Norway – All things Travel

Norway – All things Travel

Norway – the geological genius that mesmerises

you around every corner

I can imagine that Norway has always been on your list and stories of the awe-inspiring scenery has you reaching for your map. And then the enormity of this Nordic northern land hits you firmly between the eyes, as you see its scope on the atlas in front of you.  Now questions tumble through your mind about the journey to reach this iconic destination and how to get around this land of deep fjords and 3D mountains. Uncertainty and doubt may cloud your enthusiasm as the shadow of fear creeps across your excitement. What if there was a place where you could get all the knowledge you needed to feel informed and confident about your adventures north?

Look no further – this series of blogs aims to demystify the plethora of information ‘out there’ in Google-land about getting to and moving around Norway. So sit back and feel the relaxation wash over you as you find your confidence for your impending trip. Our passion is helping you make that Norway trip a reality.

In this blog, we focus on All things Travel.  We start with all the things you need to do before you leave home. Then factoring in things to do en route to Norway. And finally how to enjoy navigating around Norway using its ferry system, the road network, tunnels and tolls and overnight parking. For ease of planning, we have included relevant and helpful links in the text, which are highlighted in red and underlined. If you click on these, they will take you straight to that link in a new page where you can save it as part of your research. 

As this is such a mega blog with a stack of information, we have popped a Table of Contents below so you can jump around the post with ease. We hope this might help you navigate through the information.  So if you’re ready – here we go.

 

Part 1 – Before leaving home! Your checklist

  • Assess the time you have available for your trip
  • Plan your entry into Norway accordingly 
  • Register for your Autopass Ferry Discount Card
  • Sort out your EPC registration – Euro Parking Collection
  • Think about your Currency and Prepaid Cash Cards
  • What to do if your vehicle is over 3.5T

 

Assess the time you have available for your trip 

We support the notion that you must, ‘Travel when you can, as far as you can and for as long as you can’. Not everyone has the luxury, as we do of being full-time – we acknowledge that. Although having had 7 weeks touring Norway, we have come to respect its vastness. Whilst it may seem like a great idea to pop to Norway for a couple of weeks, if you are coming from the UK, then it is worth just doing a reality check.

You need to allow between four-five days to get to Norway, with your starting point at Calais; and that’s driving at least four hours per day, without any sightseeing. 

Norway is long and thin. Whilst there is the E6, which is the main arterial route that goes from Trelleborg in the south of Sweden all the way to Kirkenes on the Russian border in the north, it’s a whopping 1,950 miles (3,140km). And it takes 40-50 hours to drive. That will give you a sense of Norway’s enormity. And when you deviate off piste to where, let’s face it all the best scenery hides, then you need to build in fjords, mountain passes, windy roads and ferries. There is no going anywhere fast in Norway because why do Norway fast when there is so much beauty to breath in? 

We do implore you to be wise with your time and plan realistically for your trip. Take into account travel time to and from Norway. And then look sensibly and what you can achieve with the remaining time you have. Don’t overstretch yourselves and, if necessary stay south. Travelling is tiring and say that from experience. Whilst four hours on the road may sound achievable, when translated into travelling in Norway, you can expect 4 hours to be more like 6. Add the concentration factor required for mountain driving and it makes for a completely different travel strategy. 

We say this, not out of any sense of fear. We just want to help you plan realistically so that you get the best out of your Scandinavian experience.

 

 

Plan your entry into Norway accordingly 

We will, for the purposes of this blog, assume that you are travelling to Norway in your camper or motorhome. From this point we can now look at the main entry points into Norway. This will allow you to judge the best route given the available time.

There are four main entry points;

Via ferry from Denmark to south Norway or Sweden
– Via ferry from northern Germany to Denmark/Sweden
Via road, crossing Denmark’s Øresund Bridge into Sweden, entering Norway just north of Strömstad
– (And for completeness we need to mention the route through the north of Finland and Sweden)

 

Denmark options

1. Hirtshals is the most popular route for easy and direct access into Norway. Served by 10 daily sailings to a range of destinations that include Bergen, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Langesund & Larvik. The ferry durations range from 2.5hrs for Kristiansand to 16hrs to Bergen. Prices will obviously depend upon the season you travel and the length of your vehicle. For more information check here.

The advantage of the Hirtshals route is that it gives you direct access to southern Norway and the option of entering at one port and returning from another to give you a circular route. You also have the opportunity of seeing Denmark, which is well worth exploring, if you can build in the time. For more information on Denmark check our blog here.

2. There are other routes to Sweden you could consider, which include Frederickshavn to Gothenburg, Grenaa to Varberg or Helsingør to Helsingborg. The latter is the quickest way to cross the water, taking just 20 minutes. For information on this route check here.

