Help me plan my Scandinavian adventure!
July 29, 2008 4:50 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan my Scandinavian adventure!

I'm going to be spending 4 days in Iceland and 6 days in Norway in late August. Right now we're planning on flying into Iceland on a Friday, then departing Monday for Bergen. I somehow how have to get to Oslo by Friday for a wedding.

I'm looking for hotel and restaurant recommendations in Iceland and Bergen, Norway, as well as quirky, won't-find-this-anywhere-else type places. I've been to Norway before as a kid, and seem to recall not enjoying the native food, but I'm definitely willing to give it another shot. I'd like to do some hiking/outdoorsy things, but due to logistics will have limited equipment on me. I also love to dance.

Bonus question: what does one wear to an August wedding in Oslo?
posted by snickerdoodle to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Bergen is absolutely beautiful. You must visit the castle there and if you can (and you really should) leave town for an afternoon and go to the town of Os. There is a ferry to Oleana, the home of the violinist and Norwegian colonist Ole Bull, who tried to start a Norwegian colony in Pennsylvania. There is a really nice gallery/knitshop on the road to the ferry that is owned by my cousin, Turid.

In Bergen, you will enjoy the open air fish market at the harbors edge. You can get practically anything, but try the crabs - they are amazing. Bergen has a funicular railway that serves as a kind of bus that will take you up the hill to the top of the city. It's really worth it, especially in the early mornings and at sunset. Also great is the U-Bergen School of Architecture, they have a really nice exhibit space that is worth visiting.

Don't bother with the whaling museum, it's very boring.

When you leave for Olso do yourself a favor and take the night train and get a sleeper. It's worth it as you can roll down the windows and enjoy the cool summer air as you rise into the mountains. I love Norway and hope to be back there soon to see my family.
posted by parmanparman at 6:17 PM on July 29, 2008

Recommendations in Iceland:

- Do the "Golden Circle/Golden Triangle/Geometric Oddity" tour. There's the continental divide/site of first parliament (Thingvellir), a really big waterfall (Gullfoss) - calling it a big waterfall really diminishes how effin' awesome it is, and the original geysir, imaginatively named Geysir. The whole thing will run you the better part of one day, around 6-8 hrs depending on how long you spend wandering around each place. Geysir is the only one with a snack bar, and it isn't a very good one. Thingvellir and Geysir both have bathrooms, but oddly, Gullfoss does not.

- You can see most of Reykjavík in the remaining three days. Heck, it's a small town, two would do. Laugavegur is the main drag and has lots of shops and things. If it's there, Dead is an awesome store (sorry the only link I can find is the dude's myspace) featuring hand printed items done by one of Iceland's few openly HIV+ artists. There are a lot of art galleries and whatnot - the Iceland art scene is pretty vibrant. There's an art museum downtown, near the harbor, imaginatively called "Reykjavík Art Museum" (Listasafn Reyjavíkur) which has had some great exhibitions while I've been there (Olafur Eliasson! It was great!) There's also the Icelandic Art Museum next to the pond, which has good stuff as well.

If you want to see old viking helmets and longboats, that museum (called, I believe, the National Museum) is next to the University. The University is easy to find. It's where that Stalin-esque building is. You'll know it when you see it. Anyhooo, lots of old artifacts from back in the day. Also, has a pretty sweet gift shop for any souvenirs you may need.

I haven't been up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja (it's that church. That one that you can see from everywhere.), but I have been to the viewing deck on Perlan (The Pearl) and it's a pretty great view of the Reykjavík area, which is mindblowingly gorgeous.

If you're into nature, I hear walking up Mt. Esja's a decent climb. Haven't personally experienced it. Even in "summer" it's very, VERY windy and you may encounter a dusting of snow up there. You shouldn't need any equipment beyond good shoes, and I know some sturdy Vikings who have even done without those.

I can't recommend any hotels in Iceland - my parents stayed at Hotel Borg and loved it, but I think it's kind of pricey. I don't know what your budget range is. Everything in Iceland is expensive in general, and everything is also pretty clean, so whatever you pick will probably be fine. There are no notoriously awful places, to my knowledge.

Restaurants, I can help you out with:
If you like burgers, do yourself a favor and go to Vitabar on Vitastigur (just down from Hallgrimskirkja near Laugavegur) and get the Forget Me Not. It's a blue-cheese and garlic burger that is in and of itself worth the airfare.

If, on the other hand, you are a vegetarian - First Vegetarian (it has some other name in Icelandic that again, escapes me) on Laugavegur has an amazingly good reputation. I prefer burgers myself, so I can only offer a second-hand recommendation here.

Fancier meals... there's an Italian place at the corner of Laugavegur and Thingholtsstraeti, and I forget what it's called (oh, I'm SO HELPFUL) but it had the most amazing black noodles with gorgonzola pasta thing (Oh, words. The stuff that mean things.) that I have ever had. I know it was on that specific corner because I only went there once, which I found slightly odd because I *lived* on Thingholtsstraeti.

Hornid is an Italian place, it's downtown near Laekjatorg - down the street from the Reykjavik Art Museum - and it's solidly good food. I went there after I got married! Good times.

For the other end of the spectrum: Iceland is famous for its hot dogs. They like to boast that it was the "one with everything" that gave Bill Clinton his heart attack. (He really did visit like, the week before his bypass surgery.)

As for local cuisine: Skyr is a yogurty breakfasty food that is unbelievably delicious. Eat lots of it. It's also amazingly good for you - high in protein, fat free.

I've had whale, and it was ok. I've also had reindeer, which was pretty good. I hear puffin is tasty.

