The last time I visited Tromsø I was, I don’t know, like six years old? My only two memories are of listening to builders working outside my family’s hotel room at 4 am in the bright sunlight and watching the midnight sun not quite set over a beach. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the second memory must have been from the North Cape, so I guess my only memory of Tromsø is from that hotel.
Isn’t it strange the things we end up remembering? Like, I’m pretty sure out of all the things we experienced in Tromsø together my parents weren’t like this, this is the stuff of memories. Silvia will never forget this hotel room!
Which is all to say, I was very intrigued to spend a couple of days in Tromsø again and experience everything the city has to offer you know, beyond the hotel rooms.
It turns out Tromsø has loads more to offer! In fact there were several aspects of Tromsø I ended up falling in love with (and a couple I didn’t).
Loved: The food
I’m not the biggest foodie – I tend to find any and all food super delicious. Or wait, does that mean I am a big foodie? What I mean to say is, I usually don’t write much about food in my blog posts because I will rave about just about anything I eat, even if it’s objectively actually kind of gross. So I’m probably not the best person to be offering restaurant tips.
But I just had to mention the food in Tromsø because everything I ate there was so good. And I’m pretty sure you would agree (Dan did!). From our hotel breakfast (more on that later) to cafe nibbles to a couple of seriously yummy meals, Tromsø fed us well.
My two favorite places I ate were Burgr and Huken BRYGG. We went to Burgr on a recommendation from Vanessa’s Tromsø guidebook and because Dan had read that it’s full of retro video game memorabilia. I had the falafel burger with chips and kimchi on the side and it was super delicious. And while Huken BRYGG looked a bit trendy for us from the outside, the food was amazing (probably the best we had on our trip) and the atmosphere really cosy.
I don’t have any photos of the restaurants, so instead here are some from the city ski jumps. I seriously can’t believe people actually jump off of these! This is how I know I’m only half Norwegian.
Loved: The surrounding nature
I can’t get over the landscape in Northern Norway. The mountains are more rugged than in the south and even in June their peaks were covered in snow. And of all the landscape I saw, that surrounding Tromsø was some of the most beautiful.
There are also so many lovely little villages close by Tromsø. We stopped in Ersfjordbotn as they were having a little festival and as we sat on the edge of the water with a coffee at Bryggejentene it was hard to believe we were so close to the city.
Didn’t love: The weather
So we had a lovely time in Tromsø, but ugh I wish the weather had been better! I mean, that’s not Tromsø’s fault, and in fact the only reason I was sad about the rain and clouds was that when we first drove into the city the skies were actually clear.
You see, Tromsø is surrounded by spectacular mountains making for some seriously incredible views, but when it’s cloudy they all disappear! So basically when I arrived in Tromsø I was all whaat this place is magical! but then a few hours later the magic faded into a gray backdrop. So sad.
Maybe the rainy weather wasn’t such a bad thing after all, as even on a cloudy day Sommarøy looked like paradise.
Sommarøy is about an hour’s drive from Tromsø, but I can assure you it is well worth the detour! The beaches have the most turquoise water I’ve seen in Norway and it was so quiet and peaceful there.
Loved: The hotel
It turns out that my hotel was memorable this time around as well!
We stayed at the Thon Hotel Polar and I feel like I have to mention it because it was one of my favorite stays of our two weeks in Northern Norway. Our room was spacious and bright, and the receptionist (who mysteriously always seemed to be there, day and night) was so incredibly sweet and helpful. And you may have already heard me rave about the breakfast buffets at Thon hotels before on my blog, and the breakfast at Thon Polar was no exception. Thon really does do the best hotel breakfast.
The hotel is right in the city center, within just a few minutes walking of most of the places we wanted to see. Just be aware that they don’t have their own parking, but there’s a parking garage about 50 meters from the hotel (I think we paid around 200 kroner a day). Check current rates and availability here
Loved: It’s multicultural
I think Tromsø is the only place I’ve been in Norway where I’ve heard more English than Norwegian. It was crazy! Dan kept getting disheartened when people would answer his Norwegian questions in English, only to realize that they didn’t actually speak Norwegian. None of the waiters anywhere we ate were Norwegian.
I don’t know if that’s just a summer thing or a Tromsø thing, but it made for a really fun vibe in the city. And if you’re visiting and don’t speak any Norwegian you can rest assured that that won’t be a problem here at all!
Didn’t love: The crowds
Okay this is a bit embarrassing, but on our last night in Tromsø before going to bed Dan and I were talking about all the things we loved about Tromsø and then at the end I said, “but it will be nice to get away from the noise and traffic when we leave,” and Dan nodded.
Guys, Tromsø has a population of under 80,000. Tromsø is not a big city, but Dan and I both found it kind of overwhelming! We both grew up in much larger cities – I mean, Dan grew up in the center of London – but maybe living in the mountains has turned us into country bumpkins?
Though I do still love other big cities around the world. I think more so I’m just drawn more to the countryside in Norway. At any rate, if you love cities you will love Tromsø, and if you live in the middle of nowhere and are used to seeing the same few hundred faces you might find Tromsø a bit much, haha.
