When I think about Norway, the first things that come to mind are dramatic, other-worldly landscapes, northern lights and trolls. For you this may be cross-country skiing, sledding, and enjoying a hot chocolate by a fire in a cabin. Point is, most people will have a very specific reason for traveling to Norway because this country can be defined in so many different ways.
The fantastic hiking opportunities and natural sites are usually the first draw for many people, with mountains, glaciers and fjords making up Norway’s fabled landscape. Destinations such as Lofoten, Trolltunga and Pupitt Rock top the list as some of the most visited places in Norway every year.
Arctic wildlife like whales and polar bears and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is what lures most tourists north of the Arctic Circle during winter and autumn. Winter sports can be enjoyed nationwide during this time of the year, including some of the most famous winter festivals in the world.
Many Norwegian cities and towns are a launching point for hikes as well as a cultural hub for those looking to explore Norway’s history from the viking age, stave churches, Norse mythology and fairy tales to a history that is still very much alive in the indigenous Sami community.
If you prefer one activity over the other, you will have to be selective about which season you choose for you travels. Before booking your Norway vacation, read the following tips and advise on which activities communicate with which season. Enjoy!
The Best Time of the year to visit Norway
Norway is a land of extremes where you can find yourself in days of seemingly eternal daylight to long periods of darkness. The best time to visit Norway will depend entirely on what you want to do. If you are a keen hiker, the harsh winter months should be avoided. If you want to replace your car with a set of skis and just ski everywhere you go, you will have a blast in winter. Every region and every season has its own unique beauty.
In-between these two extremes of eternal light and perpetual darkness, there are the Late Winter (Spring) and Autumn seasons that have some unique features of their own. While you can still enjoy most of the activities the winter and summer seasons have to offer, you can do so with a lot less people around and the prices will drop significantly.
Climate, Temperature and Regional Differences
Norway has a surprisingly mild climate compared to other countries on the same latitude such as Greenland and Alaska. This is due to the temperate Gulf Stream which generally causes relatively gentle winters in the coastal regions compared to the inland and far north. The north will get extremely cold and dark during the winter, the so called Polar Nights, while midsummer yields around the clock of daylight even all the way south to Trondheim. In the south, there will be around 5 hours of daylight during midwinter. Inland, the summers are hot and dry, making it one of the most popular seasons for hiking, while the winters can get very cold and snowy, perfect for cross-country skiing.
Summer temperatures can range from anywhere up to 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) while the winter average is from 0 to 2 degrees Celsius or 36 degrees Fahrenheit on the coast. If you go inland like to Oslo, the temperature will drop a couple of degrees in the negative. If you travel further north like to Tromsø and Alta, expect more extreme temperature drops with an average low of minus 11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) in January.
Winter (December – February)
Top Winter Activities At A Glance
Skiing (including cross-country!) and other winter sports
Visiting Christmas markets
Northern Lights (October to March)
Whale watching (late October to mid-January)
The Winter Dress Code
This will come as no surprise to anyone: dress very warmly during the Norwegian winter. Use this opportunity to purchase an authentic knitted sweater and spend your nights cozily by the fires when you are not out hunting Northern Lights. Make sure to pack the following!
Thick, thermal layers. The farther inland or the farther north, the thicker the layers.
Water-proof wind-breaker to wear over.
Hat, gloves and waterproof winter boots.
A good protective cream for your face (Nivea has great ones- best to bring from home because it can be expensive to buy in Norway).
What Are The Best Things To Do In Norway During Winter?
Winter is the perfect time for ski-enthusiasts to come out and play. While it is pretty common for roads to be blocked during this time of the year, people tend to take to their skis and sleds to get around. A cross-country ski-trek will be a wonderful and typically Norwegian way to spend your holiday. If you plan on doing this, consider the daylight time and choose February going on March.
