It’s no secret that Norway can be an expensive country to visit. It’s up there with the most likely of reasons why I’ve put off seeing the country until this week, visiting the picturesque Bergen for a long weekend.
The allure of soaring mountains plunging straight into inky-black fjords, jutting into the hinterland like fingers from the hands of the North Sea, was simply to irresistible to talk myself out of not going any longer. My first impressions have been that the spectacular geography of the region is that it is an exaggerated cousin of Scotland – the wonderfully evoking natural features of mountains, ice and bodies of sea-water stretching way inland are multiplied here. The same features are bigger, larger, and whisper it, maybe even more dramatic. And that is no disrespect to Scotland – quite the opposite – it’s the reasons why I love the place so much.
But, with a bit of planning, Bergen and Norway can be visited and enjoyed for a reasonably low sum of money. Here’s how we did it.
1. Deciding when to go.
Consider the winter months. Sure, it may be colder and a bit darker then the summer months, and a few things might be shut, however you’ll benefit from the quieter locations and the lack of the summer crowds. And the scenery is arguably more impressive in the winter months. But be warned, it rains quite a lot in Bergen – but that shouldn’t put you off visiting this brilliant location.
2. Book early, look around.
To really keep the budget down, try and book your flights early, and be flexible with your departure dates – ideally fly midweek. For example, we booked our flights (for four nights, with a March departure) back in December direct through the airline. Total cost, £50 return, London Gatwick to Bergen each.
3. Fly Norwegian. (Other airlines are available)
Firstly, no, I’m not on commission. I just really rate this airline highly. They are low cost (see above), have hassle-free booking & check in, and free Wi-Fi on board the plane, meaning you can annoy your friends and family by posting pictures of an airplane wing while at 30,000ft – what more do you need?! And if you travel hand luggage only, which shouldn’t be too hard if doing a long weekend like us, there’s no hidden add ons. They don’t just fly around the Scandinavian countries – they’ve just branched out into the transatlantic market, offering returns to New York & L.A. for as low as £350 if you search around a bit.
4. Don’t stay in a hotel
I’m a huge fan of Airbnb, preferring the character of a private rental to the often bland, generic insides of a chain hotel room. We found a compact and cosy studio apartment in the Nordnes area of Bergen, which was just fine for two of us for a four night visit. Total cost, £25 per night approx per person. Obviously, it’s a bit cheaper sharing as a couple, and many people may not have this option, so hostels or dorm accommodation would be a reasonable equivalent, or a private room rental through Airbnb rather than an entire apartment.
5. Try to cook your own meals. This is real money saver, and a big benefit of using an apartment. By avoiding restaurants for most of our meals (apart from one on our last night) and by doing our own breakfast, lunch & dinner, we managed to save a fair chunk of money. For example, we picked up some decent local salmon and vegetables in the supermarket for a fraction of the price the same ingredients eating out in a restaurant would have cost. The same applies with lunches – we made our own rather than eat in a cafe everyday.
With our leftover money, we ate out on the final night, in the excellent Pingvinen – an informal bar/cafe about ten minutes walk away – the total cost for two beers each and decent sized meal of local grub was nearly £35 each. Do that every night and you can see where the budget quickly goes.
6. Don’t drink alcohol. Ok, maybe just a little bit.
Yes, yes, I know. I had a few beers in Bergen, and they were excellent (from the Nogne brewery & Aegir brewery), but they weren’t cheap – roughly 90kr for a 350ml beer in a bar, that’s again about £7.
I’m a massive beer & brewery fan, so this was the hardest thing to cut back for me. I really think during the four days of our trip by only having two supermarket bought bottles (watch out for the opening times of the stores – closed early on Saturdays and shut on Sunday) and two glasses with the meal on the final night saved a lot of money that we could put towards other things (see end of post). In London, I would think little of having three or four pints in an evening (568ml, for comparison), which would set me back maybe £15 or so. If you’re really on a budget, this is potentially another big area where to save money.
7. Walk and explore the city on foot.
The city of Bergen is pretty compact, so we explored most of it on foot. We didn’t buy a city transport card, or use any local buses – apart from the airport bus, the Flybussen (approx. £7 return per person), and the popular Mt Floyen Funicular railway for great views over the city (approx £3 single, one way), then walked back down to the city centre, admiring the views on the way back.
8. Find free or cheap museums.
We went to three museums during our stay in Bergen. One was free entry – the informative Bergenhus Festning museum with a well-done exhibit detailing Bergen and Norway’s history during WW2. Two other excellent museums, both around £5 to enter, were the fascinating Bryggens Museum, describing life in the city from the 12th century onwards, and the Hanseatic Museum, situated in a three story timber merchant house on the picture postcard wharf – the Bryggen – literally meaning ‘wharf’ in Norweigan.
With a small budget of spending money remaining, it’s worth considering all of the above cost saving, purely for one reason – to see the spectacular fjords close up. A more detailed write up will follow soon, but the best way we found for this was the ‘Norway in a Nutshell‘ tour. This self guided combination ticket tour combines a scenic trip from Bergen to the town of Mrydal by intercity train, changing for the dramatic Flamsbana mountain railway – often described as of the best railway trips in the world, and I’m not arguing with that. From the end of the line at Flam, you then embark on a two hour boat ride through two steep edged fjords, to join a bus back to the station at Voss.
It’s not cheap – roughly £100 per person for a 12 hour day trip – but I would describe it as a perfect way to discover this remarkably scenic part of the country. And it’s well worth the sacrifice of a few beers and saving as much money elsewhere in order to do so. It will leave you wanting to return to Norway soon, as I plan to do.
Most prices quoted are in UK £, it’s roughly 12 Norwegian Krone to £1 (that is about 8 Krone to $1 US) as of March 2015.