Read on for the ultimate list of tips to visit Norway on a budget - from a local!
One of the questions I most commonly receive as a travel blogger and tour guide living in Norway is how to visit the country on a budget. While I love to help out readers and visitors to the country, I’m afraid in this scenario there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution.
Figuring out whether or not you’ll be able to visit Norway on a budget depends on a lot of different factors - not least the actual budget we’re talking about - which I’ll all explain in detail in the following, so buckle up!
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First things first, the term “budget” is highly subjective. What “budget travel” is to one might feel like living the life of a homeless person to another - or in less brutal words, it all comes down to what you’re used to and what you’re willing to pass on. Not everyone actually wants to stay in a tent when travelling around Norway for a week and that’s okay. There are other ways of arranging accommodation on a tight budget that don’t involve sleeping on the ground if you’re already experiencing back pain (for instance).
Let’s break it all down, shall we?
Flights: Budget vs. Long-Haul
It’s super difficult to predict the cost of flights, especially considering that not everyone is based in Europe and has access to budget flights. Thus, before getting your heart set on a certain destination in Norway, I’d start by looking at flights. Are there direct flights from your homebase to Norway? If not, how often/where would you need to switch planes and what would the journey cost?
Airlines and Flight Comparison
As a general rule of thumb, I like to use Skyscanner to get a general overview of average flight costs in a certain time period. Skyscanner has the added advantage of making it easy to choose multiple airports (which is great if you live within a relatively short drive of many and can pick the cheapest connection).
However, I never actually book my flights through Skyscanner. I’ve been burnt by sudden extra fees that pop up at check-out before, so I always just book via the website of the airline in question. SAS and Norwegian are the 2 main airlines flying into Norway and while Norwegian is often the cheaper one, SAS usually provides really good offers from time to time, so it pays off checking their “Now or Never” fares on Thursday evenings (Norway time).
There are also budget flights with, for example, WizzAir, RyanAir, EasyJet and Eurowings from multiple European airports and for as little as 300 NOK, but then again, that’s of little help if you’re based in the US or Asia. In that case, make sure to keep an eye on special offers and stay flexible.
Where to go
If you find a cheap connection to Oslo but want to visit Norway in winter to see the Northern Lights, chances are that the add-on flight from Oslo to the Arctic Circle (you have to head north to see the lights - here’s why) might blow your budget. Therefore it’s important not to get your heart set on a specific destination within Norway (there really is no reason for that anyway as the entire country has stunning gems to offer!) but keep an open mind and consider travelling by means of train or car to see more of the country if you really don’t want to just stay in Oslo instead.
I mean, Oslo is a great city with lots to see and do on a budget. Unfortunately, it’s not very traditionally Norwegian, but as the country’s capital, it has the largest airport, so if you discover cheap flights to Norway it’s very likely that you end up there…
Transportation: Public Transport or Car Rental?
Now, if you’ve found affordable flights to Norway, the next step in shaping your budget trip is figuring out what you want to do and see and how to get around. There are plenty of options to see as much as possible in only a short amount of time, the famous Norway in a Nutshell tour, for instance, but unfortunately, most pre-package tours don’t come particularly cheap.
train travel in Norway
In order to save money and really get the most out of visiting Norway, you really want to do it yourself - either by renting a car or hopping on public transport. By far the cheapest way of covering lots of ground for little money (if booked 2-3 months in advance!) is going by train. Norway’s railway company Vy offers train tickets for as little as 250 NOK (one way), even on large distances such as Oslo to Trondheim or Oslo to Stavanger.
bus travel in Norway
Unfortunately, trains don’t exactly go anywhere. If you’d like to head from Stavanger to Bergen, for instance, you’ll have to hop on the ferry or bus, while other, smaller mountain towns are only accessible by bus or rental car. Norway’s main bus company is Nor-Way; offering tickets between 400 and 600 NOK for the stretch between Bergen and Stavanger.
When booking train and bus tickets in Norway, always make sure to book 2-3 months in advance and don’t hesitate to go for less popular travel times (early in the morning/late at night) as these tend to be the cheapest departures.
Car rental in Norway
Renting a car in Norway is unfortunately not particularly cheap and gas, toll fees, ferry crossings and parking come on top of that - meaning you should really budget at least 1000 NOK per day of renting a car). Comparison websites such as rentalcars.com show you the best offers in your chosen time frame. Always make sure to book your rental car way ahead of time (again, 3 months is a good rule of thumb) as prices raise with demand! Also keep in mind that dropping off your car at a different location to where you picked it up comes with huge (and I mean huge!!) extra fees that will certainly blow your budget! Therefore, make sure to choose round trips instead.
