Of all of the Scandinavian countries, I have always imagined Sweden to be the first I would explore – firstly for the shopping prospects, and then for the meatballs. When I previously thought of Norway, my imagination didn’t go far beyond the scenes drawn out in the country’s crime novels: small towns scattered scarcely across long winding roads that are surrounded by dense, snow-topped forestry – and the threat of a serial killer forever looming. In some parts, my visit brought this vision to life, (fortunately if excluded the narrative of murder), in others it presented a vibrancy I didn’t expect to uncover. Across the period of five days, Greg and I wander around the country’s capital, spend some time in a small town, float through the fjords and see the sights in Bergen. For a breakdown of this trip head to the bottom of this page. Otherwise, scroll down for more.
When we arrive in Oslo it is quite late into the evening so we head directly to our accommodation, an AirBnB in the area of Toyen which is about an hour from the centre of the city. The following morning we set out to explore our surroundings. In the locale of Toyen we unexpectedly come across the Botanical Museum and the Munch Museum, however, as appealing as both seem, we find that we are too early to enter the prior and would not be in the budget to visit the latter. Consequently, we make our way straight to Oslo central.
I find the centre of the city to be a little anti-climatic and extremely quiet considering that it is where I would expect many another visitors to flock to. Nonetheless, one feature of the area that does impress me is the Oslo Opera House that sits at the head of the Oslofjord. The House is the home of the Norweigan National Opera and Ballet and is designed to resemble an iceberg, with a bright white exterior and sporadic geometric lines.
Following our time spent sitting by the Opera House and admiring the surrounding scenery (which includes views of the Oslo cityscape and the surrounding fjords) we seek out lunch and settle upon lunch in a traditional Norwegian restaurant. Here we enjoy a classic open salmon sandwich, as well as some other dishes comprising of lamb chops, cabbage and potatoes.
Meatballs at Kafe Asylet
As I mentioned earlier, Sweden had always been first on my list of Scandinavian destinations because of my association of the country with delicious meatballs. Ikea had set in my mind the idea that this was solely a Swedish speciality so I had little expectation regarding meatballs on the Norweigan front. As we sit down to eat our first dinner in Norway, this naive assumption of mine is quickly dispelled. Hidden from the main road, Kafe Asylet serves the most incredibly flavoursome plate of meatballs and potatoes that I have ever experienced. Accompanied by cranberry jam and mushy peas, the dish fills spots in my stomach and ignites tastebuds on my tongue that I didn’t know existed. I find that almost any meat and potato dish provides a feeling of intense warmth and comfort. While the components of the dish are very similar, there is a difference between Swedish and Norweigan meatballs (known locally as kjøttkaker) as the latter is much larger, flatter and use a more finely minced meat. I don’t think I could ever enjoy an Ikea meatball again.
The following morning, we make our way to Oslo airport where we board a small propeller plane to Sogndal. From Sogndal we will board a ferry that will take us on a journey through the country’s fjords before dropping us at the more bustling city of Bergen. The route we take explores the area of Sognefjord, which is also known as The King of the Fjords because of its magnificence. Before we arrive in Sogndal, our flight over the country offers a stunning view of these fjords from above.
After landing in at the airport we board a coach that drives us to the silent and scenic town of Sogndal – a journey and destination that brings to life the novel images of Norway that I had imagined. Having not booked a place to stay in advance our first point of action is checking the Airbnb website and asking the locals for accommodation advice. There is nothing available on Airbnb and the hostel as recommended by a local is fully booked, so we are left with the option of a Best Western hotel that charges a whopping £100 per night. This is way beyond our budget, but in Norway, it is quite an average price. It is somewhat of a silver lining to find that our room provides an epic view of the face of a beautiful snow-topped cliff.
We begin the journey from Sogndal to Bergen the following morning; it takes around four hours in total, stopping at numerous small villages along the way. As the ferry sails with force through the wide-spanning fjords we stand on the open deck, wind streaming past our faces, and take in the magnificent view. Every now and then we retreat to rest on the plush seats inside the ferry, however, our determination to take in as much of our surroundings as possible keeps pulling us back outside.