If you want to spot the Northern Lights, you will have to head as far north as Tromsø (or even further to Alta!) where this natural wonder has even inspired its own festival. Since 1987, Tromsø has been hosting the Nordlysfestivalen (The Northern Lights Music Festival) to chase away the winter blues. This musical extravaganza combines contemporary music with opera, jazz ballet, … And also offers exhibitions and lectures on the side.
Christmas is a magical time in Norway with the colorful markets and winter-wonderlands organized all over the county. A quick tip? Make sure you get all food shopping done before the 24th. Norwegians love their holidays and everything will be closed until the 26th or 27th.
Late Winter or Spring (March – May)
Top Late Winter Activities At A Glance
Holmenkollen Ski Festival
Skiing and other winter sports
Hiking during blossoming season
Hit big tourist attractions (less people around!)
The Late Winter / Spring Dress Code
While temperatures are slowly rising, especially in the south, it can still be a quite chilly. While introducing some lighter but still warmer clothes for vacations in the south and by the coast, also pack:
A couple of thick sweaters and warm trousers
What Are The Best Things To Do In Norway During Late Winter / Spring?
This is a transitional period between the winter and summer months where the best of both worlds can be enjoyed. March has often been described as ‘the best time to go to Norway’ because it is still pretty chilly and good for winter sports, but the days also start to get a little longer offering more daylight. One of the most popular Winter Sport Festivals, Holmenkollen Ski Festival, is held in March.
As April rears its head, snows slowly start to melt and the pristine icy landscapes give way to blossoming wildflowers and green grasslands. Especially in The Hardanger region, fruit trees will start to blossom, making this time of the year a beautiful as well as a more peaceful time for a hike.
Use this time of the year to hit the bigger tourist attractions in cities such as Osla, Bergen and Trondheim now that there are less people around and the prices have gone down a bit.
Summer (June – August)
Top Summer Activities At A Glance
Hiking (including glacier hikes) and camping
Midnight Sun and Midnight Concerts
Swimming in or cruising on the Fjords
Gladmat Festival, Peer Gynt Festival and Riddu Riddu
Driving the Geiranger – Trollstigen National Tourist Route
The (Perhaps) Surprising Summer Dress Code
Summer may have arrived, but don’t be surprised if you see the odd snowflake twirling down. The climate in Norway is pretty unpredictable and even when traveling during the warmest time of the year, it is best to be prepared for anything. The magic word during the Norwegian summer? Layers.
While my tips for the winter months are pretty straightforward: dress as warmly as you can, the summer one goes like this: dress for every occasion in one outfit. Be prepared to strip down to short pants and a t-shirt but have a warm set of trousers and a shirt to cover it up as well as light, waterproof rain-ware. Sounds like Four Seasons in One Day should have been written about Norway rather than Melbourne!
Prepare For The Busiest And Most Expensive Time Of The Year
Two things to keep in mind about traveling to Norway during summer, are the crowds and the price. This is the warmest time of the year with the longest daylight hours. This means that every tourist who is not out to ski, will be here now, and the prices for accommodations will skyrocket.
If you are looking to experience rare summer events such as the Midnight Sun, want to swim in the fjords or are eager to catch one of the summer festivals then yes, summer is the best time for you.
But if you just want to go for a splendid hike and hit some of those tourist hot spots without too many people, spring and autumn might be better times for you to visit Norway.
What Are The Best Things To Do In Norway During The Summer?
Summer is a top season for hikes, road trips and some of the country’s most unique festivals. The hikes you can embark on during these months, include glacier hiking (May to September) for the adventurous spirits. Make sure to only go on glacier hikes with a guide, since it can be pretty dangerous.
There are many famous scenic drives in Norway, 18 in fact, but if you have limited time, the top rated route is Geiranger – Trollstigen. Cut through the serpentine mountain roads for a visual feast of waterfalls, fjords and mountains.
This time of the year has its unique traits that you won’t be able to experience any other time of the year like the Midnight Sun as experienced between May and July. In Tromso, this phenomenon can be experienced approximately 2 months a year while Trondheim, located quite a while below the Arctic Circle, the weeks surrounding the Summer Solstice also reward you with pretty bright nights.
