By Rick Steves
Norway is much feared as Europe's most costly corner — but it's not. By taking advantage of some great money-saving options, Norway doesn't have to be more expensive than the rest of Northern Europe. And, as is often the case with travel, by spending less, you actually experience more.
- Travel during the summer, when you'll enjoy longer days, livelier sights, and deep discounts at business hotels.
- Get hard local cash from ATMs.
- To save time (and money) and avoid backtracking, travel "open-jaw" by beginning and ending your trip in different cities. For instance, fly into Oslo and fly home from Bergen or Trondheim. Employ the same "open-jaw" strategy for your car rental.
- Rental cars are handy in the countryside, but expensive to park and unnecessary in the cities. Norway's city transit works great and day passes make it cheap. Oslo's 24-hour public transit pass pays for itself after several rides.
- Coffee addicts can bring or buy a thermos and get it filled in most hotels and hostels for a fee. While it's bad form to swipe food from the breakfast buffet, some hotels will provide you with a sack to pack yourself a lunch, legitimately, for a charge. Ask for a matpakke.
- For lunch, locals get the daily special (dagens rett) at a restaurant or just grab an open-face sandwich (smørrebrød) and a cup of coffee at a small shop.
- For dinner, one main course and two salads or soups can fill up two travelers without emptying their pocketbooks. Alternate between cafeteria or fast-food dinners ($10–15) and atmospheric restaurants popular with locals ($25 and up). In most restaurants, you can ask for more potatoes or vegetables at no extra charge. A normal fill-the-tank dinner is eaten around 6 p.m. Anyone eating out later is "dining," and can expect to pay much more. Smorgasbords are cheaper at lunch than dinner.
- You'll avoid a hefty tax by getting take-away food from a restaurant rather than eating inside.
- Go on a picnic. Colorful markets abound in Norway. Basements of big department stores have huge first-class supermarkets. Big-city train stations often have a late-hours grocery.
Finally, remember you're traveling in a country where the financial stakes are big and the "hardships" of budget alternatives are minimal. Norway — even on the cheap — is clean, charming, safe, and well-organized. And, assuming you're a good traveler, you'll often find that the best seats are the cheap ones and the best acts are free.
Sleeping Cheap in Norway
To rent a room in a private home, look for Værelse, Rom, Rum, or Hus Rum sign, or ask at the local tourist office (which may charge you a room-finding fee).
Norway's fine hostels feature buffet breakfasts, members' kitchens, no age limit, and plenty of doubles and family rooms.
Campgrounds are practical, comfortable, scenic, and inexpensive; many provide hytter (huts). Bring sheets to avoid an extra fee.
Business hotels in Bergen and Oslo and other cities offer big discounts on weekends year-round and all of July and August. Although these rooms are still expensive, you get a huge breakfast and a lot of extra comfort for little more than the cost of a cheap hotel.
Only the TI can sort through all of the confusing hotel specials and get you the best deal possible on fancy hotel rooms on the push list. If it's late in the day, ask the TI about any half-price last-minute deals.