Norway’s western fjords region is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Massive mountains, sheer cliffs, salt water valleys, glaciers and waterfalls allow little room for humans, but a fascinating network of ferries, tunnels, roads and bridges connect the small towns dotted among the landscape.
Travelling around the fjords is like being on another planet, it’s a dramatically unique place and has become a popular holiday destination. Norway is, however, a very wealthy country and a famously expensive place to visit as a tourist. Norwegian’s have the fourth highest income-per-capita in the world, so while their country might not seem expensive to them, as a traveller spending a different currency it can be brutal.
We spent a week driving and camping around the fjords, having our mind’s blown around every corner, trying to keep our spending as low as possible. We didn’t see it all, but I feel like we got a lot of bang for our buck. So in this post, I’m going to talk about how to see the fjords without ruining your retirement fund. We’re going to talk about wild camping, campgrounds, cabins, rental cars, ferries, gas cookers and supermarket food.
The most sensible place to start your trip is in Bergen, it’s the gateway to the fjords and is surrounded by fjords itself. Even if you are coming from Oslo it’s worth going to Bergen first and spending a night before moving on, to break up your trip.
There’s so much to talk about in this region, so many incredible places to visit, I just can’t cover everything. I think the best way to approach this is to share my map so you can see where we stayed and the route we drove. I’ll discuss the travel points in this section, camping in the next, then break it down into a day-by-day itinerary.
The red markers are where we camped, the blue line is our driving route. Click on the map or click here to go to the google maps page, where you can zoom in, get directions etc.
We booked a rental car from Avis in Bergen, three months in advance of our trip. Originally we had booked an economy car like a 3-door Toyota Yaris, but we received a free upgrade to a 5-door VW Golf upon collection. Seven days hire cost €279 or 2577NOK.
To keep costs down we had purchased a travel insurance policy that included excess reduction for car hire, with World Nomads. I think the policy with excess reduction cost around €50 more than one without, whereas Avis would have charged us something like €20 per day. That’s a rough saving of €90 right there, but when you include the three other times we rented cars on our trip, it saved us hundreds of Euros.
We had a TomTom GPS unit with us, which saved us hiring one from Avis, but it also saved us using data roaming on our phones or needing to buy a local data package. If you have a GPS unit of your own then update it with the Norway map and take it with you, or download a free GPS app on your device so you can download maps when you have WiFi and use them offline. However, if I’m being totally honest, you probably don’t even need GPS navigation. We glanced at ours every now and then just to make sure we were on the right road, but it’s not like there’s a lot of options in the western fjords. Once you’re on a road, you are generally following it for a long time, or to your destination. You could easily get by with a paper map and road signs.
In total, we drove 1300km over seven days, an average of 185km per day. Petrol cost us €107.50/993.50NOK for the whole trip, that’s €15.35 per day, or €1 every 12km. Our route was very vague, we planned roughly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, but were taking detours and finding campsites along the way. Some days I only had to drive for 3-4 hours, some were more like 5-6, but it was never exhausting. Driving in Norway is a joy, it’s actually difficult to drive without stopping for more than 10 minutes because as the scenery changes around each bend, you had to fight the urge to pull over again for photos. The roads are all excellent and everyone takes it slow. The only irritations as a motorist are the RV’s and motorhomes on the thin roads, either travelling at a snail’s pace or trying to squeeze past each other.
Here’s a massive tip. It will take you longer to get everywhere than you think. If we were averaging 185km per day, and our average drive time was four hours per day, that’s an average speed of 46km per hour. Even when you take photo/rest/lunch stops into consideration, that’s still moving very slowly on the ‘open’ road. The roads are thin and winding, speed limits are low and large vehicles make the going even slower. When your GPS says it will take two hours to drive 160km, don’t believe it.
Look out for ‘tourist route’ roads as indicated by road signs. The tourist route roads connect main roads and are always worth taking for the incredible scenery. We took the FV13, 258 and 55 at different points and they were always the highlights of our day.
There are many roads, tunnels and bridges that have tolls, so beware of these. When you cross Hardanger Bridge in a car, for example, it will cost you €16/150NOK. If you cross it twice like we did: €32! If you are renting a vehicle they will take care of the charges and you will be billed after you return the car. Avis hit us with a €66 charge on our credit card a few weeks after our trip.
