Because of Norway's immense natural beauty, public transportation here isn't merely a way to get from Point A to Point B. It also serves as an exceptional way to experience the country, perhaps more so than other places you might travel.
It's quite efficient and reliable, and various forms of public transport often work in tandem to provide seamless connections. For example, a popular unescorted tour called Norway in a Nutshell (NorwayinaNutshell.com) offers an independent itinerary that takes you to the fjords in one day by combining the country's best train, ferry and bus rides.
However, like just about everything in Norway, getting around isn't cheap, so it pays to plan in advance and search out deals and discounts.
Norway is served by more than 50 airports, eight of which are international. Most out-of-country visitors arrive at Oslo Airport, which is 30 miles north of the city and accessible by train, bus and taxi.
Domestic flights are a great option for those seeking to make the most of their time in Norway and for travelers with remote destinations on their itinerary, like the North Cape and Svalbard.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines operates the country's largest fleet. If you're flying SAS to Norway across the Atlantic Ocean, check out its "Visit Europe and Scandinavia Airpass," which can offer impressive flight discounts depending on your itinerary.
Two regional companies, Wideroe and Danish Air Transport, operate smaller fleets; Wideroe offers its own flight pass called the "Explore Norway Ticket."
Traveling by car in Norway gives you the freedom to go at your own pace and is generally not difficult. However, winding mountain roads are not for the faint of heart, and drivers heading into the more isolated north, or those who are traveling during the winter months, will need to do a bit of pre-planning before departure.
Most major car rental companies are found in Norway -- Hertz, Europcar and Avis among them. Prices can be steep, so shop around online for discounts. You'll need to be at least 21 years old to rent a car from most companies, and those under 25 will likely pay a surcharge. Many rental companies require that you've been driving for at least one year and that you have an International Driving Permit (available from AAA) if you don't have an EU/EEA license.
Confirm whether the rental is a manual transmission or automatic. If your car pick-up and drop-off locations differ, expect a substantial price increase.
Take advantage of National Tourist Routes, which have visitor centers and viewpoints overlooking the breathtaking scenery along the way.
A few driving tips to keep in mind:
- In the colder months winter tires are required, as snow and ice are common. Smaller roads can close in poor weather conditions.
- There is no need to stop for tolls on main roads; each car has an electronic tag, and rental companies will pass along the charges to you.
- On country roads deposit tolls into clearly marked "honesty boxes."
- Headlights must be on at all times, and every passenger is required to wear a seatbelt.
- Speed cameras are plentiful and fines are steep, so follow the locals' example and obey the limit. If you're pulled over for speeding, expect to pay the ticket on the spot. You should receive a receipt.
- Using a hand-held phone while driving is illegal.
- Norway has extremely strict drunk driving laws and a low legal limit; one beer could put you over.
- Watch for moose along the road, especially in the mountains.
- When traveling in rural areas, gas stations can be few and far between, so top off at every opportunity.
- You must carry a yellow fluorescent vest and a red warning triangle in the event of an emergency; make sure your rental car comes equipped.
The state-owned Norwegian State Railways -- NSB for short -- is the country's primary operator, running both local and regional trains. Tickets can be purchased online, by mobile app, by phone or at ticket machines. A surcharge is assessed for passengers who buy tickets after boarding.
When it comes to long-distance train travel in Norway, it pays to plan as far ahead as possible. NSB sells a limited number of discounted minipris tickets. Minipris can be purchased between three months and 24 hours before departure; on long journeys you can save well over 50 percent compared to a standard-priced seat. They are unavailable on certain routes and at peak periods, and aren't changeable or refundable.
Some trains permit you to upgrade your seats from standard class to "komfort," which is slightly roomier and provides power outlets along with free coffee and tea, for an additional fee. Two-berth sleepers are a great option for overnight travel. Reserve seats in the family coach to take advantage of the children's playroom, stroller space and other amenities.
For those planning multiple train trips in Norway, the Eurail Norway pass, which is available for three to eight days of travel within one month, can also provide considerable savings.
NSB's Bergen line, which begins in Oslo, is one of the highest railways in Europe and a must for those wanting to experience Norway's natural beauty. The privately owned Flam Railway line takes passengers along one of the world's steepest and most scenic railways. The 50-minute journey, which passes through 20 tunnels, is considered an engineering feat and one of the world's best train rides.
Buses are a reliable long-distance transport mode and, indeed, perhaps your only public transportation option when traveling to Norway's small, remote towns.
Nor-Way Bussekspress is the largest long-distance company, teaming up with smaller carriers to form an extensive network. It provides connections with trains and ferries too. Express bus tickets can be bought onboard by credit card, but booking online may reward you with considerable discounts. Note that mountain routes are usually suspended during winter months.
Discount carrier Lavprisekspressen offers routes from Oslo to Kristiansand, Trondheim and Stavanger. Tickets can only be purchased online (the website is currently just in Norwegian).
Lavprisekspressen.no (Norwegian only)
Taxi rides in Norway are pricey and, thanks to efficient public transport options, easily avoided. Rates vary by company and can be paid by kroner or credit card (just let your driver know in advance). Taxi stands are typically easy to spot in cities; you can also hail a cab on the street or order one by phone. You're not expected to tip your driver, though some customers choose to round up their bill. Oslo Taxi offers service in the capital, and Norges Taxi is found in several cities.
The only way to visit many of Norway's isolated islands and coastal villages is by ferry. Ferries are also the best way to experience the country's dramatic fjords.
The most famous ferry voyage is the Hurtigruten, which runs along the western coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Roundtrip, the entire route covers more than 2,500 miles, stops at more than 30 ports -- most of which are above the Arctic Circle -- and takes 11 days. You can extend the journey by hopping on and off or shorten it by joining just a section of the trip.
The 11 ferries that make the voyage vary in age and style, but all include a restaurant and cafeteria, and most can accommodate cars. Though certainly not cruise-ship comparable, the ships and their cabins are comfortable and casual; different features are outlined on the Hurtigruten website. You can book online or call to make reservations. Though the experience isn't cheap, you can find deals on reservations made well in advance as well as last-minute departures.
There are numerous additional operators of regional car ferries and passenger express boats in Norway, including Norled in western Norway and Senja Ferries in the north. In summer months, arrive early to queue for boarding.
--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma