Peak season has reached Norway and you may have noticed how I've been a little less active on Instagram recently, as I've been busy guiding cruise ship tourists around Stavanger.
Now, I'm fortunate enough to mostly explore the lesser-known gems of the region with our guests and thus, my work days are usually quite pleasant. Many of my colleagues doing the tours to Pulpit Rock, however, start their work days in fear of not catching the ferry due to overcrowding (or in fear of having to accompany hikers in sandals, but that's a different kind of story).
To be honest, I don't get the hype around Pulpit Rock - or any of the so-called "must-sees" in Norway - but I can't help noticing how often the question about must-attractions in Norway is being raised in our Scandinavia & Nordics Travel FB Group as well.
Southern Norway in particular is absolutely crowded during the summer, as visitors flock to the same old places/hikes, such as:
Also the Lofoten Islands have experienced a major increase in visitors in recent years with international tourists joining the many Norwegians who like to visit the place during July and August - with the result of littering and wilderness being used as a toilet.
Now, summer is the main tourist season in Norway and that won't ever change. It's when most people take their vacation days and it's also when the weather in the country, statistically at least, is at its best.
However, why you would want to stand in line (and this is no joke!) at Pulpit Rock, Trolltunga and co. when there's an entire country of over 1600 km in length to explore, is beyond me!
Therefore, I've decided to put together a small selection of alternatives to the "must-sees" of Norway - for anyone who'd like to escape the summer crowds in the country and those of you, who are seeking to discover Norway like a local!
Where to go in Norway to avoid the crowds
Alternatives to Pulpit Rock, Kjerag & Trolltunga
If you want to hike Pulpit Rock (aka Preikestolen), Kjerag or Trolltunga purely for that one Instagram selfie - by all means! Just make sure that you don't fall of the edge (it has happened at Trolltunga before!) and remember, that you will most likely have to stand in line and/or have loads of other people in your shot - unless you hike first thing in the morning or camp on top of the mountain.
If you want to hike any of these purely for the views, let me tell you that there are loads of other mountains with magnificent views in Norway. Like basically everywhere you go! I mean, if you ask a Norwegian about their favourite hike/mountain, chances are that they won't tell you about Pulpit Rock or Trolltunga but of a mountain/hiking trail you've never even heard of.
That's the real beauty of Norway after all - no matter where you go, you'll be able to find breath-taking landscapes and stunning views!
I'm not leaving you with this vague answer, though, don't worry! There are actual alternatives to Pulpit Rock, Kjerag and Trolltunga - that is, if you're satisfied with a view that doesn't involve a 1000 meter high drop-off, or simply scared of heights!
Himakånå is also known as "little Trolltunga".
This small cliff near the small village of Hindaråvåg (1 hour drive from Haugesund) can be reached in only one hour - a huge contrast to the, in total, 12 hours you'll be hiking to/from the actual Trolltunga.
While the hike to Trolltunga covers 22 km in total, Himakånå is only a 6 km long hike. Also, the drop-off is only about 350 metres high - so in other words, maybe even manageable for those of you with a fear of heights!
Trollpikken (= the troll cock) has gained its name thanks to its very characteristic shape.
The rock formation gained quite a bit of attention abroad after it had been vandalized and the local municipality of Egersund, just south of Stavanger, had to erect it again - no pun intended, lol!
Despite the media coverage, Trollpikken still experiences less visitors than Trolltunga and the hike is much easier as well. You have your pick between a trail of 2,5 km (one way) and 7 km (also one way), and you can even join a guided hike.
3. PREKESTOLEN I HERAD (KJØRKEBERGFLÅNA)
Also known as the "little pulpit rock of Farsund", this mountain plateau in the very south of Norway is a total hidden gem!
The hike is only 5 km long (one way) and takes only about 6 hours in total. You don't have to take a ferry first, like you do at the real Pulpit Rock, and you don't need to fear any crowds here - that's for sure!
Gloppedalsura are the remnants of one of Europe's biggest landslides on the remains of a glacier from the last ice age. The bolder field is ca. 100 metres wide and some of the boulders are as big as houses!
