The best way to get around Norway is to take advantage of air passes that apply to the whole region. If you're traveling extensively, special European passes are available.
SAS's "Visit Scandinavia" Fare -- The vast distances encourage air travel between Norway's far-flung points. One of the most worthwhile promotions is SAS's Visit Scandinavia Pass. Available only to travelers who fly SAS across the Atlantic, it includes up to six coupons, each of which is valid for any SAS flight within or between Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Each coupon costs $60, $80, or $100, depending on the route. The pass is especially valuable if you plan to travel to the far northern frontiers of Sweden or Norway; in that case, the savings over the price of a regular economy-class ticket can be substantial. For information on buying the pass, call SAS (tel. 800/221-2350; www.flysas.com).
Within Norway -- Norway has excellent domestic air service. In addition to SAS, an independent airway, Wideroe Flyveselskap, provides quick and convenient ways to get around a large country with many hard-to-reach areas. For more information, call tel. 47-75-11-11-11 or visit www.wideroe.no.
Norway's network of electric and diesel-electric trains runs as far as Bodø, 100km (62 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. (Beyond that, visitors must take a coastal steamer, plane, or bus to Tromsø and the North Cape.) Upgraded express trains (the fastest in the country) crisscross the mountainous terrain between Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen, and Trondheim. For information and reservations, contact the Norwegian State Railways (NSB; tel. 81-50-08-88; www.nsb.no).
The most popular and most scenic run covers the 483km (299 miles) between Oslo and Bergen. Visitors with limited time often choose this route for its fabled mountains, gorges, white-water rivers, and fjords. The trains make frequent stops for passengers to enjoy breathtaking views.
Second-class travel on Norwegian trains is recommended. In fact, second class in Norway is as good as or better than first-class travel anywhere else in Europe, with reclining seats and lots of unexpected comforts. Of course, first-class train travel in Norway is better, though not necessarily that much better, than second class. For those who want the added comforts and can afford it, first class is the way to go.
The one-way second-class fare from Oslo to Bergen is NOK739 ($148/£74), plus a mandatory seat reservation of NOK40 ($8/£4). Another popular run, from Oslo to Trondheim, costs NOK813 ($163/£81) one-way in second class. First class from Oslo to Bergen costs NOK814 ($163/£81), and from Oslo to Trondheim NOK888 ($178/£89).
One of the country's obviously scenic trips, from Bergen to Bodø, is not possible by train because of the terrain. Trains to Bodø leave from Oslo. Express trains are called Expresstog, and you have to read the fine print of a railway schedule to figure out whether an Expresstog is much faster than a conventional train.
On express and other major trains, you must reserve seats at the train's starting station. Sleepers are priced according to the number of berths in each compartment. Children 4 to 15 years of age and seniors are granted reduced fares.
There are special compartments for persons with disabilities on most medium- and long-distance trains. People in wheelchairs and others with physical disabilities, and their companions, may use the compartments. Some long-distance trains offer special playrooms ("Kiddie-Wagons") for children, complete with toys, games, and books.
Eurail Norway Pass -- A restricted rail pass applicable only to the state railway lines, the Eurail Norway Pass is available for 3 to 8 days of unlimited rail travel in 1 month. It's suitable for anyone who wants to cover the long distances that separate Norwegian cities. The pass is available in North America through Rail Europe (tel. 800/848-7245; www.raileurope.com). The cost is $299 for adults in second class for any 3 days in 1 month. For 4 days of travel in 1 month, the second-class cost is $325. For 5 days of travel in 1 month, the second-class cost is $359. For 6 days of travel in 1 month, the second-class cost is $405. For 8 days of travel in 1 month, second class is $455. Children 4 to 15 years of age pay half the adult fare; and those under 4 ride free. Discount passes are available for youth 16 to 25 (Norway Youth Pass) and for travelers over 60 (Norway Senior Pass).
Minirpis Tickets -- NSB's regional trains offer unlimited travel for NOK199 to NOK299 ($40-$60/£20-£30). The offer is valid for a limited number of seats. You can purchase the ticket by logging on to www.nsb.no. Tickets are often sold out, so make reservations as soon as possible. At this price, tickets are not refundable and a change of reservation is not possible. A supplement of NOK75 ($15/£7.50) will grant you access to the NSB "Komfort Class" section.
Where the train or coastal steamer stops, passengers can usually continue on a scenic bus ride. Norway's bus system is excellent, linking remote villages along the fjords. Numerous all-inclusive motor-coach tours, often combined with steamer travel, leave from Bergen and Oslo in the summer. The train ends in Bodø; from there you can get a bus to Fauske (63km/39 miles east). From Fauske, the Polar Express bus spans the entire distance along the Arctic Highway, through Finnmark (Lapland) to Kirkenes, near the Russian border, and back. The segment from Alta to Kirkenes is open only from June to October, but there's year-round service from Fauske to Alta. Passengers are guaranteed hotel accommodations along the way.
Buses have air-conditioning, toilets, adjustable seats, reading lights, and a telephone. Reservations are not accepted on most buses, and payment is made to the driver onboard. Fares depend on the distance traveled. Children under 4 travel free, and children 4 to 16 and seniors pay half-price. For the Oslo-Sweden-Hammerfest "Express 2000," a 30-hour trip, reservations must be made in advance.
