Norway is a big country and getting around, particularly up north, is expensive and time-consuming. The best way to see the Norwegian wilderness and countryside is by having access to your own vehicle. This way you can stop wherever you want, admire the view and venture onto smaller roads.
Norway's craggy coastline makes roads and trains slow, so domestic flights are very popular. The largest operators are SAS, Norwegian and Widerøe.
It is especially in northern Norway, where towns and cities are fewer and further between, that air travel is clearly the most convenient method to get from town to town. Planes between the small airports are small, and they generally have several intermediate stops along the route to embark and disembark passengers. Unfortunately, it is also in these areas where ticket prices can be most expensive.
Flights in southern Norway are cheaper than in northern Norway, and even though this area has better roads and rail, planes are generally faster than taking the train or bus. There are however no air routes between the cities within 200 km from Oslo, use the train or bus for this kind of travel.
If you plan to fly to the many smaller towns in Northern or Western Norway you should consider Widerøe's Explore Norway Ticket (unlimited air travel for 14 days in summer for less than a full price return ticket.).
The Norwegian State Railways (NSB) operate all railways. Norway's rail network basically connects Oslo to other major cities, there are no rail lines North-South in West Norway between Stavanger and Trondheim, and there are no rail lines North-South in North Norway north of Bodø. These main lines run several times a day:
Trains are generally well-maintained and comfortable.
You can buy a Norwegian Rail Pass or the equivalent InterRail One Country Pass to travel cheap by train through Norway. If your itinerary is fixed and you don't have too many destinations, it might be cheaper to buy 'Minipris' tickets online. If you book well in advance, you can get one-way tickets for as little as kr. 199. When buying online, you can choose ticket delivery at the station or at the train, the latter means you only need to know your seat number, the train steward has your ticket. Their website sometimes does not work for people outside of Norway. In that case you can call their call center, but be sure to mention that you tried on the website first. Phone reservations normally incur a 50 NOK fee per train ticket bought.
For long-distance trains and night trains, seat reservation is mandatory, but usually can be done on short notice, e.g., at a train station, since the trains are rarely fully booked. Generally, the trains are most crowded at the beginning and end of the weekend, and that means Friday and Sunday evening. Shortly before and at the end of major holidays like Christmas/New Year and Easter, trains are usually very busy. If you try booking for these days at a late time, you may find all the cheap tickets sold out. Furthermore, the seat you reserve may be among the least desirable, that is, facing backwards, without recline, and facing towards and sharing the legroom with other passengers.
Night trains operate Oslo - Bergen, Kristiansand, Bergen, Trondheim and Bodø. With a regular ticket, you will get an ordinary seat, blanket and earplugs. Sleeping compartments are available for an extra of kr. 750. If you choose to order sleeping compartment, you pay for the compartment, not the bed: 2 people, same price. This also means that you will never have a stranger in your compartment.
For kr. 90 you can upgrade any regular train ticket to I, the equivalent of first class, which means a little more room for your legs, free coffee, papers and a power socket. Usually the NSB Komfort coach is the last coach in the train and behind the dining coach, resulting in much less through traffic and a quieter environment. The regular night train seats have a power plug, too. In some trains there is even free Internet access via wifi; one just needs to register (giving any 8-digit number as 'phone number').
Unlike much of Continental Europe, Norway does not have a high speed rail system, except for the route between Oslo and its airport. Attempts at implementing high speed trains are underway, but has failed so far. Therefore, a journey between the two largest cities, Bergen and Oslo, takes as much as six and a half to seven and a half hours.
In eastern Norway, where cities are closer together, there are several people who make a daily commute, and hence many of these cities have more frequent train service with hourly departures much of the day. This includes the cities in the counties of Østfold, Vestfold as well as Gjøvik, Hamar and Lillehammer. In general, these trains do not have seating reservations available, but it is still possible to upgrade to NSB Komfort.
