What to do in Southern Norway

I hope you enjoyed my blog post about advice for traveling to Norway! If you missed it, the link is here: Norway Travel Advice

In this blog post, I will share with you my favorite things that Steve and I saw and did in the southern part of Norway! Next week I will do a similar post about northern Norway.  To be clear, Steve and I went to Norway with the goal of hiking and seeing natural beauty, so my list doesn’t include any museums, restaurants, or city attractions.  I am sure there are plenty of those, but we chose to focus on the great outdoors!

So let me start with a quick overview of our trip. We flew in and out of Oslo and rented a car for the full three weeks. We drove west to the fjord areas in the south, then drove north all the way to the Lofoten Islands and Senja, and then back south to the fjords and back to Oslo.  

Before the trip, we made a custom google map with pins for each hike or attraction that we wanted to see. I highly recommend doing this before taking a big trip!  It helped us plan our route and made sure we didn’t miss anything.  We even color coded the pins (yellow = cities, tan = beaches, green = hikes, etc).   If you want any tips or have questions on creating a custom map or traveling to Norway, feel free to email me (carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com) or message me on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).  Here is a screenshot of our Norway travel map:

Norway Map

Alright, now time for our favorite parts of the trip!  This includes hikes and viewpoints. I tried to put them in order starting with the best spots, but there was no science that went into the rankings.  Everything we saw and did in Norway was AMAZING, so ranking them was tough!
#1: Trolltunga

  • It was a 13.6 mile roundtrip hike.  We did it in one day and it took around 10 hours including a lot of stopping for photos.  Though we didn’t camp, we saw a bunch of tents near the end of the trail.
  • We started this hike at 5am and were so glad we did. When we got to the destination, there were only a handful of people there and we had plenty of chances to take photos. On our way back to the car, we passed hundreds of people heading in. I have heard stories of people waiting in a line for HOURS for a photo! If you go, go early!
  • If you walk out onto Trolltunga, be VERY careful. I heard that someone fell a few years ago.

 

#2: Kjeragbolten

  • It was a 7 mile roundtrip hike to this incredible boulder that is stuck between two rock walls and hovering thousands of feet above the fjord below.  The hike included a lot of ups and downs, was very exposed, and had some steep and slippery rocks.  Wear good hiking boots and bring sunscreen if you do this hike!
  • Go early! It was very crowded at the rock and there was a long line forming by the time we got there in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Be very safe and careful if you decide to step onto the rock.  I had someone hold my hand because I was so terrified.

 

#3: Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock)

  • This was a much easier hike than the first two hikes on this list at only 5 miles roundtrip without much elevation gain.  We hiked up to the top on the same day that we did the Kjerag hike.
  • We brought our tent and camped up at the top (we set up our tent far from the edge).  There were only ten or so other campers who spent the night, which is amazing considering I have see photos with hundreds of people up there! We woke up early and scrambled up above the rock to watch the sunrise over the fjord below. It was absolutely incredible.
  • PLEASE leave no trace when you visit (or during any hike)! There was a lot of trash and food left along the trail and even on the Pulpit Rock itself.  Don’t forget: even banana peels and apple cores need to be packed out!

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#4: Bondhusvatnet

  • This might not make most Norway top ten lists, but it was one of the most beautiful spots we visited on our trip.  It is a short, flat hike to a peaceful glacial lake.  We went in the rain and were treated to a beautiful foggy scene with perfect reflections!

 

#5:  Trollstigen

  • This is not a hike, but the drive up the hairpin switchbacks is just as exhilarating! There are several viewpoint platforms at the top to enjoy these incredible views.

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#6: Besseggen

  • This is a beautiful ridge hike with gorgeous views of mountains and two brilliant blue lakes.
  • There are three options for doing this hike.  You can hike there and back, hike to the end and take a ferry back, or take a ferry to the end and hike back.  We chose the last option.  We took the ferry ride down the lake to Memurubu and then did the four mile hike back.
  • The hike was pretty tough but the views were breathtaking.  Be sure to arrive early because the ferries sell out quickly!

 

#7: Lovatnet

  • This is not a hike, but a beautiful glacial lake that you can drive to.
  • We could only stay for a little while but we were able to sip delicious coffee at an adorable cafe and take a handful of photos by the dazzling turquoise water.

 

#8: Romsdalseggen

  • This is another beautiful ridge hike in Norway.  To do this hike, you can hike there and back or take a bus to the end of the hike and hike back, which is what we did.  If you choose this option, be sure to book your bus ticket ahead of time and don’t be late!
  • This hike had stunning views of the valley below and included some tough spots for hiking.

 

#9: Lysebotn

  • This is not a hike but an adorable fjord town that you can drive to!
  • We stayed at the campground, enjoyed beers and burgers at the charming restaurant, took walks along the misty fjord, and watched base jumpers soar down from the cliffs above.

 

#10: Geiranger

  • This is a beautiful fjord with an adorable town! It was packed with tourists but was stunning nonetheless.
  • We stopped at some of the viewpoints and took a boat tour through the fjord to see the beautiful waterfalls.
  • We had some unbelievably delicious pizza in town!

