Norway’s beauty comes with a price – a challenging landscape to navigate. Deep fjords and scatters islands require longer travel time and combined transportation methods to get from point A to point B. Most likely, visitors will have to combine airplanes, trains, automobiles, and ferries on a vacation. Norway is also a highly digital and automated country which could leave first-time visitors puzzled, helpless, and even stranded without human assistance.
In this guide, we will try to cover the most important (and most surprising for first-time visitors) things to know and do when traveling around Norway with air travel and rental cars in these aspects: Air Travel, Rental Cars, Car Ferries, and Parking. So you can avoid mistakes we have made and prices we have paid for these mistakes.
1. Download the airline’s mobile app.
This one may seem obvious but is very important to do for your domestic flights. Download the airline’s mobile app after booking a flight with one of the three Norwegian airlines (SAS, Wideroe, or Norwegian). You don’t have to sign up for an account. Instead, your booking should come up and remain in the app by looking up the booking reference number. The app is useful for checking in online 24 hours before departure, selecting seats (if your fare type permits), and as your digital boarding pass. Printing a boarding pass is possible from the kiosk but is not very straightforward as Norway is trying hard to be paperless.
2. Learn how to DIY drop off your luggage at airport kiosks.
When taking your first flight in Norway, allow extra time at the airport to learn how to use the airline kiosks to check in and drop off your luggage without any human assistance. If you have checked in online before arriving the airport (which we highly recommend), you can scan your boarding pass on the kiosk and print your luggage tags. Then, attach luggage tags to your luggage, keep the luggage receipts, and drop off the bags on the conveyer belt of a designated luggage counter after scanning the bags in.
We ran into a situation in Tromsø airport where the kiosk ran out of luggage tag roll so one of our boarding pass didn’t print. When we tried on a different machine, it told us we ran out of bag allowance so won’t print the tag. We tried to find an SAS employee to help but it was quite difficult to locate anyone. Always allow extra time at the airport even though Norwegian airports are not too big except for OSL.
3. Pay attention to one-way drop-off fees and mileage limits.
Renting a car will be a large expense on your Norway vacation during the summer season (June through early September). A rental car is still the best way to get around Norway but our tips will help you to save some money.
Due to the massive and challenging landscape to navigate, you may plan to pick up and drop off your rental car from different locations to save travel time. Be prepared to pay extra for surprisingly high one-way drop-off fees. All rental companies charge one-way drop-off fees but may vary by company and location. Our tip for you is to compare rental car prices by playing different route scenarios. For example, when we traveled to Norway, picking up a car from Ålesund and dropping off in Bergen cost less one-way drop-off fee than the reverse direction.
If you assume unlimited mileage is a given for any rental cars, think again in Norway. It’s an easy aspect to miss when renting a car especially for American travelers. Pay attention to the fine prints in rental car quotes. We almost missed it when we rented from Tromsø airport. The distance we drove from Tromsø to Lofoten Islands and back to Tromsø far exceeded the limited mileage allowance by one rental car company which could have cost us expensive charges per kilometer beyond the limit.
4. Select the preferred fuel type.
Pay close attention to fuel types when selecting rental cars. Majority of rental cars in Norway are electric. If you plan to drive long distance, electric cars may present some challenges in remote areas. Even though most hotels have charging stations, we have heard fellow travelers stranded due to limited charging station availability at hotels.
When booking a regular fuel type (non-electric) car, it’s most likely a hybrid. It is a great type to rent. All three cars we rented during our Norway trip were hybrid cars, which saved us significant amount on expensive gasoline in Norway without worrying about charging the vehicles at all. Our tip for you is to book rental cars early to guarantee a hybrid car.
5. Confirm rental cars are set up with AutoPASS.
AutoPASS is the automated system for collection of road and ferry tolls, owned and operated by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA). All rental cars in Norway should be registered with AutoPASS tag. There are a few exceptions on ferries which we will discuss later in this article. Toll bills will be sent to the rental car company automatically and the rental car company will charge your credit card and send you an updated invoice roughly two days after returning the car.