We used ferry crossings twice, paying for two passengers and the car. Ferries depart often, and as long as you travel in the daytime you will be alright. We never booked or scheduled ferries, we simply showed up at random, got in line, paid the fee and drove onto the ferry. Ferries have hot food, drinks and toilets available on board.
Oppedal to Lavik cost €14/131NOK total.
Mannheller to Fodnes cost €11/103NOK total.
Sneaky hint – This might sound pretty cheap, and that’s because it is: Ferries have loads of free stuff. When you are camping outside of your home country it’s rare you will bother to buy things like salt and pepper. Scout the ferries for free salt sachets, pepper, butter, sauces, vinegar, plastic cups, napkins, and whatever else might be useful when you’re cooking on a gas burner. You have paid for a ticket, but if you feel bad just buy a drink or something.
I mean, you can, but it would be a nightmare. Some of these roads might see one bus a day, some of the more remote places might only see three buses a week. It would be difficult and hugely restricting to try and bus everywhere. Trains are not an option. If you are unable to hire a car I would consider hitch-hiking, in the summertime there will be loads of tourists who will pick you up.
Accommodation in Norway is expensive. In fact, everything in Norway is expensive, it’s just something you have to deal with if you want to visit (it’s worth it!). For us to be able to spend six nights driving around the fjords (during a four month Europe trip), we had to camp, it’s as simple as that. The upside to camping is that we didn’t need to book anything in advance, we just drove until we found somewhere we wanted to stop, and stayed the night. This usually meant we were a metre from the water’s edge, looking out into a massive fjord. Waking up to that kind of view from your tent is something truly special.
What we needed was camping gear. Guess what’s also expensive to buy in Norway?
We had arranged for self-inflating matresses and pillows that we already owned to be sent to us in Copenhagen, before we arrived in Norway. Shipping for those and our GPS unit was €40 from London. There’s a whole big story here, but that’s for another day, the moral of it being; never use MyHermes. Not even once. Since Denmark is slightly cheaper than Norway, before we left Copenhagen we hit a camping store and got a tent, sleeping bags, extra pegs, a mallet, torch and gaffer tape for €161. We had a 20kg each luggage allowance on our flight to Bergen that we took full advantage of, so make sure to check yours if you are doing something similar.
On the day we left for the fjords, once we had our car, we stopped at a conveniently placed store called XXL on our way out of Bergen. Here we bought a small gas cooker attachment, gas canister, plastic plates, spoons and pots. There are loads of options for all of this stuff, we generally went basic since most of it was for temporary use. All up at XXL we spent €65/605NOK.
As we rolled out of Bergen our camping setup looked like this:
I already had a pocket-knife and a lighter with me, and the only other things we purchased specifically for camping (at other points) were gumboots (welly’s), thermal t-shirts, beanies (wool hats), and insect spray. That’s another thing worth mentioning.
It’s kind of obvious that Norway will be cold, we went in the peak of summer (end of July – start of August) and it was still cold. The average high during our trip was 15°C, the average low was around 8°C, so not freezing, but still something to prepare for when you’re sleeping in a tent. It was also very wet; rain is common in Norway so you always need a raincoat, umbrella, good footwear, extra socks (get wool!) and warm clothing regardless of the season.
At this time of year, Norway gets 17 to 18 hours of daylight each day. That’s full daylight, which means you’re looking at around 4-5 hours of darkness each night, but even then, ‘darkness’ is actually just a kind of dark blue haze. I don’t think I used my torch once.
If you’ve got a car, a good idea is to keep the majority of your clothing inside the car while camping. Only take what you need for the night into the tent. This way the bulk of your clothing will stay dry; tents get very damp and being constantly damp gets tiring quickly!
With a setup like we had, we’re not cooking gourmet food. It’s basic. Forget fresh meat, there’s just no way to keep it cold or cook it well. Even if you have a chiller bag and freezer packs, you don’t have many opportunities to re-freeze them in a real freezer. We had one small aluminium pot and pan that fit on our tiny gas cooker. Here’s what our ‘pantry’ looked like for most of the trip:
Breakfast was always porridge and fruit. Lunch was either sandwiches with cheese, tomatoes and canned fish, noodles, or soup with bread. Dinner was noodles, soup or beans with eggs, peppers and bread.
