Travel Bureau Marketing Manager, Kathryn, recounts her family summer road-trip around Southern Norway.
Over the last decade we’ve become a nation of Scandi lovers – our homes kitted out with trendy Nordic design, gritty crime novels on our bookshelves (ubiquitous TV adaptations on our catch-up lists) and winters spent nestled under blankets in pursuit of Hygge.
However, when it comes to holidays we seem to be neglecting our Scandi love. A weekend in Copenhagen or a cruise up the Norwegian Fjords might make our ‘to do’ list but aside from this, our northern neighbours remain relatively undiscovered by UK visitors.
Maybe we’re put off by the less-than-Mediterranean weather or the eye-watering price of a pint but, if you grab hold of your sense of adventure (and maybe decide to give your liver a holiday too!), you can see some of the coolest cities and most stunning landscapes you’ll ever have the pleasure to visit.
A direct flight of just 1hr 20 from Newcastle to Stavanger, and relatively competitive car hire, has opened up the southern tip of this beautiful country and this year Kathryn and her family embarked on a 14-night Norwegian road trip, spurred on by memories of happy holidays spent there as a child. Here’s how it went…
Southern Coastal Towns
Norway’s southern coastline offers up pretty, colourful timbered towns overlooking shimmering inlet seas, a very different view to the ragged cliffs and high plateaus you’ll see in the fjord lands. The coastal road from Egersund to Flekkefjord is a beauty and the seaside city of Kristiansand a good first stop along the way. If you’re after beach life, then nearby Mandal’s 800m long beach is Norway’s finest.
A day at Dyreparken, Norway’s much-loved theme park just outside Kristiansand, is a must for family travellers. Part safari park, waterpark and theme park it’s a full day out. The safari park is still the biggest draw but make sure you board Kaptein Sabeltann’s pirate ship for a watery battle, visit the story book village of Kardemomme By (inspired by Norwegian children’s favourite storybooks) and leave plenty of time to enjoy the waterpark.
While in storybook mode why not visit Arendal! You may not see Ana and Elsa but it has oodles of charm and a pretty harbour. Literary fans should head to Grimstad, a town with a young student vibe, where they’ll find the Ibsen Museum celebrating Norway’s favourite playwright.
There are plenty of hotels and smaller guesthouses along the coast offering good value accommodation, as well as campsites with cabins overlooking picturesque sea inlets where you can self-cater if you’re on a budget.
We stayed near the white-washed town of Risor, which is well worth a stroll around. Sorlandet Feriesenter was our water-side campsite with kayaks and boats to rent and a refreshing inlet swimming beach (as well as a heated swimming pool for those who preferred).
As a nation that offers the best standard of living on the planet I had high hopes for its capital city, and wasn’t disappointed. Stylish, clean and compact and set on the stunning Oslo Fjord, it is the perfect combination of city and coastal life. We spent three nights, but four would have been even better as we didn’t get around everything we wanted to do. Our highlights were…
Sailing the Oslo Fjord to Bygdoy to visit the Viking Ship Museum which showcases the best-preserved Viking ships in the world. The open-air Norsk Folkemuseum is also worth a visit, with rebuilt traditional buildings organised by region of origin and cultural activities going on throughout the day. The island has a number of other interesting museums so it’s worth spending the whole day. The last ferry leaves around 6.30pm so get over early to maximise your visit.
Recreating your own version of ‘The Scream’ in front of Munch’s famous painting at the Nasjonalgalleriet. There’s plenty of other ‘masters’ on display too.
Visiting the Norwegian Resistance Museum. Within the medieval Akerhus Festning complex, this fascinating museum tells the story of Norway’s WWII German occupation. It looks tiny from the outside but we spent at least two hours here, learning about the stories of real Norwegians who took a stand against the occupying forces, and could have stayed longer.
Taking a 20-minute train ride (Line 1) out of the city to visit the incredible Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Museum. You can access the half way point for free so get those legs pumping up the 250 steps. The final ascent is through the well-laid-out ski museum, which charts the history of Norway’s favourite winter pastime. Don’t be put off by the queue for the final lift to the top as the views are well worth the wait. Feeling brave? You can even take a zip wire back down!
Flam & Fjords
When you hit Flam and the Western Fjords you’ll really feel you’ve arrived in postcard Norway. Forest-clad mountains dotted with waterfalls, with ferries and bridges traversing the fjords, make this one of the world’s most beautiful road-trips.
Flam sits at the top of Aurlandsfjord. A swim in the fjord was exhilarating and we warmed up with a flight of beer and delicious Norwegian gastronomy at the Flamsbrygga Hotel and Eegir Brewery. The Flamsbana Railway is the reason most stop by this tiny hamlet and the 2-hour round trip is not to be missed – the scenery is stunning! Book well in advance as it does sell out.
They say it always rains in Bergen, and true to its word it did but even on a damp day it’s a striking city with a surprisingly youthful vibe. The rain didn’t stop us riding the Floibannen Funicular to the top of Mount Floyen or strolling around the historic Bryggen and Fish Market with a hearty bowl of Lapskaus stew. Lying at the edge of seven fjords Bergen is a central spot with dozens of fjord tours leaving daily.
Heading back to our starting point of Stavanger, we arguably saved the best till last with an 8km round-trip hike up to the awesome (a word not misused in this instance) Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock. Not for the faint-hearted, the rocky ledge juts out over Lysefjord flowing 604m below, with not a barrier in sight! Make sure you chose a clear day and the views will more than make up for the wobbly knees and stomach somersaults. I recommend taking a picnic, so you can rest a while, dangle your feet over the edge (if you dare!) and enjoy the vistas.
If you’d like help planning your own Norwegian road-trip or want to discover Norway’s fjords by cruise, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to one of our personal travel experts on 0191 285 9321.