Authored by Geri Vladeva
Before my trip to Norway, I thought of the country as a fairy tale land that although travel guides insisted was real, seemed to me to be fiction. And sure enough, you really have to be there to believe it.
Western Norway’s epic landscapes rank among the most stunning in Europe, and the “sheer drama of the fjords is alone worth the effort of coming here. Fjords of extraordinary beauty cut gashes from a jagged coastline deep into the interior, cliffs plunge down to barely populated shorelines, and waterfalls drop from impossible heights.”
I was in Norway in June, when the days are long and the light never goes away. This truly is the best time to visit because you can literally explore for 24 hours a day. And although I’m not a frequent backpacker, backpacking is the best way to experience Norway. Railway transportation is the easiest (and cheapest) way to travel around the country, and having a backpack is a very practical as you’ll find there’s a lot of walking ahead of you.
My Favorite Cities and Fjords Along the Norwegian West Coast
Closest to Olso’s international airports, my West Coast tour started from Kristiansand; one of the southernmost cities in Norway. And while this is Norway’s fifth largest city, it still felt relatively small.
It calls itself ‘Norways No 1 Holiday Resort’ and looks and feels like a sea resort for families. You don’t need much time to see the few streets with old wooden houses in Posebyen (the old quarter), to walk along the Markens Street (the main pedestrian street), and to stroll along the coastal promenade.
Stavanger is a university city with a beautiful old quarter. Its white painted wooden houses look like life size dollhouses. It has breathtaking surroundings with beautiful fjords, mountains, and long, white beaches, however is most famous as a starting point for one of the two most famous hikes in Norway – Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock).
Preikestolen is located 604 metres above sea level and is the most visited attraction in the county of Rogaland. Lonely Planet named it the number one most breathtaking viewing platform in the world.
Bergen is Norway’s most popular tourist destination, and once you arrive it’s not hard to see why. Its history dates back to the Middle Ages, and this heritage that can still be glimpsed in the beautifully preserved wooden houses of Bryggen, now protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Famous for the seven mountains surrounding the city center, “colourful houses creep up the hillsides, ferry-boats flit around the fjords, and a cluster of excellent art museums provide a welcome detour in case Bergen’s notoriously fickle weather sets in. Meanwhile, a large student population ensures the city has a buzzy bar scene and nightlife.”
As a day trip from Bergen, be sure not to miss out on experiencing the journey to Flam. This is a small village with grand surroundings, and Lonely Planet named Flam Railway was the most incredible train journey in the world for its scenery (though honestly, all rail routes in Norway are spectacular).
“The journey takes you from Flåm by the fjord to the top of the mountains, and during the 20-kilometre train ride you can see rivers cutting through deep ravines, waterfalls cascading down the sides of steep, snow-capped mountains and mountain farms clinging dizzily to steep hillsides.”
The Flam railway is the shorter way to travel from Bergen to Flam. However, the longer way, by express boat, is a journey you’ll never forget!
The boat follows the Sognefjord (Flam is a small village situated at the deepest end of the fjord), and you can appreciate the view of all vistas on both sides, which, like the rest of the region, are postcard worthy.
After Bergen, I travelled to Fjærland, and this small village for me is the most magical spot in Norway. It is the village where galcier and fjord meet – a tiny settlement lying at the foot of the largest glacier in Europe, with a picturesque center called Mundal.
In the center there is a booktown, art gallery and the old, wooden Hotel Mundal from 1891. It’s almost as if time just stops. There are simple nice people, crisp and clear fjord waters, and a feeling of peace that you can’t find anywhere else.
But please, keep the secret! It is one of the last truly peaceful places on Earth!
After having taken in the mighty sites of Bergen and Sognefjord, Ålesund almost felt like a fishing village. But it has its charm.
The town has a beautiful setting across several islands stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean, and is known for its architecture in Art Nouveau style. There are two streets with cafes and restaurants, but the best place to head is the Fjellstua Viewpoint.
The view from this hill offers one of the best panoramas in Norway. Walk the stairs in the early morning to enjoy the fresh air and clear view.
At first glance, Trondheim looks like an industrial city. And it is. But when you visit the old port and enter the old town, you literally enter another time.
The typical colorful houses in Scandinavian style form soft lines and their continuous chain at Bakkandet is broken from time to time by tiny cozy restaurants with a few tables on the sidewalks.
The most spectacular view is from the Gamle Bybro Bridge, gently named “The Portal of Happiness”. For the history junkies, the Nidaros Cathedral may be of interest too. Its imposing building exudes a sense of magic and is surrounded by a clean, well-arranged graveyard in an even more spectacular park. Check out the Archbishop Palace’s Museum if you fancy learning about the history of the place and the Norwegian monarchy in general.
Keep in Mind …
Two weeks solo backpacking the Norwegian West Coast was enough to see the most significant sights, and yet still leave you wanting more.
My advice is to choose a few destinations you want to see the most, and stay longer. Don’t try to see everything! It’s impossible.
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