We had two full days in Norheimsund in the Hardangerfjord region. Our only plan when we arrived in Norheimsund was to go on a fjord safari in Hardangerfjord. Everything else was decided on the spot.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Arrival day (via Bergen): Hike Lake Bondhusvatnet in the afternoon
Full day 1: Go on a fjord safari in the morning and hike Buarbreen in the afternoon
Full day 2: Hike Vikedalsnebbet in the morning and no plan for the afternoon; we soaked up the sunshine on our hotel’s jetty/dock
Options in Norheimsund and Hardangerfjord, in general, were limited.
We ultimately decided on the Thon Hotel Sandven and stayed there for three nights.
The hotel had “historic” and “new” wings. One of the ways to ensure a room in the new wing was to book a Business Room, so that’s what we booked. Our room was new if compared to the historic theme of the hotel, but it was new-new.
Similar to our Bergen experience at a hotel within the same chain, Peter and I were two of a handful of non-retired folks staying at the hotel.
We felt this way throughout Norway, actually. There were two tourist demographics – van life people in their 20s and coach bus tour groups of retired people.
We didn’t fit into either of these demographics.
The location of the hotel was picturesque. It was a “fjord front” property with a lush grass lawn between the hotel and the fjord. There were lounge chairs and picnic tables across the lawn and on the deck/jetty.
The hotel was in the village and within walking distance to literally everything. Even to the big supermarket on the edge of the village. Norheimsund is a small place! Too small!
Our room was, overall, fine. I think it may have been an apartment in its prior life. There was a bedroom, bathroom, living room area, dining area, and an area by the door that was possibly a kitchen.
Our room had a double bed (king-size in the US, super king in the UK) and a second bed slightly larger than a single bed. The second bed was in the kitchen area next to the door. It was the first thing we saw when we entered the room and thought it was the bedroom. It was not. It was just a bed next to the door.
There were no bedside outlets or outlets anywhere in the room except at the room’s door, bathroom door, and balcony door. This was a big inconvenience.
As with the hotel in Bergen, the bathroom floor was heated, with no way to turn it off. The temperature climbed to 81°F / 27°C on our third day in Norheimsund, which was unusually hot for that region. We certainly did not need the heated floor to be on.
The mini-fridge turned on only when the room key was in the slot by the door. Luckily we had two keys so we could keep one key in the slot at all times; however, the fridge was not cold when we arrived, and, frankly, this is just a big design flaw.
All of the above were inconvenient but were not show stoppers.
The main downfall with this hotel was the food which was unfortunate because we had a good experience with the food at the hotel in Bergen. The main downfall of Norheimsund was the food, not just this hotel.
Our lunches consisted of hot and cold items from the supermarket deli because that was the only place to get food at lunchtime. In fact, we only ate a proper lunch once in the nine days we were in Norway. It was in Stavanger on our buffer day when it rained all day.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel was extremely limited. The food was either ambient or cold, and it felt like leftover food from dinner the night before was repurposed for breakfast.
Our biggest mistake was eating dinner at the hotel one night. Dinner is also buffet style and had the same problems as the breakfast buffet. The food was either ambient or cold, it lacked flavor, there was little selection, and it felt like leftover food from dinner the night before had been reheated.
Dinner was expensive and crappy. On a positive note, we enjoyed the bottle of wine we ordered though it wasn’t the bottle listed on the menu (different winery and vintage but from the same region).
Lastly – and this is not the hotel’s problem, but it did affect our stay – was the smell of Norheimsund.
Twice during our stay, farmers sprayed manure on their crops which caused the village to smell like a farm. They sprayed the crops mid-afternoon, and the smell persisted until the following morning.
The Business room (including breakfast) gets a rating of 3/10. I wouldn’t recommend staying at this hotel or in Norheimsund.
Driving and ferries
Driving in Norheimsund and the Hardangerfjord region was as easy and relaxed. The region is picturesque, and it didn’t matter where we were driving to; the scenery was beautiful.
So beautiful, in fact, that Norway has designated sections of the road along Hardangerfjord as an official Norwegian Scenic Route. We drove many miles of the Hardanger Scenic Route when driving to and from our hikes.
The scenic route even includes the Jondal-Tørvikbygd ferry.
We took the ferry five times. Being tethered to the ferry was another reason we would choose a different accommodation if we stayed in the Hardangerfjord region again.
Two of our hikes were on the other side of the fjord from our hotel. Those hikes accounted for two roundtrip ferry journeys, and then we ferried across the fjord one last time on our drive from Norheimsund to Stavanger.
The ferry ran once per hour in each direction, departing Tørvikbygd on the xx:20 and departing Jondal on the xx:50.
The crossing time was 20 minutes, and the journey was smooth because the water in the fjord is like glass. We were halfway across the fjord once, and Peter said, “Looks like the ferry is running late.”
I asked why and he said, “Because it’s xx:30, and we haven’t left yet.” I informed him we were moving and in the middle of the fjord.
Adding to the smooth journey is the fact that the ferry is electric! There’s no rumbling diesel engine or noise pollution. When it arrived at the dock, its charging port ‘garage door’ opened, automatically connecting to the charging station at the dock. As far as ferries go, this one was pretty cool.
Norheimsund is the largest village in the municipality, but it was super small to us. If memory serves correctly, there were five restaurants. They were open for dinner, and I think one was open for lunch one day.
