Back in November we finally headed to Norway for 12 days! Only took a year of planning and a couple of postponements due to the pandemic, but we made it and that’s the main thing.
Our original plan was to only go to Tromsø for a few nights to see the Northern Lights but after having to cancel our original trip and then not being able to go anywhere else, we decided to extend it out and try fit in a few more places.
So keep reading, and I’ll fill you on the best way to spend 12 days in Norway!
We flew into Oslo but we only planned to stay the one night as everything we wanted to do was closed due to renovation or the time of year.
So I highly recommend checking the opening hours of the places you want to see to determine how long you want to stay in Oslo.
We spent most of the afternoon/evening just exploring the city.
We were up early to take the train to Bergen – the only reason we went to Oslo for the night!
It takes 7.5hrs but it’s one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. At least so I’ve heard lol! To be fair it’s one of the only train journey’s I’ve done but I hope to do more in the future.
The more in advance you book your tickets, the cheaper it will be but it’s easy to do online.
Once we arrived in Bergen, we chose to walk to our hotel as it wasn’t far from the train station which is located in the main city centre. We chose to stay at Bergen Harbour Hotel, located only a block away from the famous UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen! I can highly recommend this hotel.
We purchased a 48hr Bergen Card from the tourist information centre, which is located on the fish market. There are also 24hr and 72hr options available and it gives you free or discounted entry to many of the sites and attractions in Bergen as well as free transport.
For us, it was definitely worth having as we did visit many of the sites included with the Bergen Card but I would recommend you do your own research to make sure it’s going to be cost effective.
Mt Ulriken Cable Car
As we got in so late in the day, we decided to make our way up to make our way to the Ulriken Cable Car to get a good view over Bergen. It costs NOK395 per person, return (approx. £33 per person)
It’s a much bigger city than I realised and it spreads out over lots of little islands. There is also a cafe and restaurant called Skyskraperen at the top where you can get something to eat and drink or stop for dinner, while making the most of the view.
There are loads of places to chose from for dinner, but given Norway is a fairly expensive country we opted for a cheaper option and went to Los Tacos every night we were there. The food is great and the service is quick, though it could be a little loud in there.
Fantoft Stave Church
After having breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the Fantoft Stave Church. We took a bus from the city centre to a bus stop outside the Kiwi supermarket then walked down the hill and through a small forested area to get there. Sounds complicated but using Google Maps, it was really quite easy.
The original church was built in 1140 in Fortun in Sogn before it was moved to Fantoft in 1883. It was then burnt down in 1992 by Varg Virkenes (from the black metal scene) so the church that stands there now, is a reconstruction of the original.
It’s only open to the public in the summer (May – September) and is surrounded by a chain link security fence so you can’t just wander in. If you go outside these months, as we did, you can still get a good view of it from outside the fence
I know it’s a reconstruction but it still looks pretty amazing! I loved the carved details on the roof and being there so early in the morning, watching the sun come up behind it made it feel like quite a special place.
Right at the end of the Bergen Bryggen is the Bryggens Museum. The opening hours are fairly limited so it’s best the check the website before visiting to make sure they’re open. Ticket prices are NOK120 per person (approx. £10 each)
It’s only a small museum but it is well worth checking out as it houses a number of medieval wooden house foundations that were preserved under the Bryggen. They were discovered after the whole area was ravaged by fire in 1955 and archaeologists went in to see what they could find.
There are a number of artefacts displayed that were found during the same dig, including a large number of runes carved on bone. I believe it’s the largest collection in the world.
The building that usually houses the Hanseatic Museum is currently closed for restoration so it has moved to Schøtstuene, which is up behind the Bryggen Museum.
It is only open limited hours and only on the weekends in the winter, but in the summer you’ll find more regular hours and the option to take a tour. I think this would have been good as there isn’t a huge amount of information in the different buildings. Tickets are NOK120 per person (approx. £10 per person).