 

Germany option

Again assuming we’re focusing on a UK starting point; then you could sail from Travemund to Malmö or Trelleborg in Sweden. Or from Rostock to either Trelleborg or Gedser in Denmark. The latter means you avoid one of the two Danish bridges (Storbælt). Although you will still need to cross the Øresund Bridge to get into Sweden. Rostock offers up to 18 daily sailings with durations from 1.45hrs – Gedser to 6hrs – Trelleborg.   For more information check here.

 

Øresund Bridge route

If ferries aren’t your thing and you would prefer to drive and take in the sights of Sweden’s west coast, then crossing the Øresund Bridge is your option. From mainland Denmark, you travel to Odense via Middelfart. I mention this partly because I just like saying the word, (with a childish titter) and also because it has one of Denmark’s only LPG stations. (55.492748 9.759738). It’s like gold-dust, so get some! 

Considerations when taking this route is that there are two bridges to cross. The Storebælt and the Øresund, both of which are chargeable. The Storebælt is a beautiful 11 mile (18km) structure that is payable at a Toll Booth. You can pay by cash, Euros, Krone or credit card. Prices are based on the length and height of your vehicle. Based on 2019 prices for a camper/motorhome over 6m long and max 3.5T it will cost €52; €85 if you are under 10m and over 3.5T. Make sure you take your registration paperwork in case of any dispute about charges based on your length. (Remember you must include any trailers or bicycle racks in your total length).  

 The Øresund Bridge is a magnificent piece of engineering and it was on Myles’ Wish List after seeing it from a plane many years ago. It’s a road and rail route to Sweden and is just under 10 miles (16km) long including the  tunnel. It’s quite a sight. This is another toll bridge and if you plan on returning from your Norway trip this way, then it is worth buying a Bropas. It’s an annual pass that costs around £37 to register, although it will save you 50% on each of your crossings. Given the fee to cross is €124 (summer price – out of season is slightly cheaper) then if you come back this way, the Bropas is worth having. If you are unsure about your route home, then we would recommend simply paying the one-way fee although if you do it ON-LINE at least one hour before you cross, this will save you 10%. Here’s the link. The purchase is valid for up to 30 days should your plans change. 

Once in Sweden then it is very easy to pick up the E6 from Malmö and blast up to the Norway border just north of Strömstad. This will take you a minimum of 5 hours from tip to toe. So if you can, we would highly recommend taking the scenic route and extend your stay by 2-3 days. Experiencing the beautiful west coast of Sweden is a must in our book. The Bohulsän region is incredible with archipelago stretching from Gothenburg to the Kosterhavnet National Park on the  Norwegian border. We adored our time here and the ferries are FREE. Wild camping in Sweden is so easy and although there are some restrictions in this National Park area, we found places to stop without any issues. 

 

 

Register for your Autopass Ferry Discount Card  

This is a critical action point to tick off your list before you leave home. This is a new scheme for 2019, so this is brand new information that will save you HUGE pennies on your Nordic budget. And I mean HUGE – up to 50% discount.

Norway’s lifeline is its ferries. Without them life would become very congested and difficult. So using the ferry system will  be very much part of your Norway travel strategy. So here are some important steps that we highly recommend to getting registered with your Discount Card. 

The essence of this card is that you;

  1. Log on to the Autopass website and register with your home address and vehicle licence plate. Autopass then send you a confirmation email within a couple of days giving you an IBAN and Swift number. This is for you to send a deposit amount to your account to pay for the ferries.

     

  2. Then you arrange an international transfer of 3,500NOK (£325.00) to your Autopass account. We did this through our online banking with Barclays. There will be a small cost to do this based on your bank’s International Transfer arrangement.  Within 3-4 working days you are then able to access your Autopass account and see your deposit funds. They will take 27NOK for the printing and sending of the plastic card.

     

  3. Once funds have been received they then send your card to your home address within 7-10 days. This little golden nugget then needs to be shown when you arrive at the ferry ports in Norway. The ticket man swipes your card and payment is taken like a credit card. No cash is needed. It’s as simple as that. You can check your accounts for the bills that appear within a week or so of your first ferry.

     

  4. At the end of your trip, you simply log into your account and terminate the card and all money remaining is refunded back to your nominated bank account within 30 days. This is the bit we are still waiting for.

 

It’s worth mentioning that we did come across one problem where our card wasn’t recognised and we had to pay by credit card. We advised Autopass of this and they asked for a photo of the receipt and they agreed to refund us the 50% discount we should have received. We were very impressed with this system and the savings were well worth the effort.

Sort out your EPC Toll Account – Euro Parking Collection 

Another cost to plan for, before you leave home, is Norway’s tolls. Roads, some tunnels and a few bridges have automated tolls and whilst they’re not expensive you are required to pay them as a visiting foreign vehicle.  

