Norway: How much does it cost, really?

The answer, not surprisingly, is a lot. There is a reason why Norway isn’t a backpacker haven like Thailand. Oslo consistently comes up tops in “Most Expensive Cities” lists year after year. People tend to use the words “astronomical”, “eye-watering” and “mind-boggling” when it comes to describing the cost of a pizza, a cigarette or a beer in Norway.

But Norway is also home to spectacular mountain scenery, dramatic fjords, colourful port towns, and the amazing aerial displays of the Northern Lights. A friend travelled to Oslo and Tromso earlier in March; she went dog sledding, slept outdoors in a traditional tent and witnessed a magnificent display of the lights. Her experience and photos decided us. We would go, and hang the cost!

Oslo lights (pic courtesy of www.visitnorway.com)

With a little bit of advanced planning, research and a few sacrifices, we’ve (hopefully) managed to keep our expenses minimal without giving up (too many) bells and whistles. Our philosophy is that whatever we’ve managed to save on food and accommodation will go towards activities and transport. This is how much we think we’ll be spending during our 7 days in Norway, with stops in Oslo, Bergen and Tromso, and how we’ve tried to “reduce” our costs.

Think outside the box when it comes to routes

I live in Sydney, 9,905 miles (15,940 kilometres) away from Oslo. Oslo isn’t really a big airport hub and demand for a SYD-OSL route is usually low, which consequently means prices are high. On Kayak, the cheapest available flight is with China Southern at A$1,584 roundtrip, with a journey time of 44 hours with two stops enroute. I hate long flying times, I don’t like transits and I’ve never flown China Southern before.

Instead, we signed up for flight alerts on Kayak for Sydney-London tickets almost 9 months in advance of our travel dates, and when return airfares with Virgin Australia dipped below A$1,500 we bought them. That got us to London for about the same price as flying Sydney to Oslo, for a much shorter travel time, one less transit stop, and we were thrilled at being able to see old friends in Londontown again. From London, it would only be a short hop over to Norway.

Sleeping in a Sami tent
Sleeping in a Sami tent (pic courtesy of National Geographic)

Use frequent flyer miles

As London is one of the main flight hubs in Europe, we figured that flights from London to Scandinavia would be cheap and there are plenty of providers to choose from, both full service and low cost airlines. Then I remembered the thousands of frequent flyer points I had accumulated from my time living in London and travelling to Europe. Redeeming them for a long haul flight didn’t make sense from a value perspective, but 6,000 points would get me a return ticket from London to Oslo, easy. Total monetary cost? A$42.

Cook your own meals

When looking for accommodation, my only non-negotiable proviso was access to a kitchen. Lonely Planet puts the cost of food per day in Norway to be about NOK500, or A$85 for two self-catered meals and one inexpensive lunch outside – to be able to stick to this budget I would need cooking facilities. I also gave clear preference to accommodations that included breakfast (usually Continental) in their rates.

Stay with a host

I’ve heard great things about AirBnB. In Oslo, a 2 or 3 star hotel rate is about A$170-A$200 a night. The hosts on AirBnB offer rooms like theseย  for just under $100 a night, with the added bonus of breakfast provided, a kitchenette for cooking and meeting a local and being able to ask for unbiased recommendations. In Tromso, there are less AirBnB options, so instead we plump for AMI Hostel, which has good reviews on Tripadvisor. The damage works out to be about A$500 for 5 nights in total for 2 nights in Oslo and 3 in Tromso.

Northern Lights over Tromso
Northern Lights over Tromso (pic courtesy of www.theodora.com)

Book train and bus tickets in advance

We are planning to take the Norway in a Nutshell tour from Oslo to Bergen. From Bergen, we’ll board an overnight train back to Oslo. Booking train tickets in advance could you save you 50% of the original price if you buy minipris tickets – which frees you up to book the sleeper berths instead. A normal seat on a one-way Bergen to Oslo train at minipris prices is A$67; a sleeper berth will set you back A$140. Book online, and early, at NSB, the Norwegian rail company. Tickets are released 3 months in advance.

Ask for discounts

The most expensive costs will be tours and activities; we were already prepared for this, but were still pretty taken aback by the costs. Norway in a Nutshell includes bus, train and ferry tickets, taking passengers along a picturesque route and allowing them to soak in the beauty of the fjords. Our customised trip will cost us A$200, which isn’t so bad as it includes one night’s stay in a hotel in Bergen. Northern Lights tours departing from Tromso are roughly A$140 a pop. Lyngsfjord Adventures offers dog sledding, snowmobiling, camping, and snowshoeing activities, combined to your liking – our preferred choices worked out to be about A$450 for a dog sled and a night’s stay in a Sami tent. Asking for a discount whittled that down to A$420. Still, a saving is a saving.

Dog Sledding
Dog Sledding (pic courtesy of www.mylittlenorway.com)

The total cost per day, excluding the Sydney-London flight but including everything else, works out to be a crazy A$311. Which is why we started saving for this trip from the beginning of this year. This NY Times travel writer managed to get his costs in Scandinavia down to US$125 a day – though he went in the summer, when camping was an option. Granted, our cost-per-day figure includes some very expensive tours and activities, but why go to Norway if you’re not going to go dog-sledding, or skiing, or to see the Northern Lights? We’ve bit the bullet. We’re going to hopefully see some amazing aurora displays, yell “Mush” (or whatever the Norwegian equivalent is) at some huskies, and sleep outdoors in the warmth of a traditional Sami tent.

Will it all be worth it?

I’ll let you you know when I get back. (But yes, most likely, yes!)

Norway Map

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9 Comments

  1. cookie5683 says:

    The cold is sooo not my thing. I avoid it like the plague to my disservice, I know
    I have traveled to your country many times and I know the cost of a flight from Texas, highly discounted, is $1500 at the moment it’s over $3000 for coach, freaking hate coach but what can a girl do who needs to move, so when you say it is expensive in Norway I take in a breath. Here a McDonald’s kids meal is $1.95. In your world it just about breaks my bank. I will live through your eyes to see the beauty of Norway. Thank you for the trip. I’m loving it

  2. Travel Thom says:

    It will sure be worth it. We have a say in Norway, “the best in the world is for free”. In Norway, you may go skiing wherever you like, and it’ s free, aurora Polaris is also for free, so make sure you don’ t pay for that. Your picture of Oslo, is actually of Stocholm(Sweden), still a lovely city but! Looking forward to follow your trip! You sure will enjoy.
    Norway, and it might not be that expensive after all!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Thanks for the heads up Travel Thom! I’ve changed it now. The aurora is free IF I know where to go and if I have a car – without the latter it’s definitely not free! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your comment!

  3. artchismo says:

    Really amazing photo of Tromso with the Northern Lights. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Thanks, unfortunately not mine! I hope to get some good pics of the Northern Lights while I’m there though. Watch this space ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Fast Pam says:

    I will be in Norway in the summer of 2013 – thanks for the tips! we plan on bringing our backpacks and camping quite a bit. Sooo looking forward to it!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Oh wow that will be a great trip! And much warmer than ours I’m sure! Happy camping!

  5. genijale says:

    Great read, and welcome to Norway! ๐Ÿ™‚

Comments are closed.