Norway’s public transport system – a huge mesh of trains, buses, car ferries and passenger express ferries – is comprehensive and reliable. In the winter (especially in the north) services can be cut back severely, but no part of the country is unreachable for long.
Bear in mind, however, that Norwegian villages and towns usually spread over a large distance, so don’t be surprised if you end up walking a kilometre or two from the bus stop, ferry terminal or train station to get where you want to go. It’s this sprawling nature of the country’s towns and, more especially, the remoteness of many of the sights, that encourages visitors to rent a car. This is an expensive business, but costs can be reduced if you rent locally for a day or two rather than for the whole trip, though in high season spare vehicles can get very thin on the ground.
With the exception of the Narvik line into Sweden, operated by SJ, all Norwegian train services are run by Norges Statsbaner (NSB; nsb.no). Apart from a sprinkling of branch lines, NSB services operate on three main domestic routes, which link Oslo to Stavanger in the southwest, to Bergen in the west and to Trondheim and on to Bodø in the north. The nature of the country has made several of these routes engineering feats of some magnitude, worth the trip in their own right – the tiny Flåm line and the sweeping Rauma line from Dombås to Åndalsnes are exciting examples.
NSB have two main types of train – Lokaltog (local) and Regiontog (regional). There is one standard class on both, but certain regional trains have a “Komfort” (read more spacious and with electrical plugs) carriage, for which you pay a supplement of 90kr per person. All Regiontog have internet access, for which you’ll need to register beforehand on the NSB website. It’s also worth noting that on many long-distance intercity trains and on all overnight and international services, an advance seat reservation is compulsory. In high season, it’s wise to reserve a seat on main routes anyway, as trains can be packed. General NSB timetables are available free at every train station and there are individual route timetables too. In the case of the more scenic routes, there are also leaflets describing the sights as you go.
Fares and discounts
Fully flexible, standard-fare prices are bearable, with the popular Oslo–Bergen run, for example, costing around 800kr one-way, Oslo–Trondheim 870kr – a little less than twice that for a return. Both journeys take around six and a half to seven hours. NSB also offers a variety of discount fares. The main discount ticket scheme is the Minipris (mini-price), under which you can cut up to sixty percent off the price of long-distance journeys. In general, the further you travel, the more economic they become. The drawback is that Minipris tickets must be purchased at least one day in advance, are not available at peak periods and on certain trains, and stopovers are not permitted. NSB also showboats a variety of special deals and discounts – check the NSB website or enquire locally (and ahead of time) for details on any specific route. For overnight trains, two-berth sleepers (sove) are reasonably priced at 850kr, especially if you consider you’ll save a night’s hotel accommodation.
In terms of concessionary fares on standard-price tickets, there are group and family reductions; children under 4 travel free; 4–15-year-olds pay half-fare, and so do senior citizens (67+) and the disabled. Pan-European Inter-Rail and Eurail passes can include the Norwegian railway system and there’s also a Norway Eurail Pass, which entitles the holder to between three and eight days unlimited rail travel within one month. Prices for three days are 1500kr (1133kr for 12–25-year-olds), eight days 2277kr (1716kr). The rules and regulations regarding all these passes are complicated – consult the website of the umbrella company, Rail Europe (raileurope.com). Note that some passes have to be bought before leaving home.
Both supplementing and on occasion duplicating the train network, buses reach almost every corner of the country. The principal long-distance carrier is Nor-Way Bussekspress (nor-way.no), whose services operate in conjunction with a dense network of local buses, some of which only run in the summertime. Tickets are usually bought on board, but on long-distance routes there are sometimes substantial discounts for advance purchase – check the Nor-Way Bussekspress website for details or inquire at the local bus station. Bus travel is almost invariably less expensive than the train, and prices are passable – especially as all tolls and ferry costs are included in the price of a ticket – but costs are still fairly high. For instance, the nine-hour Nor-Way Bussekspress trip from Oslo to Haugesund costs 650kr (490kr in advance), the seven-hour journey from Ålesund to Trondheim 570kr (no advance discount).
As for concessionary fares, children under 4 travel free and both youngsters (under 16) and seniors (over 67) are entitled to discounts of up to fifty percent. Rail-pass holders and students are sometimes eligible for a fifty-percent reduction on the full adult rate too – ask and you may receive.
