We’ve discovered a secret…
Actually, make that two. First? Norway’s inland might just be even more spectacular and dramatic than its fjords. If your vantage point is tethered to a cruise ship throughout your time here, you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice.
Luckily, our second discovery – an underappreciated land-and-sea route through a prime section of the region known as Fjord Norway – will introduce you to coastline and interior, city and untouched wilderness, all within a few days.
If you are planning a trip to Norway and have limited time (sometimes budget alone will determine the length of your trip: prices here are expensive, but stay tuned in the coming weeks as we provide some tips on how to travel Norway on the cheap), this is the way to go.
We call this our personalized version of the Norway in a Nutshell® tour, which is a well-known route that traverses mountains by train, a UNESCO world heritage-listed fjord by boat, and two popular cities, Bergen and Oslo. The route we describe below also boasts a UNESCO-listed fjord and spectacular mountainous landscapes. The difference is that it provides the freedom to stop or detour in a car, originates in a city less touristy than Bergen, and introduces some of Norway’s best architecture along with what is perhaps the best public works / cultural tourism development project ever.
When to go
Norwegian summers not only deliver moderate temperatures but long hours of daylight. The long days translate to more time for travel enjoyment, and that’s probably why most of Norway’s visitors come in July, and definitely why we advocate visiting just after the main tourist season, in late August and early September!
If you’re looking for adventure (see “Optional: explore the area…” below), it’s worth noting that several adventure tour operators shut down in September, and several ferry routes offer reduced schedules. Do some research before arriving (Norway has a fantastically helpful string of national and local tourist offices, all accessible online via VisitNorway.com), or consider fighting the crowds earlier in summer.
However, if you’re after quiet roads and views of fjords without cruise ships, this is the time to go.
Where to go
After a devastating fire, the coastal city of Alesund was rebuilt in just three years between 1904 – 1907, a time when Art Nouveau was sweeping through the Continent. Now this magical little postcard of a city looks like time stood still.
While a gem this cute is impossible to keep under wraps, it’s too far away to draw much transit from the typical tourist hubs of Oslo and Bergen. Though many cruise lines make sure to stop here – you’ll notice a marked difference in the number of people at night versus day – we loved the fact that the city hasn’t completely given itself over to tourism. Local businesses are interspersed on popular tourist streets, and many of the stores aimed at visitors offer high-quality products that are locally produced.
Alesund to Geiranger
There are two choices for transiting to the next stop, Geiranger, a little town at the very end of the UNESCO world-heritage listed Geiranger Fjord.
Route 1 is the quickest (two hours) and involves one ferry. Follow E136/E39 out of Alesund along the Storfjord until Linge, diving in and out of tunnels that slice through sheer cliffs. Hop the 15-minute ferry to Eidsdal, then drive south on Rv63 to Geiranger, pausing at the top of the final 11 hairpin turns that lead down to town for one of Norway’s most camera-worthy vistas.
Route 2 involves two ferries, but one of them idles down the scenic Geiranger Fjord. Take the E139 to the E39 to the Rv60 to Magerholm, then take the fifteen-minute ferry to Orsneset. Continue on the Rv60 along the Sykkylvsfjorden and mountain crests all the way to Hellesylt, then take the ferry to Geiranger.
When we spoke to a local about the differences between the routes, he told us Route 2 had beautiful scenery: lots of forest and trees. As for Route 1?
“Well, there’s a fjord and all. I guess you can see that.”
At the time we found his disinterest hilarious, and posted it to our Twitter stream right away. I guess if you’ve seen one fjord, you’ve seen them all, right?
Later on, after we experienced the drama of the country’s interior, we stopped laughing….
National Tourist Route: Geiranger-Trollstigen Road
To highlight the wonder of its landscapes and help sustain the economies of rural areas, Norway embarked on an ambitious public works project called the National Tourist Routes. These are stretches of road that link areas of superlative natural beauty, and have been highlighted with architectural pieces commissioned by both established and up-and-coming Norwegian architects. The results are incomparable, and the intense visual stimulation literally left me too restless to sleep that night.
The Geiranger-Trollstigen Road begins just south of Geiranger and ends north of Trollstigen, and has six panorama stops with architectural installations ranging from picnic areas to shops to toilets to outlook points.
Optional: explore the area or depart via Alesund
If you have the time, the sky’s the limit in this region. Hiking, sea kayaking, river rafting, rock climbing and biking for the athletic; trips to working farms, culinary delights, and historical tours for the culturally inclined. If a flight awaits, you can conceivably make it back to Alesund by night.
Planning your time
1 Day: Take Route 1, mentioned above, out of Alesund to Geiranger. Continue south to the Flysdaljuvet lookout for a panoramic view of the area before taking the hour-long tourist boat trip on the Geiranger Fjord. Drive north along the Geiranger-Trollstigen Tourist Route to the Trollstigen lookout, stopping at the lookouts along the way. Then return to Alesund.
2 Days: Explore Alesund and stay the night, then follow the plan for “1 Day,” above.
3 Days: Add a stay at the Juvet Landscape Hotel, constructed in conjunction with the National Tourist Route, and return to Alesund the next day.
4 Days: Explore Alesund and stay the night, then follow Route 2 to Geiranger and stay the night. In Geiranger that afternoon, drive to the Westeras Farm for great hiking, and eat at Posten, a slow-food mecca located in the old post office. Enjoy the tourist boat cruise along the Geiranger Fjord the next day, where you can soak up the incredible stories of how people survived on the fjord, then explore the Geiranger-Trollstigen Road, starting with the Dalsnibba lookout. Stay the night at Juvet. Return to Alesund the next day.
5 Days: Follow the “4 Days” plan above, but enjoy a final day of excursions (see “Optional…,” above) before returning to Alesund. If you’re transiting through the capital and need a hotel in Oslo, see the link for an overview and discounts.
In a Nutshell
There you have it: our version of Norway in a Nutshell®. Over the next weeks, we’ll tell you more about our trip and absolutely blow you away with our photos of sheer fjord cliffs, forests that truly seem enchanted, and the kinds of jutting peaks that would make the Dalai Lama feel at home.
Yet beauty, as we all know, is only skin deep. What makes this country so special – in fact, what has made this my new favorite place to be – is the culture, and more specifically how the inhabitants interact with each other and with the natural beauty of their lands.
And that, my friends, is something worth writing about.