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Western Norway is famous for it’s impressive fjords. A fjord is where the glaciers have retreated and the ocean water fills up the valleys. These immense fjords make unbelievable views as you cruise through the waters or travel by car along the mountainside. You’ll find quaint fishing villages, gushing waterfalls, and steep mountains.
Visiting off-season can allow you to still experience the natural beauty of Norway while avoiding the crowds and making your travel more affordable. Before we relocated to Canada, we squeezed in a trip to Norway. The pro to going off-season is that you have less crowded areas to soak in the sights. The con is that it’s not fully green yet, but I think the snow peaked mountains made it just as magical.
Our Itinerary for Norway
- Day 1: Arrive in Ålesund and Drive to Stranda
- Day 2: Fjord Cruise from Hellesylt to Geiranger
- Day 3: Ski in Stranda (seasonal)
- Day 4: Åndalsnes
- Day 5: Loen and Lovatnet Lake
- Day 6: Local Day in Stranda
- Day 7: Runde Island and Ålesund
- Day 8: Ålesund
When to Go
The best time to visit Norway is the summer months in June, July, and August. However, these are also high-peak travel times so you’ll see way more crowds especially from the cruise ships. We decided to go in mid-April which is off-season for this area.
April has it’s perks with less crowds, but be aware that some roads like the famous Trollstigen doesn’t typically open until mid-May depending on the snow. Speaking of snow, when we arrived there was still some snow on the grounds. We were able to ski for one day before their ski season closed.
Depending on when you go to Norway will greatly affect the types of activities you will be able to do on your trip.
Where to Stay
Norway is massive! Try to stick to one area and not cram everything into one trip. We decided to base our trip in the town of Stranda, mostly because our friends had just stayed there and it was a good central location for the places we wanted to visit.
Driving in Norway
Driving in Western Norway was fairly easy. You will want to rent a car to get around Norway. It does take some time to get to and from places due to the ferries and slower speed limits. Most of the ferries had some sort of wait time, anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. This can add a bit of time to get to your destination, so give yourself plenty of time.
Speeding: Be careful of the speed limit when driving. It is much slower than we expected and no one needs a ticket on vacation! Honestly, you won’t want to speed past these views. These are some of the most scenic roads we have been on yet. You’ll want to soak in the natural beauty of Norway.
Tolls and Ferries: Make sure your rental car is equipped with an AutoPASS device. This allows you to pass through the toll booths and ferries without stopping. Typically, this will be included for an additional fee. If you’re on a budget, be sure to add this factor into your trip. We did not realize how much would be added after all the tolls and ferries.
Day 1: Arrive in Ålesund and Drive to Stranda
We got a direct flight from Amsterdam to Ålesund. After you arrive in Ålesund, you’ll drive to Stranda. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on the ferries. On the way there, you’ll take the ferry from Magerholm to Sykkylven. Once you get your car onto the ferry, be sure to get out and take a look at the surrounding mountains. It was such a beautiful first view of Norway and the ferry was so smooth that I didn’t know we were even moving.
You can check into your accommodation and grab groceries. There are a few grocery stores in Stranda, but keep in mind that a lot of grocery stores close on Sunday. We arrived on a Sunday and luckily found one store open before we left Ålesund. We chose a place with a kitchen so we could cook and reduce the overall cost of the trip. Food and alcohol is extremely expensive in Norway, so it’s best to plan to cook a few meals if possible.
Day 2: Geirangerfjord
This area’s most beautiful and well-known fjord is the Geriangerfjord. You’ll start by driving to Hellesylt. You’ll want to arrive 20 minutes before departure, but add some extra time to walk around Hellesylt. You can explore the village briefly before your ferry departs. There you can check out the powerful waterfall called Hellesyltfossen. You can see this from the ferry terminal and it was a short walk over. You can also walk to the top of the waterfall and circle down to the Sunnylven Church and back to the ferry.
You can book the fjord cruise at Norway’s Best. We brought our car onto the ferry so we could drive a different route home. If you are bringing a car onto the ferry, the driver is included in the price and then you need to add any additional passengers. They have a small cafe on board for light snacks and refreshments. You can sit outside to watch the magnificent mountain peaks. Depending on the time of year, you can see snow-capped mountains or lush green mountains with trickling waterfalls.
Time for Lunch! I recommend Brasserie Posten for your stopping point. Make sure to make a reservation since it has very limited seating. This quaint restaurant overlooks the Geirangerfjord and serves local delicious food and a large selection of Norweigian craft beers.
After you’ve fueled up, it’s time to walk to the waterfall. It’s maybe a 10 minute walk from the restaurant to the waterfall trail. You’ll see signs along the way. Along the waterfall is a trail (more like a giant staircase than a trail) of 327 steps with platforms where you can see the waterfall. At the top, you can visit the Fjord center to learn about the area.
We spent time walking around the town of Gerianger. Note that some of the shops were closed in April as there was hardly anyone there. Then we got in the car and continued back up the mountain to Ørnesvingen viewpoint. This outlook had an amazing view of the Geriangerfjord. There are several other viewpoints such as the Dalsnibba Utsiktspunkt or the Gerianger Skywalk. Unfortunately, these roads were close until May. There are also a few hikes that we considered but the waterfall hike was easy with the kids.