Keep in mind that road and ferry tolls can be expensive for certain regions and routes. But your options are limited. For example, the undersea tunnel from Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) to Stavanger cost roughly 20 USD.
6. Research ferries when planning driving routes.
To save time from navigating the long coastline along fjords, you may not be able to avoid ferries completely. When planning your daily driving directions, pay attention to ferries involved. We use Google Map when we plan our driving directions daily. If there is a ferry portion, Google Map should tell you the name of the ferry. We Google that ferry’s schedule (which may change seasonally) to time our travel.
Certain ferries could be the biggest bottleneck of your journey. Most ferries operate on a first-come, first-serve system, you want to plan ample time to cue up for some popular ferries such as the ferry from Senja to Andøya. We will address that one separately in our northern Norway itineraries.
7. Book tickets in advance for certain ferries.
Norway’s ferry system can be confusing for first-time visitors. What can you book in advance vs. not? Most ferries in Norway are covered under the AutoPASS program, which means your rental car tag should automatically work as a ticket and you will be charged by the rental car company after returning the car.
But there are a few exceptions. For example, the one-hour ferry from Geiranger to Hellesylt is run by a private company, Norway’s Best, and you can purchase tickets in advance on its website. Another example is a two-hour ferry ride from Lysebotn to Oanes. We cannot cover all the exceptions here but our tip is to do your research on each ferry in advance to avoid surprises. These ferries are usually popular so booking tickets in advance is highly recommended.
8. Use the EasyPark app.
Finally, our “favorite” challenge in Norway, PARKING! Norway has a fully automated and expensive parking system that is ridiculously unfriendly to first-time visitors. Be prepared to pay for expensive parking fees everywhere in Norway, especially in big cities. Don’t be surprised that your hotels don’t have on-site parking or charge you to park on site. Plan to pay for parking at most trailheads in Norway as well.
It’s important to know that your rental cars don’t have an automated parking tag. AutoPASS has nothing to do with parking. It’s the driver’s responsibility to pay for parking before exiting a parking lot. If the driver fails to do so, the rental car company will receive a bill including a hefty fine which will be deducted from your payment on file.
Our tip for you is to download the EasyPark app and use it for all parking lots throughout Norway. You can find nearby parking lots in the EasyPark app. Set up a payment type in the app so you don’t have to use the payment machines which often reject payments or not able to recognize license plate. After picking up a rental car, add your license plate in the app. The rest is pretty straightforward.
Many parking lots have cameras which starts the clock when you enter and stops the clock when you exit. You may always want to make sure a parking session has started after you enter a parking lot in case the camera fails to start a session. For those parking lots without camera, you will have to start a new parking session manually in the app by entering the parking lot number (every parking lot has a number in the EasyPark app), and selecting parking duration. You can always extend parking time in the app if you cannot return to the parking lot before expiration.
9. Fix parking mistakes with AutoPay.io.
We wish we knew this website before we were charged a hefty parking fine in Stavanger. If you suspect if you have encountered a parking mistake on site, this website will allow you 48 hours to fix the problem before a fine is given.
You can visit the website and enter your license plate to find any outstanding parking charges and pay them there within 48 hours.
10. Don’t assume it’s ok to park anywhere off road in the wilderness.
Finally, make sure you only park in designated parking lots and areas even in the most remote areas in Norway. We have witnessed parking police giving tickets to cars parked off roads outside of Henningsvær Village on the Lofoten Islands.
11. Have a widely accepted payment card with a PIN code.
Bring at least one Visa or Master card with a pin number. We have encountered problems fueling at gas stations with our (Visa and American Express) credit cards from the United States. American Express cards are rarely accepted. At gas stations, even Visa credit cards without PIN number are most likely not accepted. Discuss with your banks before departure.
Overall, driving in Norway is easy as long as you follow their rules, stay under the speed limit, and do your research in advance. Norwegian drivers are generally more chill and courteous according to American road manners. Most roads are very scenic which makes driving in Norway part of the wonderful travel experience.
What are some biggest surprises you have encountered driving in Norway? Share with us in comments and help fellow travelers. Or, leave a question if you are planning on visiting Norway soon.