Updated September 2019
I love places where you can easily get around using solely public transportation, but unfortunately Norway isn’t really one of those places. I mean, if you stick to the cities then public transport will be fine, but if you want to venture into the countryside? You’ll need to rent a car for that in Norway.
Luckily driving in Norway is an amazing experience – in fact I tell everyone who visits that they have to consider a road trip when planning a trip to Norway!
Plus, public transport can also be really expensive in Norway, so if you’re traveling with other people and want to see as much of Norway as possible, you’re definitely best off renting a car here.
Renting a car in Norway is actually a really good option for budget travelers not only because public transport is expensive here, but also because the cheapest accommodation options are usually outside of the main tourist areas where buses might only pass through once or twice a day. So by renting a car in Norway you can potentially save on transportation AND accommodation.
Plus road trips are so much fun!
While I’ve now been living in Norway for two years, I’ve also spent most all of my summers in Norway since I was a kid (visiting family here), so I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about the whole process of renting a car and planning a road trip in Norway.
I mean, with Norway’s nonstop breathtaking nature it’s kind of impossible to have a bad road trip here, but here my best tips for making yours truly epic.
Car rental in Norway – things to know about renting a car in Norway
The good news is, if you’re traveling with multiple people, renting a car in Norway is going to be a lot cheaper than relying on public transport here. Plus driving in Norway is really easy, as the roads are all well-maintained and there’s very little traffic. Of course the bad news is, it’s still going to be expensive.
At least, a car rental in Norway is going to cost more than rentals in southern Europe where you can get a car for like $50 per week. But! If you book well in advance you can actually get some really good deals on car rentals in Norway too.
So, I used to always use price comparison search engines Auto Europe to compare prices, but these days my go-to rental company is always Sixt. They always have the cheapest rates in Norway, I think partly because of their discount codes. Click here to check current prices and save 10% (and if you’re renting for a week or more click here to save up to 35%)
And as fuel in Norway is expensive, definitely go for the smallest, most fuel efficient car you can find.
You’ll also likely be covering huge distances, as Norway is a really big country, so I always opt of unlimited mileage. Or at least make sure you get a minimum of 200 – 300 km a day, depending on what you have planned.
And don’t worry, all cars in Norway have to have winter tires in the winter by law. This isn’t the case in other places in Europe, though. My family has rented cars during the winter in Germany before and then driven up to Norway with them. And it’s always incredibly difficult to drive in Norway on year-round tires!
As for toll roads in Norway, the toll booths take photos of your license plate automatically and send a bill at the end of the month, so you will receive a bill from your car rental company after your trip. You can contact the car rental company if you have more questions about when you will receive the bill for the toll roads.
As for ferries in Norway, you don’t need to book short ferries in advance (in fact you usually can’t). You will want to try to arrive fifteen minutes before the ferry leaves to ensure you get a place on the ferry, but to be honest I sometimes arrive right before it’s leaving and I’ve always been able to get on (I think the only exception would be in July when Norway is more crowded).
You will usually pay for the ferry as you’re driving on. There will be someone with a credit card reader at the entrance to the ferry, so as you’re driving onto the ferry you’ll stop, roll down your window, and pay for your ticket by card. If there’s no one taking payments as you’re driving on, someone will come around taking payments when you’re on the ferry (either while you’re in your car on a super short ferry, or in the passenger room on slightly longer ferries). I think you can only pay by card – at least I’ve never seen someone paying for ferries in Norway by cash.
Choose your starting point wisely
Norway is enormous, and with all those mountains and fjords even what look like short distances on a map can take a really long time to cover. Luckily Norway is full of airports, many of which have international flights, so I’d highly recommend deciding what you want to see in Norway before choosing your flights. And if you can’t find a direct flight into the region you’d like to explore then check out the domestic flight options.
The main international airports in Norway are in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Tromsø, Trondheim, Ålesund, and Haugesund.
As a (very) general guide:
- If you’re interested in Norway’s cities and mountains fly into Oslo.
- If you’re interested in the fjords but still want to see a city fly into Bergen.
- If you want to do Preikestolen, Kjeragbolten, and Trolltunga – probably the three most famous hikes in Norway – fly into Stavanger. (Though if you only want to do Trolltunga then Bergen is closer.)
- If you’re interested in fjords and mountains, including Geirangerfjord, Trollstigen, and the Atlantic Road, fly into Ålesund.
- If you want to see the Northern Lights, the Arctic, and Lofoten fly into Tromsø or Bodø.
If you’re still unsure of where to go, click on the different regions of the map below for a summary of the region’s main attractions and links to my blog posts about each area.
