Roam Guide / Norway
Liz Tornell is a home organization and styling expert living in Edina, MN with her husband, two kids and beloved pup, Fox. Liz is the founder of Hello Liz, a company dedicated to restoring balance and simplicity through personal organizing, de-cluttering and styling services. While Liz has a passion for all things home, she also loves to travel. As a Ready and Roam contributor, Liz looks for travel experiences that are the right balance of "touristy" and unique.
Norway. The cities of Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Flam and Bergen.
Prior to my visit to Norway, a friend told me that Norway is best seen by boat and she was right. The natural beauty of Norway is like nothing I've ever seen, and there is a unique appreciation that comes from seeing it on the water. I spent seven days traveling by ship with stops in Kristiansand, Stavanger, Flam and finally Bergen, where the cruise ended. From there, we took the train to travel to Oslo where we stayed an additional day.
When to go?
Summer is the best time to travel to Norway. It prides itself as being a "green" country and it shows. The country's natural beauty and stunning landscapes will astound you. Plus, you get almost 20 hours of sunlight! A very cool experience.
How to get there?
We flew direct from Minneapolis to Amsterdam and boarded our cruise to Norway via the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam (PTA). You could also take a flight from Amsterdam to Oslo. We did both-- left Amsterdam for Oslo via boat but returned from Oslo to Amsterdam via plane. The cool part about entering Norway by ship is the incredible scenery. Plus the transition from leaving the North Sea into the smaller fjords and channels is pretty amazing.
Where did you stay?
We spent 7 days aboard a ship. We researched two cruise lines: Viking and Hurtigruten. We settled on Viking. One of the biggest reasons being that I was traveling with my dad (awesome, right?!) and he had experience on a Viking cruise and could vouch for their quality and customer service. There was NO DOUBT that Viking was a luxury cruise line. It was lovely. However, the crowd skewed a little older (think 65+) and there wasn't a child in sight! And while they are one of the smallest cruises, it still felt a little too big for me. When traveling with my dad, however, Viking was perfect. If I was traveling with my husband and kids, we would have forgone the cruise and stayed in fewer cities for longer, and just doing individual boat tours.
After the cruise we stayed in Bergen for a night and then an additional night in Oslo. In Bergen, we stayed at the Radisson Blu. You can't beat its location to the tourist attractions. You can walk to them all. In addition to its central location for tourism, it has many of the amenities of bigger, U.S. based hotels without lacking character. Another hotel I would consider is the Bergen Børs Hotel. If I find myself in Bergen again (and for more than just a night), the Bergen Børs Hotel is where I'd like to stay.
In Oslo, we all stayed at a Raddison Blu (Plaza). If doing it again, I'd definitely choose a different hotel. Yes, it was convenient and nice; but it lacked character. It was also in a location that seemed more "convention center" and commercial and less charming and intimate. At the time, convenience seemed like the best decision; but I learned my lesson and next time plan to book at the Amerikalinjen. And while it is definitely more expensive, it's architecture and design is intriguing AND it has stellar reviews.
Rtip: If you are looking to stay inland among the smaller villages, check out 292 Aurland and book early.
What should we do?
If you have only one day in Oslo, I recommend three different spots depending on your mood and interests. If you want to grab some coffee and take a leisurely stroll, I recommend checking out the park at the Royal Palace near Oslo's main thoroughfare, Karl Johans gate. If you are a museum person or history buff, The Viking Ship Museum is impressive. It's a small museum and about a 15 minute drive from the city center, but it's a fascinating exhibit if that type of thing interests you! Like museums, but more into art? Check out The Munch Museum. Edvard Munch was a Norwegian impressionist and after his death in 1944, he bequeathed his personal collection to the city of Oslo.