Every toll, bar one is operated by Vehicle License Recognition. So cameras pick up your licence and EPC, on behalf of Norway’s road system, will invoice you through information registered with the DVLA. Whilst registration with EPC isn’t obligatory, it’s worth doing so that you can access your accounts and manage the bills. You can also assign a credit card to your account so that automatic payment is taken. Otherwise invoices will be sent to either your home address or you can nominate an email address to get them sent directly to you.

A word of caution. It takes forever for the bills to come through. As I write this, we have not yet received any invoices, eight weeks after first crossing into Norway. We travelled through Norway from 1st July to 23rd August and believe our first toll was on 3rd July. So our suggestion is to write down the tolls you pass through – the costs are clearly indicated on the road signs, so that you can check the bills when they eventually come through.

You can find out more and arrange registration with EPC by clicking this link Euro Parking Collection. It’s worth doing so that your passage through Norway is automated and simple. 

The only toll that you pay at a Toll Booth is on entering the Atlantic Highway Route 64 at Kristiansund on the west coast.  

 

Think about your Currency and Pre-paid Cash Card

Norway, and in fact Denmark and Sweden all have their own currency. Whilst there are some places that accept Euros, these are generally few and far between – and only in very touristy areas. So make sure you arm yourselves with some NOK – Norwegian Krone. Whilst most of Scandinavia is a cash-less society, there are times when having a bit of cash is appropriate. For example some Marina Aires have an honesty-box payment system where you pop your money into an envelope and some campsite washing machines require coin operation. Everything else is card!

The amount of cash you take really depends on your length of stay and what your preferred style of overnight stops is. If you prefer wild camping then you’ll need no more than an equivalent of £20 of Krone per month, that will give you around 220NOK (@8/2019).

If you would rather stay on Marina Aires then you may need significantly more. The few Aires we stayed on were between 150-200NOK per night so that will give you a feel for what you might need to take with you.  For all other payments we used our pre-paid cash card from Caxton – others are of course available. 

A point to make with regards to paying for Diesel at Petrol Stations with your pre-paid cash card.  For every fill up we had a deposit amount taken from our account and your statement will show up as PENDING.  This is a security deposit and is returned to your account as soon as payment has been received by the supplier.  So don’t be anxious if you see a larger amount appearing on your statement than your receipt shows. It will be refunded within 5 working days, often it is a lot quicker than this.

What to do if your vehicle is over 3.5T

Norway’s Roads and Ferries are all about length. Charges are made based on length categories. So generally speaking  you would see <6m, 6.1-7.00m, 7.01-8.00m, 8.01-9m and >10m.  So given the size of your vehicle you may need to think about an electronic TAG device.

Given our vehicle is 3.5T we have no direct experience to share with you. Other than talking to friends who have just travelled to Norway with their 9m truck plus motorbike trailer. So at the very least we wanted to pass on this information to you. We hope it helps. 

Norway’s motorway sensors for the tolls system are all about the size of your vehicle.  This means that you need some form of electronic device if you are over 3.5T to ensure that you receive the M1 category for motorhomes which are being used for leisure vehicles and not business

A Tag system is the best option and there are a number of companies who supply this physical device. Our friends chose EasyGo+ Brobizz  as it can be used in both Scandinavia and Austria. You make your application online from their website, sending them a copy of your V5 and your emissions category, if this is not listed on your V5. They then set up a contract for you and a Tag device is sent to you within 10 days of your application. The beauty of this system is that you can use this device for your tolls (for which you also get a discount), ferries and across the bridges in Denmark. So it does have some advantages and of course is a necessity if your vehicle is over 3.5T. Our friends said it was very efficient, with bills coming through within 48hrs of their crossing through a toll. 

 

 

Part 2 – We’re on the Road to Norway

Make it about the journey

The best bit about travelling is that it is as much about the journey as the destination. It might sound a bit of a cliché, although it’s so true. We all fall foul of the, ‘get there quick and then we can rest’ approach. Although as we have already said, travelling through Norway’s vastness is tiring. So en route why not check out Bruges or Ghent in Belgium. Or perhaps Zeeland or Giethoorn in The Netherlands appeals as you break up your journey.

Either way, as Norway beckons, you have to navigate the river Elbe in northern Germany. One option is to go around Hamburg’s autobahns. This is our idea of hell. So after a bit of research I found an alternative route across the river at Wischhafen. There are 3 Aires not more than 5 minutes from the ferry and with regular sailing times, getting on quickly is never a problem. The journey takes 30 minutes and costs in the region of £20 (based on 7.5m plus two adults.) It puts you in at Glückstadt, which is just 2.5hrs to the Danish border. There’s also a Lidl nearby for stocking up on supplies and plenty of cheap Petrol Stations and LPG filling opportunities. It’s worth filling up with both before you cross into Scandinavia. Check out our Wischhafen Ferry video here. It was a great find.