If you get even closer to Oslo, there are local trains which may have departures as often as every 30 minutes. Local trains never have seating reservations, nor do they have a first class section. Local trains also operate between Bergen and Voss (sometimes to Myrdal), Stavanger and Egersund and around Trondheim.
Car ferries is an integral part of the road network in coastal regions. Prices and time vary with the length of the crossing and amount of traffic, call 177 for more information or check nearby camping sites for information booklets and timetables. Ferries often have information about other ferries in the region. On the main roads ferries are frequent during daytime, typically every half hour. Reservations are usually not needed, drive to the ferry quay and wait in line until the ferry docks. On main roads tourists typically don't have to worry about timetables as there are frequent departures. Note however that most ferries don't run after midnight or they run only every second hour.
Stretches with lots of ferries are desirable when bicycling, as the ferries are cheap for bicyclists and offer an often well-deserved break with a great view. Except for some of the shortest crossings (10 min), ferries typically have cafeterias serving coffee, cold beverages, sandwiches and some hot food. Due to numerous deep fjords and islands, driving in West Norway and Northern Norway as a rule (with few exceptions) involves ferries. Although car ferries are very reliable and operate with spare capacity, tourists should allow plenty of time on stretches including ferries. Note that ferries on unusually long crossings (several hours) or ferries crossing open stretches of sea are more frequently delayed or cancelled.
In regions with lots of fjords and islands, that is along all the coast from Stavanger to Tromsø, an extensive network of catamaran expressboats ("hurtigbåt") shuttle between towns and cities, and connect islands otherwise accessible only with difficulty. Service and prices are comparable with trains. Check in advance if you want to bring a bicycle.
One option particularly popular with tourists is Hurtigruten ships that hops along the coastline from Bergen all the way to Kirkenes, taking five and a half days for the whole journey. Cabins are expensive and mandatory for multi-day journeys, but deck fares are more reasonable and there's even a 50% off discount with Inter Rail. Prices are summed up for all chargeable elements like persons, fuel charge (app. 1/30 of a person), bike (app. 1/20 of a person), car, cabin (app. 125% of a person). Reservations are recommended for cabins and cars; on deck is usually enough space for persons and bikes.
An extensive range of express buses connect cities all over Norway and even most national parks. NOR-WAY Bussekspress, Timekspressen and Veolia Transport Nord are the biggest operators. Fjord1 also runs some express routes.
Lavprisekspressen offer cheap tickets for Oslo — Trondheim (via Røros and via the Dovre mountain range), Oslo — Kristiansand — Stavanger and back. If you're lucky, you can get a ticket for as little as kr. 49, but usually the tickets go from kr. 199 to kr. 299. The double decker buses are clean and modern with free WiFi internet, coffee and tea.
Bus schedules and frequencies vary greatly, and seating may be limited, so plan ahead. For more information check each operator's website or try the extrensive connection search Rutebok.no - available in English, Norwegian and German. Note that some mountain passes are closed all winter, and buses covering these typically run May—September only.
Traveling with cab in Norway can be very expensive, and in most cities it's not necessary as bus, tram and train (or even walking) are easier. Taxies are generally safe as long as you choose a licensed taxi (with a white taxi sign on the roof).
Norway has right hand traffic, as the rest of mainland Europe. Driving is generally easy as traffic is calm, and most drivers are disciplined and law abiding, although moderate speeding is common on highways. However, some city centers (such as Bergen and Oslo) may be confusing to navigate for the first time visitor due to many one-way streets. Traffic is generally light except for city centers and a handful of stretches on main roads (notably E18).
