How To Travel Norway Like a Local
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
Norway is overwhelmingly beautiful. Everywhere you look there's something gorgeous: forests; mountains; colourful wooden cabins built next to glassy lakes - it's absolutely dreamy. Sure, it's not a tropical paradise but it doesn't need to be, its many qualities speak for themselves. I had the privilege of visiting in 2018 and immediately fell in love with it and since stepping off the plane at Heathrow, I've wanted to go back. Many people are put off by the expense as it's not a cheap country to visit, but it's also totally possible not to burn a massive hole in your pocket if you have a budget to stick to, and definitely not worth missing out on.
The best part, however, was being able to do it like a local. My good friend Leonie was my gracious hostess and as someone who has lived in Norway since she was young, she was a fantastic tour guide and adventure buddy for me as a Scandinavia first-timer. So, without further ado, here's what I learned about how to travel Norway like a local:
1. Go on a hike
Want to prove that you're a real Viking warrior? Go on a hike. It's basically a requirement with so much natural beauty around you and I promise that it'll be an unforgettable experience. Get yourself some good walking boots, a water bottle, a few snacks for the journey, and you're set.
One of Leonie's top tips that has stuck with me is to not forget about looking back to see how far you've come. I'm sometimes pretty guilty of not doing this - I'm not always the calmest on slippery ground and it had been raining super heavily the night before - but as soon as you look back at the view from the direction you came, that sense of achievement is fantastic.
2. Get into the food
Norway may not be famed for its traditional cuisine, but that doesn't mean it isn't good. There's a lot of fish, cured meats, potatoes, cheeses, and jams involved: hearty and down-to-earth just as you'd expect, but it doesn't stop there! Did you know that Norwegian waffles are a thing? Yeah, our breakfasts were pretty good.
If you're in need of snacks, then fear not - they've got some good ones. My personal favourites were Bamsemums - little chocolate-covered marshmallow bears, and basically any of the Freia chocolate, but also moose sausage which is really good! If you like things like chorizo and salami then you'll probably be able to get behind it too.
The other thing about Norwegian food and drink that you need to know is that coffee really is a thing there. Norwegians are big coffee drinkers, and most cafés will offer at least 1 free refill with every cup.
3. Learn a bit of Norwegian
Learning a bit of the local language can get you a long way in most countries, and Norway is no exception. It's not necessary to do a full Norwegian course (unless of course you want to, in which case go for it!) as most people speak English pretty well, but it's still polite to learn a few words of Norwegian, like hallo (hello); takk (thank you); vennligst (please); ha det (goodbye); and other common phrases like directions or prices.
4. Strike a balance between urban and rural
Norway's rural landscapes are undoubtedly amazing, but don't miss out on the cities! Places like Trondheim have so much on offer, especially if you want to get into a bit of Norwegian history or the contemporary music scene. Unfortunately, we didn't have long in Trondheim, but even at first glance, I could tell it was somewhere I'd have to go back to. As the ancient capital of Norway, before it changed to Oslo, Trondheim is still a hugely significant city, being home to the 700-year-old Nidaros Cathedral where Norwegian monarchs are still crowned today. There are also plenty of shops, restaurants, art galleries, and speciality museums to explore, so it's definitely not one to miss out on.
5. Stay overnight in a cabin
We were fortunate enough to have access to a cabin owned by the community in Leonie's area - each person that wants to use it takes responsibility for maintenance and cleanliness whilst they're there, and anything that needs replenishing like candles or wood for the log burner is posted on an online forum so that the next person to go up can sort it out. There's no Wi-Fi, no phones, just nature, and it's absolute bliss.
The cabin we stayed in was directly next to a gorgeous lake surrounded by forest, and there was even a boat that belonged to the cabin that could be taken out for a mini rowing adventure! If you're able to book one, it's entirely worth any amount of effort to get there, and as Leonie told me, it's the most Norwegian experience you'll ever have.
If I were to go back I would...
Visit Oslo. I'm especially keen to visit the Viking and Norse Folk museums, but of course there's also the Royal Palace, hiking trails, so many great-sounding places to eat, and being the capital there's also plenty of accommodation options to suit any budget.
Go back for the Midnight Sun. The Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon that happens during the peak of summer - the sun doesn't actually set for several weeks! The sky glows orange for the entirety of the night, and it sounds like a real bucket list sight. I went in August and had just missed it by a couple of weeks, so I'd love to go back in June or July one year to try and catch it.
Explore further north. Reindeer, Northern Lights, more dramatic scenery, the fairytale coast of Helgeland, native Sami cultural heartlands, glaciers, islands - need I say more?
And that's it! I expected Norway to be great but not quite as great as it was - what a place. If you get the chance to visit then I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially if you try to do it like a local, which is undoubtedly the best way forward. Happy travelling, venner!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.
Huge thanks again to the amazing Leonie for her generous hospitality, expert tour guide act, and all-around top-notch friendship, plus for her proofreading skills on this post to make sure I didn't say anything dumb. You're the best.
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