Fun fact: when I was writing about my visits to Mo i Rana and Narvik I kept referring to both of them as cities and had to go back and change both articles when I read that they’re actually both towns (what??). Luckily for my sanity our next stop would take us into the mountains – stay tuned!
I visited Tromsø in collaboration with Northern Norway and Visit Tromsø
At least that’s the question Dan and I were asking each other when planning out our Northern Norway road trip. I had been to Narvik before, on a day trip from Abisko, Sweden, but while it made for a nice escape from Sweden (I mean, obviously), I wasn’t sure if it was worth spending a couple of nights there.
In the end I think we made the right decision, though not for the reasons I had expected.
Here’s a short little video of our time in Narvik:
Things to Do in NARVIK, NORWAY - YouTube
Probably the best thing about Narvik is the stunning landscape surrounding the town. And that’s not saying anything bad about the town itself – it’s just that the mountains around Narvik are so beautiful.
In fact we could tell we were getting close to Narvik when the landscape got really dramatic.
So of course we wanted to go hiking! But when we woke up the next morning in Narvik the weather was, well, not exactly hiking weather. On the bright side, Dan finally got to experience snow on his birthday!
We scrapped our hiking plans and instead came up with a list of things to do in Narvik that would keep us warm and cosy.
First up: a train ride!
One of the great things about Narvik is that it’s on a train line, even though the Norwegian train line ends some 300 kilometers south of Narvik in Bodø. Instead Narvik is connected to Sweden through the Ofoten line, which many say is one of the most spectacular rail journeys in Scandinavia.
The Ofotbanen was originally built to transport iron ore from Sweden to the coast, but now there’s a passenger train as well that gives you easy access to Sweden. You could even take the train all the way down to Stockholm if you wanted.
Dan and I didn’t want to go to Stockholm, but we did go just over the border to Riksgränsen, where we waited about ten minutes to catch the train back to Narvik. The total journey took exactly 2 hours, and we each paid 110 SEK round trip. You can book tickets and check the timetable here.
And then when we got back to Narvik we decided to go for another ride, this time on a cable car.
The cable car up Narvikfjellet costs 200 kroner roundtrip and takes 8 minutes each way.
And then at the top there’s a restaurant and bar where you can enjoy the beautiful view over Narvik. In the winter you can watch for the Northern Lights, and in the summer you can admire the midnight sun.
Well, in theory you can see the midnight sun. If the skies had been clearer we would have had a late dinner up here and stayed to see the midnight sun. Though the clouds did end up parting briefly for us!
Then when we got back to town we set off in search of a cosy cafe for some coffee and birthday cake. We ended up at Astrupgården Cafe, a beautifully decorated little cafe with lots of delicious cake. I definitely recommend coming here if you’re ever in Narvik!
And then for dinner we ate at Rallar’n Pub & Kro, mostly out of convenience because it was right next to our hotel, but it actually ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip, and the staff were so sweet and friendly. Dan had the brown cheese ice cream for dessert, which he raved about – and I just had to trust him because blech, brown cheese.
We ended the night at Narvikguten Pub, which might have been a mistake because the atmosphere was so lovely there and everyone so friendly that we walked home feeling a little bit sad that we don’t live somewhere with any nice pubs. Maybe one day though!
So, what’s the verdict? Is Narvik worth a stop on your Northern Norway itinerary?
While the town itself just seems like a gray industrial town, I actually really loved my time there. What the weather lacked in warmth the people more than made up for, and I especially loved taking the Ofoten train and the cable car up Narvikfjellet.
But perhaps the best part of Narvik is that it’s positioned perfectly between Abisko, Sweden, aka the best place in Europe to see the Northern Lights, and Lofoten, aka the most beautiful place in Norway. So not only will you get to see this cool Northern Norwegian town and its beautiful surroundings, but afterwards you can easily hop on a train over to Abisko, or drive down to Lofoten – or both!
Where to stay in Narvik
We stayed at the Quality Hotel Grand Royal, which I could not recommend more highly. The location downtown is perfect, as it’s close to the town center but also on the side with the train station and cable car, and the staff at reception were probably the friendliest reception staff I’ve met in Norway. Check prices and availability here
And of course the restaurant next door where we had dinner was really great, and there’s also a rooftop restaurant and bar which is supposed to have wonderful views over Narvik.
I visited Narvik in collaboration with Northern Norway and Visit Narvik
While Dan and I did get to go on a few shorter hikes during our time in Northern Norway, we also had to skip out on a couple of days of hiking because the weather was really bad. On one of those days we were sitting in a cosy café chatting to the owner and...
Dan and I didn’t make it far after leaving Mosjøen before stopping again for the day. Mo i Rana is about an hour and twenty minutes from Mosjøen, and while I was interested in seeing this old industrial town I was most excited about exploring some of the natural wonders in the area. I especially...
Dan and I talked to a few different people in Mosjøen and when we told them about our road trip through Northern Norway everyone had the same question: but why did we come to Mosjøen?
