Norway stuns from the shore to mountains and fjords
DRIVE SCENIC ROUTES THROUGH NATIONAL PARKS FOR TONS OF ACTIVE SUMMER FUN
Norway ticks all the boxes for me. Beautiful beaches? Check. Massive mountains? Check. Green and mossy landscapes with evergreens overhead, where ferns flutter and wildflowers bloom? Check. Opportunities for heart-pumping adventure and inspiring activity? Check. Norway has it all.
Come along and see all the reasons summer is a fantastic season to explore this beautiful bit of Scandinavia. Here you can raft down white water rivers. Hike over fjords or come face to face with giant glaciers. Glide atop a serene blue-green sea in a kayak to find seals and porpoises. Make your own fjord cruise in a little rental boat to see majestic waterfalls and catch fresh fish for dinner. Discover the charm of the Norwegian hytte, or hut – a cozy cabin for your crew.
This was our itinerary for a summer 2020 road trip around the lower part of Norway. We sought out scenery and nature and places with fewer people. This is not a city tour but can be adapted with added in stops. I began with my map and plotted things we wanted to see and activities to do along the way. Then I built the route to sample parts of the Norwegian National Tourist Routes (or Nasjonal Turistvegen) to connect my dots. We did a lot. And we swooned over epic landscapes. And definitely filled our collective buckets. Even the teens. It was a good trip.[lwptoc hierarchical=”1″ numeration=”none” title=”Contents” toggle=”1″ labelShow=”show” hideItems=”0″ width=”full” colorScheme=”light” titleColor=”#016c70″ skipHeadingLevel=”h1,h6″]
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From Copenhagen to Kristiansand, Norway
From Denmark, there are several ways to get to our northern neighbor. From Zealand, you can take an overnight DFDS ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo. Or drive up through Sweden. We’ve done the overnight ferry already and decided on starting our journey from Jutland. A high-speed ferry jets you across from Hirtshals, Denmark to Kristiansand on the “Norwegian Riveria.”
Unfortunately for us, potentially cute Kristiansand was drizzly and grey, but we did enjoy dinner outside at the Fiskebrygga (Fish Market) and meandering the Museum Harbor on nearby Odderøya Island. We found a hotel room that could accommodate our family of five at the Hotel Dronningen, attached to the well-situated Radisson Blu. Check-in and morning breakfast (additional charge) available at the Radisson.
COVID TRAVEL NOTE: While current Norwegian health guidelines still don’t put parts of sister Sweden on a safe travel list, you are allowed to drive straight through to Norway without quarantining. Check the website to see what is required for your country of residence. We were allowed in as U.S. citizens with Danish residency permits.
(Current as of publishing, check up to date guidelines when you want to visit.)
WHAT TO SEE:
→ Odderøya Museumshavn | City island with a fort and interactive exhibit of historic Norwegian leisure boats.
→ Fiskebrygga | Charming outdoor eating area on the water with restaurants and active fish market.
→ Posebyen | Historic neighborhood with cute white wooden houses.
WHERE TO EAT:
Seafood lovers will enjoy any of these restaurants in Fiskebrygga, all with outdoor dining options.
WHERE TO STAY:
Radisson Blu | Well situated on the wharf and walking distance to town and Fiskebrygga.
Hotel Dronningen | Cheaper option with family rooms that fit a family of five, attached to the Radisson Blu.
Thon Hotel Parken | Middle of Kristiansand old town, this Norwegian chain offers relatively affordable rooms with great buffet breakfast included.
Scandic Kristiansand Bystranda | Views of the water and easy access to the old town, Scandic hotels are well-regarded around Scandinavia and also offer a morning breakfast buffet.
White water rafting in Evje, Norway
From Kristiansand, you can continue along the scenic southern coastal route that will take you all the way to Stavanger. Or, you can detour to the mountains for a day out river rafting in Evje on the Otra River. It was much fun for the whole family. The Otra river isn’t very long but affords grade 3 and grade 4 rapids that feel just big enough.
