Norway is the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. The land of the Vikings is filled with majestic glacier-formed mountains and deep fjords. Hundreds of giant waterfalls cascade down the steep mountains into the fjords. The rain makes Norway lush and green, and picturesque Norwegian villages with white farmhouses and red barns will make you want to take a picture of everything you see.
When to Go to Norway
The best time to visit Norway is in the summer. Peak travel season is July and August. The weather will be great but the crowds will be heavy. Mid-May is the beginning of the tourist season and many things are just opening up in early May. Many tourist attractions close by mid-September and October.
May 17th is Constitution Day in Norway and is a huge national celebration. It is a memorable day to be in Norway if you plan to enjoy the celebrations. Norwegians have great national pride, and the day is celebrated with parades, flags, celebrations, and many people dressed in traditional costumes.
My husband has traveled extensively in Norway for work, and he thinks late-May and June is the best time to be in Norway. We loved visiting in May because the fjords were so beautiful. We could see snow in the mountains, and the hundreds of waterfalls were spectacular. The Sognefjell Pass (Route 55) was open for the season but we drove through snow passes up to 20 feet deep in some places. The best thing about traveling in May was that there were very few tourists in Norway yet and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
It is cold in May (high 40s, low 50s) and it did rain, but we planned for rain and the drizzle did not slow us down. One day it poured rain but we modified our plans and still enjoyed the day. We had several sunny days to enjoy beautiful Norway. You definitely need to plan for rain whenever you visit Norway.
The official language is Norwegian, but nearly everyone speaks English and we had no trouble at all getting around in English. Everything tourists will want to do will have English signs and translation available. We were looking for some family history locations in the countryside and even at small local churches we visited, everyone was able to speak to us in English.
Public transportation in Norway is easy to use and works well for travel throughout the country. If you purchase the Oslo Pass or Bergen Pass, you are entitled to free transportation in the downtown area on bus, tram, train, metro and boat.
We rented a car and found it helpful and cheaper than train tickets around the country for four of us. Norwegians drive on the right hand side of the road (similar to the U.S.). If you rent a car, familiarize yourself with Norwegian road signs and rules. The fines and penalties for traffic violations are incredibly strict in Norway, and they monitor traffic speed by roadside cameras. But don’t let that discourage you because we loved having a rental car and the flexibility it gave us to travel at our own pace, store a picnic lunch in the car, and store our luggage as we traveled. Parking in cities can be hard to find and expensive. We paid about $40 per night to leave our car in a car park overnight in Oslo. We found paid parking in the city but you must use a pay machine and get a ticket. The pay machine was all in Norwegian but we generally figured it out. You pick how long you want a ticket for and leave the ticket visible in the dash of your car. Make sure to monitor your time wisely, because they do monitor the lots, and we found out the hard way that a parking ticket costs about $100. (P.S. If you do get a parking ticket, paying it at a bank while you are still in Norway is the most cost effective solution.)
Oslo, Norway is often ranked the most expensive city in the world to visit, so we were understandly worried about the cost of our recent trip. However, the strong dollar and favorable exchange rate right now makes 2015 and 2016 a great time to visit Norway. I expected sticker shock and was pleasantly surprised at how affordable our hotels and rental cottages were. The food is more expensive, but it is possible to grab breakfast and lunch food from grocery stores or gas stations and then enjoy a nice dinner out.
Visa and Mastercard are accepted almost everywhere. We did not exchange any money at the airport, but we did get some Norwegian Kroner from an ATM when we needed it at a pizza place. Europe has embedded smart chips on their credit cards. U.S. cards are converting to the chip over the next two years, but if you can get your credit card company to send you a card with a chip, it would be useful. Regardless, call your credit card company and get the 4-digit pin associated with your credit card because you will need a pin everywhere you use your credit card. Notify your credit card company in advance that you will be traveling internationally to avoid fraud alerts on your account.
What to Wear in Norway
Check the weather forecast and be prepared for wet and cold weather. It was in the 40s and low 50s when we visited in mid-May, and we were glad for scarfs, hats, and knit gloves. You will want a raincoat and layers of clothing to stay warm. I brought waterproof hiking shoes and wore them all week and thought that was a good choice.
You can stay in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, or home rentals in Norway. If you stay at somewhere other than a hotel, you will want to ask if linens (“bed clothes” and bath towels) are included. You may need to rent them for a small fee. Airbnb or VRBO are good options for home rentals in Norway. If you are looking for a delightful cottage on Sognefjord, we loved our stay at Amblegaard Cottages and would happily stay there again.
Hotels will have basic linens (sheets, one wash towel, one hand towel) but they will not likely have shampoo, conditioner, etc. In hotel showers they have a universal body wash / shampoo available for your use. Bring a washcloth in a plastic baggie if you use a washcloth since hotels in Norway generally do not have washclothes.
Camping is very popular in Norway. A family looking for adventure should consider camping cabins or caravanning in Norway. There are cabin rentals near all the fjords and waterfalls and most will rent bedding for a small fee. It is a very affordable alternative to hotels and will make a memorable family experience.
Restaurants, hotels, tourist destinations, and many attractions have free WiFi. However, I recommend that one person in your party pay for an international data plan for the occasional time you are stuck on the road and need to consult Google maps. All phone carriers have short-term international data plans you can add to your phone. Another option for Internet would be to purchase a global hot spot before you leave home and bring it with you. If you are renting a cottage, ask about WiFi. The cottage we rented had a portable router we used for Internet and it worked well.
There are many great guidebooks to Norway, but in my opinion no one does Europe better than Rick Steves. I love the way he travels and his suggestions for getting off-the-beaten path and avoiding tourist traps have led me to happy, unexpected discoveries. We brought Rick Steves' Snapshot Norway guidebook in the car and read it every day.
Planning a Trip to Norway?
Check out our Europe Pinterest board for more great blog posts about Norway. You may also like the following Tips for Family Trips posts:
- Photo Essay: Beautiful Photos of Norway my husband took of our trip in May 2015.
- Oslo, Norway, City Guide for Families
- Bergen, Norway: 4 Must-See Destinations and Planning Tips
- Driving the Sognefjell Mountain Road