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Our Arctic Adventure - Norway in a Nutshell

Updated: Feb 9



Seeing the Northern lights (the Aurora Borealis if you want to be scientific), has been on both of our bucket lists for quite some time. To be honest, the lights have felt a bit like a fantasy for me, something I have read about or seen photos of, but never would actually see with my own eyes. But this past winter, we made this fantasy dream a reality with a 10-day arctic adventure that had us roaming all across Norway in planes, trains, boats, and busses. It’s an adventure we definitely had to prepare for (read to the end for our suggests on cold-weather gear), but one that was so worth it!

We’ve mapped out our route and favorite spots along the way in case you also want to cross this dream off your bucket list! We loosely follow the Norway in a Nutshell tour but with some changes and additions, which happened to turn out to be some of our favorite parts of the trip. And we saved some money as well.


We made four stops in Norway, you can jump ahead to any of the specific cities Oslo, Flåm, Bergen and Tromsø. If you want to read our recommendations on how to prepare for the trip, jump ahead to here.



Arctic Adventure Stop 1: Oslo, Norway

Mode of Transport: Flight – Lufthansa (380 eur pp)

Length of Stay: 3 nights (Dec 26-29)

Temperature: -10 to -3 C


Oslo was the perfect introduction to Norway! We arrived on December 26th so the city was still decked out in an incredible holiday light display. To add to the festive feeling, Oslo was covered in snow, which continued to fall throughout the three nights we spent here AND the city Christmas market (Jul i Vinterland in Spikersuppa) was still serving up hot Gløgg (Mulled wine, but quite different than what we are used to in Germany) and other holiday treats in the evening. 


The city sits north of the Oslofjord, so on our second day in Oslo, we booked an impromptu two hour cruise through the fjords. We went with thefjord which cost us 390NOK/34 eur. There's plenty of space in the ship and could be booked impromptu.



The landscape was stunning with colorful buildings speckled throughout a snowy-white backdrop and the boat ride was thrilling as it cracked through the frozen surface ice and glided past Oslo’s coastal landmarks. Our third day was spent exploring different Olso neighborhoods our favorite of which was Grünerløkka (Yes, Arya was looking out for Jo Nesbø-style murderers the entire time). Grünerløkka had great bars and cafes, an eclectic vibe, and beautiful parks. If you are there on a Sunday, check out Søndagsmarkedet – we went even though it was closed and still loved the artsy vibe. We actually spent most our time in Oslo’s sentrum (city center) and recommend stopping by the Akershus Fortress (great views and so eerily peaceful in the evening), the royal palace, the Oslo cathedral, and pretty much the entire stretch Karl Johans Gate.



Oslo Favorites:

Carly: Gløgg and talking reindeer at the Christmas market, Julekaffe and gluten-free scones at Kaffebrenneriet

Arya: Fjord cruise and drinking local craft beers at Grünerløkka Brygghus

 

Oslo Tips: Gluten-free food was not difficult to find, but food in general was expensive. We opted to buy food at grocery stores and cook at our Airbnb, which was much cheaper and a nice break from the cold.


 

Arctic Adventure Stop 2: Flåm

Mode of Transport: Train from Oslo S (central station) to Myrdal, Transfer in Myrdal to Flåm Bahn to Flåm Village – All booked on VY website (105 eur pp)

Length of Stay: 1 night (Dec 29-30)

Temperature: -6 to -1 C

 

Our next stop (and maybe our favorite one) was the village of Flåm. Flåm wasn’t originally in our itinerary. When we were researching (Carly’s literal search terms were: “Snow trains in Norway”), we were originally planning to book a long train ride on the Bergen Bahn directly from Oslo to Bergen. But as we dug in a bit more, other travelers highly recommended the Flåm Bahn for its incredible views and historic-looking train cars. We decided to detour to Flåm, specifically so we could ride on the Flåm Bahn, but it turns out that we also fell completely in love with the village itself. But first, the Flåm Bahn. We boarded the Flåm Bahn in the mountain station of Myrdal after an already incredible train ride on the Bergen Railways from Oslo. In contrast to the modern Bergen Bahn, the Flåm Bahn oozed historic charm. The forest green cars boasted huge picture-windows, curved wood-paneled ceilings and cozy red-cushioned seating areas. But the views outside the train were what made this experience truly stunning. The train descends 867 meters in 20 km, through 20 tunnels and numerous hairpin turns along the mountain side. It even stops for a 10 minute photo break at Kjosfossen, an incredible waterfall that is still picturesque even when frozen. When we finally arrived in Flåm, we were already so impressed.


