Planning a trip to Norway on a budget is no small feat, especially with a family of five who like to eat, so my husband and I were pretty proud of ourselves for pulling this off. We were determined to travel to Norway on the cheap, and managed by focusing on car and house rentals (and lots of grocery shopping!).
It can be tough to decide exactly where to go in Norway. We finally settled on a Bergen to Ålesund road trip and loved it. If you’re planning a Norway road trip, or you’re looking for Norway budget travel, I highly recommend our 10-day itinerary. Getting off the beaten path in Norway really pays off!
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Why We Chose Bergen, Ålesund, and the West Coast of Norway
One thing to remember about traveling to Norway is that it’s a little like traveling to the United States: the country is enormous. There’s no way to see the whole thing in a few short weeks, unless you are constantly on the road, and nobody wants to spend their whole vacation in a car.
We planned this Norway vacation primarily as a family heritage trip. My husband’s great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from the west coast of Norway, and we were lucky enough to track down hospitable distant cousins, whom we now count as friends. We knew we wanted to see the family farm on the island of Gurskøy, so we found an Airbnb in the nearby town of Ørsta.
Conveniently, the Sunnmøre region, where the family farm is located, includes the adorable town of Ålesund as well as the UNESCO World Heritage site and famous fjord Geirengerfjord, the bird island of Runde, phenomenal hikes, and the terrifying road Trollstigen. It’s chock-full of tourist sites and natural beauty, and I’d recommend this itinerary for all ages.
The Itinerary: 10-Day Bergen to Ålesund Road Trip
We were trying to travel Norway on a budget; the amount of food we’d need was not negotiable, but the type of accommodations were. We found a very reasonable Airbnb in the small town of Ørsta in the Sunnmøre region a little over an hour drive from Ålesund and booked it for a week.
If you are planning a road trip from Bergen to Ålesund, I’d highly recommend this method. Many of the top tourist sites in this region are all an hour or so from each other, so there’s no real benefit from staying in a city center hotel (although if you prefer this, check out this perfectly located Scandic in Ålesund). You can easily stay in a small town Airbnb and take day trips. With kids, this stability was preferable for us.
There are lots of national parks and famous hikes we didn’t manage to see on this trip. Take your time and explore!
(Disclaimer: this is approximately our true road trip. We did Geirengerfjord and Trollstigen in one day (which I do not recommend); we also only did 9 days, heading from Bergen to Copenhagen, but I would recommend at least 10 days. If you have kids, 50 percent of your time should be allocated to downtime. I overplanned, did not do this, and highly regretted it, but that’s another post!)
Day 1: Arrive in Bergen, which has multiple international arrivals from the USA via Iceland as well as elsewhere in the EU. From the USA, we arrived on Icelandair with no regrets.
Day 2: Explore Bergen by foot and public transport. If you plan on taking public transport, the Bergen card may be a worthwhile purchase. Our very favorite spot in Bergen was Mount Fløyen, but there are lots of great things to do in Bergen with kids.
Day 3: Get a rental car from the Bergen airport (easily reachable by light rail from the city center) and head out!
Day 4: Drive to the Airbnb in Ørsta, theoretically about a six-hour drive. The drive is stunning with waterfalls, fjords, and lakes galore. You’ll drive through tunnels and travel on ferries. Stop anywhere and everywhere you want to picnic and hike as the Norwegians do.
Day 5: Explore the bird island of Runde. This is one of the best places in the world to see puffins, and was high on my list. You can take boat tours from Ålesund, but we chose to drive to Runde and hike to the puffin area.
Day 6: See Geirengerfjord and explore the charming town of Geiranger. Give yourself all day for this! Geirengerfjord is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you’ll want to first cruise the fjord, then explore the charming town of Geiranger, which has typical touristy shops and restaurants, but also a worthwhile museum and spectacular views of the fjord.
Day 7: Explore the famous twisty road of Trollstigen, or “troll’s ladder,” with its 11 hairpin turns. Why drive all the way just to see a road? We asked ourselves this, too, but there’s the powerful waterfall Stigfossen in the middle, hiking trails to a blue glacier-fed river at the bottom, and a viewing platform and tourist shop at the top. Plus, you can make up troll stories the whole time…and isn’t that why you went to Norway?
Trollstigen is a two-hour drive from Geirenger, and because of this we actually did Geirangerfjord, Geiranger, and Trollstigen in one day. However, having done this, I wouldn’t recommend it. We didn’t have nearly enough time to stop and explore around either Geiranger or Trollstigen. Learn from our mistake, and consider staying a night in Valldal, between Geiranger and Trollstigen. (Unless, of course, you don’t require sleep and are touring Norway in summer, in which case go ahead and go crazy in that midnight sun).
Another great spot near Trollstigen is Gudbrandsjuvet, where the blue water of the Valldøl flows through a narrow ravine. There’s a lovely walkway here, with plenty of viewpoints of the rushing river.
Day 8: Hike Trolltunga…or not. Trolltunga is one of the most Instagrammable spots in Norway, a spectacular feat of Mother Nature, a rock tongue that sticks out 2,297 feet above Ringedalsvatnet lake. It’s a strenuous 17-mile, 8 to 12 hour roundtrip hike to Trolltunga though, so HELL NO we did not hike Trolltunga with our kids! But if that’s your jam, go for it.
Even if you don’t make it on some crazy day-long hike, take at least one day to do some local hiking. Norway is famous for its natural beauty and hiking culture, so don’t miss out! Make sure to stop at a grocery store and pick up picnic supplies — they sell disposable barbecue sets in most supermarkets, and they even have hiking-specific candy designed to keep cranky kids going up the mountain! There are the most beautiful, sparkling clean public restrooms I’ve ever seen adjacent to playgrounds and lakes and hiking trails here. Norway is family-friendly fun at its finest.
Day 9: Take a day trip to Ålesund. Depending on your proclivities, you can shop this charming city, visit the famed aquarium, or explore the Sunnmøre Museum (our personal favorite).
Day 10: Drive back to Bergen. Take your time, if you can. We had to speed back to make a flight, but if you have time, stop at all the lakes and rivers and hiking trails. Tip: if you wander into a tourist office (there’s one in the shopping mall in Ørsta) or look online, you can find great maps of all the public hiking trails in the region…there are tons!
Tips for a Fantastic Road Trip from Bergen to Alesund
- Our rental car came with a great GPS. Use it, but make sure you know how to set it for ferries instead of tunnels if you want to avoid a ferry, and how to tell which one you are coming upon. There are A LOT of ferries and A LOT of tunnels on this drive, which involves a LOT of fjords! It can be hard to tell the difference just looking at the GPS map.
- Have a good paper map in your native language as well as that GPS. I had no regrets about purchasing this map from Amazon before we left.
- Ferries run fairly frequently and like clockwork. They all take credit cards, and they are pretty simple to navigate. We never had problems except for the one time we were supposed to meet someone at a specific time, and thought we were hitting a tunnel…it turned out to be a ferry that didn’t run for another 45 minutes. Ferries also stop running at night, and could leave you stranded if you are driving too late at night.
- If you find a tourist information sign in a small town (there was one in the mall in Ørsta, where we stayed), stop in. You can find excellent local hiking maps there. Getting off the beaten path in Norway really pays off.
- We drove the rental car back to Bergen because of the high fees for a one-way rental and the high cost of flying out of Alesund. If you have more money, you can fly back to Bergen from Ålesund. If you have more time, I would recommend driving back to Bergen along a different route, and seeing more of Norway along the way.