 

Stocking up – a word of caution

Norway is notorious for its high cost of living especially the alcohol. So advice is to always fill up before you cross the border. Although a word of caution. Depending upon where you cross into Norway, there are credible reports from both locals and travellers that Customs Officers are a bit frisky with searching vans for excess supplies. Especially, we hear, off the Hirtshals’ ferries. So be mindful of this.

One  report was that the vans were being strip-searched at their arrival in Norway. The country is not part of the EU, so they have Duty Free limits. So this might influence your route into Norway based on your love for booze.  We crossed in the north of the country where there were no Customs checks so had no issues. Also as we crossed back from Norway into Sweden south of Oslo on the E6, we didn’t see any hard-border checks there either. So it does appear only to be off the Denmark ferry routes. 

 

 

Part 3 – Travelling around Norway

Velkommen til Norge

So after all those months of  planning, you have finally arrived at your dream destination.  Norway yeah! Here are a few essentials about getting around Norway safely.

  • The road system, tunnels and bridges
  • Filling up with Diesel and LPG
  • The ferries
  • Camping overnight
  • Travelling with dogs

 

The Road System, Tunnels and Bridges

Norway’s roads are pretty good and I say this having driven through Bulgaria, UK and Italy. Whilst they are not the standard of southern Sweden or Spain, they are of a reasonable quality. The key thing to remember about Norway’s roads is that there is always some sort of repairs happening. Given that the conditions are so bad from November to March, they  use the summer months to repair and strengthen their roads. So be prepared for long stretches of road-works and delays. We got caught up on a road where they were shoring up the side of a mountain and they required 2 hour periods to do their work. So watch your SatNav and the road signs. We also experienced 40 miles of intermittent road resurfacing on the arterial E6, which made it a horrible journey south and we had to pay for the privilege of it too. 

Otherwise the main roads we found decent enough. If, like us you enjoy getting off the beaten track then the road quality does become markedly differently and they tend to be more narrow. Passable, although narrow. So driving with caution and slowly are the name of the game. This is why you don’t get anywhere quickly in Norway.  

One thing we came to value perversely, on all roads in Scandinavia, are the rumble strips you get on the white lines in the middle and at the right-hand edge. We all have momentary lapses in concentration and a slight wander left or right  happens to us all, let’s face it. Especially with all these magnificent views. Although you are soon corrected and accidents by wandering vehicles are prevented by these rumble strips. A sensory warning to adjust your road position! They send vibrations right up your bottom!

A word on Norway’s motorways! They’re not really motorways as we know them. The main E roads, such as E6 are just single lane roads for much of the time. There are occasions when they are two or three lanes, especially around cities, although never for long.  

There are oodles of tunnels and bridges linking this geological masterpiece together. Tunnel lengths vary from just a few metres to our longest one, which was 8 miles! Friends travelled through the Gudvanden tunnel on the E16, in west Norway (60.888023 6.863913) and in August 2019 reported that the road surface was broken up for about 2.5 miles in the middle of the 7 mile length. So this might be one to check out prior to travelling.

In the north we found the tunnels were less… what shall we say… refined as their southern comrades. The walls were not coated and smooth, they were quite literally a hole through the mountain sides. So a little courage and a bit of praying that nothing was coming the other way, was needed at times. Certainly the longer tunnels in the south were of a much better quality we found, with good lighting and plenty of information about your position in the tunnel. If you are in the north around Tromso, enjoy the delights of having a roundabout in a tunnel. Yes you heard right – a roundabout. What a bizarre experience that was.   

The bridges in Norway are a piece of art in themselves. With arches, curves and suspensions you will ‘wow’ just over the bridges. They are an experience and always a positive one, in our opinion. The only issue I can think of is the weather conditions. If there is a nifty wind then you may need to proceed with caution although generally you are informed of the windspeed if there is an issue on a particular bridge.  

The speed limits in Norway are clearly marked although as a rule, in built up areas it is 30mph (50km) and on the main roads between 40-50mph (70-80km). Some sections of the E6 you could do 55mph (90km) although not very often. There are cameras so do keep to the speeds. 

In terms of the season you visit, just be mindful of the risk of snow. Whilst from May to September there is low to no risk, the further north you go the more unpredictable the weather. So if you intend to come early spring or in autumn, as a precaution pack snow-tyres or at the very least snow-socks. They could be vital in getting you out of a freaky weather system.

For all up to date information on driving in Norway, check out this website. 

 

Filling up with Petrol and LPG

Norway has plenty of Petrol Stations even throughout the fjords. Although our advice is always fill up when you can so that if suddenly resources become scarce you don’t have a problem. Interestingly LPG stations are less frequent although sufficient we found, for our needs. Travelling to Norway in the summer means generally no heating will be required so our two 11kg tanks lasted us 4-5 weeks, roughly. If you come during the autumn then you may need to be more mindful of where your LPG stations are, given that the weather is more unpredictable and snow can come early to this Nordic northland. We use the App LPG.eu and Maps.me to check where the nearest stations are. 