Flåm is an itty-bitty village nestled in the valley of high mountains on three sides, butting up to the fjord on the forth. We arrived just before the last of the light disappeared, so we trekked out to where the land meets the edge of the fjord to a few incredible shots. Then, we headed into the village center to check out some of the shops, grab a bite to eat, stop at the grocery and finish up at the microbrewery: Flåmsbrygga.


Much to our disappointment, we headed out in the morning the next day, only this time on boat rather than train. This was another incredible highlight of Flåm – the majestic, breathtaking views from the fjord. Impressive snow-covered mountains were reflected in still, mirror-like water. We glided past frozen waterfalls and colorful houses that dotted the mountainside. We even spotted a few white-beaked dolphins (we think) swimming silently next to the boat. Unfortunately, our fjord cruise was cut short in Undredal due to an avalanche which made the original route to Gudvangen impassable. Luckily, the company we booked through The Fjords arranged busses to get us to our original destination.



Flåm Favorites:

Carly: The Flåm Bahn – my face hurt from smiling so much!

Arya: The views! Truly incredible!

 

Flåm Tips: We heard from a friend that the Flåmsbrygga microbrewery had incredible food, but when we went, seating for eating was completely full for hours. Make sure to make a reservation if you want to eat, but it was also great and easy to just grab a drink!

 


Arctic Adventure Stop 3: Bergen

Mode of Transport: Boat from Flåm to Gudvangen (actually to Undreal, then bus to Gudvangen because of the avalanche) booked on The Fjords; then Bus from Gudvangen to Voss (can get ticket on bus), then Train from Voss to Bergen (booked on VY)  (20 eur pp)

Length of Stay: 2 nights (Dec 30- Jan 1)

Temperature: -1 to 7 C

 

Arriving in Bergen felt a bit like a tropical oasis in the middle of our arctic adventure  – temperatures were above freezing – it even rained a bit rather than snowed!  But the real star of Bergen were the colorful and historic buildings that line the city’s streets. Especially photogenic, were the colorful buildings trailing up the hillside reflected in still waters at Lille Lungegårdsvannet and the iconic wooden structures in the Bryggen Hansa Quarter that have been restored and reconstructed in keeping with vernacular building traditions of the Hanseatic period (13-15 century). We really wanted to love Bergen, it was the city I was looking forward most to visiting in Norway, but in the end we left Bergen a bit disappointed – although this is probably due to timing. We planned to be in Bergen for New Year’s Eve, in hopes that we could spend the holiday in this much anticipated city, but what we didn’t plan for was that most things were closed. After talking with some locals, we realized most Norwegians celebrate New Year’s together with family in each other’s homes, not out in bars or clubs. Therefore, most shops, restaurants, bars, and even the grocery store were closed either on the 31st, the 1st or both. We were able to take a cable car from the Fjellveien station up to the Fløibanen upper station to see beautiful views of the city and harbor below, which cost 11 eur pp round trip.


On New Year’s Eve, we met up with some travelers we had meet on the Flåm fjord cruise and found a Nashville themed bar by the harbor that was open. They had great live music and a perfect view for the fireworks that went off at midnight in the Harbor. So while Bergen wasn’t exactly how we anticipated, we still rang in the new year in a new city, with new friends and lots of fun.



Bergen Favorites:

Carly: The No Stress bar! They had excellent alcohol drinks, I’m glad we stopped by on our first night while they were still open!

Arya: Nothing, I didn't like Bergen.

 

Bergen Tips: If you are visiting during the holidays, research what will be open. We really wanted to go on the Ulriksbanen cable car, but it was closed between Christmas and New Year’s. Similarly many places were closed for the two days we were in Bergen because of New Year’s.