And I mean, in many ways adding Mosjøen to our itinerary did seem like an odd choice. In fact it sort of happened by accident.
When we were first planning out our itinerary we thought it would be nice to start off our trip in Helgeland and then make a loop up north from there. Mosjøen was on the train line and seemed like a good enough place to start. But then other things came up that meant it would make more sense to fly back to Oslo instead of getting the train, and as flights to Oslo were cheaper from Bodø than from Mosjøen and it was cheaper to return out rental car in the same location we picked it up, we decided to start in Bodø instead.
And yet I couldn’t quite let go of the idea of visiting Mosjøen.
I wanted to see the oldest town in Helgeland, which also happens to be home to Northern Norway’s longest cluster of 19th-century wooden houses and piers. And I had read that it’s known for having lots of cafés, restaurants, and shops, and I love cafés, restaurants and shops! Plus after examining a map we realized that visiting Mosjøen would mean that we could drive down a large portion of the stunning Helgelandskysten, so we decided to go for it.
And I’m so glad we did, because after two days in the town the only question Dan and I had was why doesn’t everyone go to Mosjøen?
Seriously though, I was so enchanted by Mosjøen that I was also a bit confused. Why hadn’t I heard more about this place?
I even wrote to a few of my friends asking if they had been, and if Mosjøen is just this magical little town that Norwegians are keeping secret from the rest of the world. Most of them claimed not even to know where Mosjøen is, though I learned a long time ago not to trust Norwegians when it comes to revealing their favorite spots – usually the secrets involve berries or mushrooms, but I wouldn’t put it past them to keep an entire town a secret.
Luckily I’m only half Norwegian, and the American side of me is totally happy to tell the world about this lovely little town.
First of all, walking down Sjøgata is like taking a stroll back in time, except instead of feeling like a perfectly preserved museum the street is full of life. There are people living in the old 19th century houses (people who hopefully don’t mind tourists peeking in their gardens and taking photos), as well as cafés, restaurants, art galleries, and shops here. While it might look like something straight out of a history book, Sjøgata is very much alive today. Though it almost wasn’t.
In the 1970s the municipal council proposed a plan to demolish Sjøgata in order to build a parking lot, but enough local residents protested and were able to generate nationwide publicity that helped them gain funding to preserve the town’s historic center.
And you can still see that same local pride in the town’s historic roots today. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many old photos decorating the walls of a town’s establishments as I did in Mosjøen. My three favorite places I visited were probably the Kulturverkstedet, Matkollektivet Vikgården, and Gilles Café.
The Kulturverkstedet is a social center and café housed in a grand mercantile building built in 1862. Dan and I had breakfast here one morning and eavesdropping on the conversations around us gave me a little taste of local Mosjøen life. The café offers traditional dishes from Vefsn, hosts a gallery area where you can view and purchase the works of Northern Norwegian artists, and even serves as a venue for meetings, conferences, and concerts.
And on our second day Dan and I had breakfast at Matkollektivet Vikgården, a café housed in an old-fashioned general store from the 1880s, where coffee is brewed “the old way.” Unfortunately I don’t know enough about coffee to really know what that means, but wow were the cinnamon buns there delicious!
Dan and I then popped into Gilles Café for a quick dinner before catching a movie (which we do pretty much whenever we’re anywhere big enough to have a cinema), and I was surprised to find yet another lovingly decorated space complete with photos from the early days of Mosjøen and a stage for small concerts. The food was also delicious – I can definitely recommend eating here if you’re in Mosjøen!
But aside from its historic center, what I found so special about Mosjøen was the beautiful landscape surrounding the town.
Dan and I walked up Helgelandstrappa, a set of 1,000 steps laid down by sherpas up Øyfjellet which towers 800 meters above Mosjøen, offering lovely views of the town.
Or if you want something a little less physically demanding, walk along the river to Marsøra. I didn’t make it far before heavy rain set in, but it looked like a lovely walk!
Where to stay in Mosjøen
Dan and I stayed in one of the historic apartments on Sjøgata, which are self-catering holiday apartments on Mosjøen’s most beautiful street. They are decorated to look like they did in the 19th century, and Dan and I both agreed it’s the sort of accommodation you’d probably either love or hate (we loved it).
You’ll certainly feel immersed in the culture staying here, though if you’re looking for optimal comfort and privacy (we had to go through a common area shared with the upstairs apartment to get to the kitchen and bathroom) you might prefer staying in a hotel. You can book the apartments here.
And if you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious, Fru Haugans Hotel is right at the end of Sjøgata. Dating back over 200 years, Fru Haugans is Northern Norway’s oldest hotel and while I didn’t see the inside I’m sure it’s lovely. Check prices and availability here
I visited Mosjøen in collaboration with Northern Norway and Visit Helgeland
Do you try to save the best for last when planning your trips? Yeah, Dan and I definitely didn’t do that this time. Our two week road trip through Northern Norway included a whole lot of driving, and we did the prettiest drive of all already on day three.