For more information about bus travel in Norway, contact Norway Buss Ekspress AS, Karl Johans Gate (tel. 81-54-44-44; www.nor-way.no) in Oslo, or Passage Tours of Scandinavia (tel. 800/548-5960 in the U.S.; www.passagetours.com).
By Car & Ferry
Dazzling scenery awaits you at nearly every turn if you drive through Norway. Some roads are less than perfect (dirt or gravel is frequent), but all are passable (you'll even be able to drive to the North Cape). Most mountain roads are open by May 1; the so-called motoring season lasts from mid-May to the end of September. In western Norway, hairpin curves are common, but if you're willing to settle for doing less than 240km (149 miles) a day, you needn't worry. The easiest and most convenient touring territory is in and around Oslo and south to Stavanger.
Bringing a car into Norway is relatively uncomplicated. If you own the car you're driving, you must present your national driver's license, car registration, and proof that the car is insured. (This proof usually takes the form of a document known as a "Green Card," which Customs agents will refer to specifically.) If you've rented a car in another country and want to drive it into Norway, be sure to verify at the time of rental that the registration and insurance documents are in order -- they probably will be. Regardless of whether you own or rent the car you're about to drive into Norway, don't assume that your private North American insurance policy will automatically apply. Chances are good that it will, but in the event of an accident, you may have to cope with a burdensome amount of paperwork.
If you're driving through any of Norway's coastal areas, you'll probably have to traverse one or many of the country's famous fjords. Although more and more bridges are being built, Norway's network of privately run ferries is essential for transporting cars across hundreds of fjords and estuaries. Motorists should ask the tourist bureau for the free map Norway by Car and a timetable outlining the country's dozens of car-ferry services. The cost for cars and passengers is low.
Rentals -- Avis, Budget, and Hertz offer well-serviced, well-maintained fleets of rental cars in Norway. Prices and terms tend to be more favorable for those who reserve vehicles from home before their departure and who present evidence of membership in such organizations as AA (Automobile Association), AAA (American Automobile Association), or AARP. The major competitors' prices tend to be roughly equivalent, except for promotional deals scheduled from time to time.
The prices quoted here include the 23% government tax. The major U.S.-based car rental firms are represented in Norway, including Budget (tel. 800/527-0700 in the U.S. and Canada; www.budget.com), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S.; www.hertz.com), and Avis (tel. 800/331-1212 in the U.S.; www.avis.com). Despite pressure from the telephone sales representative, it pays to ask questions and shop around before you commit to a prepaid reservation. Each company maintains an office at the Oslo airport, in the center of Oslo, and at airports and city centers elsewhere around the country.
Note: Remember that prices and the relative merits of each company can and will change during the lifetime of this edition, depending on promotions and other factors.
An auto supplier that might not automatically come to mind is Kemwel (tel. 800/678-0678; www.kemwel.com), an auto-rental broker that monitors the availability of rental cars in markets across Europe, including Norway. Originally established in 1908 and now operating in close conjunction with its affiliated company, Auto Europe (tel. 800/223-5555; www.autoeurope.com), it offers convenient and prepaid access to thousands of cars, from a variety of reputable car-rental outfits throughout Europe; sometimes you'll find more favorable rates than those you might have gotten by contacting those companies directly.
Car rentals are reserved and prepaid, in dollars or pounds, prior to your departure for Europe, thereby avoiding the confusion about unfavorable currency conversions and government tax add-ons that you might have discovered after your return home. You're given the option at the time of your booking of whether you want to include collision-damage and other forms of insurance. Most car rentals can be picked up either at the airport or in the downtown offices of cities throughout Norway, and there's usually no penalty for one-way rentals.
Driving Rules -- Driving is on the right, and the law requires that you keep your headlights on at all times. Every passenger, including infants, must wear seat belts. Children 5 years of age and under must ride in the back. A driver must yield to cars approaching from the right. On most major highways, the maximum speed limit is 90kmph (55 mph). On secondary routes, the speed limit ranges from 70kmph (43 mph) to 80kmph (50 mph). Do not drink and drive. Norway has perhaps the strictest laws in Europe about drinking and driving, and there are roadside checks. Speeding is also severely punished, and most highways are monitored by radar and cameras.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- There are plenty of gas stations in Norway, and unleaded gasoline (blyfri bensin) and diesel fuel are sold from self-service pumps. Those pumps labeled kort are open day and night. Most of them accept regular bank credit cards or else oil company credit cards. In the countryside of Norway, gas stations' hours of operation vary widely.
Winter Motoring in Norway -- If you're going to drive in Norway in winter, you must be prepared for the conditions. Most of the main roads are kept open by snowplows year-round, but the road surface will often be hard-packed snow and ice. Journey times will be much longer than in summer, 50km (31 miles) per hour is a typical average, and in bad weather there can be long delays over mountain passes. Most Norwegians use winter tires with metal studs, which come with all rental cars. Temperatures as low as 25°F (-3°C) are common. A good ice scraper and snow brush are essential, as is a diesel engine.