LPG stations are not housed within Petrol Stations. They are separate entities, usually found in Industrial zones on the outskirts of towns. 

We were interested to watch the prices of diesel over our 7 weeks. The first observation was that the price of diesel is actually cheaper in Norway than Sweden. We averaged between 13.39 and 16.05NOK (£1.22 –  £1.46). All stations were self-service and a majority of them payable at the pump rather than in a kiosk. 

One thing to remind you about is that in Denmark, Norway and Sweden a deposit is taken from your card of roughly 800 Krone, irrespective of what you spend. This is then refunded to your card within 2-5 working days. So don’t be shocked at the amounts on your statement. We suggest keeping hold of your receipts until the held amount is refunded in case of dispute. Although we always had ours refunded. 

The second observation is that the price can change within an hour – so if you see it cheap buy it – even if you don’t have an empty tank. And that change could be up to 1NOK so it makes a difference to your pocket. 

And finally, Sunday was always a cheap petrol day – we’re not sure if this was just coincidence although we often saw prices change come Monday morning. So worth watching out for. There doesn’t seem to be any one petrol station cheaper than another, so just go for the cheap prices when you see them, is our advice. 

 

Navigating the Ferries

As we have already discussed, the ferries in Norway are a necessary part of their lifestyle and very much part of their culture.  Hopefully by now you will have been persuaded to get a Ferry Discount Card. This section is more about the practicalities of ferry travel once you are here. There are a few pointers we have to ease your journey.

 

  • The 8 ferries we experienced on the west coast, mid-coast and the Troms region in the north were very efficient, and frequent. You never seem to be waiting long, especially once you are south of Bodø where their schedules are incredibly regular. I guess because the ferries are shipping cargo lorries as well as leisure vehicles, you can see why their frequency is important.

     

  • For 5 out of our 8 ferries, we were able to use our Discount Card. Our last ferry, for some reason wouldn’t accept our card, so we have informed Autopass of this malfunction and they will be issuing us with a refund.

     

  • There is a lane queuing system for each ferry and depending upon your position in the queue you will either get on the current ferry or automatically be first on the next scheduled sailing.

     

  • In terms of payment, generally a ticket collector would come to you whilst you are waiting in the queue and take your card. On the odd occasion you would pay the ticket collector on board the ferry.

     

  • Embarkation and disembarkation were swift, painless and given most ferry’s capacity was about 50 vehicles you  could generally assess whether you would make it on. There are toilets and some refreshment facilities depending on the length of the journey and you are allowed to get out of your vehicle, including your pets.

     

  • You are required to turn off your gas for each journey.

     

  • For the Troms ferries in the north, they have their own system and the Ferry Discount Card does not apply. We suggest that you download the Troms Mobillett App which entitles you to a 25% saving on all ferries in the region. It is also a facility you can use for taking the bus whilst visiting Tromsø. So it is a good resource to have.  One HUGE tip though. DO NOT buy your ticket through the app UNTIL you know you are on board. There is a time limit to your ticket purchase and it is important to only press the BUY button once you are securely parked on the boat. Otherwise your payment will run out before the ferry arrives.  For the Troms’ ferries you need to present your ticket onboard at the ticket desk inside the boat. You simply show your confirmation from the app and that’s it!

  • And last and by no means least, the ferry to Senja from Brensholmen is the smallest ferry we travelled on with only room for 21 vehicles. So we strongly recommend that you check the schedule. This was our first ferry and we were lucky that we happened to be vehicle 11. We had no idea how large the ferry capacity was and there were only a couple of ferries a day. So you could end up waiting a long time if you get your timing wrong.

     

 

Overnight Stops

With all this travelling, you will want somewhere to rest your heads.  And one thing that Norway does incredibly well is wild camping. We had some amazing spots alongside fjords with dolphins. It’s what wild camping dreams are made of.

Although if you prefer campsites then there are enough of those to go around too, although you may need to plot your journey a little more carefully on a day to day basis. I say this only because they are not on every street corner and so you may find yourself driving a long way to get to a site that is either booked or a longer journey than you had intended. Although in the three campsites that we stayed at during our 7 weeks in Norway, they were not fully booked, which did  surprise me. They were busy although not a Spain-type of busy. That said, I would still do a bit more planning if campsites are your preference so you can judge your driving time right. For campsites, check out Search for Sites or Park 4 Night

For wild camping lovers, we used Park4Night much of the time and we also found our own spots along the way too. Honestly finding places to park up is not difficult. You can often be guided by the trail of other motorhomes. You find yourself commenting ‘Oh well done, nice spot’. Or if you are tired and grumpy, ‘Oh damn that would have been perfect!’ Either way a place to call home is never a hardship in Norway. With their Allemannsretten – Every man’s right to roamyou can pretty much park overnight anywhere. As long as it is 150m away from any house and not on private land. You are generally allowed to stay for one night, although there are some mountain places where you can certainly stay longer.