 

Stay tuned for the next blog post which will describe my favorite viewpoints and hikes in central and northern Norway! As always, you can find more of my photos and stories on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).

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Norway Travel Advice

Do you have wanderlust? Do you loving hiking, beautiful vistas, and a mix of mountains, lakes, and the ocean?  Have you ever thought about traveling to Norway?

Steve and I spent our honeymoon driving, hiking, and camping around Norway.  It turned out to be one of the most incredible places I have ever been.  I get asked all the time about my recommendations for the best things to do and how to experience Norway.  After writing multiple versions of the same email to different people, I figured I might as well pull all of my thoughts together into some blog posts! Since we spent three whole weeks in Norway, I won’t go into the details of each day of our trip, but I will instead share the highlights and some tips and tricks that we learned.  This blog post will focus on advice and the next post will highlight our favorite hikes and viewpoints from the trip.

Here are some photos of us from the trip. Notice the huge variety in landscapes! From misty fjords, to white sand beaches, to dramatic mountaintops, to turquoise lakes, there is a never ending supply of natural beauty in Norway.

 

Our Kind of Honeymoon

Steve and I could never go on a typical honeymoon.  All-inclusive resorts have never really been our thing.  We knew that our honeymoon would have to involve camping, hiking, and breathtaking views.  We were looking for adventure! We had both been drooling over photos of Norway for quite some time and it seemed just epic enough for a honeymoon.  We had to wait from our September wedding until my summer break in July to go, which gave us plenty of time to extensively plan every moment of an unbelievable three week  trip!  We drew most of our inspiration from Instagram.  I had saved dozens of amazing photos and created a google map full of pins…there were enough hikes to keep us busy for several years!  We spent time researching, reading blogs, and eventually narrowed down our itinerary to a reasonable amount of activities for three weeks (though in reality we still ended up skipping a handful of things due to exhaustion!)

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Advice

We learned so much during our planning process and on the trip itself.  Here are some pieces of advice and tips and tricks for planning a trip to Norway!

1. Norway is not cheap.  Okay, that’s an understatement. Norway is EXPENSIVE. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Food is expensive, drinks are expensive, and gas is very expensive. I want to say this first because if you’re a budget traveler like me, you really have to do your planning to make Norway an affordable trip.  To do this we did a LOT of camping (read tip #2 for more details about camping in Norway).  We also saved money by trying to avoid eating at restaurants.  We brought our small camp stove and bought fuel when we arrived to make coffee and hot meals. We had a lot of granola bar meals, peanut butter sandwiches, and trail mix.  Sadly, the food we did eat at restaurants was really delicious, especially the pizza, which made it all the more difficult to stay on budget.

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2. You can pretty much camp anywhere for free.  One wonderful thing about Norway is their law known as “allemannsretten” or freedom to roam, which essentially says that you can camp on public lands for free. We made use of this rule, and pulled over to camp on the side of the road in some beautiful areas. We did free camping on the beaches, on high mountain passes, and rocky areas alongside the fjords. This is such a huge contrast to our recent van travels in the United States where we had to check and double check where we parked for the night to make sure we didn’t get a ticket or a fine.  Before you visit Norway, be sure to do your research to stay up-to-dates on their current camping laws! Here are some photos from random places we camped for free:

3. Plan your ferry rides in advance.  If you plan on exploring the Lofoten islands or any coastal island areas, which I highly recommend, be sure to plan your ferry schedules ahead of time.  For example, we really wanted to hike Rodoy, but the ferry only ran a few times and days of the week, so it ended up not fitting in our schedule.  If we had known this ahead of time, we could have planned accordingly.  There were also a few times when we just barely missed a ferry and ended up having to wait upwards of an hour for the next one.  Also understand that ferries cost money, which can add up after a while.  To get to some islands, it can take two or three ferries each way!  Here are some photos from our ferry rides:

4. Prepare for some wild driving. Norway is famous for its unbelievable winding switchback roads like Trollstigen and Lysevegen.  The main roads near big cities were fine, but the mountain passes and the descents down to the fjords were narrow, steep, and downright scary! There were times I was sure only one vehicle could fit on the road, and yet somehow we just barely squeaked past another car! I was tempted to slow down on the hairpin turns and narrow, foggy roads, but the locals in giant trucks were happy to slam on the gas and speed on through. Thankfully Steve took the wheel on most of those mountain passes. Here are some screenshots of roads in Norway:

Here is a photo I took of the famous Trollstigen road:

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5. Bring layers and prepare for all types of weather.  When we visited in July, the weather was typically in the 50s and 60s.  It was perfect hiking weather, but got pretty chilly in the evenings and at high elevations.  It even snowed on some of the high mountain passes!  Bring a coat, gloves, and a hat…even in the summer!

6. Avoid crowds if you can.  Some of the most beautiful spots in Norway are, as you might expect, incredibly popular.  Even some of the long and challenging hikes were swarming with tourists! I highly recommend waking up early to visit the popular spots at sunrise, or go in the evening and plan to camp overnight to avoid crowds. We started our Trolltunga hike at 5am.  When we arrived, only a handful of people were there and we were able to spend plenty of time walking out onto the precipice and taking photos.  We had heard stories of people waiting in line for hours for their turn, and we were so glad we went early!  Sunrise hikes can also lead to some stunning views!  I had seen photos of hundreds of people up at Preikestolen, so we decided to camp up there.  Only about 10 other people spent the night, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves at sunrise.  Here are some photos from famous spots early in the morning, before the tourists showed up. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!