The boulder field is located just an hour from Stavanger by car in the gorgeous valley of Dirdal. The area is popular among locals and we also visit the field with cruise ship tourists, but no need to worry - our buses only stay for 5-10 minutes and afterwards, you'll have the whole place for yourself again!
5. HIDDEN GEMS IN/AROUND STAVANGER
Stavanger is such a lovely city and it's beyond me why most people only come here to hike Pulpit Rock! There are so many hidden gems to discover in and around the city, that you can easily spend 2-3 days to explore the area.
For instance, there are the sandy beaches at the Jæren coast - something you simply wouldn't expect in the land of the fjords and mountains!
Then there's the neighbourhood of Madla, which I'm lucky enough to call home and which offers plenty of Iron Age and Viking heritage, for instance:
- the "Swords in Mountain" monument
- the Iron Age Farm
- the remains of Haraldstårnet at Ullandshaugtårnet
Last but not least, the gorgeous village of Lysebotn at Lysefjord has much more to offer than just its proximity to Pulpit Rock and Kjerag. There are several hiking trails in the village itself that offer breath-taking views!
For instance, the hike to Kongesteinen (the King's stone) and Kaldahålå (the cold cave). The cold cave is an actual cold cave hidden in the mountain, that has been used by the locals for food storage back in the day, while the King's stone is a massive rock that (or so the locals say) has been used by a Viking king as a pit stop on his travels towards Oslo.
Alternatives to Geiranger, Aurlandsfjord & Co.
I find it odd when people talk about the fjords of Norway and only refer to the fjords of South-West Norway. There are fjords all over the country and the ones in Northern Norway are guaranteed to be less crowded than the ones near Bergen and Ålesund.
So, if you're looking for alternatives to Geirangerfjord and Aurlandsfjord, why not head north and check out the following fjords:
1. SALTFJORD & SKJERSTADFJORD
Never heard of these fjords before? Then it's about time you get to know them!
They're both located close to Bodø (Tromsø's little brother and one of my favourite places up north) and create the famous maelstrom Saltstraumen at one of their two meeting points.
I'd say, seeing Saltstraumen in real life is much more exciting than visiting any fjord in the south of Norway!
Sjunkfjord is a very hidden gem near Bodø, at Sjunkhatten National Park, that rarely experiences any visitors. The fjord itself can only be reached by boat and there are currently no commercial boat trips to the fjord on offer - however, you can go for a hike in the national park to get a glimpse of the fjord from above!
For instance, you could start your hike at Bringslimarka, up to Drogvatne, and then continue to Drogvakaret by following the river, and further on to Sjunkfjorddalen, from where you'll be able to see the fjord. Use the maps at ut.no for reference.
Note, however, that going for a hike at Sjunkhatten National Park is not for the unfit and inexperienced. Most hikes take at least one full day, if not two, so you should come prepared!
While I wouldn't normally recommend you to visit Narvik as I find the town itself rather dull, the Ofotfjord close by is absolutely stunning and can best be admired on a train journey from Norway to Swedish Lapland!
Keep in mind though, that you might even encounter snow there in the summer!
4. ERSFJORD & KALDFJORD
While the city of Tromsø itself might very well be a little less crowded in summer than it is in winter (as long as there's no cruise ship in town, that is), the two villages Ersfjordbotn and Kaldfjordbotn at their respective fjords are rarely ever crowded - and offer stunning views and hiking trails!
If you're looking for a summer cabin getaway at a fjord, that also includes watching the Midnight Sun, then Malangen is the perfect place! Situated just 1 1/2 hours from Tromsø by car, Malangen fjord is heaven for anyone interested in going fishing or just relaxing with a view!
I mean, is there anything better than a red cabin by a fjord when the sun shines?
I don't think so!
Last but not least, if you're already headed to Tromsø, you shouldn't miss a visit to the gorgeous Lyngen Alps - and Lyngen Fjord! Even though I lived in Tromsø for three years, I only visited Lyngen a handful of times - and now wish I would have had the opportunity to visit more often!
The fjord itself is characterized by steep mountaintops on each side and can best be admired by taking the ferry from Lyngseidet to Olderdalen - or even better, you stay the night! Skibotn is an amazing place to stay at and Manndalen is so gorgeous as well - and even offers an indigenous culture and music festival each summer.
