Peter and I have just returned from nine days in southwestern Norway. It was an incredible trip. Norway is a beautiful country where life seems to slow down a bit.
Norway is the longest country in Europe and it’s easy to look at a map and think that the estimated drive time from A to B is “fake news” but I assure you, the estimates are accurate.
I read that it takes 30 hours driving (excluding stops) in perfect conditions to drive from Kristiansand in the south to Hammerfest in the north. And these locations aren’t the most southern or most northern in Norway.
As a comparison, it takes 14 hours (excluding stops) to drive from Minneapolis to Dallas in the US.
Norway’s geography is complex which makes it impossible to get anywhere fast, even with its marvelous road infrastructure. I lost count of how many tunnels we drove through but it’s the vicinity of 75. The longest was 14.4 kilometers (8.9 miles) and the shortest was 37 meters (121 feet).
Here’s a list of shortcuts if you’re looking for specific information.
- Overview and itinerary
- Norway/UK entry requirements
- Norwegian Air/Gatwick South
- Bergen Flesland airport (arrival)
- Car rental and driving
- Stavanger Sola airport (departure)
- Claiming a tax refund
Overview and itinerary
Our vacation in Norway is the third-longest vacation we’ve taken. It’s tied with our tri-city vacation in Italy to Venice, Florence, and Rome for third place.
We split the trip almost equally in thirds between Bergen, the Hardangerfjord region, and Stavanger.
Below was our route from Bergen to Stavanger via Norheimsund (Hardangerfjord region). This is a high-level route that doesn’t include our many day trips.
Our itinerary was a mix of hiking, city sightseeing, and “inclement weather” buffer days which came in handy.
The gray dots on the map below were the places that we visited and the red dots were our hotel locations.
Below was our itinerary.
|(Arrival)||Bergen||Arrival||Sightseeing||-Flew into Bergen Flesland, arriving at 1:45pm|
-Bergen old town sightseeing
|Full Day 1||Bergen||Hike||Sightseeing||-Hiked Mount Ulriken|
-Bergen old town sightseeing and cocktails
|Full Day 2||Bergen||Day trip||–||-Poor weather in Bergen|
-Drove the “Aurlandsfjellet” Scenic Route to Stegastein Viewpoint
-Visited Flåm for lunch
-Visited Vinje Church for photos
-5 hours roundtrip driving, excluding stops
|Full Day 3||Norheimsund, Hardangerfjord||Transfer||Hike||-Drove to Ænes, Vestland (near Odda) and hiked Lake Bondhusvatnet|
-3.5 hours roundtrip driving, including ferry journeys and wait time
|Full Day 4||Norheimsund, Hardangerfjord||Fjord safari||Hike||-Took a RIB boat safari on Hardangerfjord|
-Drove to Buer, Vestland (near Odda), and hiked Buarbreen
-4 hours roundtrip driving, including ferry journeys and wait time
|Full Day 5||Norheimsund, Hardangerfjord||Hike||Fjord||-Drove to Ålvik, Vestland and hiked Vikedalsnebbet|
-1 hour 10 minutes roundtrip driving
|Full Day 6||Stavanger||Transfer||Sightseeing||-Drove from Norheimsund to Stavanger|
-6 hours driving, including a stop for lunch
-Stavanger old town sightseeing
|Full Day 7||Stavanger||–||–||-Rained all day; hunkered down inside|
|Full Day 8||Stavanger||Hike||–||-Drove to (near) Jørpeland and hiked Preikestolen (“Pulpit Rock”)|
-1 hour 40 minutes roundtrip driving
|Full Day 9||Stavanger||Hike||–||-Drove to (near) Lysebotn and hiked Kjeragbolten|
-4.5 hours roundtrip driving
|(Departure)||–||Departure||–||-Drove to Stavanger airport and departed Norway at 9:15am|
Norway/UK entry requirements
This vacation was the first vacation since the pandemic began where we had no paperwork, no requirements, no facemasks, nothing. Our travel days were as they would have been pre-pandemic.
It was awesome.
Norwegian Air and Gatwick South
We flew Norwegian Air out of the Gatwick South terminal. It was our first time flying Norwegian and our first time flying out of the South terminal since the pandemic began (it’s been closed).
Norwegian Air is a low-cost carrier with only three fare types: LowFare, LowFare+, and Flex. It has a similar fare structure to easyJet but that’s where the similarities end between these two airlines.
We purchased middle fare tickets, LowFare+, which came with priority boarding, a checked bag, and a seat reservation at the time of purchase. The highest tier, Flex, included the LowFare+ perks plus priority check-in (at select airports) and was refundable.
Protip: Neither Gatwick nor Stavanger airports offered priority check-in services, so purchasing Flex tickets would have been a waste of money in that regard.
Our experience with Norwegian was a 9/10. Our flights departed on time and they arrived early. It is unheard of these days for flights to depart and land on time – we’ve not had this situation with easyJet in years.
The one-star ding comes down to our experience at Gatwick airport. The South terminal is an absolute cluster F. It was our second-worst airport experience in the last few years with Geneva airport being the worst (returning from Zermatt in February 2022).
We checked in online and went straight to the self-bag drop queue when we arrived at Gatwick. We had been standing in the queue for a couple of minutes when a man shouted, “If you haven’t checked in, go to the machine and check-in.”
We ignored him because we were checked in. We just needed to print our bag tags and drop them on the belt.
A few minutes later, we observed that everyone in the queue had already printed and attached their tags to their bags. We realized that when the man yelled “go check in at the machine,” that actually meant go check in at the machine and print your bag tags.
There had been about 15 passengers who joined the queue behind us so having to leave the queue sucked. It was a madhouse in the terminal!