In general, splitting the cost when travelling with friends makes it a whole lot more affordable - as is opting for the smallest car. That way you’ll also save money on gas - which, despite Norway being an oil nation just isn’t particularly cheap here. Prices are ever-changing but gas usually costs between 12 and 17 NOK per liter, while road tolls usually cost around 20 NOK and ferry crossings around 200 NOK.
Hitch-hiking in Norway
I personally have no experience with hitch-hiking but have heard of people who have successfully done it. The trick is to be patient (and bring the right clothing in case you have to wait in the pouring rain for hours), as well as position yourself strategically at gas stations along the main motorways of the country.
Accommodation: Tent or Cabin?
Accommodation in Norway often takes up the biggest bulk of any travel budget, but it’s not impossible to find cheap accommodation. Generally speaking, accommodation in the bigger cities is rather expensive while accommodation in rural areas is a lot cheaper (though, you might want to steer away from the major rural tourism sites such as Geiranger)!
The cheapest way of actually staying in Norway is by bringing a tent and camping in the wild. Of course, in order to do that, you’re more or less forced to rent a car. Wild camping is allowed in Norway as long as you camp on uncultivated land (meaning land that’s not used for any kind of farming or recreation) that’s at least 150 metres away from the next inhabited building. As goes for using Norway’s nature in general, you’re not allowed to leave any trash behind and/or destroy or disturb the local flora and fauna.
For those of you who don’t see the appeal of camping and would much rather sleep somewhere dry and warm, but still for free, Couchsurfing might be a good alternative. Again, I’ve personally never been couchsurfing but I’ve heard loads of good things about it!
Renting a cabin
Renting a cabin is by far the most charming way of experiencing Norwegian culture. After all, 40% of Norwegian households either have their own holiday cabin, or at the very least, access to one, as many cabins are owned by families and passed down from generation to generation. If you want to vacation like a true Norwegian, staying in a mountain cabin simply is a must!
Fortunately, cabin adventures don’t need to be expensive either. You can find plenty of cabins on Airbnb (use this link if you want to receive 350 NOK in Airbnb travel credit) or use the cabins of the Norwegian Trekking Association who provide self-catered and lodged cabins along popular hiking trails in the mountains.
These cabins usually work on a first-come-first-serve basis and if you reserve a bed in one of them, you have to (usually) arrive before 7 pm as otherwise, someone else is allowed to take the bed instead. All cabins are public - meaning you have to share them with strangers - but this way you have the unique opportunity to get to know the locals better. A lot of the cabins have a general food supply that you can use - simply register what you've been using on the payment form when checking out. The cheapest cabins cost between 200 and 400 NOK per night for non-members of the Assocciation.
Norway, however, has lots of regular camping grounds as well - many of them also offering basic cabins for little money or pricier deluxe cabins that can still be quite cheap if shared among a group of friends. Tromsø Lodge & Camping for instance is a great glamping spot in Northern Norway's bustling city.
For an overview of all cabins in Norway - private and on public campgrounds - click here.
Hostels and Hotels
Hostels in Norway can unfortunately hardly be compared to hostels in classic backpacking destinations as hostel rooms here often cost as much as decent hotel rooms in other countries. Generally speaking, you can expect hostel rooms to cost around 400 NOK, while most hotel rooms cost between 800 and 1200 NOK a night.
Cheap hotel rooms can be tricky to find during the main tourist season between June and August (as well as between November and January in Northern Norway), especially in the most popular tourist destinations such as the Lofoten Islands or the fjord region of Western Norway. Usually, the big cities have a greater selection of hotel rooms and thus, provide a bigger chance of finding a cheap one, while the countryside of Norway also has plenty of affordable (though often times also a little rustic) accommodation options if you’re looking beyond the popular places such as Flåm and Geiranger.
By far the best shot at finding super affordable yet cosy accommodation in Norway is through Airbnb. Not only can you find plenty of cabins here but also lots of private rooms and apartments in the cities which come with the added advantage of kitchen access, meaning lots of money saved on eating out. Make sure to use this link to register for Airbnb and receive 350 NOK in travel credit as a gift from me!
Food: The easy way of saving money in Norway
When visiting Norway, not only would you want to eat something (duh!) but you’d probably also like to eat something typically Norwegian. Now, before you make the mistake of eating out and burning through your budget in no time, make sure to find accommodation with kitchen access so that you can prepare typical Norwegian dishes yourself.
While eating out can cost you anything between 80 and 150 NOK for lunch, as well as 150 to a whopping 400 NOK for dinner (depending on what kind of cuisine you choose, where the restaurant is situated, and whether or not you plan on drinking alcohol), if you prepare all meals yourself, you can easily get by with around 150 NOK a day. Make sure to stock up on food in supermarkets rather than gas stations or kiosks, though, as the latter are super pricey!