If you are a festival goer, the Gladmat Festival, Peer Gynt Festival and Riddu Riddu are summer festivals with some real cultural value to boot. The Gladmat Food Festival is held in Stavanger each July and features food traditions as well as new culinary trends in Norway. The Peer Gynt Festival retells the story of 17th century Norwegian Per Gynt who inhabited the Gudbransdalen Valley in a spectacle combining theater, music and nature. Riddu Riddu is a festival held in July of each year in Olmmáivággi. The festival features the Sami people and raised awareness about Norway’s indigenous culture through music, lectures, literature and specific programs for children.
Autumn (September – November)
Top Autumn Activities At a Glance
Whale watching (late October to mid-January)
Enjoy the view of colorful mountains
Northern Lights (October to March)
Hit big tourist attractions (less people around!)
The Autumn Dress Code
September can still be quite warm during the day while the nights are getting colder and colder. October and November will be significantly colder. Much like in the summer, dress in layers. Make the outer layer is a wind-proof, water-proof jacket and bring water-proof hiking shoes.
What Are The Best Things To Do In Norway During Autumn?
The long, hard winters in Norway make it hard for many types of fruit to thrive. But this is not true of berries and a handful of other fruits. The before mentioned Hardanger region, where blossoming season starts in late spring and early summer, offers 40% of the country’s national fruit production including apples, cherries and pears.
As summer slowly closes to an end, berries will start to grace the Norwegian forests and locals look forward to a season of wild berry picking.The berry picking season starts in late June with strawberries, and lasts all the way to mid-October. The crown jewel of Norwegian fruit is the so called Norwegian Cloudberry, which grows north of the Arctic Circle for a couple of weeks during late summer – early autumn. They cannot be cultivated and only grow in the wild.
By November, winter will be knocking and many hiking sites will be closed due to safety concerns, so any hiking you’d want to do, is best done before that. The main perk of hiking in autumn, is the beauty: colorful orange-red hills, fresh air, fogs rolling over the lakes in the morning, and the occasional icy twinkle in the leaves announcing winter will soon be here.
October can also be a great time to head up north for the Northern Lights. It will be less cold so spending time outside will be a lot more bearable.
Some Travel Hacks For Your Next Trip To Norway
Is it possible to travel to Norway on a budget?
Short answer – yes. Traveling on a budget is more like a lifestyle and it is one you can take with you wherever you go. One sure way to already make your trip cheaper, is by traveling off-season and avoiding the busy summer.
That being said, traveling on a budget to Norway still has a different meaning than traveling on a budget elsewhere. You should be realistic and take into account the high standards of living that brings up the price for most things.
Accommodation On A Budget
While hostels are usually the top pick for those looking to keep expenses down, in Norway you can still expect to pay over 60 USD for a bed in a dorm room (I remember paying as low as 5 USD elsewhere). This is in part due to high standards of lodgings in the country. You can expect to pay around the same price for a 1-star hotel and double for 3 stars.
With this in mind, here are the best ways to save money on accommodation in Norway.
Wild Camping And Camping Sites
Norway has evoked the ‘right to roam’ policy which means that you can pretty much set up camp anywhere for free. Well, not anywhere. The land has to be uncultivated and you have to make sure to stay at least 150 meters clear of someone’s home. It also states that you shouldn’t spend more than 2 nights at once spot.
If you prefer some company (or an indoor toilet), camping sites are a great way to socialize. This option is not free, of course, but still cheaper than a night at the hotel and you will encounter a closely-knit community spirit of campers.
Speaking of free, many travelers still name couchsurfing as their favorite way to travel through Norway. No costs and a meaningful cultural exchange, win-win.
What makes Airbnb one of the top budget options in Norway is not that it is cheap as such, but the fact that with most of them you will have use of a kitchen. If you cook for yourself, you will save a whole bunch of money.
