You don’t have to see many pictures like this one before you become fixated with the idea of going to see the fjords in Norway. We never made it to Norway when we lived in the UK ten years ago, so it topped my list of summer vacation ideas when we decided to move to Finland.
This spring, I borrowed a Lonely Planet Norway from a friend, read through it, took notes, and was ready to book something for Matt’s two week holiday in July. So I marched down the local travel agency and tried to put something together. Their first recommendation was to take the Hurtigruten up and down the coast (13 days round-trip with the opportunity for lots of trips to shore). Although that certainly would have let us see the largest cross-section of Norway in the least amount of time, the idea of being trapped on a boat, however large and luxurious, with the children for 13 days really put me off.
Instead, I asked for a quote to do something that would hit the highlights of south-western Norway: Oslo – Ålesund – Bergen – Stavanger – Oslo, with a few cruises up the various fjords on the way. Like Finland, Norway is a very long country from north to south, but not terribly wide, so I thought this tour would be very doable in the time allotted. The only trouble was that the agent who helped me, while very nice, seemed much more accustomed to people doing tours like these via a rental car instead of via public transport. I wasn’t quite ready to drive in Europe just yet, so I decided I was going to need to book on my own.
I’m fairly used to online booking, but was nervous about Norway due to the language barrier and the number of stops we were trying to make. So I feel really fortunate that I discovered (with a little help from Lonely Planet Norway!) Fjord Tours and Norway in a Nutshell. In fact, I wish every country had a site like this for planning visits! You can select either pre-set routes or start with a route and add as many stops as you like to it. By specifying the number of people on your trip up-front, you can see a running total of the cost, and you also have the option of choosing from a list of hotels that range from budget accommodations to spa hotels. Not only do they book all the rail/bus/boat transfers, but when the public transport schedule doesn’t match to your planned itinerary, they’ll even send out a mini-bus to shuttle you as needed.
Clearly we were not the only people who booked through Fjord Tours. The blue folders of tickets that we received when we arrived in Oslo were a common sight in several of the more popular destinations like Bergen and Naerofjorden. And although, like so many tourist attractions in the summer months, Norway is quite busy in July, we still often felt like we were able to get away from the crowds for a quiet meal or a private moment at one of the gorgeous vistas that seem to be around every bend in the river.
Overall, I was very pleased with the Fjord Tours experience. We were able to see more than I could have hoped, even though we had to leave Stavanger for another trip. The transport was clean and efficient. We had excellent luck with the hotels we booked. Definitely a great way to explore if you’re unfamiliar with the area and don’t have a local act as a guide or make recommendations. Here is an approximate map of our route (keeping in mind that we went from Alesund to Bergen by sea, which wasn’t an option when I was mapping this on Google Maps).
View Adventures in Norway in a larger map
I will say that the weather in Norway appears to be even more changeable than that of Finland, meaning that we needed everything from tank tops and sandals to wool sweaters, boots, and rain gear. That makes packing a challenge, especially when you want to pack light to make transfers easier. We were able to pack a week’s worth of clothes and do laundry at the mid-point of the trip. This cut our luggage in half, but I still think Matt (a.k.a. chief sherpa) would have had us cut even more and just have back-packs instead of suitcases. Something to shoot for next time, I guess!
We’ve been home two weeks now, and I still haven’t been able to put together a coherent post on our amazing trip. I finally figured out the problem –there’s just no way to cram everything we saw into a single post of reasonable length. So I’ll break it up by town, using this as a table of contents of sorts:
- Part I – Oslo with Children
- Part II – Ålesund and Beyond!
- Part III – Bergen
- Part IV – Naerofjorden & Aurlandsfjorden