The museum shows how the German Hanseatic League lived and worked between the years 1350 – 1750. The rooms on display were used as kitchens, dining rooms, meeting rooms and court rooms.
The Hanseatic League was a medieval guild of merchants from Germany that controlled a number of ports across the Baltic region. They had some very strict rules, including no women and operated almost as though they were there own government.
They were not subject to the laws of the country they were in and became incredibly powerful as they had a lot of wealth and influence.
St Mary’s Church
Right behind the Hanseatic Museum is St Mary’s Church, so if it’s open you should definitely pop in and have a look around. Again, in the winter the opening hours are pretty random but it’s worth taking the chance.
It is thought to have been built between 1130 – 1170 and is the oldest existing building in Bergen.
When you first go in, you should be given a little pamphlet which will tell you about the history, architecture and religious items. You’re not supposed to take photos but we did, and the others in the church at the same time were also taking pics so I don’t think this is something they really police.
Walking Tour of Bergen
This is something I would highly recommend doing in any city, and we often choose to go in the evening as it’s something to do outside of normal opening hours.
I highly recommend booking with I Love Bergen on the “A walk through Bergen’s past & present.” Emma is from Australia but has been living in Bergen for a number of years with her husband, who is from Bergen. She’s really gotten to know the city from an outsider’s point of view and I think this really adds something to the tour.
The tour lasts approx. 2hrs – though ours went a little longer as we were the only ones on the tour that evening! And being Kiwi’s, we had a “far from home” connection with Emma!
Emma offers a couple of tours a day, I know one starts around 10am as she allowed us to join in her morning tour when she saw us around the castle as we hadn’t been able to go in the night before. Plus the tour we went on which started at 6pm.
It’s a great way to learn about the history of the city and see some bits that you wouldn’t think to go to on your own. We wandered through a lot of narrow old streets and learnt about the types of people who had once lived there.
After the tour, we again went to Los Tacos for dinner! Their burritos are just so good!
This was our final day in Bergen, but we had until late evening before we needed to leave so again we spent the day exploring and just experiencing the city.
We started the day at Bergenhaus Fortress, where (as I mentioned above) we joined the I Love Bergen tour again with Emma after seeing her there. We only stuck with her for the first 15 mins of her tour to cover the bits we had missed the night before.
The fortress itself dates back to the 1240’s and was built when Bergen was the capital of Norway. However, most of the buildings are much newer with only the medieval hall and a defensive tower remain from that time.
The grey stone building is Haakon’s Hall, which is the only building you can enter apart from the Rosenkrantz Tower (though this is closed until summer 2022). Opening hours are daily 11am – 2pm and costs NOK120 per person (approx. £10 per person).
Built in the middle of the 13th century by King Håkon Håkonsson, it was only used for a short period of time so by the end of the 14th century it had fallen into disrepair. It has also been damaged by fire on a number of different occasions and rebuilt each time, so some of the architecture of the hall is different to the original.
There isn’t a huge amount to see inside but if you’ve purchased the Bergen Card the entry will be covered. There are 3 levels in total – the Great Hall, a middle floor that may have been used as living quarters at some point in history and the cellar.
While we were there, they had a magic light show on in the evenings with lots of big animals that were lit up. We didn’t see it at night as there was an entrance fee, but during the day it’s free to wander through so we still got to see all the different animals. I’m pretty sure this is only a Christmas period thing, so I think if you’re there any other time of year, you’ll have no problem going through!
To be fair, you can do this at anytime! And we did, but on our way over to the KODE 3 museum, we decided to spend a little bit more time looking around.
There are lots of shops along the front to check out, my favourite was the Christmas shop! But there are also lots of little alley’s that are worth exploring as there as shops, restaurants and bars located back from the street.
KODE 3 Art Museum
After we’d checked out Bergenhaus, we made our way over to KODE 3 to check out the Edvard Munch collection they have. Though unfortunately, they do not have a copy of “The Scream” on display.