Gas is expensive, starting at around kr. 14.50 per litre (approx. USD 9.30 per gallon). In some parts of Norway, the next gas station might be more than 100 km away; a small village doesn't always have a gas station even if it is remotely located. Bring a full jerry can and fill up the tank in time. Manual transmission is regarded as standard in Norway and is found in most private cars. If you prefer to rent a car with automatic transmission, make sure to order one. Renting a car is very expensive, but can be essential for easy access to some of the more rural areas, although most areas have a good reliable bus service. If you live in Europe, consider bringing your own, but if you arrive during winter (November - April), be aware that winter tires are necessary, do not under any circumstance try to drive without, even if you don't expect snow or ice. Winter tires must have a minimum of 3 mm deep grooves. Cars heavier than 3500 kg are required to bring snow chains during winter and whenever snow or ice can be expected, a minimum of 5 mm tread pattern depth is recommended for trucks and heavy cars.
Several companies hire motorhomes, that are "fully equipped" (beds, small kitchen, fridge, shower, toilet, heating, etc) and as a rough indication they cost about what one might spend on a reasonable hire car and reasonable accommodation - but allow a lot more flexibility.
While technically it's not legal to park overnight on the roadside or in rest areas, the practice is so common that it seems to be unenforced.
There are hundreds of camp grounds that cater to motorhomes (and caravans, or camping with tents - some have huts to rent), and these are well signposted. All have basic facilities (electricity, toilets, hot showers (pay per minute), mostly-flat ground), and some are more equipped (buy fresh food, hire boats, communal kitchens, tourist info, etc).
Some are of the "industrial" variety (hundreds of vans, spotless facilities, very straight paths, gravel, not grass, keypads to enter, lots of strict rules, right beside the highway), and others are more... loose - occasional visitors, honor system for payment, idyllic surroundings, lots of grass and space. It's impossible to tell from the signs, so a drive-by might be necessary to see if the campground suits your mood and preferences.
As a rough guide (August 2011), a night in a campground with electricity costs around kr. 200, but ranges from kr. 120 to kr. 300.Showers are usually kr.10 for 4 minutes.
There are many rest stops on all major and many minor roads, and there's a fantastic system of National Tourist Routes with particularly spectacular rest stops (and facilities). Most of the rests tops have a toilet and picnic table.
There are tollways in Norway, but most tollways are part of (AutoPass). Visitors can register their numberplate for the duration of their visit only, pre-buy kr. 300 worth of tolls, and directly debit their (European) bank account or credit card for top ups. Any un-used funds are returned within 90 days. Occasionally, it may be necessary to stop and pay for tolls, but a huge majority are automated (numberplate is photographed while driving under a gantry over the road).
Any driving in Norway is not complete without tunnels. There are thousands of them, and they are fascinating to those unfamiliar with them. The longest seems to be 24kms, but 1 to 3 kms is more common. Tunnels are always lit with "street" lighting, but are a little narrower than the regular roads. Driving out from a tunnel, over a bridge spanning a deep gorge, back into a tunnel, then down a 12% gradient is something to be remembered!
Rules and regulations in the traffic are generally the same as in the rest of Europe. Foreign visitors should be aware that police controls are common and that fines are very high, and should take special note of the following rules:
Norwegian roads have varying quality. The main roads are the European highways indicated with an "E" in front of the number. For instance E6 is the main north-south corridor from Sweden via Oslo to Kirkenes in the very east of Northern Norway. European highways connect cities, regions and countries. E18 connects Kristiansand and towns in South Norway to Oslo and Sweden. E16 connects Bergen to Oslo (via Flåm and Voss), road 7 is an alternate route to Bergen (via Hardangervidda). E39 is the coastal main road from Kristiansand via Stavanger, Bergen and Ålesund to Trondheim. The E-roads are excellent for navigation. Other main roads (national highways, "riksvei") have low one- or two-digit numbers, the most important of these are indicated with white fonts on green background (as opposed to black on white for most highways). Note however that the importance of the road does indicate quality: even the E's may have narrow and slow sections.