 


Arctic Adventure Stop 4: Tromsø

Mode of Transport: Flight - Widerøe (135 eur pp)

Length of Stay: 3 nights (Jan 1- Jan 4)

Temperature: -18 to -6 C

 

Our adventure ended above the arctic circle in the incredible northern city of Tromsø. After a 2 hour flight from Bergen, we landed in Tromsø a little after 1 pm and de-boarded the plane as the last of the fiery red lights faded from the sky. Tromsø is so far north that while we were there in early January, the sun did not rise above the horizon. Before we left, we were quite worried that our time in Tromsø might be in perpetual darkness, but that wasn’t exactly the case. From around 11 am to about 1 pm, the sky lit up in magnificent reds, pinks, and oranges. For two hours we experienced a waning sunrise/sunset, but never a fully lit sky. Outside of these hours, Tromsø was quite dark and we both found this a bit disorienting – never knowing what time it was without looking at a clock. But the excessive darkness did make great conditions for seeing the northern lights – our primary goal, and one we accomplished on the very first day!



We didn’t book a guided experience like “chasing the lights” and instead hoped we would be able to see them on our own. We were second-guessing ourselves on our first day and even stopped into a tour agency to see if they had any spots available on an upcoming tour. We found a dark spot that was recommended for viewing the lights on Google maps and decided to go check it out (even though it was only a little after 5:00 pm), if it seemed like a good spot, we could come back later, when the lights were more likely to be out. After a 15 minute bus ride from the city center, we got off at Folkeparken. When we looked into the sky we saw a slight grey misty streak, but wasn’t sure that this was the lights we’d been searching for. We walked closer to the water, eventually finding a dock that jutted out into the water, in complete darkness. The further we walked from the road (and lights) the clearer the aurora became, eventually dancing in grey-green ribbons across the sky. It. Was. Incredible. (and incredibly cold). Eventually, we pulled ourselves away and made our way back to our Airbnb.

Our recommendation: If you are adventurous and don't want to spend 100 eur per person on Chasing the lights tour, get a local bus ticket for the day and go to stops outside the city to find the best spots for northern lights. You just need to get out of the city on a clear day.


Our second day in Tromsø was cloudy, so not great light chasing conditions, but we weren’t chasing lights this day, we were chasing whales! We boarded a whale watching ship in the pitch-black morning and cruised through the Fjords, chasing a school of herring past the peaks of the Lyngen Alps and various ice-berg looking islands. We booked our whale watching trip with Brim Explorer since they use electric catamarans to get close to the whales without disturbing the creatures. The hope was to spot some whales who might also be in pursuit of the same school of fish – and we did! Most of our whale sitings were of their spouts – the burst of air and water from their blowhole when surfacing, But we were lucky enough to also see three sperm whales flip their flukes at us before diving back into the water!



 Our last full day in Tromsø felt like a bonus – we had already seen the lights and three whale tails! But this day might have been the most magical. It was Arya’s birthday and he wanted to take the Fjellheisen cable car to the top of the Storsteinen mountain. This experience was a bit pricey at 30 euros per person but it promised amazing views of Tromsø city as well as a favorite spot to see the lights – and it was Arya’s birthday wish! We took the cable car up around 5 pm and were greeted with stunning views of the city below, but no lights. After snapping some photos, we sat inside a mountaintop café, sipping hot chocolate. An hour or so later, faint misty ribbons started to streak the sky. We ran out of the café, set up our camera, and witnessed the most spell-binding display of lights we have ever seen. Grey-green lights danced from the peak of a nearby mountain across the dark sky. They were clearer than the first night we saw them and seemed to go on forever. We cheered, we danced, we would have cried but the tears would have frozen. It was a breathtaking end to our amazing adventure.



Tromsø Favorites:

Carly: THE LIGHTS!

Arya: Whale watching tour, although it took hours to thaw my fingers after freezing them off.

 

Tromsø Tips: We used an app (https://www.norway-lights.com/) to track the conditions for seeing the lights. This was great to determine which day we should spend 30 euros to go to the top of the mountain and have a high likelihood of seeing the lights, but we found that even when the app said the lights were less likely, there were still times when we saw them. The key is to get out of the city, away from the artificial light – Folkeparken was a great free spot to do this that was accessible by public transit.