I mean, I expected the drive down the Helgeland coast (Helgelandskysten) to be beautiful, but did I think it would be the most spectacular drive of the trip? Probably not.
In fact, when we were planning our itinerary Dan and I had trouble deciding whether or not to include a drive down the Helgeland coast, which looked beautiful, but would also make for a 630 kilometer detour off our route. The Helgeland coast runs south from Bodø, where we were picking up and returning our rental car, while all the other places on our itinerary were north of the city.
But in the end we decided to include a trip to Helgeland, and I’m so glad we did!
While we visited a lot of spectacular places in Northern Norway, I think the drive down the Helgeland coast was the most beautiful drive of the trip. And it’s actually sort of crazy that I feel like that, because the day we drove down through Helgeland was also the worst weather of the two weeks. It was super windy, rained pretty much nonstop, and visibility was so low that we probably only saw about 20% of the views. And yet it was still my favorite drive!
The Helgeland coast is one of Norway’s 18 Scenic Routes, and at 433 kilometers with 6 ferry rides it’s the longest of all the scenic routes. I mean see? This stretch of road is so gorgeous no one could manage to choose just one part of it to highlight.
Actually, we chose just one part of it. We only had a day to do the drive so we decided to follow the route from its start outside of Bodø to just past Nesna, where we turned off to head inland to Mosjøen, the next stop on our two week itinerary. But I definitely want to go back and do the whole drive someday – and maybe I’ll even get to see it under clear skies then. In which case I’ll just about die of happiness, because if this drive is so beautiful on a miserable rainy day, imagine what it’s like when you can actually see stuff!
Dan and I were talking about why we loved the Helgeland coast drive so much even though the weather that day was awful and while partly I think it’s just an incredibly beautiful drive (and would have been even more amazing in the sunshine), another reason is that it’s really slow and really quiet.
We started off at the Saltstraumen maelstrom, one of the world’s strongest tidal currents, which I’ve already written about here.
And then soon after passing Saltstraumen the road and surrounding countryside became totally empty.
I never thought of Southern Norway as crowded, as the entire country is so sparsely populated, but driving down the Helgeland coast made me realize that, actually, it’s quite rare in the south to drive very far without at least seeing some cabins. But here we could drive on for ages without seeing a single house – I loved it!
And while it seemed like a pain while planning the drive, having to take a bunch of ferries ended up sort of making the trip. As we were there just a couple of days before the summer schedule began, we often had to wait quite a while at the ferry ports, which gave us time to pause and talk about our journey so far, and then on the ferry we of course had to get a cup of coffee and a waffle and stare out into the stormy sea.
In other words, all the ferries made us slow down. And in fact they set a pace that we ended up keeping for the rest of our trip, so instead of rushing from town to city to town we took our time and truly enjoyed the ride. So thanks for that, Helgelandskysten!
Another highlight was getting to visit the famous public toilet at Ureddplassen! Ureddplassen has been in the media so much lately – like, I seriously wonder what this toilet’s marketing budget is – with news outlets across the world proclaiming it the world’s most beautiful public toilet. And it is very pretty:
It was super windy when we stopped here and I don’t know if the automatic release on the door wasn’t working or the wind was just particularly strong that day, but closing the door to the toilet was a struggle, as Dan so kindly chose to document (instead of helping me):
NORWAY ROAD TRIP: HELGELAND COAST - YouTube
We also passed by the famous Svartisen, Norway’s second largest glacier, which I could just barely make out through the mist.
And then we made our way to Mosjøen, which would be our home for the next two nights. More on that next week!
I visited Bodø for the first time last year as part of my trip to the Lofoten Islands. I flew into Bodø in the morning, had lunch, and caught the ferry to Lofoten. And on my way back my ferry got in late at night and I flew back to Oslo early the next morning. In other words, I didn’t really see anything of the city during my first trip to Bodø.
But this time around as Dan and I were planning our two week road trip through Northern Norway we figured why not start off with a couple of days in Bodø? I didn’t know much about the city, but a few of my friends had talked about how cool it is so it seemed worth checking out.
We loved Bodø. Like, I could have happily spent a lot more time there, and I hope to return many times in the future. And if you are thinking about passing through the city – stay a while! I promise it will be well worth your time.
Bodø is the northern end of the train line
The train line in Norway doesn’t go all the way up north, so if you want to see the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun but want to travel by train, Bodø is the perfect destination!
Dan and I got the overnight train from Oslo to Trondheim, which was my first time staying in a sleeping compartment on a Norwegian train. The sleeper costs 930 kroner on top of the ticket price and fits two people (you have to reserve the entire compartment even if you’re traveling alone). And I think it’s definitely worth it! It was probably the nicest sleeping compartment I’ve experienced on a train – and I’ve taken a lot of sleepers over the years.
And then in the morning we caught the train from Trondheim to Bodø.
I loved being able to sleep through the Oslo – Trondheim leg, as I’ve taken that train many times, and I found the Trondheim – Bodø leg of the trip much more beautiful. It’s a long journey – from boarding our bus in Rjukan to arriving in Bodø took just over 23 hours – but I got a much better feel for the country by traveling overland. Plus it’s better for the environment!