Opening hours are limited in the winter so it’s best to check the website, and tickets costs NOK150 per person (approx. £12.50 per person).
The building opened in 1924, and was built specifically to house the art collection of Rasmus Meyer which includes paintings by J.C. Dahl, Harriet Backer, Erik Werenskiold and Gerhard Munthe. Now I’ll be honest – I’ve never heard of any of these artists but then art history is not my thing!
There are 2 floors of paintings and they are grouped together by artist. The Edvard Munch collection is housed on the top floor, to your right as you get to the top of the stairs.
We had time to kill between when we finished up at KODE and when we needed to get to our boat, so we decided to check out the aquarium as it was included as free entry with the Bergen Card!
It’s not a large aquarium but they have some cool animals including penguins, otters and alligators. There wasn’t a huge amount of information in English for each tank, but they did have screens dotted around which would cycle through some of the different fish in different tanks.
There is only one bus that seems to go out there and they’re fairly few and fair between, so we ended up walking back which only took 20 mins and was a nice way to see some different parts of Bergen that we may not have been able to see otherwise.
After checking out the aquarium, we headed back into town to get and early dinner before heading to our hotel to collect our luggage, ready for the next part of our adventure – 4 nights on the Hurtigruten!
If you’ve also planned a cruise, you’ll board in Bergen as well. The ship arrives into Bergen earlier in the day and allows boarding from 4pm but the ship doesn’t actually leave until 8.30pm.
Boarding finishes at 8pm though so make sure you’re there in time. You’ll have to sit through a safety briefing as well before you actually make it onboard, but it doesn’t take too long.
Once you’re on, and you’ve found your cabin, spend some time exploring the ship! It’s a lot of fun when it’s your first time on a cruise!
If you need any help or just want to know more about booking, check out my post on Hurtigruten Cruises!
So our first night on the boat was great! We explored for a bit and then went and sat on the observation deck until we decided to go to bed. There was a bit of movement through the night so we both woke up a few times from being thrown around a little lol.
We started our day by having breakfast in the main restaurant onboard before our first proper stopping point – Ålesund. I’m pretty sure we stopped for about 8hrs there so plenty of time to explore. Or you could join one of the organised excursions – but these cost extra!
We had some beautiful views while we had breakfast!
It was a Sunday, so there really wasn’t much to see there. We wandered around the town a little bit before finding a nice café to have some lunch in before we headed back to the boat for a few hours. For dinner, we went back to the same café before setting sail again!
That evening, we went to a talk onboard in one of the conference rooms about Viking history in Norway. It was really interesting and I would definitely recommend attending the talks they have – best of all, they’re FREE!
Started the day with the breakfast buffet again, while enjoying some purple skies!
We had another longer stop in Trondheim, though it was only 3hrs this time. I do think they should swap the stops so you get more time in Trondheim though.
As soon as we were off the boat, we headed straight for Nidaros Cathedral, which took about 20-25 mins to walk. There are taxi’s around but the cost is quite high.
The cathedral was built over a 230 year period from 1070 – 1300 over the burial site of King Olav II who became patron saint of the nation.
Originally built as a Catholic church, it was taken away from them by the Church of Norway in 1537 to become an Evangelical Lutheran Church. Which is what it still is today.
It’s open everyday for visitors from 9am – 2pm during the week, 9am – 1pm on Saturday and 11am – 4pm on Sunday’s. It is open at other times for services. Tickets cost NOK120 per person (or NOK60 if you have student ID).
There are also guided tours available for the basement and crypt but these are held once a day only on weekends and also in Norwegian.
Wander along Bakklandet
Located on the opposite side of the river from the cathedral, the street is famous for it’s wooden houses and café culture.
It is a quaint little street to walk along and when you get to the end, you can cross back over the bridge into the main city centre (or head back to the boat if you’re also on a short stopover!).
From here we had to head back to the boat! Unfortunately there were no more stops where we were able to get off so we were confined to the boat for the rest of the afternoon/evening.