Among the cheapest supermarkets in the country are Rema 1000, Bunnpris and Kiwi, though you can also find amazing offers at Spar, Coop OBS and Coop Prix. Definitely steer away from Meny and Joker as these tend to be quite pricey. Either way, always look out for store brands such as “First Price” or “Xtra” which are always the cheapest products you can find in any supermarket.
As for the actual foods to buy, sandwiches go a long way and are a staple of Norwegian cuisine anyway. People always bring their own packed lunches to work and to hiking trips in the mountains, so don’t think that buying bread, butter and cheese is boring - you’ll fit right in and have food for breakfast and lunch! To make the sandwich a little more Norwegian, though, consider buying brown cheese instead of gouda (not particularly cheap but very traditional), Norwegian crisp bread instead of normal toast, and caviar in tubes or bacon-flavoured cream cheese (cause tube food is super popular and pretty cheap in Norway) instead of regular cream cheese.
Other cheap products to buy/prepare yourself are pastries (only when bought at supermarkets, though!), soup mixes (add some water/milk and you’ll get a traditional Norwegian fish soup!) and, much to my personal disgust, Pizza Grandiosa - Norway’s unofficial national dish that’s quite cheap but also not very nutritional (or tasty).
If you want to find out what kind of actually tasty and cheap meals you can prepare for under 100 NOK a day, read this article with all the money-saving tips of a former supermarket employee here in Norway!
Oh and never ever buy bottled water! Tap water in Norway is absolutely healthy and safe to drink, and also tastes really delicious!
Then again, if you do wish to eat out, even if just once, make sure to stay away from the main touristy streets (usually the harbour areas) and find restaurants in an alleyway somewhere off the beaten track. Also, make sure to eat out for lunch instead of dinner as most restaurants offer a lunch special (mostly a soup with bread and/or salad) for around 100 NOK.
Activities: DIY or Splurge?
It can be super difficult not to jump on the many fantastic tours that are being offered throughout the country for lack of money, but trust me, chances are you’re actually not missing out at all! Sure, the country has some super fascinating museums to offer and there are lots of tours that, if going on them, you’ll probably never forget, BUT, the true beauty of Norway isn’t in the cities and on the beaten tourist tracks - you’ll find it out in nature!
Going for a hike, admiring the Northern Lights at night (provided they’re strong enough and you manage to go somewhere dark), playing in the snow (because no matter how old you are, we all turn into 5-year olds in the snow… or is it just me?) and going for a dip in the ocean or fjord are all activities that are super Norwegian and absolutely free!
Of course, if you really want to see a whale or pet reindeer, you’ll have to pay for a tour, but that should be doable even on a budget if you spend your money wisely during the rest of your trip. Instead of booking a guided hike, do some research (and when in doubt, ask the locals!) to find an easy trail close to where you’re staying, and instead of booking a bus excursion, maybe renting a car for a day will give you the chance to see even more scenery at an even better price.
Even if you’re staying in the cities, there’s loads of urban nature waiting for you to be explored. Staying in Oslo? Take the metro to Nordmarka for a day out in the wild!
Staying in Bergen? Take the funicular up to Mount Fløyen and spend a day hiking in the woods!
Staying in Stavanger? Rent a bike and explore the coastal forest at Hundvåg or the lovely lake Stokkavannet!
Staying in Tromsø? Hike up Mount Fløya instead of taking the cable car or go for a walk along the Lysløypa trail that runs all the way across Tromsø Island.
See, even urban nature possibilities are endless, so there’s really no need for overpriced sightseeing tours when there’s so much greenery waiting to be explored!
Norway on a Budget: The Bottom Line
Is it possible to visit Norway on a budget? Absolutely!
Does visiting Norway on a budget mean missing out on great experiences? Absolutely not!
Visiting Norway on a budget merely means keeping an open mind as to what city/region you’d like to visit and how you want to create your stay. If it’s your wish to see the Northern Lights or do that famous Pulpit Rock hike just because you’ve been seeing loads of pictures of both on Instagram, then yes, the trip may or may not turn out to be quite pricey and over budget.
However, if you wish to experience Norway as the great outdoorsy country it is, and you manage to stay flexible in terms of where you want to spend your holiday, then not only will you have a fabulous time away from the main tourist crowds, but you’ll also be able to spend a ton of money!
Then again, if staying in a hotel and eating out is something you can’t miss out on, even if rustic cabins and crisp bread with brown cheese are actually a whole lot more Norwegian, then you’ll likely be disappointed as that’s just not doable on a budget.
In the end, being able to visit Norway on a budget or not, really is something only you can determine. Naturally, it’s a lot easier if you’re already based in Europe but the main problem I see with many people complaining about Norway’s prices are their expectations. Don’t come here and expect to get as much for your money as you would on a holiday to Thailand. But please, by all means, come here and experience Norway off the beaten track.
No matter whether you have the tiniest of budgets to work with or you actually have some money to potentially spend if necessary, the best things about this country come for free (or very little money)!
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