The tour is about 3-4 hours long and starts at the TrollAktiv camp, where you can book cabins and loads of other activities like high ropes courses, ziplining, mountain biking, climbing and more. We wore swimsuits and were provided long john wetsuits, waterproof jackets, lifejackets and helmets. If you don’t have waterproof shoes, you can rent those too.
After some safe paddling practice in the smooth pond above the dam, we carry our raft over to the drop in spot and hop on. You will be paddling, but it isn’t difficult. Once over the rapids, the guide will help you get out at shore where you’ll lift the raft onto a trailer, walk back up the riverside, pop back in the boat that’s been brought up for you and set down the chutes a second time. Take the fun option to jump off a rock into the river before your ride is complete.
GOOD TO KNOW: Children must be 140cm tall for the regular rafting. There are “family” rafting options for those with littles who are under that mark.
WHAT TO DO:
→ Rafting with TrollAktiv | 550- NOK/per person
WHERE TO STAY:
Evje Park Apartments | A 10-minute drive from TrollAktiv and walking distance to town. One and two-bedroom apartments with outdoor patio and yard. Grill hut and grills available.
TrollAktiv Camp | Little cabins and huts available amidst all the activities and action. Fun for families, but don’t expect quiet.
Flekkefjord, Sogndalstrand and the southwest coast
From sunny Evje, we wound down little roads and back to the coast. You could drive back to Kristiansand and around, but we like to keep moving forward, if we can to see something new. We stopped in adorable little Flekkefjord on the southwest coast to wander the white wooden walking streets of the town’s Hollenderbyen, or Dutch town. Strewn with pretty festoons of crocheted garlands, it’s a cute walk down to the marina on the water. Stop by Tollboden Bakeri for delicious sandwiches, baked goods, and wood-fired pizzas to eat on their patio while watching the boats cruise by.
Continuing along the coastal route, you’ll encounter other cute towns you might consider to stay in for the night. Enjoy Sogndalstrand or charming Åna-Sira. Check out Sogndalstrand’s Kulturhotell, if even just for lunch. It’s all kinds of cute.
WHERE TO STAY:
Grand Hotel Flekkefjord | Adorable white clapboard hotel right in old town of Flekkefjord with classic touches.
Sogndalstrand Kulturhotell | A collection of 10 clapboard buildings from the 1800s make up the unique stay at the Kulturhotell. Step back in time and experience this cute fishing town at its heyday.
WHERE TO EAT:
Tollboden Bakeri | White clapboard building on the Flekkefjord Harbor offers delicious baked goods, sandwiches and excellent wood-fired pizzas to eat inside or outside on the patio.
Off-road fishing outside Egersund
We stayed outside Egersund in a cozy little cabin and while Egersund lacked the charm of the other coastal cuties, we did make memories with some off-road fishing at the recommendation of our Norwegian host. Bounding over boulders, circumnavigating sheep, and sloshing through a slight swamp, the kids found our fishing spot with a view. No keepers this evening, but fun to hook a few cod.
GOOD TO KNOW: Norwegian fishing rules are specific to the body of water where you are casting a line. No licenses or permits are required if fishing from shore in saltwater, but there are size limits to what you can keep. Learn more here to make sure you are keeping your catch sustainable and safe for the local environments.
WHERE TO STAY:
Grand Hotel Egersund | Modern hotel in a historic building in the middle of town.
Hauen Camping | Off-the-beaten-path outside Egersund, a collection of 7 functional self-catering hytte atop a hill.
Jæren coastal scenic route
There are 18 National Scenic Routes designated by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and the tourist board. Norway has invested a lot in its infrastructure and the routes offer stunning landscape viewpoints, sites of cultural significance and safe rest stops to enjoy a picnic along the way. That is, if it isn’t raining. Summer weather in Norway can be fickle, pack some rain jackets and water-resistant pants.
The southernmost scenic route – Jæren – begins in Ogna and follows the coast almost to the city of Stavanger. Known for beautiful swaths of sandy beaches and iconic lighthouses, our crew was a little unimpressed, I must admit. Crappy weather and a landscape that looks a little too much like Denmark didn’t help. So we cruised through this section on to our next stop.