The obvious next question is what about services? Well there are plenty of options we found. Some garages have free services, there are regular places in towns that offer facilities too and of course there are campsite options if you wanted. The only place we really struggled was on the Lofoten Islands. Otherwise even on Senja in the north, getting your van serviced was a complete breeze. We never worried about getting water or emptying our black waste.  We do have the luxury of two cassettes, which does make a difference, although still we didn’t find any issues. Norway (and Sweden) seriously know how to cater for the motorhome community.  In fact as you drive around the country, you will see how many houses have a motorhome in their driveways. They are into motorhoming in a big way and with winters as harsh as theirs, you can understand why.

Check out our gallery below sharing just some of our wild camping spots and campsites.

Travelling with dogs

Even though we don’t have a dog, I think it’s important to mention the regulations that you will need to consider for Norway. The following official website from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority gives you all the information you need to make sure your pooch (and cats or ferrets) can travel with you. In essence their checklist states four obligatory requirements. For more information if this is relevant for you, click the above link. 

 

  1. The animal must be ID-marked

  2. The animal must have a valid anti-rabies vaccination

  3. The animal must have received an anti-echinococcus treatment (dogs only)

  4. The animal must have a pet passport

Conclusion

So Norway – a dream destination for nature lovers, motorhome travellers, hikers and photographers. It has so much to offer and is well worth the planning, preparation and journey to get there. We are pleased with the research we did, plans we put  in place and the whole experience of Norway. So much so, that it contributes to Scandinavia being a serious highlight of our nomadic journey since March 2016. Whilst it took us a while to get here, it has really been worth the wait.

We hope that with these links, guidelines and pointers that you too will put Norway – and indeed the whole of Scandinavia on your list. This is just one in a series of blogs and free resources that we will be sharing with you to inspire you to travel to Norway and make your journey easy, cost effective and memorable.

We invite you to come back here for updates and visit our FB page for more information. There will be a free eBook coming soon and if you sign up to our monthly newsletter you will be sure not to miss a thing.

 

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Tromso – Norway’s most northern city

Tromso – Norway’s most northern city

Tromsø was never an intended destination on our 2019 Summer in Scandinavia road-trip, although when circumstances  took an unexpected change, we seized the chance to visit. We do believe that every event has its purpose, however difficult they may be. After all life is never as beautifully laid out as in our visions. I guess the trick is to make sure that you see the positivity in all things and remain flexible.

So when a family bereavement back in UK reshaped our plans, we looked upon it as an opportunity. It was a chance to explore a region that was not on our agenda whilst waiting for a flight back to England. That’s what I love about travel; when you go with the flow, things unfold as they are designed to.

And so Senja, Norway’s second largest island and Tromsø, Norway’s most northern city suddenly made an appearance on the Motoroamers’ road-trip. Come with us as we embark on a mini City-tour Guide.

 

The Gateway to the Arctic

Tromsø is a vibrant city 210 miles north of the Arctic Circle and over 1100 miles north of Norway’s capital, Oslo.  And whilst it may rarely appear on people’s travel itineraries, it surely has something unique to offer. For curious travellers seeking new experiences and cultures, Tromsø has to be on the list for exciting vacation opportunities, throughout the whole year.  Keep reading to find out why!

Tromsø, nestled between mountains that, for most of the year support a covering of snow, has more of a town-like feel than a city. This fact alone is enough to have us recommending this northern destination.  With its island location, it welcomes you across its arching bridge with a charisma and intimacy that instantly feels safe and warm. This was so unexpected. Cities so often smother me with their enormity and consume my tiny presence in its giant maze of buildings. Yet Tromsø is very different to the archetypal cityscape we are used to.

Tromsø has hit the global stage a number of times in its history. First was for its Arctic position which lent itself to explorers using the city as their main hub before embarking on their often fatal expeditions. Then the fire of 1969 which all but destroyed the whole city. And with their stalwart Nordic spirit, the city resurged against its adversity in 1972, when they built the most northern University – putting Tromsø firmly on Scandinavia’s map.

Thanks to its University, this unassuming city has a youthful feel, which gives it an energy that subtly bounces off the old town’s wharf. And yet in contrast, the Arctic history, stakes its claim in making Tromsø a fascinating place to visit. With its compact and bijou feel, it will delight you with its wintery tales of Arctic explorers and the characterful wooden buildings in the old wharf surely must hold many seafaring secrets.

 

A Compact and Bijou City Visit

Unlike many more Southern European cities, after a couple of hours, you will have got the measure of Tromsø. Even the cruise ships only dock for a short while. Although there are plenty of highlights to enjoy during this time, so don’t underestimate it appeal. 