Kristiansand is a gorgeous little city in Southern Norway. This quiet, charming city has something for everyone. Start your day off with a forest hike in Baneheia and Ravendalen Valley Nature Park. Baneheia Park has easy-to-walk paths along beautiful lakes and ponds. Baneheia Park transitions to Ravendalen Valley Park which boasts gorgeous flora, an outdoor amphitheater and charming little restaurant Cafe Generalen that serves awesome coffee and waffles. Kristiansand also has beautiful harbors and an old town with charming white, wood houses. A home and garden lovers dream!
Stavanger is also a Southern port in Norway. Similarly to Kristiansand, Stavanger has charming cobblestone streets lined with the highest concentration of wooden buildings and homes in the country. Stavanger has a rich history... literally. Oil was discovered off the coast of Stavanger and its economy has been booming ever since. While the city itself is beautiful, the real beauty is in Stavanger's surrounding waters. We booked the Rodne Fjord Cruise down Lysefjord online and boarded at the port in Stavanger. I highly recommend you take a cruise down this fjord. It's stunning. It's around 3 hours and worth every minute. In addition to this fjord's natural beauty you stop by the fjord's Pulpit Rock-- a spectacular, towering rock formation.
Now. For my favorite city. Flam. This was hands down one of the most beautiful cities and areas I've ever visited (and a nearby sister city, Aurland). Flam is located inland, but we traveled through several waterways and fjords to get there. THAT was the real treat. Getting there by boat. This is when cruising Norway really pays off. While in flam you need to take a ride on a high-speed boat tour by the company Fjord Safari. I went on the tour that started with a boat ride admiring the Aurland Fjord.
“The word "stunning" is an understatement for this fjord. I actually started to tear up during our ride and so did the woman next to me.”
After our boat ride, we landed at the base of a mountain where tour guides took us up the mountain to the Leim Goat Cheese Farm. This was definitely a challenging walk-- it's long and steep at times, so just wear layers, comfortable walking shoes and bring a backpack with sunscreen and water. Along the walk you will see the most stunning views and have a meet and greet with horses, sheep and goats. Once you reach the top, you get to eat! Part of that meal is cheese from the goats on the farm. When you're finished, you hike back down and drive back into Flam.
Finally, Bergen. Bergen was the city I was most excited to visit on this trip and it did not disappoint. We did a few touristy things like walk up and down Bergen wharf where there is a collection of historic and colorful wood buildings and shops; here there are century old alleys where you can shop and interact with local artists. We also visited the Gamle Bergen Museum, an outdoor museum of preserved, traditional wooden Bergen homes as well as the Bergenhus Fortress, a castle that boasts beautiful and historic Scandinavian architecture and history. But my favorite thing in Bergen was walking its quieter streets and strolling the Torget Fish Market.
Rtip: Don’t forget the Floibanen Funicular! A can’t miss from another contributor. You can get a 2-way ride, up and back, but I highly recommend going up and walking down. About a 30 minute walk with spectacular views, through parks, forests and neighborhoods.
What should we eat?
Norway has fantastic seafood thanks to the cold waters of the North Sea. You’ll find Norwegian shellfish like scallops, king crab, langoustine, and mahogany clams on the menu everywhere. Keep in mind, the Norwegian people hardly ever go out for breakfast so restaurants are primarily as a dinner option.
“The salmon in Norway is the best I've ever had. I had it in ALL ways... pretty much any preparation you can think of!”
In Oslo, try Engebret Cafe. It's old school-- I mean in ambiance and food preparation. It's a beautiful little cafe and is said to have the best traditional Norwegian cuisine. Another option is Godt Brød, with multiple locations this build your own sandwich place has the most incredible breads. If you are looking for good coffee try Tim Wendleboe or head to Himkok for an Aquavit cocktail.
In Stavanger, I wanted to try På Kornet, a gastro pub in a very walkable and charming part of town. However, it wasn't open until the evening and we had other dinner plans. Instead, we stopped for an afternoon beer at Cirkus. This bar is located on a street that looks like it belongs in a Caribbean fishing village, not a coastal Norwegain town. It's a fun and colorful area to walk around and the shops and people are very hospitable. Fisketorget- Stavanger is a seafood restaurant that doubles as a fish market, they are considered to have the best fish soup in Norway, something you must decide for yourself.