WHAT TO SEE:
→ Kvassheim Lighthouse | Lighthouse now houses a café and small museum space.
→ “Hitler’s Teeth” | In Brusand, a relic from WWII when Nazi troops occupied Norway and installed rows of cement blocks to prevent an Allied invasion.
→ Orrestranda | 5 kilometers of fine sandy beach, making it Norway’s longest.
Lysefjord and Preikestolen | Hike Pulpit Rock
From the coast, we drove inland to catch the ferry at Lauvikk to Oanes along the Lysefjord. Throughout fjord Norway you’ll find small ferries that shuttle cars and trucks back and forth. Most are a quick trip and you don’t have to wait for long to drive aboard. You can either stay in your car on the deck or step up top to garner great views of the fjords (or simply use the toilet.) Many offer coffee and snacks for sale as you sail.
Once across to Oanes, the Lysefjordsenteret, minutes from the ferry is a perfect place to stop and get an overview of the area. Or enjoy a meal in the restaurant, which affords really fantastic views. Littles will love to see what kind of fishes are in the fjord and say hello to the local goat outside.
Lysefjord area is home to one of Norway’s most well-known, and slightly terrifying hikes. You’ve probably seen the pictures. Preikestolen is what the Norwegian’s call “Pulpit rock.” It is popular and can be crowded on the trails and at the top as people line up waiting to take their iconic shot. Plan for about four hours to hike up and back and wear suitable shoes, the diverse and steep terrain requires it. Comfortable, breathable, and water-resistant clothing also key as the weather can change quickly as you climb up. You can prep yourself for the hike and learn a little more on my blog friend Vanessa’s post on her site Nordic Wanders.
WHAT TO DO:
→ Lysefjordsenteret | Visitor center and restaurant for delicious fiskesuppe and information on hiking and local fauna. Open daily 13.00 – 18.00.
→ Preikestolen or “Pulpit Rock” | 4-hour (somewhat terrifying) roundtrip hike to iconic rock lookout 600 meters above Lysefjord.
→ Kjerag | A demanding mountain hike to 1000+ meters above Lysefjorden and a chance to stand on a boulder pinched between two rocks way too high in the sky.
→ Ryflyke Scenic Route | begins in Oanes and Håra.
WHERE TO STAY:
Lysefjord Hyttegrend | Cute cabins that can host from 2 to 9 people all with views over the fjord. Friendly goats and chickens on-site and a quick walk down to the marina below for fishing or swimming.
Åkrafjord, Langefoss and fishing
From the Ryfylke region, we moved north to Hordaland and two nights on the Åkrafjord. Not as well known as other fjords in Norway, we appreciated the beauty and space. Here we found a fun hytte with a view at the Kyrping Camping marina. Bonus here? You can rent a boat to captain your own fjord cruise and fish along the way. Plan ahead and bring along extra fuel if you want to make the trip up to Langefoss waterfall further up the fjord. Impressively crashing down the mountain from 612 meters, it was something to see from the side of the boat. As it’s still saltwater here, no fishing licenses required to catch all the mackerel you can cook on the community grills back at the campground.
WHAT TO DO:
→ Go fishing | Rent a boat from Kyrping Camping to find your own fishing hole to find cod, haddock, mackerel, flounder and more.
→ Fjordcruise | Perfect for those who don’t want to rent and captain their own boat, you can see the Langfoss waterfall up close from the water with daily departures between 1 Jul and 2 August every day from 12.00 – 16.00.
→ Åkrafjordtunet | Visitor center, specialty market and cafeteria right on the fjord.
→ Langefoss | Feel the crush of water flowing down the mountain from this impressive waterfall from a boat or on land. Parking lot off E134 north of Markus.
WHERE TO STAY:
Kyrping Camping | Self-catering cabin apartments overlooking the fjord with three bedrooms sleeping up to 6. Café, small market, laundry, and grill facilities available.
