Norway has long been known as one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but is that reputation still deserved?
With its majestic fjords, snow-capped mountains, and rich history, Norway is on many travellers’ bucket list. But many prospective travellers have been scared away by sky-high prices.
This situation seems to be changing, however. Norway is by no means cheap, of course, but recent developments have seen foreign tourists flock to the country as relative costs have dropped.
Read on as we explain why Norway has been expensive for so long, and why this situation is evolving.
Why is Norway Expensive to Visit?
The discovery of oil off the coast of Norway in the late 1960s changed everything for the little nation. As the oil began to flow, enormous amounts of cash were pumped into the economy, leading to better standards of living and better salaries.
The higher salaries paid by the oil industry and its suppliers eventually led to higher salaries across the board. Higher salaries mean higher prices, and the generous welfare state Norway would build with its oil wealth would cause costs to rise even further.
Another important factor is the level of income equality. People in low-paying jobs earn comparatively more in Norway than in countries like the US or the UK.
This is a good thing of course, especially if you have such a job. However, it does mean higher labour costs and higher prices for restaurants, bars and shops.
Is Norway Becoming Less Expensive for Tourists?
Tell a random Norwegian on the street that things are getting cheaper in the country, and chances are you’ll get a funny look. That’s because prices in Norway have increased quite a lot recently—much more so than in the previous few years.
Norwegians have had to fork out a lot more for groceries and mortgages. But for foreigners visiting the country, those increases have been offset by the weakening in value of the Norwegian kroner.
The NOK has dropped by about 14% compared to the US dollar over the last five years.
Against the pound sterling, the drop is even more dramatic (over 20%). Your dollar, or pound, or euro, buys a lot more kroner than it used to.
This means that people from those countries asking a travel agent for a quote on a trip to Norway will get comparatively better deals than five years ago.
The Cost of Visiting Norway
So, Norway is not as expensive as it used to be for foreigners, but it’s still far from being cheap. Anything with significant human service involved comes at a high cost because of the high wages.
Avoiding the most overpriced items and services as much as possible is a good way of saving money during your trip to Norway. Meat, dairy and alcohol are significantly more pricey in Norway than in both the US and the UK.
Here’s how to make the most of your budget while you’re visiting.
Alcohol in Norway
Avoiding alcohol entirely while in the country is a surefire way to save loads of cash. Alcohol is heavily taxed, and these taxes get higher the stronger the alcohol.
If you simply must indulge in wine or spirits, pick up a bottle or two at the duty free shop if you’re arriving by air.
If you’re from the US, you are likely to think Norwegian taxi prices are outrageously high. Thankfully, the larger cities (and some of the smaller ones) have relatively good public transportation systems.
Eating Out in Norway
A few years ago, restaurants would have topped the list of things that are much more expensive in Norway, through the eyes of a foreign visitor.
Now, there is not as big a price difference between eating out in a good quality restaurant in Oslo and in, say, the equivalent standard in Chicago or London.
Fast food outlets are an exception to that. They are still more expensive in Norway, typically by at least 20%. The Economist’s famous Big Mac Index places Norway 24% more expensive than the U.S. for the ubiquitous meal.
The key to eating on a low budget is to plan ahead. Make the most of the generous breakfast buffets that almost all hotels offer, buy fruit or snacks from a supermarket for lunch, and research ahead for an evening restaurant.
Some hotels include light evening meals as part of their service, so that can be an option if you’re looking to save money on your food budget.
The Price of Accommodation in Norway
Finding a place to stay in Norway will require a large chunk of your travel budget. So, it’s an obvious place to start when trying to keep costs down.
Prices are not too different from what you can expect to find in the US and the UK, bearing in mind that hotel room prices vary a lot from city to city within the same country.
This is especially true for higher standard accommodation, such as the best hotels in Oslo. Budget accommodation such as hostels and budget hotels do tend to come with higher nightly rates.
As in other places, prices will drop if you stay further from the centre. Prices are also adjusted according to demand, so large events or conferences will put an upward pressure on prices, as is the case anywhere else.
If you’re not averse to roughing it out, Norway’s legendary right to roam means you can camp for free in some places.
Otherwise, camping sites and cabins may cost more than you expect, but they can provide great value for families or large groups compared to hotels.
Plan Ahead to Save Money
Whether you’re looking at plane tickets, rail transportation or accommodation, it pays to plan ahead.
Train tickets can be laughably cheap (as little as NOK 299) if you buy them in advance, even for long journeys like Oslo-Trondheim and Oslo-Bergen.
That being said, the recent privatisation of passenger rail in Norway has resulted in higher prices for consumers on some longer, complicated routes. That’s because tickets have to be purchased with several different companies for longer journeys.
Still, rail travel remains an attractive option pricewise, and the best option to actually see the country.
The caveat is that you need to book a couple of months ahead of time to get the best prices. Tickets go on sale three months before departure, so set the date in your calendar!
Take Advantage of Free Attractions
Saving money while visiting Norway means taking advantage of the country’s many top-notch free attractions. The sculpture parks of Oslo and the historic districts of Bergen and Stavanger are prime examples.
Many landmark attractions in cities are free to enter, such as the Deichman library in downtown Oslo or the neighbouring Opera House. Concerts come at an additional charge, of course.
If you’re a keen outdoors person, the country’s extensive network of hiking trails, maintained by the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT), is a fantastic way to keep costs down while enjoying the best of Norwegian nature.
Norway remains an expensive country to visit, but your trip doesn’t have to break the bank. Seeing Norway on a budget is absolutely possible, you just need to plan your trip in advance.
Pick the one or two things you really want to do, and focus on those. Don't try to see everything, slow down and enjoy your trip. Not only will this result in a more pleasurable experience, it'll probably save you money too.
Do you think Norway is an expensive place to visit, or have you found ways to keep the costs reasonable? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.