We went to the machine, scanned our passports (each passenger’s passport must be scanned), printed our bag tags, and re-joined the queue.
Protip: The bag tag must be attached to the handle on the side of the bag, not the top of the bag. This is due to the way the bags are placed on the belt and scanned. If you attach the bag tag to the top handle, you will be required to detach it and attach it to the side handle.
We dropped our bags and headed to the security area and were met with a sea of people, some were neatly organized in the roped queue, and others were aggressively trying to merge into the queue.
Start of a tangent. The UK has a strong queuing culture. We love our queues here! If there are two queues leading to the same place that have different lengths, people will join the longer of the two. I’m not being sarcastic. This is a thing.
There are some unwritten queuing rules that must be followed in the UK. The primary one is to never cut the queue. If you do, you will be berated and made to feel like an absolute fool – no one, and I mean no one, lets a queue-cutter slide through.
Not surprisingly, Norway has a similar queuing culture. Don’t attempt to cut the queue. End of the tangent.
Getting through airport security in the UK is a two-step process.
1) Join the queue to scan your boarding pass.
2) Join the queue to go through security.
It took ~15 minutes to get through the boarding pass queue and another ~15 minutes to get through the security queue.
In all of our travels, we have never had to queue to scan our boarding passes. It’s always been a “step up to the plate” process that takes a few seconds. In recent years, the longest we have queued to get through security was five minutes.
After clearing security, we gathered our things and agreed that we were Gatwick North people, not Gatwick South people.
Note: The advantage that the South terminal has over the North terminal is that the train station is at the South terminal, therefore, no need to take the airport tram from the station to the North terminal.
Bergen Flesland airport (arrival)
As mentioned previously, our flight departed on time and we arrived in Bergen a few minutes early. We deplaned through the front and back doors of the plane. I love it when airlines board through both doors but I hate it when they deplane through both doors.
The goal when deplaning is to get to immigration before the other passengers, especially since Brexit where now British passport holders are required to use the All Passports queue.
We usually sit in the exit row which is in the middle of the plane so we end up being last off of the plane when they deplane out of both doors.
Making matters worse, we had to take a bus from the tarmac to immigration which is just annoying. It’s probably the worst thing about European airports.
Due to these things, we were one of the last people to get through immigration but the upside was that our bags were waiting for us when we got to baggage claim.
One thing that surprised us was the mad rush to the duty-free shop at the Bergen airport. We knew Norway was an expensive country but people were grabbing wheelie baskets to shop at duty-free. How much were they buying at duty-free that they need a wheelie basket?
They were loading up on wine and spirits which are reportedly half the price than if purchased at a Vinmonopolet (more on this topic later).
Car rental and driving
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to driving in Norway. Enough for a separate post, so stay tuned.
Stavanger Sola airport (departure)
Our trip to Norway was a triangle trip where we flew into Bergen and flew out of Stavanger.
Our first item of business on our departure day (to the UK) was to fill up the car with petrol/gas. We filled up at a Circle K gas station on the airport grounds but it was incredibly high priced, so try to avoid filling up there if possible.
As a comparison, we paid 25.42 NOK per liter in Norheimsund in the middle of the fjords and we paid 26.98 NOK per liter at the airport Circle K. In USD, this equates to $11.63 and $12.35 per gallon, respectively.
With the tank full, our next item of business was to return the car which was a little tricky because we didn’t collect the car from the Sola airport. Additionally, signage was limited.
Protip: The car rental return is on the far side of the parking lot. To get there, you have to drive through the parking lot (a little weird), then turn right and follow the signage for your rental company.
The car rental kiosks are located at the end of the airport that is closest to the parking lot. Signage is limited so I recommend entering the first door you come to and then you’ll probably have to backtrack a little bit.
After returning the keys, we walked to the middle of the airport and found the kiosks to print our bag tags. We attached them to our bags and dropped them at the self-bag drop. We did not have to wait for the kiosk, the self-bag drop, or security. There were few people and no queues for these things at the Sola airport. Maybe because it was 7am on a Wednesday or maybe it’s always that way but I enjoyed the lack of people.
Protip: There are three restaurants in the domestic departures area which is where you’ll find yourself immediately after security. If you are flying internationally and want more choices, head to the international departures area. There are loads of restaurants and shops in that area However, once you enter the international departures area, you cannot exit.
Claiming a tax refund
Norway was the first country where we purchased clothing and went through the rigamarole of claiming a tax refund.
Claiming our tax refund was the only snag we ran into at Sola airport. We were given the necessary paperwork at the clothing store and after dropping our bags, we went to the customs counter (located near the check-in kiosks).
The window at the counter was closed and we turned around and saw a blue mailbox on the wall. The box had instructions explaining what to do in the event the counter was closed.
To make a long story short, claiming a tax refund on clothing purchases is not done through Customs. It is done through a private company that has a counter next to the Customs counter. That counter was also closed.
When the counter (for the private company) is closed, the process is to take your receipt (and the clothing purchased with their tags) to your airline’s check-in counter. The counter agent will verify the receipt, paperwork, and items.
They will stamp and sign the receipt and then you will drop the receipt (take a photo of it first!) into the blue mailbox on the wall near the Customs counter.
Then you wait. Any applicable refund will be applied to the credit card you used to purchase the items.
We dropped our receipt in the blue mailbox before business hours on June 29 and the refund hit our credit card a week later on July 6.
We received 420 NOK ($42 USD, £35) which was 12.2% of our purchase and not too bad considering the process at the airport took only took us 15 minutes.
Below is a list of resources I used to prep for our vacation in Norway.
|Norway arrival information + requirements||Link|
|Norway’s weather forecasting system||Link|
|Visit Norway – tips & tricks||Link|
Next: the culture and quirks of Norway.