Autumn is a popular time to visit Norway and I'd recommend people to come to Tromsø or the Lofoten Islands in September and October in a heartbeat. Western Norway in autumn, however, isn't even all that popular among the locals, so that should give you a hint about the weather here at this time of year!
Aside from the usual autumn storms, there are a few more things you should keep in mind before heading to Stavanger, Bergen, and co. in autumn, which I'd like to present you in this post.
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Your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are more than slim
Silvia already mentioned it in one of her recent posts, but a common mistake of travelers coming to see the Northern Lights in Norway is to expect to see them in the south.
Although the lights sometimes really are strong enough to be seen in Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger, this doesn't happen more than maybe a handful times each season, if not less, so I wouldn't base my visit to Western/Southern Norway on the hope to see the Aurora.
While I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in Stavanger a couple of weeks ago, they were quite faint and nothing compared to the Aurora that I've seen in the Lofoten Islands or Tromsø so far.
The kind of Northern Lights you might get to see in the Lofoten Islands - but certainly not in Stavanger
I've also heard of several people that they've lived in the region for 5 years or longer and have never ever seen the lights themselves.
Thus, in order to make sure to at least get a glimpse of the lights, you need to stay somewhere above the Arctic Circle - and stay for at least 4 nights, if not longer.
Many people furthermore think that November is the best time to see the Northern Lights in the Arctic but this is unfortunately completely false. November is one of the rainiest months up north and in order to see the lights, you need clear skies. If you want to visit Norway in autumn and hope to see the Aurora, try to visit in September or October instead.
It's warmer but also wetter than you might think
Stavanger locals like to say that the city has an average (daytime) temperature of 12 degrees Celsius year-round, which is pretty mild for a place on the same latitude as Alaska. After having moved here from Tromsø, I still haven't quite gotten used to these temperatures and constantly find myself wearing way too many layers.
While you certainly don't need your North Face down jacket and Sorel boots for a visit to Western Norway in autumn (unless you visit and stay in the mountains), you definitely need one thing: a rain jacket!
The coast of Western Norway is pretty wet to begin with, but autumn storms should not be underestimated.
I've got soaked through more than once so here's some inspiration on what you might want to bring when visiting Stavanger, Bergen or the fjords in autumn.
What you need to pack:
- a water- and windproof jacket or parka that preferably has a big hoodie and inner lining to keep you warm / you can bring one of those fake down jackets everyone seems to wear these days but bring a really warm sweater too, cause these jackets are useless at keeping you warm
- a pair of water-resistant outdoor pants to wear over your jeans if it starts pouring down and workout leggings if you're going for a stroll/hike
- a pair of wellies and/or waterproof hiking boots with a good grip
- a few sweaters
- a scarf and hat/headband for when it's really windy
- a waterproof rucksack to keep your belongings dry
What you don't need to pack:
- an umbrella as it'll just blow away eventually, hence the need for proper rain clothing
- snow boots as it rarely ever snows at the coast of Western Norway and certainly not in autumn (however consider bringing them if you head up to the mountains as part of your stay)
- gloves as it really is too warm for those (again, at the coast anyway)
Want to hike to Preikestolen, Kjerag, and Trolltunga? Read this first!
Let's be honest, most people visiting Western Norway come to see the fjords and/or go for a hike to either Preikestolen, Kjerag, or Trolltunga. And while these three places offer breath-taking views of the fjords of Norway for sure, they shouldn't be underestimated.
Especially in autumn, when the first snow falls in the mountains and the rocks get wet and slippery, what starts out to be a fun hike could quickly end in a disaster.
Trust me, I've survived 3 winters in the Arctic and got quite used to walking on 2 cm thick ice on the roads, but one rainy hike in the woods of Lysebotn and I landed face down across three old Norwegian men who couldn't quite hide their embarrassment (but that's a story for another day).
My point is, the hike to Preikestolen, Kjerag, and Trolltunga is no walk in the park and it gets especially dangerous in autumn and winter.
While the hike to Preikestolen is 8 km long and takes 5 hours for fit folks with hiking experience, the hike to the Kjerag bolder is 11 km long and takes at least 6 hours.
Both hikes can theoretically be done in autumn but I would advise you to book a tour with an experienced guide instead of venturing out on your own.
On some days, when the weather and visibility are especially bad, the trails get closed, and even on those days when the weather is fine, you want to make sure to bring the right equipment and clothes. Hence, why an organized tour makes things a lot easier!
The hike to Trolltunga then again takes ca. 12 hours and covers a length of over 22 km, and an ascent of over 1000 meters.
This trail is not advised to be hiked in autumn (or winter for that matter), and there are no tours being offered at this time of year either. The weather up there can change rapidly and aside from the danger of slipping and falling, you could also simply get lost and loose orientation in the fog.
People have actually died at Trolltunga and every year, others have to be rescued from there. Don't make the mistake and be one of them!
Roads might be closed
A road trip in Norway is always a good idea - however, not all roads are open during the winters and many already close down in autumn. There are several mountain passes that are simply too dangerous to drive in the winters, due to immense amounts of snow or ice, and the danger of avalanches.
Roads that close down in Western Norway are for example the famous Trollstigen, the Fv 243 to Aurlandsfjellet near Flåm, the Fv 258 near Geiranger and the Lysevegen from Lysebotn near Stavanger to Sirdal.
While some of these close down in December, some already close in October, all depending on current weather conditions.
A few events and dates to keep in mind
Autumn in Norway is generally considered off-season, and the cruise ship crowds that would usually roam the streets of Bergen and Stavanger in the summer, are back home reminiscing of their awesome trip to Norway.
However, if you hope you'll have all the sights and museums for yourself when visiting in autumn, better avoid late September to October. Norwegian school children have autumn holidays, which depend from region to region and usually take place for one week between the end of September to some time in October.
During this time, many museums offer special activities for the kids which means that there might be heaps of screaming kids around. Weekends during school holidays also tend to be significantly busier in the cities.
So, if you find children rather annoying, avoid the school holiday season. You can check the exact dates for each year here.
Autumn is a time of lots of events in Norway though, as the days are getting shorter, and wetter, and you've got to have some fun to deal with that. In the following, you can thus find some annual autumn events for Stavanger and Bergen that you might want to keep in mind when booking your trip!
Autumn Events in Stavanger:
- Museum Night at Stavanger Museum and the Archeological Museum, with free entrance and entertainment one Friday night in October
- A Halloween walk around the city, where you learn all about the dark side of Stavanger
- NuART Festival - a street art festival with lots of guided street art walks and movie screenings, usually held in September
- Lysefjorden Hiking Festival - lots of opportunities for cheap guided hikes and ferry rides from Stavanger to Lysefjorden, usually held in September
Autumn Events in Bergen:
- Pepperkakebyen - Can you imagine an entire city of gingerbread houses? You can find a grand gingerbread house exhibition in Bergen in the Christmas season and the best thing is that it already opens in mid-November! Christmas can't start early enough anyway, right?!
If you want to check what's going on in the cities before your visit, head over to Facebook and search for events in the area. I personally think that this is the easiest and quickest way to find out what's on offer and that way, you can easily save the correct dates and locations.
What would you most like to do when visiting Western Norway in autumn?
Leave a comment below!