Use the National Tourist Routes as a guide
Norway has a lot of absurdly scenic roads, but it also has its fair share of boring highways. And you definitely don’t want to spend the bulk of your epic Norwegian road trip driving through tunnels, which Norway has a lot of.
An easy way to find Norway’s most scenic roads is by using the National Tourist Routes map. Just to warn you, their website is super glitchy and I still haven’t managed to get the map to load on my phone, but it’s 100% worth pulling out your laptop to check out this site, because every single road listed on it is guaranteed to be amazing.
I always check the map before setting out on a road trip and I try to take detours through as many of the tourist routes as I can. I’ve now driven 15 of the 18 routes and have never been disappointed. In fact driving in Norway is kind of my favorite thing ever, thanks to all the amazing views!
Connect with people on Couchsurfing and Facebook
Of course not every scenic road in Norway has made it onto the list of National Tourist Routes, so to find more beautiful drives you’re best off asking locals! Norwegians love to gush about the beautiful nature here, and I feel like at least once a week someone is telling me about a drive that I just have to do here.
I personally love to use Couchsurfing to connect with locals from an area (even if I’m not planning to use it for accommodation) but of course you can also find people on Facebook or other social media channels.
I never would have visited Åna-Sira if a local hadn’t told me about it!
Keep an eye out for the northern lights
If you’ll be traveling to Northern Norway in the winter, one of the best things about traveling by car is getting to chase the northern lights!
You’ll want to keep track of both the weather and aurora forecasts and try to get to clear skies, especially with views north. It’s definitely worth marking out the spots on your route with good views north (you can often tell simply by looking at a map), and then stopping in those areas to check the skies.
Northern Lights Guide!
I’ve also written an in depth ebook covering all aspects of planning your northern lights trip, including the best places in the Nordics to see the northern lights, the best time to see the Northern Lights, my top accommodation choices, tour options, how to chase the northern lights (including which apps I use), how to photograph and film the northern lights, what to pack for your trip, and other exciting Arctic activities to try on your trip up North.
If you want to ensure you have the best northern lights trip possible, you can purchase the ebook here.
Check if the roads are open when planning a trip to Norway
A lot of the high mountain roads close during the winter, and it’s easy to forget that winter in Norway can mean September to June.
Schedule at least one free day to make up for bad weather
Even if you’re traveling on a tight schedule, it can still be worth leaving one day free. I’d especially recommend doing this if you’ll be visiting a particular place that you’ve always dreamed of seeing, because the weather here can be really unpredictable so you might end up needing an extra day to (hopefully!) let the skies clear.
I wish I could have stayed an extra day to see Trollstigen without the fog!
Plan for winding roads
If you’ll be driving with anyone prone to getting carsick, you might want to come prepared as Norwegian roads are very curvy. In fact I pretty much always get a bit carsick when riding in a car or bus as a passenger. Though one thing that has really helped me has been sea-bands. It doesn’t seem like they should work, but I promise they do! You can buy them in most pharmacies in Norway, or you can be on the safe side and order them in advance from Amazon here.
Pack rain gear and warm clothing
Even if you’re visiting Norway in the summer, you’ll need some warm clothing – especially if you’ be driving up into the mountains. And if you have a good waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers (I love these ones!) then you won’t need to let bad weather stop you from enjoying Norway’s nature.
Here’s what I always bring with me on a Norwegian road trip:
If you’re camping, bring a really warm sleeping bag and pitch away from the main road
Even in the summer the nights in the mountains get really cold, so make sure your sleeping bag can withstand freezing temperatures.
And while wild camping is totally legal here, I do try to camp out of sight of the road. Last summer there was a lot of press in Norway about European tourists loading their cars with food and camping their way through Norway, spending almost no money while here, so a lot of locals don’t look too kindly on tents.
It’s really silly, but the one time I did camp by the side of a road I was honked at all night, and when I asked other travelers about it many had experienced the same thing. Besides, it’s much nicer camping away from the noise of traffic anyway!
Alternate between grocery store meals and restaurants
Having the extra space of a car makes it a lot easier to buy and store food for meals, which can save a ton of money while traveling in Norway. I generally eat one restaurant meal a day on my travels and balance out the expense with cheap grocery store meals the rest of the day.
If you are traveling on a tight budget then read my post about eating on a budget in Norway.
Anyone have any tips to add? Share them in the comments!
P.S. I’ve written up loads of guides for the best accommodation in Norway for different budgets, including lots of hidden gems in the more popular areas. You can see all my accommodation guides here.