Using a ferry is one of the highlights of any visit to Norway – indeed, among the western fjords and around the Lofotens they are all but impossible to avoid. The majority are roll-on, roll-off car ferries. These represent an economical means of transport, with prices fixed on a nationwide sliding scale: short journeys (10–20min) cost foot passengers 25–35kr, whereas a car and driver will pay 60–100kr. The maximum tariff on this national scale (for sea journeys of up to 15km) is currently 43kr for foot passengers, 130kr for car and driver. Ferry procedures are straightforward: foot passengers walk on and pay the conductor, car drivers pay when the conductor appears at the car window either on the jetty or on board – although some busier routes have a drive-by ticket office. One or two of the longer car ferry routes – in particular Bodø–Moskenes – take advance reservations, but the rest operate on a first-come, first-served basis. In the off season, there’s no real need to arrive more than twenty minutes before departure – with the possible exception of the Lofoten island ferries – but in the summer allow two hours to be really safe.
Hurtigbåt passenger express boats
Norway’s Hurtigbåt passenger express boats are catamarans that make up in speed what they lack in enjoyment: unlike the ordinary ferries, the landscape whizzes by and in choppy seas the ride can be disconcertingly bumpy. Nonetheless, they are a convenient time-saving option: it takes just four hours on the Hurtigbåt service from Bergen to Balestrand, for instance, and the same from Narvik to Svolvær. There are Hurtigbåt services all along the west coast, with a particular concentration in and around Bergen; the majority operate all year. There’s no fixed tariff table, so rates vary considerably, though Hurtigbåt boats are significantly more expensive per kilometre than car ferries – Bergen–Flåm, for instance, costs 685kr for the five-and-a-half-hour journey, 800kr for the four-hour trip from Bergen to Stavanger.
There are concessionary fares on standard fares on all routes, with infants up to the age of 4 travelling free, and children (4–15) and senior citizens (over 67) getting a fifty-percent discount. In addition, rail-pass holders and students are often eligible for a fifty-percent reduction on the full adult rate and on most routes you get a similar discount for advance reservations on the internet.
Norway’s most celebrated ferry journey is the long and beautiful haul up the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes on the Hurtigruten (literally, “rapid route” hurtigruten.com) coastal boat or steamer. To many, the Hurtigruten remains the quintessential Norwegian experience, and it’s certainly the best way to observe the drama of the country’s extraordinary coastline. Eleven ships combine to provide one daily service in each direction, and the boats stop off at over thirty ports on the way.
The whole round-trip lasts thirteen days (and twelve nights), and the fare per person in a two-berth cabin including breakfast, lunch and dinner ranges from 8000kr in the depths of winter to 1900kr at the height of the summer. The shorter, one-way cruise costs a lot more heading north than south: north ranges from 7800kr to 13000kr, south 4400kr to 10500kr, again per person in a two-berth cabin including breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are, however, all sorts of special deals for early reservations and so forth – see the website for details. Making a Hurtigruten booking within Norway is easy too, either on the website, by phone (810 03 030), or via most west-coast tourist offices.
A short or medium-sized hop along the coast on a portion of the Hurtigruten route is also well worth considering. Port-to-port fares are not particularly cheap, especially in comparison with the bus, but they are affordable providing you do not have a cabin. For example, the standard, mid-season (spring or autumn), one-way passenger fare from Trondheim to Bodø (26hr) is 1000kr without meals or cabin, about the same from Ålesund to Trondheim (22hr), again without meals or cabin. Last-minute bargains, however, can bring the rates down to amazingly low levels and there are often substantial one-off discounts in winter too. All the tourist offices in the Hurtigruten ports have the latest details and should be willing to telephone the captain of the nearest ship to make a reservation on your behalf. Most – but not all – of the Hurtigruten boats carry cars, but advance reservations are recommended.
As for specifics, there is a restaurant and a 24-hour cafeteria supplying coffee and snacks on all Hurtigruten boats; the restaurants are very popular, so reserve a table as soon as you board.
Internal flights can prove a surprisingly inexpensive way of hopping about Norway, and are especially useful if you’re short on time and want to reach the far north: Tromsø to Kirkenes takes the best part of two days by bus, but it’s just an hour by plane. Domestic air routes are serviced by several companies, but the major carrier is SAS (sas.no), a conglomerate with many (airline) subsidiaries. A one-way fare with SAS from Oslo to Trondheim costs from about 620kr, 900kr from Oslo to Kirkenes; return fares are about double. In terms of concessionary fares, SAS permits infants under 2 to travel free, while children under the age of 11 receive a 25 percent discount; there are also discounted rates for young people aged 11 to 25 years old.