Asphalt cover on Norwegian roads is usually coarse and don't get very slippery when wet as can be experienced in some other countries. Note however that studded winter tyres tend to eat asphalt during the winter leaving deep tracks (or furrows). This can make the car sideways unstable, particularly in high speed, and if filled with water tyres may float on the water making the car difficult to control (as if driving on ice or snow). When driving downhill steep mountain roads it is best to use a low gear and let the engine control the speed. Brakes can overheat causing the brake fluid to boil.
Moose/elk ("elg") and red deer can run onto the highway particularly at dusk and dawn so take extra care if driving at those times, particularly through forest. Red deer can also jump onto the highway without warning, particularly in Western Norway during late autumn and winter, special "crossing points" have been constructed several places, be aware. Reindeer may happen to walk on the road in Northern Norway. Note the warning signs. These warning signs will also, with few exceptions, specify for how long a distance there is an increased risk of animals crossing the road. The elk, the most dangerous animal on the roads, is most active at full moon, after heavy snow fall and at dusk/dawn.
Driving a car in winter conditions may be a real challenge without proper training and experience, this particularly applies to mountain passes all over Norway as well as other roads in Northern Norway. The golden rule for driving on snow, ice and slush: don't rush. Braking distance increases dramatically, increase distance to the car in front of you from the standard 3 seconds to a 5-6 seconds or more. Inexperienced drivers should drive very careful until they get used to the conditions and the car, experienced drivers always "feel" the contact between tires and road. A number of mountain roads are frequently closed temporarily during bad weather, and the authorities routinely issue road information on radio, TV and internet. During blizzards on some roads you are only allowed to drive in a line behind a heavy snowplow, a method called "kolonnekjøring", you are then obliged to wait at a gate or sign until the snowplow arrives. Always obtain specific information about mountain roads the day and hours before going. Don't hesitate to ask locals or call 175 for last minute information, as Norwegians are generally comfortable with driving on snow and ice. Always bring enough clothes and food, always calculate plenty of time. Be prepared to cancel or postpone trips in winter.
Some mountain passes, including popular roads around Geiranger are totally closed during winter (typically Nov-May). Other mountain roads may be closed for shorter periods (several days or only one night) during bad weather. These roads are always closed during winter ("vinterstengt"):
Visitors frequently underestimate distances and driving time in the Norwegian landscape. Key distances by car:
The bicycle seat is one of the best ways to experience the landscapes of Norway. The sport is becoming increasingly popular in Norway, especially since the success of Norwegian cyclists like Thor Hushovd. As a result, Norwegians generally have a very positive attitude to bicycle tourists, so you'll have a lot of small talk. Norwegians themselves prefer to ride on nice or even expensive bicycles: in most cities good bicycle shops can be found.
You'll find quite a number of travel diaries online. Only few specific cycle tracks exist, mostly in the big cities, and they are not fully interconnected. Except for densely populated areas, they can mostly be ignored. You can safely use almost every road, as speeds are relatively low and the vast majority of drivers are responsible and patient. At places where a highway is built, the old road is often redesigned as a cycle route.
In most of Norway, cycling can be physically challenging, due to steep climbs and strong winds. Your equipment should be lightweight and aerodynamic. You will need a wide range of gears: a ratio of 39-27 for a strong cyclist without luggage or even 22-32 for a normal cyclist with luggage is necessary on many slopes. Your brakes should be of high quality and you'll need spare brake pads when doing a trip of more than a few days. Lights are necessary because of the many tunnels. Because of the winds, it is advisable to avoid wide panniers and loose fitting clothes. A lightweight recumbent should be considered as a serious option for those experienced with this type of bicycle, especially when cycling south to north.
The roads are generally paved well, although gravel roads are sometimes unavoidable. As long as you don't go off-road, you will not need suspension or grooved tyres.
