Renting a car opens up a wealth of options to customize a Norway fjords itinerary. Even in high season there will be times when you are all alone on the roads. Turn off the main routes and perhaps you’ll end up in a dense forest, or on top of a hill with an unspoiled view of a fjord all to yourself.
Outline a rough itinerary to be sure of good accommodation and restaurant options. Alternatively, tent up and take advantage of Norway’s excellent campsites and the freedom to roam laws that permit wild camping.
With two weeks and a rental car, I recommend taking in three of Norway’s most dynamic cities and several of the best known Norway fjords, while leaving plenty of time for your own exploration. It’s important to note this itinerary includes a couple of roads that are only accessible May-October, depending on the weather. A winter road trip requires much more advance planning and should only be considered by experienced winter drivers.
Day 1: Oslo Airport to Lillehammer
150 KM (93 MI); 2 Hours
Maximize your time on the road by renting a car from Oslo Airport Gardermoen and avoiding the high cost of driving in Norwegian cities by heading north, away from Oslo. A stop at Eidsvoll, site of the signing of Norway’s constitution, is a must for history buffs. Spend the afternoon in Lillehammer, where the Olympic Museum and open-air museum at Maihaugen offer a terrific introduction to Norwegian society and culture. Spend the night in one of the hotels overlooking the vast Lake Mjøsa.
Day 2: Drive to Åndalsnes
259 KM (161 MI); 4 Hours
Carve your way through the heart of Norway and along the winding roads of the Rauma valley towards Åndalsnes. The visitor center at the Troll’s Wall (Trollveggen), Europe’s tallest vertical rock face, is worthy of a stop. The town itself is unremarkable, so stay in a comfortable cabin at one of the several campsites in the immediate area, and enjoy a relaxing evening walk along the Rauma river in the shadow of the jagged mountains.
Day 3: Geiranger via Trollstigen
95 KM (59 MI); 3 Hours
Get to the Trollstigen mountain pass (May-Oct.) before 10am and you’ll beat the tour buses. Driving up the 11 hairpin bends is a memorable experience, as is the incredible view from the balconies that dangle over the mountain ridge. Continue on the National Tourist Route to Geiranger, allowing plenty of time for photo stops. The viewpoint at the 1,500-meter (5,000-foot) summit of Dalsnibba mountain (May-Oct., toll road) offers an outstanding bird’s-eye view of Geiranger.
Day 4: Geirangerfjord
21 KM (13 MI); 1.5 Hours
After a quick visit to the modern Norwegian Fjord Center, pick up a packet of chocolate from Geiranger Sjokolade as a gift or to enjoy on the car ferry to Hellesylt. This one-hour cruise past the famous waterfalls and clifftop farms of the Geirangerfjord will leave a lasting impression. Dine and stay overnight in the peaceful village of Hellesylt, or a night at the spooky Hotel Union Øye is recommended for couples.
Day 5: Royal Fjord Route to Ålesund
120 KM (75 MI); 3.5 Hours
Cross the underrated Hjørundfjord on a car ferry and follow in the footsteps of European royalty, who have traveled through this valley since the 19th century. Take a lunch in one of the many small villages along the route. Ørsta offers the most facilities and the option of an enjoyable waterside walk. Before arriving in Ålesund, take a detour through its suburbs up to the summit of Mount Aksla for one of Norway’s most spectacular urban viewpoints. An evening meal in the restaurant here is worth the cash.
Day 6: Art Nouveau Ålesund
Minimal driving in and around Ålesund
A great choice to break up a Fjord Norway road trip is to spend the day exploring the rich art nouveau architecture of Ålesund. Whether you guide yourself or take a walking tour, the charm of the city is intoxicating. During the afternoon, explore the hiking trails and nature reserves of the neighboring Giske islands or meet the penguins at the saltwater Atlantic Sea Park. The city’s restaurants offer lunch and dinner options to suit all tastes and budgets.
Day 7: Balestrand
313 KM (195 MI); 6.5 Hours
Make up a packed lunch from your hotel buffet or pick up some snacks from a supermarket for the lengthy drive south. Start your tour of the mighty Sognefjord in the peaceful village of Balestrand, perfect for exploring on foot. Treat yourself to dinner and a night in one of the historical rooms of the Kviknes Hotel and relax in one of the Sognefjord’s most picturesque locations.
Day 8: Blue Ice Hike on a Glacier
173 KM (107 MI); 3.5 Hours
Drive to Gjerde for a close-up view of the Nigardsbreen glacier. Hike in the immediate area, or pre-book a guided blue ice hike for an unforgettable experience. Stay overnight at a nearby campsite, or head to Sogndal for more accommodation and dinner choices.
Day 9: Sogndal to Flåm
105 KM (65 MI); 3 Hours
Visit the magnificently preserved Borgund Stave Church and drive to Flåm via your choice of two of Norway’s most intriguing driving experiences. Negotiate the winding Snow Road (May-Sept.) over the Aurlandsfjellet mountains, or experience the unique lighting within the world’s longest road tunnel, the 24.5-kilometer (15.2-mile) Lærdal Tunnel. Stay overnight in Flåm and enjoy the range of local food and drink served at the village brewpub.
Day 10: A Day in Flåm
Minimal (if any) driving
This remote community may be tiny but it offers plenty of options to keep visitors occupied for a day. Choose between a kayak trip along the Aurlandsfjord, a cruise to the UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjord, or a return trip on the world-famous Flåm Railway. Alternatively, take it easy and stroll along the valley to the 17th-century church in the old village. Spend a second night relaxing in this peaceful location before hitting the roads again.
Day 11: Flåm to Bergen
167 KM (104 MI); 3 Hours
Drive directly to Bergen and immerse yourself in the Hanseatic history of Norway’s second city. The Bryggen wharf and associated museum are a must-see. In the evening, familiarize yourself with the modern side of Bergen. Treat yourself to a feast of New Nordic cooking at one of the city’s outstanding restaurants, or take in a concert at one of the many gig venues.
Day 12: A Day in Bergen
Minimal (if any) driving
The outstanding Bergen Art Museum deserves at least a couple hours but could easily occupy the day if you have more than a passing interest in art history. The museum’s restaurants are great choices for a light lunch or indulgent dinner. If you didn’t catch a stave church on your travels, be sure to head out to a leafy suburb on the Bergen Light Rail to see the reconstructed Fantoft Stave Church.
To shorten this trip, leave your rental car at Bergen Airport (with prior agreement, for an additional fee) and return to Oslo by plane or the scenic Bergen Line railway.
Days 13-14: Oslo via Hardanger
463 KM (288 MI); 8 Hours
Driving back to Oslo in a day is possible, but you’ll miss out on even more outstanding natural beauty. It’s best to allow two days for the return trip to take in the Hardangerfjord. Cross the fjord on the Hardanger Bridge, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges, and drive all the way down the sunny eastern edge of the narrow Sørfjord for an overnight stay in Odda. Alternatively, take in the spectacular Vøringsfossen waterfall as part of a night in Eidfjord.
Skirt the edge of the vast Hardangervidda National Park on Route 7 to return to Oslo. At Hønefoss, continue on the E16 southbound toward the city or eastbound toward the airport.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Norway.