We arrive in Bergen at around midday and the streets are alive with crowds visiting the local seafood market, retail stores and iconic wooden houses. Before exploring all of this, we check into our accommodation for the night, the futuristically decorated Magic Hotel. After dropping off our things we head back to the city where we explore the wooden houses that, for me, were somewhat of an anticlimax as they are simply wooden buildings with a few shops below them.
We stop to eat at what appears to be a very popular restaurant named Pingvinen (the Penguin). Here we seek to taste more authentic Norweigan dishes. I opt for a fish pie while Greg takes a plate of Plukkfisk, lightly salted fish mixed with potato, topped with bacon, accompanied by lavishly buttered crackers. For me, the fish pie was very bland and so I found myself indulging in as much of Greg’s Plukkfisk as possible. Feeling greedy, we also order dessert, I opt for the carrot cake while Greg takes the pannacotta. Again, I am left disappointed with my own order but quickly fall into a forbidden love affair with the rich vanilla tones in Greg’s pannacotta.
After dinner we board a funicular tram that takes us to the top of Mount Floyen. Similar to the Victoria Peak tram in Hong Kong, the short ride carries us to a point that provides a spectacular view of the city. From this position, we are able to see all of the Bergen’s roads and structures in great detail, as if we are standing over a miniature model city. As we wait for the sunset hour, we take the time to explore the forest that is spread across the mount. Here we discover glistening lakes and endless layers of trees. At sunset, the sky is flushed with a burst of citrus tones but does not descend into darkness as at this time of year the Norweigan sky remains in a steady state of twilight until morning.
When we wake we’re somewhat unsure of how to spend the day as we want to be certain that what little money we have left is well spent. After spending some time Googling and reading reviews on Trip Advisor over breakfast in the hotel, we eventually decide on visiting the Bergen Aquarium that has a rating of 4 stars and above. This is a decision I am extremely conflicted about as I am greatly against visiting animals in enclosures which is something that I have expressed in previous posts, but I feel that as the aquarium had such high reviews the conditions the sea creatures lived in would be good. I was wrong. Within the first 30 seconds of entering the aquarium I know we have made a terrible decision; as the 30degree heat beats down on them, penguins stand lacklustre on a poor excuse for a surface in a tiny enclosure. Across from them, sea lions swim back-and-forth in a disappointingly small pool of murky water. We hurry through the aquarium and breathe a deep breath of relief upon our exit. We spend the rest of the day wandering around the city, walking through its residential roads and appreciating the weather.
How we travelled: We flew from London Stanstead to Oslo Torp with Ryanair. Our flights were £16 roundtrip per person. After arriving at Oslo Torp, we took a train directly to Oslo which took around 45 minutes. While in Oslo we used their metro service or explored by foot. To get from Oslo to Sogndal, we took a propeller plane with Norweigan airline Widerøe and then boarded a coach from the airport to the city. The Sognefjord ferry journey was booked with Norled and once in Bergen, we travelled only by foot.
What we did: In Oslo, we wandered around the city and visited the Oslo Opera House and also watched the sunset on the Oslo harbour. We took a ferry to Bergen where we explored the local sights which included the Floyen Panorama and the Bergen Aquarium.
Where we ate: We used TripAdvisor to seek out the best places to eat in each city. In Oslo, we ate at Kafe Asylet as well as some other traditional restaurants as we wander around the city. There is not a huge selection of places to eat in Sogndal, however, we did find an impressive pizza restaurant named Pizzabakeren. In Bergen, we ate twice at Pingvinen and also had a delicious kebab at a place simply named Bergen Kebab.
Tips & Tricks: Norway is easily the most expensive place I have ever travelled to. An average price for a night at a hotel is around £100 and a meal for two at a casual restaurant is around £50, so I would recommend visiting with high expectations for expenditure.