Viking ships, fjords, and food halls: tips for seeing Norway on a budget

This is a guest post by my sister Catherine on her recent trip to Norway with her husband, Will. As they are young and on a budget–Will is in graduate school full time–I was interested to hear how they fared in what is known to be a pretty expensive country to visit. So I asked her to share her “top 10” and some tips for seeing Norway on a budget.

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catherine&willWe took this trip because Will had an opportunity to do some work for his Graduate Advisor in Oslo, Norway. With his ticket and accommodations paid for, I couldn’t resist buying my own ticket to join him! He spent 3 weeks in Oslo working, and then I met up with him there.

The thing to know is – Norway is not a cheap place. The first thing the US Customs agent in Boston said to us on our way back was “So, did ya enjoy your $30 hamburgers?” But we found some really great places to stay that fit our budget – the hostels, and discount places (like City Box in Bergen) were clean and stylish – but even those cost about $100 per night! There were also many great camping places with teeny tiny cabins for rent – our favorite was Flakk Camping, outside of Trondheim. So cute.

Food-wise, I’d recommend taking advantage of the convenience stores and grocery stores. They are still expensive, but they are not like convenience stores in the US. Most days I had a cappuccino from an automated machine, and soft, warm fresh cardamom-scented bolle for breakfast, and it was better than meals I’ve had in real bakeries here at home. In Norway you can walk into 7-Eleven and ask for an open-faced salmon sandwich on a baguette, and yes, maybe it costs $12, but it’s a lot less than eating out. Plus the ubiquitous hot dog can be purchased literally everywhere: roadside shacks, on ferries, on trains, in gas stations.

vikingship

There is so much to see in Norway, it’s impossible to list everything. But this is our “top ten” list of things to do and places to eat that won’t break the bank:

1. The Oslo Vikingskipshuset. This was amazing. Not just the original ships, but artifacts like carved decorations, even small scraps of textiles. Packed with tourists, but worth it.

2. Oslo’s Grünerløkka District: Until we found this neighborhood, we were beginning to suspect that Oslo is only inhabited by supermodel-athletes wearing designer clothes. This area was definitely hip but a little off the beaten path, with a mix of people and a lot of interesting shopping, cafes, and bars.polse platter

3. Near Grünerløkka was the Mathallen food hall. Recently reviewed in the New York Times (normally we can’t afford to do anything on these lists), this recommendation stood up to the test of both our wallets and our taste buds. We ate the polse platter at Anni’s Polsemakeri as described, for 75 Kroner ($13) each, and enjoyed it thoroughly! Granted, we spent about another $13 each on  beer, but…we deserved it.

 

View from Bergen Train4. The Oslo-Bergen railway: This is part of the regular Norwegian rail system, but it was an incredibly scenic 7-8 hour trip through some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The best part was seeing these tiny houses with living grass roofs, tucked away in remote corners of the mountains and fjords, that are only accessible by hiking. Glaciers were also visible from the train despite it being Midsummer week! And, free cappuccino machine on the train. Love it.

5. Bergen is a small coastal city with a lot to see, but it was jam-packed with tourists and cruise ships. View from FloyenOur best move while we were there was to hike up the hill to Fløyen, instead of taking the famous Fløibanen funicular. When we saw the length of the line to take the ride up, we said no thanks, and headed up on foot instead. It was a gorgeous hike – first up winding streets, then through mossy woods that reminded us of troll legends.

At the top there are places to walk and for kids to play in the woods with troll statues, and a viewing area to look out over Bergen. There is even a free bathroom (most cost 10 Kroner, almost $2) but I did have to wait in line for 20 minutes for it while being jostled by English cruise boat ladies.Troll faces at Floyen

6. Penguin Restaurant, Bergen – When we first checked this place out we thought it was very expensive, but later learned after traveling around some more that this was a very cheap place to find some traditional Norwegian food. We split an entree of Hvalbiff and potatoes – amazing. Full of hipsters, but sometimes hipsters know where the best food is!

7. Hellesylt/Geiranger. After Bergen we rented a car and started our drive north to the old viking port of Hellesylt. Driving in Norway basically means ferry, tunnel, ferry, a few dozen hairpin turns up and down, tunnel, terrifyingly narrow cliff-side road, ferry, tunnel… But we were rewarded in Hellesylt with a great hostel, and the classic ferry ride down the Geirangerfjord. This is one of the top tourist fjords – I’d recommend the 8am boat.

trollstigen8. Fretex and Other Thrift Shops… Our first impression of Trondheim was that it seemed to be full of “real people” compared to the other places we saw. Our best find was in a neighborhood near the water on the Fjordgata, where a string of thrift shops and junk stores provided us with the souvenirs we had wanted so badly in other places but hadn’t been able to afford. Also check out UFF in Oslo for a HUGE selection of used Norwegian wool sweaters.

9. The Trondheim Bryggen: The Bryggen area – old colorful wooden wharf buildings left over from thbryggene days of the Hanseatic Traders – in Bergen is more famous, but we thought Trondheim’s Bryggen was just as beautiful, without the cruiseships and cruise passengers. We also found a great bar here with a floating patio, on the river Leif Erickson himself set out from after visiting the viking king: http://www.dengodenabo.com/

10. Ravnkloa Fish Market: At the bottom of the Munkegata by the Trondheimfjord, this is both a traditional fish market (selling some mysterious and difficult to identify items…) and a nice cafe. Lunch here was the best meal I had on this trip, in my humble opinion.fishsandwich

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I certainly hope I can visit some of the places Catherine recommended someday. Have you traveled to Norway? If so, what places and sights would you recommend?

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