Our next stop wasn’t until around midday in Bodø, which was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during WWII killing 13 people and destroying the homes of 3500 people.
We only had about 3hrs to have a look around, but it’s quite a small town so it didn’t take too long to get around.
Bodø City Museum
We spent our time checking out the Bodø City Museum, which doesn’t actually take much time to get around but they have a large hoard of Viking silver that was discovered in 1919 and includes a large brooch.
The museum also includes a brief history of the town from when it was a small coastal fishing town, through WWII and into the end of the 20th century. They also have a small natural history section in the basement, which is literally only 2 cases of stuffed fish.
In the main hall was a photography exhibit about the Norwegian Royal family but I don’t think think this is a permanent exhibit.
Explore Bodø on foot
This won’t take long at all! There were only about two main streets to go down and we stopped at a little cafe for a coffee before wandering along the waterfront back to the boat.
We did notice that there is a lot of street art in Bodø so keep an eye out as you wander around.
Final night on our Hurtigruten Coastal Cruise
Then we were back on the boat for our last night before arriving in Tromsø. Now this last night on the boat was really bad for me. I was seasick as we passed through open waters by the Lofoten Islands and this caused me to have 2 migraines as well as being sick 😢
Hurtigruten was offering an excursion to the Lofoten Islands, but this is something you have to pay for and it is very much weather dependent. It was actually cancelled on our cruise (not that we were going) because of the weather which also meant that the Northern Lights were not visible from the boat.
We arrived in Tromsø around 2-2.30pm and by then it was almost dark! If you’re there in November then expect it to be twilight between the hours of 8.30am – 2.30pm – any other time it’s just dark!
We were staying at the Smarthotel Tromsø for the 4 nights we were in the city. The rooms are small but it was a nice enough hotel to put your head down.
The port is very close to the main town centre so you won’t have to walk far if you’re staying in the centre.
Chasing Lights – Northern Lights Tour
If you are in Tromsø to see the Northern Lights, then book onto a tour with Chasing Lights. They have a few different tour options available for seeing the lights but I highly recommend going for the “7 Night Aurora Pass.”
It is the most cost effective if you’re looking to go out multiple times – which is exactly what you should do as this will give you the best chance to see the lights.
You don’t have to go out every single night, we only went out for 4 of the 7 nights as we were only there for 4 nights but we did go out every night. All you have to do is sign on for the nights you want to go out.
It leaves at 6pm every night from the street parallel to the main shopping street so it’s easy to find.
Every night we went to different places to find the lights, the beauty of having a bus is they will go wherever they need to go to find the best conditions for the lights.
These pictures were taken with my phone on our very first night out and we were mesmerised!
We did have to wait awhile for the lights to start but the guide lit a fire and handed out hot chocolate and cookies while we were waiting.
It was a late night though, we didn’t get back to our hotel until about 3am and then we had a whale watching tour the next morning!
I think we got about 3hrs sleep before having to get up and make our way to the pier outside the Clarion Hotel, ready for our boat tour.
Brim Explorer Silent Whale Watching Tour
We booked our tour through Chasing Lights but you can book directly with Brim Explorer on their website. Tours cost Kr.1590 (£140 per person)
It’s an all-day tour through the Norwegian Fjords while on the look out for humpback whales and orca. Though this is dependant on time of year – different times of year will see different species of whales.
The tour we booked didn’t include lunch but there was a large group onboard that had lunch included in their tour so I’m not sure who they went through but the boat has a cafe and bar onboard if you want to purchase food.
It was dark when we first left so we couldn’t see much, and then I fell asleep for an hour or so! So when I woke up the sun was up as far as it was going to go for the day. It always looks like dusk at this time of year.
After a couple of hours on the water we finally spotted a pod of orca! It was amazing!!
As soon as the orca were spotted the boat turned off it’s engines so it was completely silent and we were able to stand on the deck and watch them as they moved through the water. The first pod was quite a large group and then later on we saw another smaller pod.