Eating like this was totally fine for seven days, but any longer and I think we would have gone crazy. There are opportunities to buy more food from supermarkets along the way, and the larger towns do have things like bakeries and takeaways if you need. The advantage of eating like we did was that we could pull over absolutely anywhere, fire up the cooker and have a hot meal.
Do not forget chocolate.
I want to talk about booze just briefly. I’ve mentioned how expensive everything is; booze is no exception. We bought a 1L bottle of whisky duty-free on our way into the country, which was a great move and provided us with a couple of drinks each night in our tent. So if you like a drink, prepare well by buying in advance and/or in bulk, you can buy beer and wine along the way but the cost will add up fast.
Norway has the ‘right to roam‘ law which means you can camp anywhere in ‘open country’ or unfenced land, as long as you are 150m away from the nearest inhabited house or cabin. This may seem a very attractive option, and since Norway is so sparsely populated, you might think it will be easy. It’s not.
We had planned to wild camp every night and we didn’t manage it one time. The roads you use around the fjords are at the bottom of huge cliffs and mountains, right next to the water. There’s no space unless you want to camp in a rest area, most of which don’t allow it, or on the side of the road. You need to find some open space, so you go up. The tops of mountains and mountain basins sure have lots of open country, but they also have snow. If they aren’t covered in snow they are covered in rock or ice. We drove for hours each day and never once found an ideal place for us to wild camp, we simply weren’t prepared enough for the cold.
Even when we thought we had found a spot, we were never sure if it was someone’s land, if it was safe, or if we were breaking some other rule. So we ended up in campgrounds.
Hint – If you do decide to wild camp, use rest stops and picnic areas for their toilet blocks. Norway has incredible public services. Even in the middle of nowhere the public toilets are clean, have soap, hot water and sometimes hot showers and even electricity.
Fortunately, campgrounds in Norway are abundant, excellent, and cheap. On average we paid 213NOK or €22.90 per night for two people in a tent + car.
Campgrounds will have toilets, running water, showers (might be paid), and a kitchen at the very least. Most will have WiFi. Some might even have BBQ areas, general stores, lounges, libraries and games rooms. To find campgrounds it’s really useful to have an app like NorCamp, which will show you campsite locations as well as reviews from other campers. Every day we would set off in the direction we chose and once it was mid to late afternoon we would check out the app and make our way towards a campground.
Some campgrounds will be more established than others, they might have a reception and someone in it to talk to before you set up camp. Other places allow you to just drive in, find a spot, set up camp and help yourself; at these places, someone will come around asking for money at some point.
Most campgrounds will have cabins available for hire, as well as tent and camper sites. Cabins are more in the range of 300NOK (€32) to 500NOK (€53) per night but usually sleep around four people. In some places without a full-time reception like where we stayed, you know the cabins are available because there’s a key in the door. The cabin we used had bunk beds, table and chairs, a kettle, electric stove, heater and a fridge. Pay the fee, leave the cabin as you found it and enjoy a warm, dry night.
The absolute best aspect of camping is the location of the campgrounds, nowhere else do you get to sleep in such beautiful spots. Looking back I almost can’t believe how lucky we were to find the places we did.
For five nights camping and one night in a cabin, we paid €152 or 1415NOK, That’s an average of €25 per night for two people. Not bad.
All the campgrounds we stayed at including notes about them, can be found below.
This is my actual daily journal, without all the costings (see final summary).
Got the rental car (free upgrade!) and drove it north out of Bergen to XXL to complete our camping setup. Also went to the supermarket there and stocked up on food. Drove along the E39 and got on the car ferry at Oppedal to cross Sognefjorden. Followed the E39, then the 55 along the fjord to Høyanger, where we bought an umbrella. The plan was to wild camp but the only place we found seemed dodgy so we ended up at Sjøtun campsite in Balestrand. Nice place by the water. The drive today was amazing. Epic scenery the whole time. Lots of stops, lots of tunnels that seem like caves!
