Seeing Norway’s Fjords from Bergen

Norway has over a thousand fjords, and obviously you’re not going to (nor do you need to) see them all. Bergen is considered a great starting point to experience some of the more popular fjords, though. What I didn’t realize when arranging a stay in Bergen is that, if you’re coming from Oslo, some of these “popular fjords” are back the other way. In retrospect, I should have scheduled a stop somewhere in between instead of taking the train directly from Oslo to Bergen.

That said, if you look up fjord tours, you’ll most likely come across Norway in a Nutshell that focuses on the fjords between Gudvangen and Flåm. Be aware, though, that Norway in a Nutshell isn’t so much a tour as it is a series of train, bus, and boat tickets that they simply book for you. Knowing this, and not really wanting to backtrack on the same train, I opted for an all-day, all-inclusive bus tour instead. Fjordrive departs from Bergen and puts you on the same Gudvangen-to-Flåm ferry, with the added benefit of a stop at a waterfall and scenic overlook:

Looking down at the fjord from the Stegastein viewing platform

We really enjoyed the extra stops that would have otherwise been difficult to do without a rental car. And, of course, the views from the fjord ferry were pretty spectacular:

A small village on the shoreline of the Aurlandsfjord waterway

I also booked a second, shorter fjord tour with Rødne Fjord Cruise. This tour is a 3-hour roundtrip to Mostraumen and back to Bergen. The mountains here weren’t as tall, but the scenery was a little more interesting:

The view from the Mostraumen fjord tour boat

It helps that this is a proper tour and not a commuter ferry, so the boat will occasionally slow down and pull up next to waterfalls. I think I actually enjoyed this trip more than the previous one, though I’m glad we did both.

And don’t forget that Bergen is a city on a fjord, itself. For a great view of said fjord and city, you can take the funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen. This was my favorite activity in Bergen, and maybe the entire trip, because there’s still a lot to do up there after you’ve seen “the view:”

Looking down at Bergen from atop Mount Fløyen

Mount Fløyen has some nice walking trails and a few lakes to explore. Oh, and there are goats up there, too! Lastly, I recommend hiking down the mountain when you’re ready to leave, instead of taking the funicular again.

Seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø

Tromsø in northern Norway is considered one of the best places to see the northern lights. You still need to get away from the city, of course, but Tromsø is a good starting hub with a lot of tour options. We booked our tour with Chasing Lights, because they had a “big bus” option with an onboard restroom (that’s very important!). We were a little worried about the tour, though, because it was due to snow in Tromsø the day of. However, Chasing Lights advises not to plan your tour around the forecast, and that you should simply book a tour earlier in your stay in case you need to try again. While it did snow on us, Chasing Lights did everything they could to find clear skies. In fact, we ended up in Finland before conditions became just right, and we got a great northern lights show in the end:

The northern lights in the Finnish sky

One thing that people don’t tell you about the northern lights is that photos of them don’t reflect what you actually see with your own eyes. Yes, those colors are real. The problem is that the human eye can’t pick up those colors in the dark. So the northern lights look more like a grayish smudge in the sky. It’s kind of like an AR experience where you need your camera/phone to see the true colors come out. It’s still a very cool experience to see them move and shapeshift in the sky, though, even without a camera. And if the northern lights are intense enough, you can start to make out some shades of green. Just be aware that getting the most out of the northern lights requires looking at them through a good camera.

We stayed in Tromsø for four nights, because we wanted to maximize the possibility of seeing the lights. Since our tour on Day 2 was already a success, we didn’t need to re-book and could take our time exploring the rest of the city. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Tromsø, though, and the things you can do are kinda… meh. Among the highlights was the Magic Ice Bar:

A bar with ice walls and tables

Granted, the Ice Bar is super gimmicky and probably not worth the price of admission, but it was still fun to sit at a table made of ice and drink shots out of literal ice glasses. There’s also the Fjellheisen cable car that takes you to the top of a nearby mountain:

Looking down at Tromsø from atop a mountain

This can supposedly be a great place to see the northern lights, though we did not stay up there long enough to verify if that’s true. We also joined a tour with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer to visit a nearby reindeer farm and learn about Sami culture:

Feeding reindeer in the snow

One last piece of advice: If the skies are clear, and the northern lights active, you can try heading to Telegrafbukta Beach in southern Tromsø. We were able to see the lights again from there for our last night in Tromsø. It was a great way to cap off our northern lights vacation.

Easy Lake Hikes Near Oslo

Now that I live in Oslo, I wanted to take advantage of the nearby hiking before the weather turned bad. You can see a lot of potential forests and lakes to explore just by glancing at Google Maps. Of course, many of these are not easy to reach for the casual hiker and/or those dependent on public transportation. After a bit of research, though, I found the following lakes that are not only easy to get to but are not demanding hikes.


View of Sognsvann Lake

This is probably the most famous lake near Oslo. Sognsvann was a common recommendation from people I talked to, whereas the other lakes on this list people either hadn’t heard of or hadn’t bothered to hike yet. You can reach Sognsvann by taking the #5 subway line to the end, and then the lake is basically right there. It’s also a small enough lake that you can walk around the whole thing pretty quickly. But because of its popularity, that means the trail can get a bit crowded on the weekends.


View of Øyungen Lake

Øyungen was my favorite lake and is sometimes touted as a “local secret.” I don’t think it’s really a secret, just a lake that’s a little harder to get to, and so not as many people go. You take the #51 bus to the end, but then you still have about 1.5 miles of hiking to get to the actual lake. It’s an easy hike, though, and the scenery on the way there is just as pretty as the lake itself.


View of Maridalsvannet Lake

The third and final lake I visited was Maridalsvannet. This is also the main drinking supply for Oslo, so it makes sense that you can’t actually hike to the lake. Instead, you follow a trail up the mountain that looks down on the water. To get there, you can either take the #54 bus or the #11 or #12 tram and then walk maybe ten minutes to the trailhead. You won’t always have a view of the lake on your hike, but the trails are still quite nice.