Hytte at Kyrping Camping on the Åkrafjord
Hardanger scenic route
Leaving the Åkrafjord and beginning another Norwegian scenic route, the lovely Hardanger fjord region is lush and verdant. Starting at Låtefoss falls, twin streams cascade dramatically into the river right at the roadside. Be careful pulling over to park as it can get congested here as people slow to gawk at the gorgeousness.
The road flows with the beautiful river and winds down towards the striking fjord town of Odda. This would be a perfect place to stop overnight if you want to explore more of the nearby Folgefonna National Park or Hardangervidda National Park. But we were heading further north.
From Odda, continue to follow route 13 along the Sørfjorden branch of the larger Hardanger fjord. Here the road abuts farm after farm up the hills full of orchards all selling fresh fruit at small roadside stands along the way. Pick up some cash in Odda and you can partake. It’s only cash or VIPPS (the Norwegian equivalent of Danish mobile pay or American Venmo) out here. Known for primo pears, apples, and plums later in the season, come late July, you’ll find luscious cherries ripe for the tasting. Look for signs selling moreller – the Norwegian word for cherries.
Sognefjord and kayaking on Lustrafjord
Since we’ve been to Norway before, we didn’t make stops in the popular Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord area around Gudvangen and Flåm. But you if you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth a stop and even an overnight to take a gorgeous (literally) fjord cruise or experience the famous Flåmsbana train up or down the valley. You can read more about our Norway in a Nutshell adventure in the posts below. If you’ve never been to Norway, it’s a great way to begin planning your trip.
We headed a bit further north to the Sognefjord and some seriously swoony light blue-green seas. From the town of Flåm, the road cuts straight through the mountains along a few epically long tunnels complete with roundabouts in the middle. Make sure you know which way you’re headed before you drive in, as GPS coverage goes a bit crazy trying to track you along the 24-kilometer tunnel underground.
This was my favorite part of our entire trip. I loved the Lustrafjord, a leg of the longest and deepest Norwegian fjord – the Sognefjord. If you think you’ve heard enough about fjords thus far, buckle up. This one is the best. At least to us on this trip. Come summer, the Lustrafjord glows with a milky grey greenish-blue depending on the sunshine and shadows. In parts, it is almost opaque due to the 3-4 meter layer of glacial runoff from nearby Jostedal glacier – the largest in continental Europe. The freshwater sits atop the saltwater and creates a luminous color only seen in the summer.
Kayaking with Fjord Seal in Marifjøra
And the best way to experience this magical fjord is from the seat of a kayak, just inches above the water. We spent a half-day with FjordSeal kayak tours out of Marifjøra. The Dutch owner, Paul, has been leading expeditions each summer for the past seven years but has lived in the area for almost 17 and offers great insider information about the region during the 4-hour tour.
After getting our lifejackets and an efficient safety briefing, we set off paddling from the chilly Gaupne end of the fjord where the glacier water finally meets the sea. The water here is only 10°C (50°F). The tour is family-friendly and any littles between 7 and 14 are welcome to ride in a double kayak with an adult. With our family of five, our eldest teen got a single kayak to maneuver himself, and the other two paddled (surprisingly well) together. Pack a lunch for a break halfway before you paddle back. Along the way, we spotted harbor porpoises dipping and diving beneath the glassy surface. It a perfect day out.
WHAT TO DO:
→ Kayak Tour | FjordSeal Kayak, Marifjøra Norway
18 May – 18 June | Tours Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 9.30
19 June – 1 September | Tours daily at 9.30
READ MORE: KAYAK FJORD NORWAY
WHERE TO STAY:
Luster Fjordhytter | Colorful self-catering cottages and marina with stunning views of the Lustrafjord in Høyheimsvik. Row-boats available for free and SUP to rent by the hour or day. Café on-site for your afternoon Norwegian waffle and coffee fix. (We adored it here.)
Marifjøra Sjøbuer | Four self-catering little red rorbua, or classic Norwegian fisherman’s cottages right on the fjord.
Walaker Hotel | Classic Norwegian hotel in Solvorn. Where I would stay if I were traveling without kids. Set in a gorgeous garden with a well-regarded restaurant.