 

1. Tromsø’s Bridges  – Major City Landmark

Tromsø, built on the eastern edge of the island of Tromsøya, survives thanks to its bridges and tunnels. Now these bridges are not your typical structures – nothing straight and boring here! Oh no, the city of Tromsø has a duo of arching structures that seem to glide high above the fjord as if in some grand gesture to the Sea Gods. Driving these 2km (1.2 mile) bridges is, on its own, an experience as you feel yourself drawn into the city centre with an entrance fit for a king on his chariot. 

The Tromsø Bridge (Tromsøbrua in Norwegian) to the east is 3,399ft cantilever construction that back in 1960 when it was opened, was the first of its kind in Norway. It was also regarded as the longest bridge in Northern Europe at the time. 

If you park in Tromsdalen to the east, walking across the bridge is a great experience, as you get a real sense of city’s perspective and its fjord position. Although be warned, read the signs carefully – as the north side of the bridge is for cyclists and the south for pedestrians. Mix them up at your peril and be prepared for a Norwegian onslaught of exasperation from the passing two-wheelers.

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2. Tromsø’s Special Roundabouts

Am I mad? Roundabouts, surely these are nothing worthy for your visit! Well when you experience these roundabouts deep beneath the surface of the earth, in tunnels, then you might choose to reconsider. It’s the most bizarre thing to experience and is definitely worth checking out if you can. Check out our short video below.

 

 

3. Tromso’s Arctic Cathedral – Ishavskatedralen

Cathedrals are often a tourist magnet in any city because of their grandeur and history. Tromsø may, once again surprise you. Whilst there is the official Cathedral in the old town square, which was rebuilt after the fire of 1969, it is the magnificent structure across the water that draws your eye. The iconic Tromsdalen church, known lovingly as the Arctic Cathedral is a pinnacle of engineering mastery. This triangular construction is something to behold and interestingly, despite its nickname, is not officially a cathedral. Built in 1965, the Arctic Cathedral is seen as the Sydney Opera House of Norway, such is the magnificence of its design.  

 

4. Tromso’s Old Harbour Wharf

Tromsø superficially, looks a bit commercial with its ports, ships and fish factories. Yet once you enter the sentrum, you immediately get a feel for its historical dominance of 19th century Arctic explorations. A memorial to Roald Amundsen, the man most famous for beating Scott to the North Pole, signals the gateway to understanding Tromsø’s Polar significance.

The Polar Museum explains how its northerly position became so central to expeditions heading north to conquer the icy kingdom of the Pole. And how the sea played, and still does even today, a vital role in their survival in this extreme part of the world.

And then you turn the corner to the inner harbour. Along the wharf, you find an array of seafaring vessels standing on parade, gleaming in the mid-summer sun. And it begins to dawn on you what life must be like in the grip of winter’s hold. Whilst a visit in June/July proffers 24hours of daylight, winter brings a different personality. -4° and darkness for most of the day. Knee deep snow and perhaps just a faint blue hew as the sun’s rays barely reach the horizon. And in a blink of an eye, a community’s lifestyle shifts from flourishing to survival amidst the extreme conditions.

The wooden harbour buildings still stand firm with more than a few tales of sailors’ woes hidden inside their walls. Now bars and restaurants, throbbing with cruise-liner visitors, sell a range of food, some of which is way beyond our western palette tolerances.

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5. Tromso’s Cable Car – Fjellheisen

Although we didn’t take the Cable Car on this visit, it is said to be one of the best ways to view the city, especially during either the Northern Light display or the Midnight Sun. What a spectacle either of these would be from such a lofty position. Built in 1961, the two cable cars, named Polar Bear and Seal will lift you 421m into the sky to give you an exhilarating view.

You can find it by walking over the eastern bridge towards the Arctic Cathedral. The ride is just 4 minutes, is open from 1000 to 2300 (and until 0100 during the Midnight sun period) and runs every 30 minutes. It costs 250Nok per person or if you feel energetic, walk down and only pay 150Nok. Find out more details and schedules by clicking here.

 

6. Tromsø’s Old Town

Tromsø is so much more than a winter retreat. Albeit the winter activities give this Arctic destination supremacy, there’s something about Tromsø’s charm that needs to be appreciated by daylight.

The old town took its early steps back in 1800s and was seriously influenced by its rich sea merchants who graced the town with their wealth. With bountiful pockets, Tromsø’s style took an international twist, modelled on the Empire architectural design of their Southern European cousins in Greece and Italy. Grand columns and doorway designs have a definite Romanesque flavour to them.

Alongside this, there’s an eclectic mix of colonial-style buildings that give Tromsø such a lovely atmosphere, where you half expect elegant couples dressed in their finery to promenade along the dockside. And yet paradoxically these charming wooden buildings have had to yield to the modern constructions that shadow their beauty. Yet somehow this city of contrasts works. That blend of commerciality and old era heritage living side by side, making their collective identity fuse seamlessly.

