has beautiful sights, restaurants and hiking in the surrounding areas.

And make sure you check timetables.  Norway’s public transport is excellent with a well thought out network.  This was the first country where I didn’t use one single taxi.  That’s a major feat for me.  However, transport doesn’t run as often as you would like sometimes.  And if you a miss a train or ferry, it can screw your schedule.  When a train says it departs at lets say 6:25am, it can depart at 6:24am, which I unfortunately experienced when trying to go from Oslo to Flam.  The other three trains that day were fully booked and I had to do some serious reorganizing with hotels and tours.  Be on time or even before time, its expected.

Somewhat related side note:  Norway is very safe.  I traveled alone the entire nine days and never felt at risk at any point.

9. Try the Ice Cream

The ice cream is fantastic and come in unusual and unexpected flavors.  Its good stuff, enough said

 

10. Don’t take it personally

Norwegians in general keep to themselves.  I hate to stereotype and this is not necessarily a negative one.  It takes time for them to become talkative, even in the tourism or hospitality setting.  Don’t take it personally.  If you’re a chatterbox, talk to other tourists.  I will say that Bergen is friendlier and more open than Oslo and some complain that residents in Oslo are a bit “uppity”.  However, I met a wonderfully friendly lady from Oslo while I was in Austria just before traveling to Norway.  Within five minutes of meeting her and telling her of my upcoming travels to Oslo, she had invited me to her home for dinner there.  How amazing is that?

She even sat with me for two hours one evening and made extremely helpful itinerary suggestions and kept in touch via email during my trip to make sure everything was running smoothly.  Thank you Anne!

11.  Be prepared for in-politically correct things on the menu

Yup, you’re gonna see things like whale and reindeer on the menu in many places.  Don’t freak out and don’t criticize openly.  I personally don’t agree with whale hunting but every culture is different. One of the restaurants I visited, Rorbua in the harbor area in Oslo served both of the above as part of their lunch Nordic platter.  I was on a walking food tour in Oslo and inevitably whale was part of the menu.  We were told that the whales used in these particular restaurants were ones killed for the scientific purpose of actually helping whales.  I’m not entirely sure if it was true.

Travel Tips for Norway

Whale and reindeer tongue on the plate along with elk and other fish. Travel Tips for Norway

 

12. Not so Obvious Things to Try and Bring Home

Oslo is famous for being a city filled with coffee connoisseurs.  Check out one of the trendy coffee bars.  Bring home a hand knitted wool sweater or one of the emotive trolls below.  They’re some of the best quality in the world.  Try artisan products like brown cheese from Den Blinde Ku or ginger honey from Bondens Butikk in Oslo!

Hope you found my travel tips for Norway useful.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

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