You might also want to check out Widerøe (wideroe.no), a subsidiary of SAS, which specializes in internal flights – they fly between 35 Norwegian airports – and Norwegian Airlines (norwegian.com), which operates flights between fifteen domestic airports at what can be staggeringly low prices – Oslo to Alta, for example, from just 600kr. There’s also the up-and-coming Danish Air Transport (dat.dk), who operate 15 internal routes, most importantly several from the mainland to the Lofotens.
Norway’s main roads are excellent, especially when you consider the rigours of the climate, and nowadays, with most of the more hazardous sections either ironed out or tunnelled through, driving is comparatively straightforward. Nonetheless, you still have to be careful on some of the higher sections and in the longer (fume-filled) tunnels. Once you leave the main roads for the narrow mountain byroads, however, you’ll be in for some nail-biting experiences – and that’s in the summertime. In winter the Norwegians close many roads and concentrate their efforts on keeping the main highways open, but obviously blizzards and ice can make driving difficult to dangerous anywhere, even with winter tyres (which are compulsory), studs and chains. At any time of the year, the more adventurous the drive, the better equipped you need to be, especially in the sparsely inhabited north: on remote drives you should pack provisions, have proper hiking gear, check the car thoroughly before departure, carry a spare can of petrol and take a mobile phone.
Norway’s main highways have an E prefix – E6, E18, etc. The E roads are the nearest thing Norway has to motorways, but only rarely are they dual carriageways and they are often interrupted by roundabouts and even traffic lights. All the country’s other significant roads (riksvei, or rv) are assigned a number and, as a general rule, the lower the number, the busier the road. In our guide, we’ve used the E prefix, but designated other roads as Highways, followed by the number. In an effort to boost tourism, around twenty routes or roads have been designated Nasjonale Turistveger (National Tourist Routes; nasjonaleturistveger.no) with more to follow. Each is equipped with strategically positioned visitor centres and viewpoints.
Tolls are imposed on certain roads to pay for construction projects such as bridges, tunnels and motorway improvements. Once the costs are covered the toll is normally removed. The older projects levy a fee of around 15–30kr, but the tolls for the newer works may run to well over 100kr per vehicle. There’s a toll on entering the country’s larger cities (15–30kr), but whether this is an environmental measure or a means of boosting city coffers is a moot point.
There are automatic toll stations (automatisk bomstasjon) on every toll road. Here, signs indicate the amount of the toll to be levied and cameras read the electronic tag – officially the “AutoPASS On-Board Unit (OBU)” – that has, by law, to be attached to the windscreen of every Norwegian vehicle. Drivers do not need to stop, but the owner of the vehicle is billed in due course (usually within a week). All Norwegian car rental vehicles have one of these tags and the car rental companies are billed like everyone else – but predictably they pass on the charge to their customers (and that’s why you can never wrap up the car rental bill completely when you return your vehicle). If you are taking your own vehicle to Norway, you can purchase a tag at or near your point of entry, but it is much easier to set up an online credit-card Visitors’ payment account, in which the cameras read your number plate and invoice you accordingly. For further details, consult autopass.no.
Entirely separate from the state-run system are the modest tolls of 20–40kr levied on privately maintained country/mountain roads; drivers are expected to deposit their money in a roadside honesty box; they are easy to spot.
Fuel is readily available, even in the north of Norway, though here the settlements are so widely separated that you’ll need to keep your tank pretty full; if you’re using the byroads extensively, remember to carry an extra can. Current fuel prices are 12–15kr a litre, and there are four main grades, all unleaded (blyfri): 95 octane, 98 octane, super 98 octane and diesel.
All EU/EEA driving licences are honoured in Norway, but other nationals will need – or are recommended to have – an International Driver’s Licence (available at minimal cost from your home motoring organization). No form of provisional licence is accepted. If you’re bringing your own car, you must have vehicle registration papers, adequate insurance, a first-aid kit, a warning triangle and a green card (available from your insurers or motoring organization). Extra insurance coverage for unforeseen legal costs is also well worth having, as is an appropriate breakdown policy from a motoring organization. In Britain, for example, the AA charges members and non-members about £170 for a month’s Europe-wide breakdown cover, with all the appropriate documentation, including green card, provided.