Bodø’s street art
Dan and I kept saying what a cool vibe Bodø has, and I think that was partly due to the amazing street art scattered around the city center. Most of the art is from UpNorth, which is a traveling art festival that focusing on urban art. In 2016 the festival came to Bodø with international artists decorating the sides of buildings downtown.
You can find a map of the UpNorth murals here, which will also take you on a nice little walking tour of the Bodø city center.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I’ll just show you a few of my favorites:
Bodø has a beautiful harbor
Norway has a lot of beautiful harbors, but I think the one in Bodø’s center is one of my favorites. The harbor is lively throughout the day and its beautiful backdrop of mountains make it particularly picturesque.
You can travel back in time on Kjerringøy
Half an hour outside of Bodø you’ll find Kjerringøy, which with its alpine landscape and white sandy beaches is well worth a visit. Kjerringøy also happens to be home to the Kjerringøy Trading Post, Norway’s best preserved trading post from the 1800s.
Dan and I wandered around here and it almost did feel like we had traveled back in time.
Bodø is surrounded by some of Norway’s most beautiful beaches
One of my main complaints with living in Trondheim was that the nature surrounding the city was a little lackluster (I mean, only by Norwegian standards). Bodø certainly doesn’t have that problem. The mountains around Bodø are so much more dramatic than the mountains I’m used to seeing in southern Norway, and even on a cloudy day the beaches look downright tropical.
On our way back from Kjerringøy Dan and I stopped at Mjelle beach, which is famous for its reddish sand. The beach itself is just a short walk from the parking lot at Mjelle so it’s super accessible, but it still feels remote – it’s hard to believe it’s only a half hour drive from Bodø’s city center.
Just thirty kilometers outside of Bodø you’ll find the world’s largest maelstrom, Saltstraumen. Waters rushing through the 150 meter wide and 3 kilometer long sound connecting Saltfjord and Skjerstadfjord create huge whirlpools up to 10 meters in diameter and 4-5 meters deep. You can check when the whirlpools will be at their strongest here.
I had been really excited to see the whirlpools, but I was surprised by how beautiful the area around Saltstraumen is as well. It’s a big fishing area so you’ll see a lot of fishing boats, and the bridge that you peer down on Saltstraumen from is also really beautiful with a dramatic mountain backdrop.
In fact Dan and I ended up returning to Saltstraumen at the end of our two week trip to stay at the Saltstraumen Hotel the night before our flight back to Oslo. And the view from the hotel parking lot out over the bridge and whirlpools below was incredible! Definitely check it out if you can.
Cool bars and restaurants
Bodø also has so many great bars and restaurants, so even if the weather is less than ideal when you’re there you can have a great time hanging out inside.
We had dinner at the Hundholmen brewery and gastropub, which has a really lively atmosphere. I had the burger, which was amazing – so amazing in fact that it seemed to be what everyone around me had ordered as well.
We also had a peek inside Dama di, which has a really cool atmosphere. Like, if I lived in Bodø I would totally want to hang out there.
Where to stay in Bodø
Dan and I stayed at the Thon Hotel Nordlys right in the city center, which ended up being one of my favorite hotel stays of the entire trip. Our room had a view out over the harbor, and the breakfast buffet was incredible. They even had a chocolate fountain! Definitely, definitely try to stay here, if you can. Check current rates and availability here
And then before our flight out of Bodø we stayed at the Saltstraumen Hotel, which is a really lovely option if you want to be somewhere quieter, but still with good access to Bodø. The highlight of the hotel was definitely it’s amazing location right on the water overlooking the Saltstraumen Bridge. Check current rates and availability here
I visited Bodø in collaboration with Northern Norway and Visit Bodø
Have you ever been on a flight where the person next to you won’t stop talking, when all you want to do is plug into the airline entertainment system and cry over a bad movie? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was that person – the one who couldn’t shut up. Sorry, Liam!
I was returning from a blogging conference and the guy beside me had asked where my travels were taking me to next, so I told him about my plans for a road trip through Northern Norway. And he was like, cool, do you write a lot about Norway then? And I was like yes, well, um… and suddenly all the feelings came pouring out.
The environmentalist in me hates how many flights I hop on a month, when I could be having just as wonderful adventures at home in Norway.
And in fact, while I’m a huge believer in the power of travel to broaden our perspectives and help us better to understand the world, I also do believe that there can be such a thing as too much travel, where we almost become numb to experiences that could potentially change our lives were we to have them only once or twice a year. In other words, it might be better to spend a little more of my time exploring closer to home.
But this is a tricky one, because part of my job involves writing about my travels.
And – here’s the scary part to admit – when I think about why I first fell in love with blogging, it wasn’t from writing about places like Norway.