Food on a Budget
Shop At Supermarkets And Cook For Yourself
If you plan on eating out, a cheaper restaurant will have meals with an average of 20 USD per person and for mid-range, the average price for two people will be close to 100 USD for a three-course meal. Unless you feel up to spending this daily, shopping and cooking is the best way to go for at least some of the time.
The cheapest supermarkets in Norway are Kiwi and Rema 1000. If you are all set up in an Airbnb and have the use of your own kitchen, this is your best money saving option. If you plan on following this method, only stick to supermarkets. You will be surprised at the price difference between a supermarket and a convenience store.
Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
Bottled water is another one of those things that can get pretty pricey in Norway, so bring a reusable bottle. The tap water isn’t only safe to drink, it is also delicious.
Bring As Many Things As Possible From Home
Sunscreen, bug repellent, protective face creams, medications, … You will definitely want to bring these from home. Of course they are all available in Norway, but they will be a lot more expensive.
Transportation On A Budged
Transportation on a budget in Norway? Unfortunately such a thing doesn’t really exist. The best thing to do is simply to walk as much as possible.
Trains and buses both are very expensive, albeit comfortable, and the Norwegian roads might be a nightmare to face in a bus if you suffer from motion sickness. Train rides in Norway are also stunning, though, and journeys like The Bergen Railway has been mentioned several times as being one of the best train rides in the world.
If you plan on using trains or buses, it is best to book your ticket in advance for longer journeys and if you intend to use the train a lot, get a rail pass. To give you an idea of the approximate cost: for a round trip Oslo-Trondheim, you will pay around 150 USD for a second class ticket.
If you plan on traveling long distances at a time, consider a night train so your bed and your ride are both settled in one go.
That being said, the top transportation tip you will find in most place, is that to visit Norway you should rent a car. This is certainly so if you plan on traveling for a longer period of time and with a group of people (just imagine buying tons of expensive train rickets for 8 people for a month). If you plan on renting a car, make sure you remember the winter months when roads can be blocked and otherwise dangerous.
If you are looking to cross the water for a lower rate, do so by local ferry and avoid the touristy options.
For those who are on a very strict time schedule and want to cover several destinations that are far apart, domestic flights can be pretty cheap but you will miss out on the scenic rides and drives.
Some Essential Hiking Tips
Since hiking will probably be on your list, here are some essential tips to keep in mind:
Always tell someone where you are heading and when you plan on returning.
Never embark on a hike that is closed for the season thinking you are experienced enough to face it. They are closed for a reason.
Bring plenty of snacks and water.
Don’t let the climate mislead you, pack sunscreen!
Bring bug repellent during the summer months.
Dress in layers during the summer and autumn months.
Bring a normal map in case your phone suffers from the lower temperatures.
In case you get lost: don’t continue up. Head down and try to find a river to follow. They will usually lead to some form of civilization.
How Can I Get an Authentic Experience In Norway?
Easy. Talk to the locals. It may be tempting to travel with everything booked ahead perfectly and getting those top rated tourist agencies to get you on the biggest hikes out there. But the most treasured experiences are the ones that bring you closer to yourself as well as the local culture.
During my travels, I started to have the most fun when I let go and simply improvised. I stopped planning ahead and did whatever felt natural that day. Locals in Norway love the outdoors. It is an intricate part of their lives. And while they aren’t known as the biggest talkers, they do love sharing thoughts on their country. If you ask them about a beautiful hike that doesn’t grace the covers of glossy tourist magazines, you will be in for a far more authentic experience because the site will not be overrun by tourists and the trails will not yet be worn. So while research is important, leaving room for some spontaneity is what will make an already lovely vacation, a truly magical experience.
Mieke is a writer and traveler from Belgium. After obtaining her master’s degree in art history, she spent several years working as a freelance writer, project worker, animal volunteer and hotel shift-leader. After she saved enough money, she quit her job and decided to travel through Asia and Latin America. While she was working as an assistant teacher in Costa Rica, she met her favorite student and now husband during an English conversation class. Mieke is currently residing in Costa Rica where she reconnected with her love for writing and is eagerly planning her next adventure.