In Bergen, try the Bryggeloftet and Stuene Restaurant. It has a cozy, traditional interior and is located right off the main harbor road. We had the mussels, there was an enormous amount and they were ridiculously good. If you're a little adventurous and love seafood, nosh at Fjellskal at the Torget Fish Market. The seafood is pretty much straight off the boat! Consider grabbing sushi and walking down to the pier to enjoy it. I was also told that the gravlaks (salmon) sandwiches are a good way to go (think lobster roll). Another recommendation in Bergen, although a bit of a splurge, is Bare Vastland. It’s considered Norwegian tapas, has an excellent beer and wine list and a fantastic combination of tapas.
What is one can’t miss item on your itinerary?
A fjord cruise or boat ride. Whether it's in Stavanger or Flam or one of the many other fjords, it's truly one of they most spectacular natural wonders of the world.
Tell us things to know before traveling to Norway?
A common saying in Norway is, "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." Norwegians are so proud of their country and its spectacular landscape. So much so, that they place a big emphasis on physical education in schools. It's more than just dodgeball and running drills, it's developing large motor skills as well as encouraging a positive self-body image and self esteem. So being active outdoors is very important. One way to really experience the diversity and beauty of Norway's landscape is to take the train from Bergen to Oslo. You'll sit FOR A LONG TIME. It's almost a 7 hour journey, but it is so beautiful. You pass fjords, waterfalls, glacial lakes, mountains, rivers and farmlands. After this trek, I really understood Norwegians' love for the outdoors and their desire to keep their natural landscapes protected.
What can we bring back with us?
If you're a person who likes good outdoor apparel like jackets, fleece, layering pieces, hats, etc., you'll want to bring back some of their gear. It's well-made and super sleek. Be ready to pay for it, though! Also be on the lookout for Authentic Norwegian Sweaters, Aquavit, Goat Cheese and Liquorice Chocolates.
Rtip: In Aurland, look for glass blown art at Merete Rein Glass where it won’t be hard to find a simple home decor item to covet.
Tell us what would you’d differently next time?
This is a tough one for me. I went with my dad, who is in his 70s and has different interests than me. If I were to go with my husband or friends I would probably do it completely different. But going with my dad, it was perfect. If I went with my husband, I'd make my cruise time shorter, spend more time on land and be much more adventurous with my dining and food consumption. I'm a person who likes to explore a city as though I'm living there, not just visiting. I loved the boat time because it is such an incredible way to see Norway, but missed out on the culture a bit by not really staying in it. I'm more about the quality of my time in a country, not the quantity (meaning see EVERYTHING). One alternative trip idea, would be to start in Oslo and head to the Southern Norwegian fishing towns of Stavanger and Kristiansand. I would stay 2-3 days in each city and take fjord cruises out sightseeing.
Rtip: If you want help developing an itinerary to go beyond this guide, we have partnered with Boutique Travel Advisors, so our readers can gain access to VIP upgrades and a host of other services, just mention Ready & Roam when booking.
What should we take on the trip?
All of the items I featured in “What to Pack for Norway” proved essential. Now that I’ve returned, I want to share a few additional items I found versatile and ideal for traveling. For instance, I carried this leather crossbody bag every single day. It can used as a clutch for dinners out (you just shove the strap in and go for it), plus it has an expandable bottom if you want to fit more in. This Patagonia t-shirt was a great layering piece for our active excursions. It protected me from the sun, kept me cool and was easy to take off and shove in my backpack. This cute tank dress came in handy as well. I could keep it casual with sneakers and a utility jacket, or dress it up with wedges and fun earrings. The big theme for my clothes was flexibility for any occasion.
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