I first started blogging while traveling through Central Asia, and back then there wasn’t any helpful information about backpacking through the region – all I had to go on were Wikitravel pages telling me Tajikistan is unsafe for travel (it wasn’t). So I began to see blogging as a way to tell other travelers what a place is really like to visit, especially if you’re not some hardcore adventurer/Lonely Planet writer but just like, a normal person like me.
And then after I wrote about traveling solo through Iran and my inbox flooded with messages not from other travelers, but instead from Iranians who were happy to see a new perspective in the media, I realized that, being free from political or financial agendas, blogs offer an opportunity to challenge misconceptions we have about places, especially those that suffer harsh representations in traditional mass media.
And that sort of became my blog mission in a way.
I’ve aimed to highlight overlooked destinations, show people that even scaredy cats like me can go on “scary” trips (because they aren’t actually scary), and promote a new side of places we thought we knew. This might sound silly, but I began to see my blog posts as a teeny tiny way of giving back to the people and countries that have shown me such warm hospitality.
And when I see all the emails I get everyday from people wanting advice for their trips to Norway, or people wanting to tell me how they used my blog to plan their trips here, I see how strong a voice my blog can have. I’ve never written as much about a country as I have Norway, as I’ve never gotten to know a country this well before. I can see what an impact becoming an expert on a place can have. People are visiting the places in Norway I suggest, following my itineraries and staying in the hotels I recommend.
But if people really are going to listen to me, do I want the message they hear to be about visiting one of the richest countries in the world? Any economic boost from tourism won’t make life better for the people living here, and in fact it might make life worse for them, as Norwegians like their peace and quiet.
On top of that, while I have worked a bit with tourism boards here in Norway, they’ve never paid me for any campaigns. That might seem like a petty thing to bring up, but when I consider all the destinations that value my work enough to pay me to fly across the world I wonder why my home has never shown the same interest.
Now, I feel like I should clarify that I do pay for most of my trips myself, and I only go on paid campaigns to places I actually want to visit. You will NEVER see me in Dubai. However considering how much I’ve written about Norway and how many people reading my blog are particularly interested in Norway, I kind of wonder why I have to practically beg Norwegian tourist boards to let me work for them for free.
Of course it’s fine – I totally get that different destinations have different approaches to marketing, but part of me does think if I’m going to be promoting places for free wouldn’t I be better off showcasing destinations like Minsk, the Comoros, and Albania – in other words, places that could really benefit from more tourism?
And then when I’m really in life panic mode I think about how well I’ve gotten to know Norway, and how well I could get to know a place that actually needed tourists if I moved there.
But I don’t want to leave Norway. I love living here, and I am very aware of how absurdly lucky I am to get to call this place home and how ridiculous it is that I’m being so angsty about it. Is this the 30 year crisis I’ve heard so much about?
And another, more important but: there is something so special about this country, and I’m not just talking about the fjords. I can see why a trip to Norway leaves such a lasting impression on people, and part of me does feel like anything I can do to facilitate that is a good thing.
I keep thinking back to how I used to read Norwegian fashion blogs simply to catch small glimpses of Norway. This was before any blogs focusing on travel in Norway existed, and I was so eager to feel closer to my Norwegian roots. I remember I would always first look through a blogger’s archives to find their posts from May 17th, Norway’s Constitution Day, as they would often have the most photos of Norway’s countryside and cities. Reading those posts made me so happy.
And if you’d have asked me then whether or not future Silvia should be writing about Norway I’d have been like yes, duh, what’s up with the question mark? Because whoever you are, a trip to Norway is pretty much guaranteed to change your life for the better. Well, maybe unless you’re Swedish.
Ultimately what it comes down to is that while I’m used to writing blog posts for the destinations and people I visit, with Norway I’m writing for everyone else who wants to see the country. I’m probably not going to get any emails from Norwegians thanking me for saying nice things about the country, but I’ve sure gotten a lot from people planning trips here – and isn’t that the point of a travel blog anyway? Or at least it could be a point, if I let it.
And when I was talking through all my confusion over this with Dan, he pointed out that Norway is also misunderstood. I rolled my eyes hard – leave it to a white male to say that about the most privileged country in the world – but then I realized that he’s right.
I mean, how many people have tried to tell me that all Norwegians are depressed and the country has the highest suicide rate in the world? (It doesn’t – on every list I’ve seen Norway is far below the US in suicide rates.) In fact, I even unfairly judged Norway a few paragraphs ago when I said Norwegians don’t want more tourists here because they like their peace and quiet. It’s not really like that, it’s just – well, it’s just that Norwegians are like cats.
I’m still feeling really torn though. And while I suspect the answer is that I should continue doing both – writing about Norway and the rest of the world – it’s something I’m thinking particularly hard about right now because most of my summer travel plans will keep me in Norway. So like, you’ll be hearing a LOT about this place over the next months. And I hope that’s okay?
Last week I shared three itineraries that essentially aimed to show you as much of Southern Norway as possible within one week. But after I finished congratulating myself on managing to fit so many different parts of Norway (fjords! cities! mountains! villages!) into seven days, it dawned on me that actually, some people would really hate to travel like this.
