Driving from Oslo to Stavanger to Bergen and back to Oslo on Norway’s ultra-scenic roads is an experience you won’t soon forget! Prepare for some beautiful Scandinavian cities, old wooden churches, fjords, waterfalls and Viking ships. Here is how to do it.
Day 1: Oslo
Try to arrive early in Oslo to have the rest of the day for some sightseeing. A nice and original hotel in central Oslo that I can recommend is Hotel Guldsmeden. If you rent a car from day 1, there is a QPark nearby (expensive) or you can park in the street if you find a spot. Walk to the new and very modern district of Aker Brygge with a lot of restaurants on the seafront (quite touristy though). Continue to the impressive Opera House, new and modern as well. Then turn towards Oslo’s main railway station (Oslo sentralstasjon) on your left and walk up the Karl Johans street, Oslo’s main shopping street. At the end arises the Royal Palace (Kongelige Slott) and its surrounding park. First night in Oslo.
Pick up your rental car (preferably a compact one, as many roads on the itinerary are quite narrow) if you haven’t already done it the day before and head west on the E18 until Drammen. There turn right on the E134 until Heddal, where Norway’s biggest Stave Church (and my favorite one) is located and very well indicated.
Continue on the E134 until Ofte and turn left on road 45 to Eidsborg, where another Stave Church (a small one this time) and an open-air museum with traditional turf-roofed houses can be found.
In Flateland road 45 joins the bigger 9 road. Turn left for a short leg on it before turning right on the smaller road 987. Shortly after Suleskar turn right on the narrow and highly scenic road 986 to Lysebotn. Driving on 986 isn’t easy and requires some time to get all the way through, but the road is astonishing with rugged mountain landscapes and a final steep descent (many hairpins!) to Lysebotn at the end of Lysefjorden. Catch the 18 o’clock ferry-boat to Lauvvik (book tickets in advance or take a place in the queue and hope for the best).
The cruise takes 2 hours 20 minutes to complete and passes by the famous Kjeragbolten (Boulder Rock) on the left shortly after departure from Lysebotn, and Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) further on the way right (both announced by the captain). These two sites are among Norway’s most famous ones and a lot more impressive up there than from below. Unfortunately the hike to Kjeragbolten is long, difficult and takes a whole day to complete… But the one to Preikestolen is shorter and included in this itinerary (see day 3). From Lauvvik (make sure not to disembark at Foresand on the other side of the fjord where the boat stops just before Lauvvik, or you will have to take an extra ferry between Forsand and Lauvvik!), drive on to Stavanger via Sandnes. Second night in Stavanger.
Start your day early and head to the city center of Stavanger, Norway’s petroleum capital. Park your car next to the Petroleum Museum (Norsk Oljemuseum). Visit this very interesting museum about the fascinating “black gold” that made Norway one of the world’s richest countries based on GDP per capita. Norwegian government has always been reasonable with the national wealth and able to refrain from wasting its money, that’s one of the many things you will learn during your visit. It’s impressive how much Teslas there are already in the Norwegian streets and Norway obviously is a pioneer in terms of electric cars (they understood early enough the oil resources won’t last forever, and have the money to buy those pricey cars…). It’s actually quite difficult to extract the precious liquid from underneath the Earth and you are going to learn everything about extracting techniques, what is petroleum made from, and so on… After the museum visit, have a stroll in the beautiful old streets of central Stavanger.
Go back to your car and board the ferry to Tau (a 45-minutes crossing). From Tau, drive to Preikestolen Fjellstue (well-marked). That’s where the hike to the popular Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) begins. Going to Preikestolen and back will take you from 2 to 5 hours, depending on how fit you are and how much time you want to spend there (plan for at least 30 minutes to rest a bit and take pictures). The hike is not easy, including many steep parts and rough terrain. Moreover, it rains a lot here so prepare for wet conditions. Oh, and the path is usually very crowded… But when you reach Preikestolen, the scenery is just amazing! Pack some water and put on some good shoes (I did the hike with high-quality Norwegian rubber boots and found them actually perfect for this wet hike and not slippery at all!). After getting back to Fjellstue next to the parking, have a comforting meal at the inn’s restaurant before driving back to Stavanger (either via the Tau ferry you came with or via Forsand, Lauvvik and Sandnes, depending on where your hotel is located). On your way to Stavanger, stop at the beautiful sand beach (Solastranden) next to the airport. Third night in Stavanger.
Again, try to start early. If you want to maximize your time in Bergen (Norway’s nicest city in my opinion), drive the E39 coastal route all the way to Bergen (many ferries on the way). Another option (and I recommend this one) is to drive the E39 to Våg and turn right on the beautiful E134 road in direction of Odda, a bigger town along road 13. A bit before Odda, stop at the impressive Låtefossen waterfall (free parking!).
Have lunch in Odda, then continue on road 13 going along the magnificent Sørfjorden with many orchards on the mountain slopes. If you are there in July or August, stop at one of the many self-service stalls on the side of the road where you can buy delicious Norwegian cherries (look for signs saying “moreller”). In Brimnes take the toll tunnel to Bruravik and turn right to drive the scenic loop that road 572 makes via Ulvik. Back on the main 13 road, two different choices to reach Bergen: a longer one via smaller and sinuous road 7 along the fjord (on your left), a faster less scenic one via Voss and the E16 (on your right).