All the more reason to head up north during summertime, I'd say!
stunning Islands that aren't lofoten
Norway has over 50.000 islands to choose from, so there really is no need to flock to Lofoten if you'd like to avoid the summer crowds. Here's where you could go instead:
Alright alright, Røst is part of the Lofoten Islands - but it certainly is the most remote and thus, least visited island of the archipelago. Well, technically it's its own archipelago as Røst consists of far more than just one island...
While it's relatively easy to get there (just take the plane or ferry from Bodø), the ferry ride takes 4 hours (plus, the sea in the area can be really rough) and the plane ticket isn't exactly cheap considering the short flight.
However, Røst is the only place in the Lofoten Islands where you have the chance to see puffins up close! And also, you can't find a more remote place than an island in the Norwegian Sea. If you'd like to unplug for a week over the summer, Røst might just be perfect!
Kjerringøy near Bodø is technically only a peninsula, but since you have to take the ferry to get there, we might as well count it as an island! The place is absolutely gorgeous and offers a lovely open-air museum at the old trading post of the area, as well as several sandy beaches that, on a sunny day, totally remind of the Caribbean.
Kjerringøy makes for a lovely day trip from Bodø and if you've been reading this blog for a while, you might know how I've grown to love the city of Bodø!
There's actually lots to see and do in the area - so much so, that you really don't need to head over to the Lofoten Islands if you'd like to avoid the summer crowds...
Senja is the one place that I didn't get the chance to visit while I was still living in Tromsø, and I'm really sorry about that. Everyone who has ever visited the island seems to absolutely love it and judging by what I've seen on Instagram, it's easy to see why!
The island is just 3 hours away from Tromsø by car and although popular in the summer, it's still much less visited than the Lofoten Islands.
4. VEGA ISLANDS
Have you ever heard about the Vega Islands before? No?
Well, this UNESCO heritage archipelago might very well be one of Norway's best kept secrets!
The archipelago at the Helgeland coast in Nordland county has over 6500 islands and the only way to get there is by boat from Horn or Brønnøysund. It's a paradise for bird watching or simply to unwind and go offline for a couple of days!
A serpentine road that isn't trollstigen
You've all seen the pictures of the serpentine road Trollstigen, but did you know that Stavanger has its own serpentine road?
Lyseveien, or Fylkesvei 500, as the road is called, is 29 km long and goes to the top of Øygardstølen at over 900 metres above sea level - via 27 hairpin turns! There even is one hairpin turn inside the 1 km long tunnel at the start of the route!
Like Trollstigen, the road seems super scary and is only open during the summer, but should totally be experienced - if you dare!
Alternatives to Bryggen, Bergen
I was lucky to have visited Bergen for the first time in winter. Not only did I skip the summer crowds, but I also saved a ton of money!
And while I do admit that Bryggen, the collection of old Hanseatic houses at the harbour of the city, is a particularly lovely area, it's not exactly something that justifies having to pay double, if not three times as much, for accommodation in Bergen in the summer compared to what you'd pay in off-season.
Luckily, Norway has lots of other places with colourful wooden buildings to offer - for example:
Granted, Trondheim also experiences tourist crowds in summer but it's nothing compared to Bergen! The old warehouses at the Nidelva river are equally pretty as Bryggen - or maybe even prettier?
Plus, Trondheim has its own open-air museum where you can admire even more colourful wooden houses (and even turf houses) with a stunning view of Trondheim from above!
It's a tough choice but as you'll see further on in this post, choosing the Trondheim area over Bergen and the fjords means getting to visit Norway off the beaten path for a cheaper price!
Never heard of Mosjøen? Me neither. That is, until Silvia uncovered this lovely gem in the middle of Norway! Turns out that the middle of the country has much more to offer than a quick look at the map reveals.
Mosjøen is a quaint little town in the Helgeland region of Norway and also the oldest town of said region. It offers an abundance of colourful wooden houses from the olden days and you can even try ziplining your way down to them from the mountain across the fjord!