In fact, depending on my mood and energy levels, I might sometimes hate to travel like this myself. Because while usually I want to see as much of a country as I possibly can, sometimes the thought of spending hours each day traveling somewhere new and having to check out of a hotel every morning feels downright overwhelming. And in fact, some of my favorite trips have been when I’ve chosen to get to know one place really well instead of touring the country.
While Norway is an enormous country with so many wonderful places worth visiting, you don’t necessarily have to cram your itinerary full of destinations here to fall in love with Norway. You could have an amazing trip to Norway and get to know this country incredibly well even if you only manage to visit one place – as long as you choose that place wisely.
Most people will choose either Oslo or Bergen. They’re great choices.
In Oslo you get to experience the capital with all of its many museums and shops, while you also have access to wonderful parks and even some countryside on the outskirts of the city. And in Bergen you get a beautiful city full of history, and then as a day trip you can also follow the popular Norway in a Nutshell route to see some fjords.
Like I said, they’re great options. But they’re not the best.
I still have a lot of Norway left to see (in fact I’m leaving on a two week trip exploring Northern Norway on Thursday!), but from what I have seen, I would recommend visiting either Lofoten or Møre og Romsdal if you only plan on visiting one place in Norway.
The Lofoten Islands
I’ve heard a lot of Norwegians say the Lofoten Islands are the true Norway in a nutshell, and I totally agree. Lofoten has pretty much everything people visiting Norway are looking for.
Here you’ll see rugged mountains rising out of the sea, small fishing villages, Norway’s famous red wooden houses, and the Northern Lights.
I think the last one is especially significant as you can’t actually see the Northern Lights in Bergen, Oslo, or other parts of Southern Norway (or at least, it’s very rare to see them – I’ve never seen them this far south).
Lofoten is also touristy enough that you’ll have a really easy time planning your journey and activities. They’re used to tourists up there. But at the same time, if you rent a car and drive away from the main spots you’ll find yourself all alone with Lofoten’s stunning landscape. There’s really nothing like it.
And on a personal note, Lofoten is the one place in Norway that has most impressed me. During my week exploring the islands I kept repeating over and over, “this can’t be real.”
Okay, I’m cheating here a little bit by naming an entire county, but you only need to base yourself in one place within Møre og Romsdal – I just wanted to suggest a few different options.
While I love Lofoten, Møre og Romsdal is probably actually my favorite area in Norway, and again an excellent place to see Norway in a nutshell. You won’t have a great chance of spotting the Northern Lights here, but you will find fishing villages, mountain views, colorful wooden houses, and something Lofoten doesn’t have: fjords!
Møre og Romsdal is home to two of Norway’s most spectacular sights: Trollstigen and Geirangerfjord. In fact, amongst all the famous places to visit in Norway, Trollstigen and Geirangerfjord would be my top two picks. They’re also just both so Norwegian.
Trollstigen is a road with eleven hairpin bends up a steep mountain to some of the most beautiful views I know.
And Geirangerfjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site commonly considered Norway’s most beautiful fjord. And guys, it really is worth all the hype.
What’s not worth the hype, however, is the town of Geiranger, which many visitors to Norway falsely assume must be the best place to stay along the fjord. It’s not – it’s actually sort of awful. Don’t stay there. If you want to stay right on the fjord, I’ve put together a list of my top accommodation choices along Geirangerfjord here.
Åndalsnes would also make a great base in Møre og Romsdal, as not only is it right by Trollstigen and a beautiful town in its own right, but it’s on the train line so you could get the train here from Oslo! Then you could either rent a car in Åndalsnes to explore the surrounding area, or you could just set up camp here and relax amongst the beautiful views.
But personally, my top pick for Møre og Romsdal would be Ålesund.
Ålesund is the most beautiful city I’ve been to in Norway. It sits on a row of islands extending out into the Atlantic, and after a fire destroyed most of the city in 1904 Ålesund was built in vibrant Art Nouveau, making for a unique and beautiful city center.
You can either fly into Ålesund or get the train to Åndalsnes and then take the bus here. Though if you’re going to make Ålesund your base for the week I would still strongly recommend taking some day trips to Geirangerfjord and Trollstigen. Personally I would rent a car for a few days to give myself the most freedom, though you can also get to the fjords and Trollstigen with public transport.
Sometimes I wish I could go back five years to when I was writing blog posts in a sand-filled journal and uploading them at Internet cafes and tell myself that someday I’d be doing this as my full-time job. There’s no way I would have believed it.
I’m well aware that I’ve lived a fairy tale, and I’m incredibly grateful to whatever fairy godmother saw how much I loved blogging and decided to let me earn a living from it. But I’m also becoming increasingly aware that that fairy tale no longer exists.
Word is out that you can earn a good living from travel blogging, and now more and more people are starting up travel blogs in order to do just that. In other words, the competition is intense.
A few weeks ago I was in Antigua with a bunch of other bloggers, and one evening a few people were talking about how much has changed in blogging in just the past few years, and whether they’d even be able to make as successful careers out of their blogs were they to start them today. I suspect they would, because they’ve all picked up a lot of key skills over the years, but I also suspect that they would start those new blogs in totally different ways than they did years ago.
