This is Why, Norway
If you're going to backpack through Europe, don't stop in Norway. I say this not because Norway is a horrible place, but rather it's worth more than just a quick stop and stamp on a passport page. The picturesque landscape requires at the least two weeks to explore, and in spite of Norway being 30 times smaller than the USA in land area, Norway is a relatively long country with slow speed limits. Driving or riding a train across long distances in Norway can take a good chunk of a day. We're talking about driving speeds in the range of 55MPH, max!
Planning for Norway was no easy task. We researched and booked things on the calendar up to the very last minute. Here's a quick snapshot of how we went about doing it. I typically use OneNote to start planning for trips. The tabs you can create in a section really helps the organization of activities, travel documents, confirmations, and etc.
Our trip didn't cover all that Norway has to offer, but we tried our best to hit the spots that interested us the most. Let's start with the Lofoten Islands, which was probably our favorite spot. These islands are accessible via plane, car, and ferry/cruise. We opted to fly into Bodø and hop on a Hurtigruten cruise. Doing so, we got magnificent views of Lofoten and various islands, as well as pilot whales.
If you visit Lofoten, renting a car is a must! The drive probably beats the road trip up the California coast. As much as I love the drive up the coast, you just can't beat views of the fjord and jagged mountains. It took us a short 2 hours to drive from Svolvær to Reine, but it was probably closer to 3 hours because we stopped every 10 feet to take pictures.
The hike up Reinebringen (mountain) is a dangerous, popular hike. The hike only takes about 2 hours to complete, but every step is a potential sprained ankle or tumble down the mountain. The hike is in the upwards direction for the entire duration. If the conditions are dry, then the hike is relatively safe, but once you add water to the terrain, it can lead to muddy conditions and slippery rocks. If there is still snow on the mountain, and you're doing this hike during a warm day, then I would recommend starting the hike sooner rather than later. The run off from the snow melt will make the hike that much harder. The view up top is definitely worth the 1800+ calories that my watch reported.
Back to Svolvær
Pronounced SVOL-VHY, this town is a major hub to the Lofoten Islands. This is also where the Hurtigruten ship ports, and where the airport is located. You'll be able to book a variety of tours and excursions in the main square of Svolvær ranging from a puffin safari to hiking and rock climbing.
It wasn't until Bergen that I felt like I was in Europe. Here we were met with cobblestone streets, and the iconic European skyline. I didn't take too many pictures here, but you can definitely get a sense of the beauty of the city below.
The hike begins by taking a ferry from Stavanger to Tau. From Tau, you'll have to take a bus to the trail head. The hike itself wasn't terribly difficult and there were people doing it in their poor Nike Air Max's, but the hike definitely reminded me of the Inca Trail in Peru. The path is primarily made of large and small stones and got pretty steep in sections. The guides say the hike would take something around 2 hours, but we managed to do it in 1.25 hours.
Once you get to the top, it can get pretty crowded on the rock, but a queue typically forms to take a picture on the edge of the rock. Nonetheless, I definitely recommend bringing a lunch and plenty of water. It's a pretty epic spot to have lunch.
Tourism guides and sites seem to revolve around Flåm, which is home to a UNESCO world heritage site. The area has many camp grounds and offered landscapes riddled with waterfalls. Though, I'd imagine the waterfalls would eventually dry up in the mid to late summer. There are many activities offered by the tourism board of Flåm. We opted in for the cruise down the Nærøyfjord and a bus trip to the Stegastein viewpoint.
We could have probably done without Flåm. We felt like we were in the midst of Disneyland-like crowds, and found that the other places we visited to be 10x better. Sacrificing Flåm for another place like Tromsø would have been a wise decision, but there will definitely be a next time!
Overall we spent approximately $650 on RT plane tickets from LAX, and then another $1600 on plane tickets within Norway, trains, housing, car rental, cruises, and transportation. Once in Norway, everything is expensive as there is essentially a 30% tax (free education and health care). Meals ranged from $15-$40. In the end I think we spent around $2650/person for two weeks. Also, I'd probably forego the paying in cash option once in Norway, as the exchange rate varies from place to place. Paying with a card may give you a better exchange rate, even with the foreign transaction fees.
Flying within Norway
If you're going to be traveling between states and cities in Norway, I'd recommend flying from place to place. Plane tickets ranged from $60-$80 dollars, which saves the cost and time of renting a car. If you fly Norwegian, be sure to add "Fast Track", which is their version of TSA Pre, and with "Fast Track" you can safely arrive an hour before departure. Their bus to city system works really well as the buses typically run every 10-15 minutes and costs about $10, which you can pay via credit card on the bus or through a phone app.
We didn't find Oslo to be particularly interesting. However, you should definitely research the city if you plan on visiting. Oslo may have something of interest to you. We aren't really the museum or arts type.
We visited in late May and experienced warm weather in the mid-60s. A large jacket wasn't really ever needed, but I'd recommend bringing a rain jacket. Cities like Bergen get rain 270 days out of the year. I packed about 5 days worth of clothes into a 42L backpack, and did laundry halfway through the trip. This ended up being perfect. Wheeled luggage and cobblestone don't really mix.