Jostedalen and Nigardsbreen glacier
From the Lustrafjord you can take a day trip up the gorgeous Jostedalen valley to come face to face with part of that epic glacier. Start your tour at the Breheimsenteret visitor center and glacier museum. For a fee, you can learn a little more about the blue ice, global warming, and life in the ice ages. Our teens weren’t tempted and we continued on to see the ice itself.
Drive the 3.5 kilometers to the Nigardsbreen lake parking lot. Here you can walk to the glacier viewpoint, or take the little boats for a small fee. A quick 5-minute ride across the lake lets you off at the last thirty minutes of the hike. Again, remember good shoes as the terrain is diverse and can be tricky. Along the way, look for bits of ice broken off and floating in the calmer eddies. Follow signs to keep your crew safe. Seeing the truly blue ice up close and personal and feel the power and chill of the melting runoff was truly impressive.
WHAT TO DO:
→ Breheimsenteret | Glacier Center, Jostedal NO
→ Nigardsbreen | Glacial Viewpoint
Boats run daily in the summer from 10.00 to 17.50 on demand.
Adults | 60- NOK and Children | 40- NOK per direction
Sognefjellet scenic route to Lom stave church
If you had only one National Scenic Route to drive in the lower half of Norway, I would say seek out the Sognefjellet road if only to see the gorgeous Lustrafjord alone. This route is not for the faint of heart or nervous drivers as it snakes up the mountains on hairpin curves. But the vistas are worth it down to the valley below.
Soon you’ll find you’re surrounded by an entirely different, but no less dramatic landscape – icy and rocky even in summer. Sheep wander along the roads and when the skies are clear, small lakes and ponds become reflecting pools for the surrounding peaks. I loved every inch of this route.
READ MORE HERE: Steer Your Norwegian Road Trip to the Scenic Sognefjellet
Lom Stave Church
Driving down out of the mountains, the trees return and farms litter the landscape with their white wooden main houses and red, red Norwegian barns. At the end of the Sognefjellet sits the more touristy town of Lom. Here you’ll find hotels, cafés, shopping and many a market. We were happy to move on. But before you do, don’t miss the Lom Stavekyrkje, or stave church. One of the largest still standing in Norway boasts beams dating from 1150 CE. A gorgeous example of the Viking turned Christian craftsmanship in the woodwork. For a fee, you can sneak a peek inside. In the summer sun, the fragrant smell of pine tar used to preserve the church smells sweet.
Valdresflye scenic route by Jotunheimen National Park
Lom was the furthest north on our Norwegian itinerary. From here, we headed back south via the Valdresflye Scenic Route which again affords a completely different view from your window. Here high mountain forests line the roads and we look out for moose and maybe a reindeer. This road leads you to the Jotunheimen National Park and with it more mountains. We stayed in one more hytte surrounded by evergreens near here.
When we drove the long smooth roller-coastery roads of Valdresflye it was a sunny Saturday in July. Being only 4-5 hours from the capital Oslo, the rest areas and parking lots along the way were packed and heaving, so we didn’t pause. But if you want wild camping opportunities and wide-open scenery to scale – this is an excellent place to explore more.
Outside the capital on the Oslofjord
While I can highly recommend exploring all that Oslo has to offer, our trip was focused on what the country offered outside of cities. The Oslofjord (yes one last fjord) affords quaint and cozy corners and villages to escape the crowds. We stayed on the Asker side at the Thon Hotel Vettre and enjoyed a last dinner out on the water in nearby Vollen outside on the marina. Vollen is also home to the Oslofjordmuseet, offering insight to the history and culture of the region.
Waking to rain, we were all ready for the ride home. South through Sweden and back to Copenhagen.
I love Norway. If you want a little more inspiration for your next adventure in northern Scandinavia – check out how amazing Norway is above the Arctic Circle.
READ MORE: MORE TRAVELS IN NORTHERN NORWAY
Save it for later or share it with someone who needs to see Norway right now. Cheers from here. #cometoscandinavia she said. (When you can.)