If that doesn't sound like the ultimate summer adventure, then I doubt that standing in line somewhere south will make you any happier ;)
I've been meaning to visit Lillehammer on my last real visit to Oslo 4 years ago, but unfortunately couldn't make it happen due to construction works on the train line.
Assuming that they've been fixed by now, you should visit Lillehammer as an alternative to Bryggen in Bergen, mainly because of Maihaugen!
It's an open-air museum (Norway's biggest outside of Oslo) and here you can admire wooden buildings and stone/turf houses while learning more about Norway in the olden days.
Lillehammer is a little less crowded and a little less expensive than Oslo and from here you can also easily venture into Dovre National Park where you definitely won't experience any standing in line!
Hidden gems in Oslo
Speaking of Oslo, if you only have the option to visit Norway's capital city, you don't necessarily have to visit the same old sights everyone else is visiting. Oslo actually has quite a few hidden gems to offer as well, for instance:
Damstredet is one of two old streets from the 18th century in the centre of Oslo, where you can still admire some of the old wooden houses - perfect for an afternoon stroll, I'd say!
Oscarsborg Festning is an old medieval fortress on an island in the Oslofjord. If you get tired of the crowds in the capital, simply hop on a boat and head off!
Nordmarka is a piece of wilderness only 30 minutes from downtown Oslo. It's a huge forest with plenty of hiking trails to choose from and you can even go camping there!
One of my favourite Norwegian Instagram accounts, Johanne of @psykolog.med.sovepose, constantly proves how easy it is to jump on the tram in the city centre and pitch tent in the wild less than an hour later.
While I find downtown Oslo rather "un-Norwegian" and dull, Nordmarka really goes to show what Norway is all about: finding a piece of untouched greenery literally everywhere you go!
Other places off the beaten path in Norway
Not looking for any specific alternatives to popular attractions in Norway, but rather a quiet and scenic area to spend a week or two? Generally, I can only recommend you to head as far north as possible.
While Southern Norway is crowded in the summer, Northern Norway has already experienced its peak season for the year in winter when everyone comes to see the Northern Lights.
Plus, being such a vast area, the north of the country offers plenty of places that aren't Instagram-famous yet!
One of the least visited areas of Norway, thanks to its remoteness and location in the far north of the country, the region of Finnmark has plenty of wilderness to offer! In fact, there are probably more reindeer than people - or at least, it might feel that way when driving through the region ;)
Whether you head to Kautokeino or Karasjok to experience the culture and life of the Sami, or visit the coast at the Barents Sea (maybe even Norway's northernmost village?), Finnmark is unlike anywhere else in Norway and perfect if you're into hiking and camping!
I once called Fauske the "most boring town of Norway" - and I still stand by it! If you're looking for a getaway in Northern Norway off the beaten path, Fauske couldn't be more perfect!
This town close to Bodø isn't exactly a tourist hotspot, far from it, and not even many Norwegians come here to visit. Not because there's nothing to see and do, though, but mostly because Fauske is totally underestimated!
Whether you'd like to go camping, hiking, fishing, spotting reindeer or moose, go swimming in a lake... the list is endless, and looking back, I'm kinda glad that Simon and I had to spend our summer there last year before we moved to Stavanger.
I mean, if we hadn't, I'd have never seen a moose in the wild!
Remember when I said that Trondheim is a great alternative to Bergen? Actually, the whole region of Trøndelag has quite a few hidden gems to offer!
Like the old mining town of Røros that's at its most popular during the Christmas season, or the charming small town of Snåsa that offers Southern Sami heritage and scenic views!
And if you'd like to go hiking/camping, a visit to Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park might just be right up your alley!
More information about visiting Norway
Whenever I travel anywhere, be it in Norway or abroad, I first check Airbnb for affordable accommodation. Airbnb is a platform that enables locals to rent out their spare room - or even their entire flat!
If you're planning to go for a road trip in Norway, keep in mind that you cannot rent a car in one place and deliver it at another. I mean, you can, but you'll have to pay huge fees in that case, which probably just isn't worth it!
To find and compare different rental car companies and prices, you can check out Rentalcars.com
More tips to visit Norway off the beaten path
Here's a selection of other blog posts that might help you in planning your trip: