This one is probably the most obvious (and gorgeous) choice. Not only is Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, as cute as a postcard, the journey there is so picturesque you won’t even notice the hours flying by. If travelling past mountain plateaus, spectacular vistas and lush nature is not your thing, you can choose the night train with the sleeping compartments, and wake up in Bergen. There, you can marvel at the old Hanseatic wharf, visit the city’s many museums or go up Mount Floyen if the weather’s good.
At first glance, it looks as if Finse is in the middle of nowhere, and a frozen nowhere at that. But if you take a chance and descend here on your way to Bergen (it’s the same train), you won’t regret it. Finse appeared in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back as the ice planet Hoth, a fact that is celebrated by the owners of the Finse 1222 hotel every year with special Star Wars events. But even if the idea of staying in the hotel that Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher once stayed in doesn’t appeal to you, Finse will still keep you occupied: you can go snowkiting, sleigh riding or listen to music played on ice instruments.
This is such a short trip, but you will feel as if you’ve been travelling for many years – travelling back in time, that is. Kongsberg, to the west of Norway on the way to Drammen, is so epic it could star in a Tolkien novel. Its name means ‘the mountain of the King’, and it is home to the silver mines where all the silver was mined to produce coins for the whole country. You can even visit the mines, and have your own dwarves of Moria moment. If you’re more into contemporary activities, there’s a lot of skiing (and swimming, in the summer), an impressive jazz festival and a couple of micro-breweries that Gimli would certainly approve of.
This is another short trip with great potential. Sunny Fredrikstad is one of the most beautiful towns in Norway, and its fortress is the only one in the country that’s been preserved exactly how it was – between that and the charming Old Town, you’re in for a treat. Stroll on the cobbled alleyways, hunt for souvenirs from the traditional shops or relax in one of the city’s many green spaces.
On the way to Stavanger, Kristiansand is another option for when you crave a little sun. With its beautiful Blue Flag beach, its many theme parks and a magnificent zoo that will make your inner child squeal with glee, its picturesque Old Town and a 1800s manor where you can play Downton Abbey, Kristiansand has all the makings of a dreamy holiday. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, it’s only a ferry ride away from Denmark.
Did you know that Tønsberg is the oldest city in Norway? Founded during the Viking Age, this is where the famous Viking ship you get to admire at the Viking Ships Museum in Oslo was actually unearthed, and you can see a full-scale copy of the ship at the city’s harbour. You can also visit Scandinavia’s largest ruin site at Mount Slottsfjell (literally, ‘castle hill’), where a music festival takes place, or visit Tjøme and Nøtterøy, two small, charming islands nearby. You know what they say: old is the new new.
Don’t tell Norwegians we said this, but there are a couple of exciting trips you can take from Oslo S that will take you beyond Norway’s borders, over to Sweden. The trains to Sweden are operated by a different company, Sj, but depart from Oslo S tracks like all the others. The five-hour trip to Stockholm is a breathtaking one, through forests with tall trees and beautiful lakes – and Stockholm is not that bad, either. There are more museums per person than anywhere in the world, there’s the Old Town (Gamla Stan) that was founded back in 1252, one of the most beautiful libraries in Scandinavia and beautiful and impeccably dressed people all around.
If you do want to venture beyond the border, but can’t commit to a long trip that will require accommodation in another city, Karlstad is the perfect solution. A small, picturesque town that has a certain Parisian allure (and the outdoor cafés to prove it), Karlstad is right in the middle of the route between Oslo and Stockholm, and it was actually the place where the agreement to dissolve the union between Norway and Sweden was signed back in 1905. If you ask the Swedes, they will tell you that the sun always shines in Karlstad, and although that’s not technically true, it is one of the sunniest places in the country. Whatever the weather, a walk along the Klarälven River will make you forget everything else.