I was using my SDLR to take pics of the orca and I haven’t transferred them over yet, but this is my best shot of the day:
Unfortunately we didn’t see any humpback whales on this trip but we’ve been lucky enough to see them before in Tonga, where we got to swim with them as well.
After we arrived back in Tromsø around 4-4.30pm (and it was dark!) we had to quickly find somewhere to have dinner before headed back out on our Chasing Lights tour!
Chasing Lights (2nd Night)
We left again at 6pm and headed out in a different direction, towards the west, to the island Kvaløya (fifth biggest island) in Norway. We drove close to the island Sommarøya and we stopped next to the bridge connecting Sommarøya and Kvaløya.
This is where we stayed for the night and got our next show, which really did top the first night.
We were blown away by the lights dancing through the sky – this proves that the multi-night pass is the best option to have!
Thankfully we didn’t get back so late so we were able to get to bed at reasonable time and sleep in a bit the next morning.
After our sleep in, we headed out to find some breakfast at Kaffebønna which has the best custard and cardamom Kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) – I highly recommend trying kanelbullar while you’re in Norway, even without the custard and cardamom they are amazing!
Fjellheisen Cable Car
After breakfast we decided to head up the cable car that looks down over Tromsø and the surrounding islands.
It was easy enough to get to on public transport, we had to take bus from town to get across the bridge and then walk from there up the hill to the start of the cable car. I think all up, it took about 20mins to get there.
Buy tickets from the ticket machine – a roundtrip is Kr.260 per adult (£23). Once you get to the top, there is a outdoor area where you can take in the view over the city and fjord.
There is also a cafe up the top so we stopped up there for awhile to have some coffee and cake, and watched the sunset over the city.
After spending some time up the top, we headed back into town to have a wander through the main street and all the souvenir shops before finding some dinner, ready to go back out on our third night chasing the lights!
Chasing Lights (3rd Night)
We went east from Tromsø and drove the “Northern Lights Route” (E8) south towards Nordkjosbotn. We made our first stop in Laksvatn. Unfortunately, the sky didn’t clear so we had to move on.
From here we drove south towards Nordkjosbotn and stopped there for a short while but the conditions didn’t improve, so we moved on again.
We drove on to Tamokdalen, and found patches of clear skies, which was something. We still got a good show of the lights but not as good as the previous night.
We were in a beautiful location, covered in fresh snow which I had fun playing in. But the light display wasn’t as good as the night before – but you never know what you’re going to get!
We got back to our hotel between 1-2am and we had nothing much planned the next day so we were again, able to have a sleep in.
We went back to the same cafe for breakfast before heading off to check out the Polar Museum.
It’s housed in one of the old dock buildings on the waterfront. It is open daily but shorter hours on the weekend so best to check their website for accurate times. Tickets cost Kr.100 (£8.50 per person).
The exhibition is spread out over 3 floors and is mostly dedicated to Tromsø’s (and Norway’s) involvement in seal and whale hunting in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was interesting but a little horrific! There is also a large exhibition dedicated to one of Tromsø’s favourite explorer’s which is also quite interesting.
Chasing Lights (4th Night)
Soon it was time to get back on the bus for our last night in Norway and our last chance to see the lights!
We left Tromsø on the “Northern Lights Route” south towards Nordkjosbotn, but after driving just 20 minutes we stopped close to horse tracks to see the first Northern Lights activity.
Unfortunately clouds rolled in, so we kept on chasing clear sky.
We ended up driving all the way into Finland! On the way we were powering through heavy snowstorms, so we drove close to a Swedish town called Keinovuopio and that’s where the whole sky exploded!!
It was absolutely magical! We had such an amazing display of colours and the lights were dancing across the sky.
People were cheering, it was such an amazing experience. And such a high note to end our trip on!
Being in Finland though, it was a 3hr drive back through snowstorms to Tromsø. We got a few hours sleep before having to make our way to the airport to fly home.
Please leave a comment if there is anything I can help you with!