I’m sure you’ve heard lots of stories of people who began travel blogs to keep in touch with their friends and family and then whoops, suddenly they were earning thousands of dollars a month from them. And if you were to ask them for advice on how to find similar success in blogging, they’d say something romantic about following your passions and the income will follow.
And I do think passion is incredibly important when starting up a business, especially in blogging. But these days passion isn’t enough. Over the years my best piece of blogging advice has become a lot less romantic and much more obvious: if you want to make your blog into a business, start treating it like a business. Like now.
Of course first you have decide whether you even want to make your blog into a business, which I know can be a tricky question for a lot of bloggers – it certainly was for me. Looking back, I wish I had been honest with myself about this much earlier, as then I could have monetized my blog much more quickly with a lot less angst. Though I realize it’s easy for me to say that now, when I know how much I love running a business, whereas earlier I was so worried about ruining my favorite hobby.
I think it can also seem taboo for a new blogger to say that want to make blogging into their job, because so many successful bloggers seemed to stumble on the monetary gains by accident. But actually, the top five most successful travel bloggers I can think of all started their blogs as businesses.
I should probably add that I don’t always treat my blog like a business. I often go on trips and write articles that I know won’t make me any money at all, but on the flip side, I also put a lot of work into more “boring” tasks that do make money.
Now, it’s totally unfair that I had an easier time growing my blog simply because I began blogging five years ago, just as five years ago I found it unfair that people who had started blogging five years before me had an easier time. But like I said, most professional bloggers would be able to start successful blogs even in today’s competitive market, because they have the skills and knowledge to do so – skills and knowledge that even the freshest newbie could achieve if they’re willing to invest time and money.
I can’t tell you how many people have written to me asking how they can make money from their blogs and I’ve sent them a list of courses and tools to help them and they’ve replied that oh no, they’re not looking to spend any money on blogging right now – they’ll start investing money in their blogs once they’re earning money from them.
Like what? I didn’t go to business school, but surely that’s not a thing?
This past weekend I was at a talk given by Matt Kepnes and someone asked him what advice he would give someone wanting to start blogging as a profession, and he said “don’t quit your day job.” Everyone laughed, but then he went on to explain that you’ll need money to invest in yourself and your blog if you want to make this into a profession. There’s a reason the IRS expects new businesses to run at a loss for their first couple of years.
Yes, if you have a lot of time and a lot of discipline you could try to make do with the free information and tools on the Internet. But I’ve always found that 1. if I pay for a tool or a course I’m so much more likely to actually use it, and 2. paid resources offer so much value that people are willing to pay for them.
I sometimes joke that I have a course addiction because pretty much every month I’ll enroll in a new course. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on blogging courses, social media courses, photography courses, videography courses, and even an accounting course, and I’m not sure I’ll ever stop. But I’m also not sure I ever should. The blogging industry moves at an alarmingly fast pace – my income sources seem to change just about every year – and it’s the people who are willing to grow and learn with the changes who will continue to find success.
I guess this has all been a long way of saying don’t sit back and hope your dreams come to you, go out and chase them. Do everything you possibly can to make it happen.
You can find a list of tools and courses I’ve used and love here and here.
Or maybe you’ve been eyeing a particular camera or guide for a while but have felt guilty about spending money on it. Maybe it’s time to go get it.
And if you really want to step up your game and give yourself some more options, take a look at the Paradise Pack, which is on sale from May 29th – June 4th (11:59 pm PST).
If you’ve been blogging for a while I’m sure you’ve heard of the Paradise Pack. It’s a huge bundle of digital resources and courses offered at over 90% off, with the catch being that it’s only on sale for one week before disappearing forever.
But what I love about the Paradise Pack is that while it contains loads of resources for bloggers (including my Pinterest course!), it’s not just geared towards bloggers. You’ll find tons of other digital resources and guides that will teach you alternative ways to make money online so that you can travel the world. Because the truth is, professional blogging is not for everyone, and there are so many other, often more effective ways to make money online.
In fact, the guys from the Paradise Pack have also put together a free guide to how ten people from all walks of life used ten different business models to create a life of freedom – and how you can too. You can download the guide here.
Before you head over to the Paradise Pack page just know that as one of the course creators I do make a commission if you buy the bundle through my link. And now I’m going to start working my way through as much of the course material as I can so if you have any questions send them my way!
The Paradise Pack guys are also putting on a live event all day today May 29 from 8:30 am to 3 pm Eastern where they’ll be chatting with some of the course creators, and it’s totally free. I find I get so much energy and inspiration from listening to online entrepreneurs, so if you have any free time today definitely pop over to the event (don’t worry, it’s not going to be a day-long sales pitch or anything – you’ll get loads out of it even if you’re not buying the bundle). You can find the event here.
Aaand I just realized that I’m going on 1500 words here – sorry guys! I hope this has been a little bit useful, or at least now you have a better understanding of how I approach my business.