7. Prepare for a lot of driving. You could probably hit a handful of the best spots in Norway without too much driving and without leaving the southern part of the country.  However, some of the most beautiful scenery and hidden gems were in the northern region.  We ended up doing a ton of driving in order to make it to the Lofoten islands and Senja. While these areas had incredible hiking and scenery, I am not sure I would have done all of that extra driving if I were only in Norway for 1 or 2 weeks.  This photo was from the remote northern islands:

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8. Don’t plan on doing laundry.  We learned the hard way that laundromats really aren’t a thing in Norway. Since we were there three weeks, we planned on doing laundry a few times (especially with all of the hiking we were doing).  Laundromats were almost nonexistent and we ended up begging a hostel to let us use their laundry machines.

9. There are sheep everywhere.  Watch out for sheep!

10. Bring your camera and extra batteries.  Norway has some of the most incredible scenery you could imagine.  I found myself snapping photos constantly!  Stay tuned for my next blog post with details and photos of my favorite spots in Norway!

Expectation vs Reality

After spending months planning our cross country van travels, I had a lot of different expectations for the the many spots we would visit.  For some places I was brimming with excitement and prepared with plans for photos I couldn’t wait to take.  Other places were added to the map as an afterthought or I was worried might be too crowded.  In many cases my expectations were spot on.  However, a few times I was completely surprised!

There were times the reality greatly exceeded our expectations and and we discovered some amazing beauty and serenity in places we never imagined.  Occasionally, however, the reality didn’t live up to the hype and the experience was a a bit of a let down. I wanted to share a few examples of each of these. Have you ever been pleasantly surprised on a trip? Have you been disappointed by a place you were excited about? Let me know in the comments!

Kind of a Let Down…

  • Mesa Arch – To be fair, I didn’t do a ton of research on this spot before we went, and if I had I might have been more prepared for the reality.  I had seen amazing sunrise photos of this arch which made it look like a huge natural structure hidden deep in the remote desert.  The photos of this arch were just so incredible that I had created a narrative in my head for what the experience would be like.  In reality, the arch is only a 5 minute walk from the road and therefore was swarming with people.  When we got to the parking lot, multiple tour buses were unloading with dozens of tourists.  It is also known as a sunrise spot, so when we arrived at the arch in the early morning hours, there was already a line of photographers in front of it, blocking the view for any latecomers. Luckily we were able to elbow our way in and found some room to snap a few photos.  I will say that the sunrise through Mesa Arch was an incredible sight.  The rays of sunlight caused the arch to glow in a brilliant shade of orange, with amazing shadows cast on the desert scene behind it.  However the whole thing just felt a little phony .  It was crowded, loud, and felt more like a photo shoot than an  authentic natural experience. 
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Expectation
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Reality
  • Diamond Fork (Fifth Water) Hot Springs – Okay, so don’t get me wrong, these hot springs were pretty great. But they didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The first time we tried to go was on a Thursday evening. When we arrived, the parking lot was almost completely full and there were loud, drunk young people everywhere. They were laughing, yelling, and blasting their music. I know, I sound so old right now! But we were looking for a quiet, peaceful soak…not a wild party! So we decided to skip the springs that day and try again on a Sunday. The second try was better, but the hot springs were still pretty crowded. Also, the photos I had seen showed a low flowing river of bright blue water and I was so excited to see and photograph it. However, when we were there, the river was raging with water that was brownish gray and not blue.  I guess we were there at the wrong time of year! The springs were still lovely and hot, but the experience was pretty underwhelming.

 

Better than Expected

  • Monument Valley – I knew that Monument Valley would be a nice place to visit and I had seen a lot of great photos of the place. However, the experience of being there was much more special than I had imagined. It’s hard to describe, but the valley had a peaceful and serene feeling to it and I just genuinely enjoyed being there, despite the fact that we didn’t even do much. I loved that the scene was the same and yet completely different as the sun moved across the sky and altered the lighting on the monuments. I also think we were there at the right time of year because there was hardly anyone else camping there and the whole place was relatively quiet, considering it is such a popular spot. We also happened to be there when the mitten shadow is on the other mitten, which apparently is a rare occurrence, and wasn’t something we planned for! (Click here to read more about this part of the trip!)
  • Alabama Hills – this is a spot that is photographed by a million instagrammers so I had assumed it would feel like a phony photo shoot spot swarming with young kids with their iPhones and cameras. What we found was an incredibly beautiful landscape with almost no people and tons of empty free campsites. The famous photo spot with the road leading down into the snow capped Sierras was empty at sunrise! I sipped coffee and hung out there all morning without seeing a single soul. This was one of the most beautiful scenes and peaceful moments of our cross country adventures and greatly exceeded my expectations. (My blog post about the Alabama Hills can be found here!)