Sjøtun Camping – €22.50/210NOK (two people + car) – Nice place across the road from water, basic but clean. Get a site near the front before the camper van’s block your view.
Packed up camp in a dry spell then left the campsite to check out Balestrand town. Nice place, there’s a cool old church called St. Olaf’s; apparently they used it as a model for the church in Frozen (film). Drove the FV13 tourist route, stopping constantly to take photos. Stopped to hike for about two hours. The area is high, there is snow still and the alpine lakes are awesome. Saw lots of waterfalls. Got back on the E39 and followed it to Skei then took the 5 down to Fjærland, underneath the Jostedal Glacier. Tried to find a spot to wild camp without luck and ended up in a campsite near Fjærland. It’s constant rain but we had an awesome day, the scenery is amazing. Villages are really cool, roads are great. Camping under a glacier surrounded by massive mountains! Still, glad we brought whisky.
Bøyum Camping – €22.50/210NOK (two people + car) – Cool campground, they have a pizza restaurant. Location is back from the water but setting is incredible.
Packed up camp and headed towards Loen & Stryn. Saw an awesome glacier and countless amazing fjords. Had lunch at a beach along the 15 highway (road) and made our way slowly to Geiranger. Got petrol at Stryn. Took the tourist road 258 at Videsæter to Grotti. Incredible alpine lakes and snow melt. Waterfalls everywhere, off season snow fields. Headed to Geiranger and looked for campsites, what a stunning place! Ended up camping at Vinje Camping above the town. Pitched our tent right next to a big waterfall that is really loud. Awesome campsite, cooked dinner, went for a walk and read books.
Vinje Camping – €23/215NOK (two people + car) – Beautiful place, great facilities. They have a shop that sells the basics. Big waterfall at the back, camp under a rock shelf/cave if you get in early.
So far we’ve spent 35NOK (€3.70) on camp showers. The campsites are all really good and in awesome places. Drove back out of Geiranger Fjord and along the 15 to Lom, where we got on tourist route 55. Stopped for lunch at a cool rest area and cooked soup by the river. The 55 took us through Jotunheimen National Park, and past Galdhøpiggen (tallest mountain in Northern Europe), where there are huge glaciers and ice sheets. Came down out of the mountains at Skjolden and found an idyllic campsite right on the water of Lustrafjorden. Spent the afternoon and evening drinking whisky on the water, cooked dinner and read books. Paradise!
Nymoen Leirplass – €24.70/230NOK (two people + car) – The best campsite we stayed at, basic facilities but forever etched in my mind. Camp right on the water, wake up to a fjord on your doorstep.
Left campsite at 10:40. Drove the 5 road down to Manheller, where we caught the ferry across the fjord to Fodnes. Took the E16 into Flåm to see about the train to Myrdal, stopped for lunch at a rest stop on the way. Flåm is a gross town built for tourists and their tour buses, of which there were many and they were gross. Got out of there quick after getting info that the E16 south was clear, after an avalanche a few days ago. From Flåm we headed towards Voss to get groceries, then down Hardanger Fjord to find a campsite. It’s relentless rain and our spirits are dampening so we drove around looking for campsites with available cabins, but no luck. Ended up in an awesome place called Ringøy in our tent.
Ringøy campsite – €21.50/200NOK (two people + car) – Very basic, not staffed but great location. Another spot right on the water. They have a row-boat for guests and fire-pits.
It rained all night and will rain all day today. I got up and went for a walk, turns out the campsite next to us has little cabins on the water for 350NOK a night. If the key is in the door, it’s available. There are two free and two with people leaving. We packed up camp and took a cabin. It’s nice to have a roof & electricity. We had breakfast, lunch and showers then drove to Eidfjord where we topped up groceries and got some beer. Spent the night loving being in the cabin and reading.
Ringøy cabins – €37.60/350NOK (two people + car) – Same campsite but separate facilities. Cabins are basic but cool with a little porch, parking, outdoor seats and a fire-pit. Amazing spot.
The next day we returned to Bergen, where we stayed another night before leaving Norway on the 4th. Read the Bergen blog.
Western Fjords camping for six nights;
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