 


To ensure our arctic adventure was a success, we did a lot of research beforehand, and not just on places to go and how to get there – that’s the easy part. We were more nervous about having the right clothing and cold weather gear to be able to survive AND enjoy being outside to long periods of time. Additionally, Arya researched in depth what was needed to photograph the northern lights successfully – maybe another post? We detail out our preparations below:


Preparations for the trip


Booking recommendations:  

The whole itinerary for this trip is available in the norwaysbest.com, but if you want to book individually here's where we booked ours. We saved around 60 eur pp and could customize our own trip by booking individually.

Trains: Book your trains from Oslo to Flam at vy.no website, be sure to book the train with a break in Myrdal (105 eur pp).

Airbnb: We stayed in this airbnb which was extremely well located with majestic views.

Flam to Gudvangen ferry: Book your fjord cruis from Flam to Gudvangen here: norwaybest.com

Gudvangen to Voss bus:  there are local buses traveling from Gudvangen to Voss which you have to buy a ticket on the spot (5 eur pp).

Voss to Bergen train: Buy the tickets on vy.no site (20 eur pp).


Cold weather gear:

Visiting Norway during winter is an incredible but daunting adventure since temperatures can fall far below freezing. During our trip, we experienced temperatures ranging from 1C/33.8F to -18C/-4F. To be able to explore outside comfortably but easily be able to cope with warmer temperatures indoors, we had to do extensive research. There are many articles on what to wear, in this blog we will list what worked for us - which were effective both in warmth and cost.

A few points to keep in mind while planning for extreme cold:

  • Layers, Layers, Layers! Layers not only keep you warm, they are also easily removable so you can adjust to indoor and outdoor temperatures more easily.

  • Keep Dry! This is both when dealing with rain or snow outside, but also sweat when you go indoors or are doing physical activity. Choosing fabrics that are waterproof on the outside and fabrics that are quick drying for the inside is crucial.

Below are some of the materials we bought:

Base layer: Merino wool is best as base layer, however they can be quite expensive. Arya used this and it worked very well for him. Carly found merino wool shirts from Uniqlo for cheap on a second-hand website (Vinted) and merino wool leggings at Aldi for 20 eur.


Middle layer: We didn't buy anything new for the middle layer - just sweaters and jeans we already had.


Outer layer: Arya used a Superdry Everest snow parka , and Carly had an Embassy of Bricks and Logs jacket. However, you don't have to break bank to get an expensive jacket, you can also buy it second-hand. Plenty of jackets in Decathlon can also do the job as long as they are waterproof and are rated for low temperature. One thing to note is that it's much more comfortable to wear all the necessary layers if your outer jacket is a little roomy. If you are planning to purchase a coat for a trip like this, consider sizing up or choosing a style that is a little more roomy so you don't feel like a stuffed sausage.


Neck warmer: Neck-warmers were a life saver for neck warmth but mostly for covering our faces in the cold wind. Merino wool circle scarfs work quite well since they are thin, and will dry quickly from being wet from your breath, but are still really warm. Sometimes it was so cold, Arya was covering his whole face, check out the hilarious picture. Here's the link to the scarves that worked perfectly for us.



Socks: We bought merino wool socks from Decathlon. On top of that, sometimes we also wore Alpaca woolen socks over the Merino wool socks to stay warm.


Shoes: Shoes should be waterproof preferably with warm lining inside to protect against the cold. Arya got his from Decathlon. Carly just used her hiking boots she already had and they worked fine with two pairs of wool socks. Again, if your shoes are already tight, then you put on two pairs of thick socks, you are going to be uncomfortable and cold (your feet won't get enough circulation) - so keep this in mind!


Gloves: Similar to feet, your fingers are also a vulnerable spot for cold, so layer up! We wore a tech-friendly Merino wool glove with wool mittens on top. Our mittens have easily removable caps so our fingers could be easily accessed. This wasn't the warmest combination (regular wool mittens would have been warmer), but we knew we were going to want to use our phones and camera, so this was the right combination for us.


Head: A hat is important to keep the warmth in, but any old hat will do. We used ones we already had, just make sure your hat can cover the ears, which get cold quickly!



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Hey there! If we are meeting for the first time, we are Carly & Arya, a binational couple living in Germany and traveling the world. Arya is from India, and Carly is from the US and we have been married since 2021. We hold steady 9-5 jobs while traveling the world. We are excited to share our story and unique perspectives with you. Take a look around, and don't forget to subscribe to our updates and follow us on Instagram

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