Because of the long distances and numerous hills, bicycle tourists are advised to plan well and be prepared to use public transport for the less interesting stretches. Special attention should be given to tunnels, as some of them are forbidden for cyclists, as are a few roads. An online map of tunnels can be found. The tourist information also has a map of those forbidden routes. When hiring a bike, you can consult the person that lends you the bike concerning the track you want to take. In many cases, signposts indicate the route for cyclists and pedestrians around forbidden roads or tunnels. Some of the high speed tunnels have bus stops a short distance from the entrance where you can board special buses equipped with bike racks to transport you through the tunnel. Buses usually run hourly and the departure times are posted.
Ferries take bikes for free or minimal charge, on trains you've to pay a fee and in buses, bikes are sometimes forbidden and in all other cases only transported if there's enough space (no fee or same like a child). The Norwegian Cyclist Association offers information.
Hitchhiking in Norway is best on the the routes from Oslo-Trondheim (E6), Oslo-Kristiansand (E18) and Kristiansand-Stavanger (E39). However, near the cities these are now motorways and it is not possible to stand at the road itself. Hitchhiking is not that common in Norway. If hitchhiking is ever safe, it's pretty safe in Norway, however it's difficult to get a lift and it may be very slow.
When waiting make sure to stand in a place where the vehicles can see you and have a safe opportunity to stop. Ferry ports and main fuel stations are good places to try. Stretches with low speed limit (50-60) is generally better than high speed as drivers find it more cumbersome to make a halt. Drivers of heavy trucks in particular prefer to keep a steady speed. Roadside cafeterias where truckers have a break can be good place to ask for a lift.
Good hitchhiking spots from major cities are: Oslo to: Bergen and the mountains- if you're daring, try Oksenøyveien (see Kristiansand), but be aware that most cars continue southwards to Drammen. Rather catch the Timekspressen bus, direction Hønefoss, to Sollihøgda. Trondheim and the north- is getting more difficult as motorway development continues. The best bet inside Oslo is bus stop Ulvenkrysset. Get the metro to Helsfyr, then bus 76, 401 or 411 for one stop. Further outside, to avoid the local traffic, you are best off at the Shell gas station at Skedsmovollen, bus 845 and 848 from Lillestrøm train station. Kristiansand and the south: Few spots beat the bus stop Oksenøyveien, connected by bus 151, 251 and 252. You may be dropped in Sandvika by cars heading towards Hønefoss and the mountains/Bergen. Carry a sign. Sweden along E6: Highway all the way, except close to the centre. Try the bus stop Nedre Bekkelaget, bus 81 and 83. Sweden along E18: You may try Nedre Bekkelaget, but as most traffic continue towards Strömstad and Gothenburg, you should rather catck the Timekspressen bus 9 to Østensjø stop, just after the Holstad roundabout.
Bergen to: Oslo - Get local train to Arna and try near the entrance to Arnanipa tunnel. Northwards - Go by bus to Vågsbotn in Arna, and try hithing a ride close to the Hjelle bakery. Southwards - Get the light rail to Nesttun, then nearly any bus for three stops to Skjoldskiftet. Hitch southwards along E39.
Trondheim to: Oslo - Get bus 46 to the shopping centre City Syd, then go under the E6 and try your luck at City Syd E6 stop. Soon, the city tax on buses will be extended past the Klett roundabout, if this is in effect you should go to the bus stop just after the roundabout at any Melhus-bound bus and try your luck there. Molde/Ålesund - Get any Orkanger bus to the stop just after Klett roundabout. Soon, Trondheim city tax will extend to Børsa, after which you should stay on the bus for as long as you can, and hitch a ride from there. Northwards - Get city bus 7 or 66 to Travbanen stop. Sweden - To be sure to hitch only on cars going towards Sweden, get a train or bus to Stjørdal and hitch on the E14.
In general, looking polite and friendly is a good trick. Asking cars in line at a ferry quay (if travelling along the coast) is a very good idea, and may bring you very far. Hitching rides from Molde all the way to Bergen are not unheard of, but don't bet on it.
In general though, you can really get to anywhere from anywhere by thumb, just in some places it might take a while.
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