Choose a central hotel in Bergen. The Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret right next to Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf (the UNESCO World Heritage Site) can be recommended. Quite expensive, but dinner buffet is included in the rate and they have their own parking slots! Make sure to visit the hotel’s tower to get beautiful views of the city. In Bryggen, penetrate the narrow wooden streets between the colorful houses. Very picturesque! Continue along the harbour and through the Fish Market. On your left, north of Kong Oscars street, is a cool neighbourhood with bars and lots of street art. Ride the nearby funicular to Mount Fløyen, with kind of a Hong Kong’s Peak tram feeling! Up there you can admire the whole city from above. I recommend to walk back down instead of riding the funicular again, so follow the signs to the city center (you may even spot a troll in the forest…). Before getting back to your hotel, wander the hilly streets of old Bergen and its traditional white wooden houses. Fourth night in Bergen.
Take the E39 (which becomes the E16) to Voss and turn left to continue on the E16 to Gudvangen. There you will have a cruise on the UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjorden. The quickest, easiest and least crowded way to do that is to take the so-called Hiking Boat, which goes from Gudvangen to the tiny isolated village of Dyrdal (no road connection to Dyrdal) and back to Gudvangen, stopping at a few remote villages on the way (Bleiklindi, Bakka and Styvi). It’s called the ”hiking” boat because you can disembark at Styvi, hike the Royal Post path to Bleiklindi and wait for the next boat to go back to Gudvangen (but this is time-consuming). Another way is to take a sightseeing cruise of 1 hour 30 minutes from Gudvangen to Flåm on board the high-tech hybrid vessel “Vision of the Fjords”, but then you will need to take the same boat or a shuttle bus back to Gudvangen to pick up your car.
Continue east on the E16 and after the long tunnel turn left to the small cul-de-sac road 601 bound for Undredal, famous for its goat-milk cheese (watch out for goats on the road!). Make your way back to the main road and further away until Flåm.
In Flåm (at sea-level) park your car next to the railway station and board the famous Flåmsbana train that climbs up the mountains to Myrdal, 867 meters above sea-level (again, book your tickets in advance!). In the beginning of the trip it’s recommended to sit on the train’s right side for better views and after the Dalsbotn station, on the left side. Try to have a seat where the window opens, so you can take better unobstructed pictures. Before Myrdal the train stops at Kjosfossen waterfall for a few minutes and you even witness a live music/dancing show…! In Myrdal ride the same train back to Flåm.
Continue your trip on the same road (E16) and when you reach the roundabout just before Lærdalstunnelen (world’s longest road tunnel, 24,5 kilometers!), turn left to Aurlandsvangen and drive through the 7 hairpins until Stegastein viewpoint with incredible views of the Aurlandsfjorden. From there the so-called “Snow Road” crosses high plateaus with many spots of eternal snow (that’s where the road’s name comes from).
Back on the E16, reach Borgund’s Stave Church. Continue to Borlo, turn right on road 52 until Gol and right on road 7 to Geilo. Spend your fifth and last night there (for example at the Havsdalsgrenda ski resort, impersonal but comfortable and affordable).
It’s time to drive back to Oslo via road 40. Stop at Uvdal’s Stave Church on your way, very different from the other stave churches you have seen so far. If you haven’t entered one before, visit at least this one from inside (special and beautiful!).
In Oslo visit the Viking Ship museum to see some of the very few remaining real Viking boats and Vigelandsparken (touching sculptures inspired by everyday life), if you have time before your flight back home.
Dates travelled: August 2nd, 2016 to August 7th, 2016
Budget: Norway is an expensive destination. All the ferries are payable and many bridges, tunnels and roads come with a toll (your plate is screened and you get an invoice by mail many months after your visit). For the ferry from Lysebotn to Lauvvik, Nærøyfjord cruise and the Flåmsbana train, book tickets in advance on Visit Flåm’s website. Smaller ferries cannot be booked in advance and are paid directly on board. Check up-to-date timetables and rates online.
- accommodation: depends on what category you book. In city centers, at least 1800 NOK per night for a double room in a decent hotel. Half of that on the country-side.
- food: similar prices to other Nordic countries, ca. 130 NOK for lunch and at least the double for dinner.
- gas: though they have a lot of it, gas prices tend to be the same or even a bit higher compared to other Nordic countries, approximately 15 NOK per liter.
- road/bridge/tunnel tolls: almost 600 NOK in total for the whole itinerary.
- rental car: prices vary a lot according to season, company and car category. Driving conditions in Norway can be hazardous on small roads, so I recommend to rent a compact car and opt for all available insurances with no excess.
- ferries, cruises and trains: see Visit Flåm’s website for up-to-date information. For smaller ferries, check online according to route.
- flights to Oslo: this of course depends totally on where you are flying from 🙂 Norwegian Airlines usually offer good prices and they are constantly expanding their route network.
- entrance fees: a couple of hundreds of NOK.
- parking fees: a couple of hundreds of NOK as well.
- Oslo’s city center
- Heddal’s Stave Church (Norway’s biggest one)
- Cruise on Lysefjorden between Lysebotn and Lauvvik
- Norwegian Petroleum Museum
- Stavanger’s city center
- Sørfjorden from Odda to Brimnes
- Bergen (my favorite Norwegian city)
- Cruise on the Nærøyfjorden
- Undredal village
- Flåmsbana railway from Flåm to Myrdal and back
- Stegastein viewpoint
- Viking Ship museum