Apparently, there’s a village pub, but it’s only open two or three days a week and was not open during our stay.
There were a few boutiques and outdoor adventure stores with limited opening hours.
By 9pm, everything in the village was closed, including restaurants. Norheimsund was too sleepy for us.
The waterfront area was nice and inviting, with a beach and promenade along the shore. The drawback for us was that there wasn’t anywhere to grab a glass of wine or beer and sit along the waterfront except for our hotel. I felt like there was a missed opportunity there.
There is a lot to do and see in Hardangerfjord, but planning is essential to make the best use of your time because it is time-consuming to cross the fjord.
One thing we wanted to do was take a fjord safari. The closest fjord safari company to Norheimsund was Hardangerfjord Adventure based in Øystese.
We booked the basic fjord safari a few weeks before our trip and got lucky with the weather.
We arrived at the Hardanger Hotel in Øystese about 10 minutes before the safari and met our guide, Thor (pronounced Tor). He asked us to sign in, and then we got dressed in dry suits and a lifejacket and were handed goggles and a hat.
The goggles were a key piece of equipment. The hat was unnecessary.
Protip: There is a small pocket on the front of the suit to store a mobile phone. I would not advise bringing an actual camera due to the risk of getting wet or knocked around.
We were joined by a group of four Norwegians, and as soon as they were suited up, we walked from the hotel to the dock and hopped on the RIB boat.
To my surprise, the seating was horseback style. We straddled the seat, and our legs hung on the sides. There were handles on the seatbacks of the seats in front of us.
The handles were another key piece of equipment.
Thor gave a safety speech and then started the engines. We cruised into the fjord, and he did donuts and figure 8s in the water before passing by a large island and then venturing further afield to a small island.
The small island was home to a trading post in the 1600s, like Viking times.
The buildings and their location in a protected cove were quintessential of Norway. Thor told us that the buildings had been restored and could be rented for weekend getaways. It wouldn’t be my cuppa tea to stay there, but I can see how some may find the experience charming.
On the mainland across from the trading post was the village of Herand, or if you were me in the RIB boat, the village of Heaven. Literally, I thought Thor was saying Heaven. Thor explained that in the summer, he and his family take the boat out and drive to Herand for “oven-baked pizza.”
When he told this story, my first thought was, “How very Minnesotan.” I had that thought frequently in Norway, actually.
Anyway, the pizza situation in Norway is confusing. Isn’t all pizza oven-baked? Was he referring to “Norwegian pizza” served on wicker pizza plates like we had in Flåm two days prior?
I went on a mission later that day, hilariously searching for an “oven-baked pizza restaurant in Heaven.” I believe the pizza restaurant Thor was referring to was Meieriet Restaurant. I skimmed the photos of their pizza. It’s just regular pizza. No wicker pizza plates.
Norwegian pizza continues to elude me.
Our second photo-worthy stop was at the remote village of Botnen. Botnen is located at the end of an arm of Hardangerfjord and is accessible only by boat.
If you’ve spotted a car in the photo, it’s true, there are a couple of cars in the village. They are driven on the one and only road in the village. From what I understood, the road is about a mile long and extends into the valley.
Back in the day, nearly 120 people lived in Botnen. Then the school closed, and the population dwindled to 60. And, as time went on, the population dwindled further.
Nowadays, the village has a permanent population of one – a man in his 70s who likes solitude.
I commented that the village was very isolated and that I wouldn’t live in a place that isolated. Thor explained that it’s impossible to buy or acquire property in Botnen. He explained that you’ve got to have the right name and that the properties are handed down generationally.
It was a lightbulb moment. I wondered who would want a property in Botnen, and Thor dreamed of having property there.
In the summer, the population of Botnen swells to about 20. Mostly seniors who want to spend the summer months at the fjord (also very Minnesotan).
After Botnen, we cruised by one more waterfall, did a few more donuts, and then zoomed back to Øystese. The safari lasted 45 minutes, and my tailbone was ready to get off that horse-style seat.
In addition to the fjord safari, we went on three hikes in the Hardangerfjord region, Lake Bondhusvatnet, Buarbreen, and Vikedalsnebbet. I wrote about these hikes in individual posts.
What we’d do differently
What would we do differently if we were to stay in Norheimsund again?
We added a buffer day to every vacation segment, primarily for inclement weather and flexibility if we found additional things we wanted to do or see.
Although we had a perfect weather day for our buffer day, three nights in Norheimsund was too many. We would reduce our stay from three nights to two nights.
In addition to shortening our stay, we would have stayed somewhere more in line with our style. Unfortunately, those options were super limited, and none exist in Norheimsund.
One option was Hardanger House in Jondal; however, I contacted them before our trip, and they did not respond to me. Another option would have been Woodnest in Odda, but I didn’t learn about it until after our trip.
Eat, shop, and tour recommendations
Here are a few recommendations for Norheimsund and the Hardanger region.
|Sann Mat||Restaurant||English menu upon request|
|Spar (Norheimsund)||Supermarket||Big supermarket with cold salad bar (front of the store) and hot deli (back of the store)|
|Spar (Jondal)||Supermarket||Small supermarket at the Jondal ferry dock with a cold salad bar and hot deli|
Next: Lake Bondhusvatnet (aka Lake Instagram).