The high street, if that’s what you call it, softly travels through the old town with classy boutiques and shops selling reindeer hide and winter attire. There’s no high end marketing taking centre stage in this city, unlike its Lofoten cousin not too many miles away. Just a timeless trundle into the present day.

In the main square you will see the world’s smallest bar and a statue to honour the old Norwegian King. It is here that the old Town Hall stands in the shadow of its contemporary replacement, the wood clearly giving way to the more robust fortified glass that reflects a whole new lifeblood for this throbbing northern community. 

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What to do around Tromsø

Tromsø is most certainly a winter hub, more at home with huskies and the Northern Lights. Although don’t let a summer visit pass you by. These addition activities will turn your visit into a real adventure;

  • Just 15 minutes drive away you have the mountains of Skrolkets with great hiking. Keep your eyes open for moose and eagles.
  • Take a Rib on a Sea Safari see the whales and puffins.
  • For an extended tour, you are not far from the beauty of Senja and its Norway in Miniature status. With WW2 museums, trolls and one of Norway’s 18 most scenic routes, you could easily while away three or four days.
  • The world’s most northerly Botanical Gardens, just south of Tromsø.
  • Watch the Midnight Sun from mid-May to mid-July.
  • And why not consider an extended trip to the Lofoten Islands? With its easy access by road within a 6 hour journey, or a short flight from Tromsø domestic airport, seeing these iconic islands is a doable option. For more information on visiting the Lofotens, click here.
  • Why not take a City Walking Tour that will give you an intimate insight to an intimate city? For 3 hours be taken on a journey through the historical pathways of Tromsø and feel the spirit of the city. 

 

Practicalities for visiting Tromsø

With its northerly location, you could be forgiven for ignoring the draw of this Nordic beauty. Although with an airport, excellent cruising options and solid road infrastructure, Tromsø is a very real destination these days.  Here are some options for getting to, staying in and getting around Tromsø and its neighbourhood.

 

Getting there….

With the main arterial E6 route that connects the northerly and southerly points in Norway, visiting the upper reaches of Norway is so much easier. Granted it will take you a while and the road is not a motorway as we know them in UK/EU although it is doable – if you have the time. Equally if you have made the epic journey to Nordkapp and Alta, then the E6 south will bring you to Tromsø in 6 hours. All too often we hear of people by-passing Tromsø for the lure of the Lofotens, so we would really encourage you staying around this beautiful Troms region for a while before heading south.

We arrived in Norway from Sweden via the E10 at Abisko, so getting to Tromsø was actually quite an easy drive, albeit we took the scenic route through the fjords. 

Alternatively you could take one of over 100 direct flights a week from Norway’s Oslo, Gardermoen Airport to Tromsø. I can certainly vouch for this flight. I took an SAS flight and arrived in Oslo in less than 2 hours.

The Hurtigruten Cruise is arguably the most scenic route to take, although you need to have time on your side. This historical cargo vessel that would steam along the Norwegian coastline is, these days more of a travel experience than a cargo route. From Bergen to Kirkenes, the Hurtigruten Cruise is not the cheapest way to visit Tromsø, although will certainly give your Norwegian bucket list a great big fat tick! 

 

Once there, getting around

The beauty of Tromsø’s compact nature is that you can walk around it easily. It is only if you want to explore further afield that you need to consider another mode of transport.

We found driving to and through Tromsø in our 7.5m van caused no issues at all. We found free parking on Tromsdalen, across the Tromsø Bridge which was perfectly fine for visiting the city. (69.650268 18.993843). We didn’t stay overnight although we suspect it wouldn’t be a problem. 

If you are reliant on your feet for transport, then download the Troms Mobillett App, which gives you access and discounts to the buses and ferries in the area. 

 

Staying there

We stayed at two locations with our van. The first was an amazing wild spot up in the mountains to the north west of the city. With fabulous hiking, great views and generally peace and quiet, it was nice not to be too close to the city. (69.759121 18.855957). The second spot, I readiness for my flight back to UK was at the Tromsø Lodge Campsite (69.648636 19.016156). This is a great site close to the Cable Car and cycling distance to the city, although not cheap at 400NOK per night in July. It is an ACSI site, out of season. They had one the best showers we’ve experienced in Scandinavia and great washing machine facilities. 

For other accommodation, you have so many options from Hotels, Guest Houses, Cabins and AirB&B. Check out the official Tromsø Visitors website here.

 

Closing Thoughts

Tromsø, with its mountains, Midnight Sun, Northern Lights, Winter Expeditions and general all-year round appeal, makes a visit to this northern Nordic city worthy of your time. Without the crowds of other southern European destinations, Tromsø gives you a uniquely comfortable and adventurous experience. As a centrepiece to so much more exploration in the Troms region, we highly recommend this jewel in Norway’s northern crown. Come and experience the vibe for yourself and see what you think! 

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