Desiccated shark is AWFUL. It is the WORST SMELLING THING I have ever smelled. Don't let anyone trick you into eating it.

Whether or not you choose to eat a sheep's face is up to you, but you can find one at BSI which is a fast food restaurant (there's one near the university). BSI has decent chicken burgers, I never tried to the sheep's head.

Oh! And fast food! Down past Laekjatorg, in the little...erm...square downtown there (keep walking straight past Pennin Edymynsson bookshop and you'll see some kids skateboarding) is a sandwich shop called Hollabauttur which has really really REALLY good sandwiches. And there's also a pizza place called Galileo there that has really good pizza.

I think I'm done. Yes. Enjoy Iceland! :)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:27 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

In Bergen, have a look at the leprosy museum. It's more interesting than it sounds! And yes, do try to get to the top of Ulriken (the highest of the 7 mountains around the city). The views are spectacular!
posted by flutable at 2:37 AM on July 30, 2008

"Visiting Bergen".

If you prefer to fly from Bergen to Oslo, the lowest price one way ticket in August with Norwegian is between €45.50 and €66.20, if you order now. Try to get the regular NSB train from Oslo Airport Gardermoen. The Airport express train, "Flytoget" is faster but costs twice as much.
posted by iviken at 3:32 AM on July 30, 2008


If you love outdoors/hiking, and have limited resources, the funicular up to Mount Floien takes you from fish market/city centre to the forested mountain in 5 minutes. There are gravel roads to walk, or if you would like, avoid. The area is hilly, well mapped (grab maps from tourist information by the fish market) and perfect to bring snacks from town for a picnic or sunset with a bottle of wine. Lots of places to find great views, and lots of routes to walk.

There is another higher mountain, Mount Ulriken, unfortunately the cable car bringing you up to Mount Ulriken is closed for maintenance. You can walk up if you like, a bus ride then an hours hike. Then, the walk from Mount Ulriken to Mount Floien is a great 4-5 hour hike dipping up and down the treeline. Need good shoes and some food. Get a map or use a guide. Bring a cell phone.

But perhaps the hiking and wildlife will be covered better in Iceland...

Bergen is a coastal town, meaning fish/sushi isn't bad if that is your thing. The sushi places in Bergen are always competing for the limited selection of good chefs, hiring them for a year a time before they circulate to another place, this year IMHO the best chefs are at Red Sun sushi and Vietnamese, incidentally not far from the fish market / Floien funicular. But Nama, also close to fish-market, also has good sushi.

If your budget is small, a quirky alternative is Kung Fu, a small 50ies-ish restaurant/cafe with Thai food and only playing vinyl records is a safe bet. Generally the Håkonsgaten/Nygårdsgaten segment, the street at the bottom of the university hill, including parallel street Vaskerelven, has the most happening places to avoid boring touristy stuff, being the gay- / weird-friendly part of the town.

If you would like to have traditional, no-frills, straight-up excellent traditional Norwegian family food that all Norwegians growing up eats, (not weird stuff like sheeps head and buried salmon) in a modern setting, go to Pingvinen (The Penguin) in Vaskerelven. Frequented by both super hipsters in new media, mountain hikers, tourists as well as old people eating up their meager pensions.

Be adviced; visiting Bergen late August means coming to town simultaneously with 40 000 students, most of them desperately eager to party. Meaning the town is packed with life and innocent, yet inexperienced drunks. Lots of street activity, new kids in town trying to make an impression (and fail epically at that). Make sure to grab a room off the street, or join them :)

If you need internet access during the day/night, Landmark is a brilliant cafe at the musem strip, with free wifi and huge, airy, Space Oddysey 2001 interior design. Good lunches. Electronica/club/art stuff at night.

I would stay away from the harbour/waterfront areas at night. It's not dangerous or anything, it's just incredibly boring and crammed with tourist traps.

Travel to Oslo:

Norwegian is a good bet for cheap air tickets to Oslo. If you can afford to spend 7 hours the train ride Bergen-Oslo has incredible vistas and segments for the first half of the trip, up and above the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. Booking in advance you might be able grab a cheap trip. is the railroad company. You can pay approx 70 NOK and upgrade to a seat in "comfort zone" with electricity for laptops and free (read: horrible) coffee. The "comfort" wagons usually have huge panoramic windows too (the morning express at least).

Typical tourist stuff which isn't too bad; Mount Floien, The Aquarium at Nordnes, the art museums strip at Lille Lungaardsvann (smack in the centre). Can't think of more but I'm sure there are. As mentioned, you are visiting the town at the peak of action, so there will be a lot happening to choose from.

Finally, for nice places in the middle of the town, the botanical gardens (Musehagen) right by the Museum of Natural History is perfect for a calm and beautiful retreat in the middle of the center. Grab a bottle of your favorite beverage and relax amongst the exotic plants.

Clothing for wedding:

Sorry no idea, i guess that depends on the type of wedding/people being wed. Could be anything from formal tux/dress/tie/ball to adidas tracksuit.

Final tip:

If you enjoy alcohol and would like to have some for your stay/picnics/new student friends - make sure to buy it when arriving at Flesland airport (there is a tax-free shop at arrival area). Prices are way better then the Vinmonopolet shops.

Enjoy your trip, and SORRY about the prices. You are going to faint when you learn the price of a beer or espresso :)
posted by gmm at 9:05 AM on July 30, 2008

(I'm sorry for not providing direct links, but it was such a long post I just stream-of-consciousnessed it. If you google the names / streets of what interests you, you'll find them easily, most everything is on google maps too, if not your hotel should help you. Oh, and everyone speaks english ok.)
posted by gmm at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2008

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