Rules of the road
Norway has strict rules of the road: you drive on the right, with dipped headlights required at all times; seat belts are compulsory for drivers and front-seat passengers, and for back-seat passengers too, if fitted; and winter tyres are compulsory in winter. There’s a speed limit of 30kph in residential areas, 50kph in built-up areas, 80kph on open roads and 80kph, 90kph or sometimes 100kph on motorways. Speed cameras monitor hundreds of kilometres of road – watch out for the Automatisk Trafikkontroll warning signs – and they are far from popular with the locals: there are all sorts of folkloric (and largely apocryphal) tales of men in masks appearing at night with chain saws to chop them down. Speeding fines are so heavy that local drivers stick religiously within the speed limit. If you’re filmed breaking the limit in a rental car, expect your credit card to be stung by the car rental company to the tune of at least 600kr and a maximum of 7800kr (yes, that’s right). If you’re stopped for speeding, large spot fines are payable within the same price range and, if you are way over the limit (say 60kph in a 30kph zone) you could well end up in jail; rarely is any leniency shown to unwitting foreigners. Drunken driving is also severely frowned upon. You can be asked to take a breath test on a routine traffic-check; if you’re over the limit, you will have your licence confiscated and may face a stretch in prison. It is also an offence to drive while using a hand-held mobile/cell phone. On-street parking restrictions are rigorously enforced and clearly signed with a white “P” on a blue background; below the “P” are the hours where parking restrictions apply – Monday to Friday first and Saturday in brackets afterwards; below this are any particular limits – most commonly denoting the maximum (maks) number of hours (timer) – and then there’s mot avgift, which means there’s a fee to pay at the meter.
If you break down in a rental car, you’ll get roadside assistance from the particular repair company the car rental firm has contracted. This is a free service, though some car rental companies charge you if you need help changing a tyre in the expectation that you should be able to do it yourself. The same principles work with your own vehicle’s breakdown policy. Two major vehicle breakdown companies in Norway are Norges Automobil-Forbund (NAF; 24hr; 08 505) and Viking Redningstjeneste (24hr; 06000). There are emergency telephones along some motorways, and breakdown trucks patrol all major mountain passes between mid-June and mid-August.
All the major international car rental companies have outlets in Norway, especially at the country’s airports. To rent a car, you’ll need to be 21 or over (and have been driving for at least a year), and you’ll need a credit card. Rental charges are fairly high, beginning at around 3500kr per week for unlimited mileage in the smallest vehicle, but include collision damage waiver and vehicle (but not personal) insurance. To cut costs, watch for special local deals – a Friday to Monday weekend rental might, for example, cost you as little as 800kr. If you rent from a local company rather than one of the big names, you should proceed with care. In particular, check the policy for the excess applied to claims and ensure that it includes collision damage waiver (applicable if an accident is your fault). There are lots of these local car rental companies in Norway, listed in the Yellow Pages under Bilutleie. Bear in mind, too, that one-way car-rental drop-off charges are almost always wallet-searing: if you pick up a car in Oslo and drop it in Bodø, it will cost you 6000kr – nearer 8000kr in Tromsø.
Despite the difficulty of much of the terrain, cycling is popular in Norway in the summertime. Cycle lanes and tracks as such are few and far between, and are mainly confined to the larger towns, but there’s precious little traffic on most of the minor roads and cycling along them is a pleasure. Furthermore, whenever a road is improved or rerouted, the old highway is often redesigned as a cycle/walking route. At almost every place you’re likely to stay in, you can anticipate that someone will rent bikes – whether the tourist office, a sports shop, hostel, hotel or campsite. Costs are pretty uniform: reckon on paying between 120kr and 200kr a day for a seven-speed bike, plus a refundable deposit of up to 1000kr; mountain bikes are about thirty percent more.
A few tourist offices have maps of recommended cycling routes but this is a rarity. It is, nonetheless, important to check your itinerary thoroughly, especially in the more mountainous areas. Cyclists aren’t allowed through the longer tunnels for their own protection (the fumes can be life-threatening), so discuss your plans with whoever you hire the bike from. With regard to bike carriage, bikes mostly go free on car ferries and attract a nominal charge on passenger express boats, but buses vary: sometimes they take them free, sometimes they charge and sometimes they do not take them at all. Nor-Way Bussekspress accepts bikes only when there is space and charges a child fare, while taking a bike on an NSB train costs half the price of your ticket up to a maximum of 175kr. Advance reservations are advised.
If you’re planning a cycling holiday, your first port of call should be the Norwegian Tourist Board’s website (visitnorway.com), where you can get general cycling advice, information on roads and tunnels inaccessible to cyclists and a list of companies offering all-inclusive cycling tours. Obviously enough, tour costs vary enormously, but as a baseline reckon on about 6500kr per week all-inclusive.
Storgata 3, Oslo 22 47 30 30, slf.no. The Norwegian Cyclists’ Association has an excellent range of cycling books and maps, some of which are in English.
cyclingnorway.no. The website of “Cyclists Welcome” lists ideas for a dozen routes around the country from 100km to 400km, plus useful practical information about road conditions, repair facilities and places of interest en route.