We step out of our rental SUV onto the untouched powdery snow, with a nippy breeze suddenly crawling under our many layers of t-shirts, jumpers and coats. Pausing quickly to make sure I remember the car keys, we shut the doors and cast our eyes onto the vast space ahead of us. Where there should have been sand, a snow blanket folded itself in patchwork fashion, only to fade away upon reaching the sea. Steep, rugged mountains with sharp, snow-covered peaks cradled the beach, allowing us a sense of anonymity and distance from our usually hectic lives. It was in this moment that I felt peace within Norway’s wild environment.
Haukland Beach in the Lofoten Islands.
Several months before my (somewhat) enlightening experience in the Lofoten Islands, my friend Camille and myself sat eating sushi whilst discussing a desire for a short escape from anything university-related. Wouldn’t it be absolutely amazing to visit Asia again? There are still so many places to explore even if it costs tons to travel there! How about Europe somewhere, it’s a bit closer? Scandinavia looks beautiful – it’s close, we’ve both never been and well, we could make it cheap I suppose? And so, we began our preparation for travelling to Norway (after spending a stint preparing for Finland).
Rather quickly my laptop became clogged with word documents detailing Norway’s weather, the best locations to explore, things to do in those locations and importantly, the FCO’s travel advice for Norway. Because we wanted to travel in a place unfamiliar to us, and with a tight budget, planning effectively for our trip was our top priority. Luckily Norway doesn’t require UK nationals to have a visa, but unfortunately this may change after Brexit. Being allowed to hire a car with a UK driving license on the other hand, will not change, which is incredibly useful in Norway as there is usually large distances between places.
Road tripping in the Lofoten Islands meant stopping at every scenic spot.
So where did Camille and I end up? Tailoring our love of hiking and the outdoors to our itinerary led us to Bergen, and then north to the Lofoten Islands via Oslo. Our weeks aim was to fill each day chock-a-block full of discovering what makes Norway unique, and we definitely didn’t fail. We knew the scenery would be picturesque, yet we underestimated how many times we’d say, wow this is stunning! Each corner turned, whether that be strolling for hours through Bergen’s surrounding mountains, gliding in a ferry amongst the fjords, or driving on the Lofoten Island’s only main road, presented a new beauty spot. The proof is in Camille’s 1000 pictures taken over 6 days.
Hiking the Vidden trail in Bergen.
We found Bergen a quaint and relaxed city where the most people we saw in a single space were either the children’s walking bus to school or on the Friday when the weekend tourists dropped by. In fact, we saw more people on some of our scenic hikes than in the streets. I call Bergen relaxed, however if you sit on a bench overlooking the city in the residential area near the Fløyen hike start, every couple minutes a cyclist or a runner will casually dart past. There is definitely an air of activity, yet it seems almost the norm to be active, and having experienced the natural environment all of Norway boasts, it’s unsurprising why. It would be unfortunate if you were to live in Norway, and not explore its backyard. Exploring the mountains could also save you a penny or two, seeing as walking is generally free (unless you take the cable car up or down), unlike the extortionate prices of other activities in Norway, including eating and shopping.
An extremely useful phone app for hiking in Norway is called, ‘Outtt’, and provides detailed descriptions, difficulty rating, and maps for an array of hikes across the country. It proved especially helpful when we ventured into the rural Lofoten Islands because we were inexperienced at hiking in the snow and the app allowed us to decide which hikes would be too dangerous. As it turns out, the peaks are still covered in snow in April, meaning a trek without guidance could be fatal due to the high avalanche risk whilst the snow melts.
Our plane journey back to London consisted mainly of flicking through the past week’s photos, still transfixed to the beauty and dramatic atmospheres captured on camera. Whilst our photos don’t carry the same emotional weight of the present, they certainly offer a sense of nostalgia and awe at what we experienced, in turn inspiring our next adventure…
The picturesque village of Hamnøy in the Loften Islands.
For more information on travelling safely abroad, visit the Travel Aware website or for travel stories, tips and advice follow the FCO at @FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter and @TravelAware on Instagram.