We continued back to Stranda which took about 1 hour and 40 minutes including two ferry rides.
Day 3: Ski in Stranda
Since we went in off-season, we may have missed out on some of the lush green but we were able to enjoy the snow at the Stranda ski resort. They have 7 lifts and 20 slopes including a children’s park and terrain park. They have equipment rentals and lessons. Our boys took a 2 hour snowboarding lesson at the children’s park while my husband snowboarded on the other slopes. They also have a nice restaurant where you can hang out when you need to warm up.
Obviously, if you’re coming later in the summer, you’ll need to replace this day with another activity. There are tons of things or more beautiful places to explore.
Day 4: Åndalsnes
Åndalsnes was my absolute favorite on this trip. Åndalsnes is about a 2 hour drive from Stranda. If you go in the summer, you will get to travel through the Trollstigen road. This is one of the most scenic routes in Norway and consists of hairpin turns down steep mountains where you can see the amazing fjords. Be sure to check that the road is open before you go as the road conditions from winter will vary each year but typically it opens in mid-May.
If you like to rock climb or learn about it, you can visit the Norsk Tindesenter. You can visit the museum to see how rock climbing equipment has changed over the years. There is also an amazing indoor rock climbing gym. We were shocked how far you could climb inside. For the little ones, they have a small bouldering section that was really fun for the kids. Inside is a really cute cafe with some pastries as well as lunch items.
Directly behind the museum is the Romsdalsgondolen. A 5 minute gondola ride takes you to the top of the Nesaksla Mountain. You’ll get to see some spectacular views of this mountain area. There is also a restaurant on the top of the mountain where you can fill up on hot chocolate and fuel up on food. You can also hike to Rampestreken from here. They have a gondola ride and guided hike here. We decided not to go since it looked a bit difficult especially in the snow.
Don’t miss out on Åndalsnes if at all possible. If it’s too much driving, you could consider staying one night here before heading back to Ålesund.
Day 5: Loen and Lovatnet Lake
About an hour from Stranda, is a small village called Loen. It is has beautiful fjords, blue lakes, and tons of outdoor activities. The main attraction in Loen is the skylift, one of the steepest cable cars in the world which goes up 1,011 meters. Unfortunately, just as we arrived at the Loen Skylift, a cruise ship had also arrived and the line was wrapped the building and down to the street. If you have a chance to visit, I think it would provide some amazing views of the landscape and fjord.
If the lines are too long, continue to Lovatnet Lake. The drive in itself is such a treat as you overlook the turquoise waters. There are several stops along the lake where you can have a picnic and just soak in the views.
There are several hikes in that area if you enjoy hiking. We tried the Rakssetra hike. It’s a 1.1km uphill climb with beautiful viewpoints, babbling creeks, and green alpine trees. The snow made it a bit tricky but I think in the summer, this would be an incredible hike.
Day 6: Local Day in Stranda
We took a day off from all the driving and stayed in Stranda. We visited a local bakery, walked near the water, and enjoyed our hot tub. There was a local hotel you could pay a small fee to swim and the kids enjoyed that. With all the driving, we wanted to take a day off. Sometimes this is imperative when traveling with kids. Down time is necessary for the overall success of the trip.
Day 7: Runde Island and Ålesund
We’re now heading to Runde Island. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Stranda. This is a popular destination to see the puffin birds. The best way to see them is actually by boat but you can also hike around the island. You’ll see views of the dramatic cliffs and rugged rocks as the sea crashes on to the steep land. If you decide to hike (especially with the little ones) please be careful and don’t get too close to the cliffs. In most places, there are no railings along the cliffs.
To get there, put Goksøyr Camping in your GPS. There is a parking lot before you reach the camping. After that, there isn’t any parking. You walk a bit down the road to a marked with hiking trails. There are several trails but we did the Kaldekloven – Lundeura hike. It is well marked and has stepping stones that you follow. It is a steep uphill in the beginning and then it continues slower steady uphill.
*Check in the summer if they have the RIP boat tours from Ålesund. You can take a boat from Ålesund to Runde Island which is way faster than driving and you get a chance to see the Puffin birds from the water.
I would 100% add Runde Island on to your Norway itinerary if you can. It was worth the extra drive. Even if you don’t get to see any puffins, the views are spectacular of the sea and the rugged cliffs.
After that, you can head to Ålesund which is about a 2 hour drive. I know…it’s a lot of driving. You’ll want to check into your accommodation. If you need a great place for burgers and local craft beer, check out Molo Brewery. It was a really fun restaurant with tons of games and it’s right along the water so you can’t beat the location.
Day 8: Ålesund
When visiting Ålesund a hike up to Aksla viewpoint is a must. You can either climb the 418 stairs to the top or simply drive there. From here you can enjoy the view of the city from above.
If you have kids or love sea creatures, you can visit the Atlantic Sea Park Aquarium. It is a small aquarium but it’s packed with amazing local sea wildlife. Our kids loved the outdoor section where you can see penguins and play in their big sandbox. They also had a nice cafe so you can grab something to eat and enjoy the views of the water from the aquarium.
Norway had been on our bucket list for so long and I’m so glad we got to visit before we moved to Canada. If Norway is already on your bucket list, I hope that these tips help your next trip.