How to hike the Big Three in Norway:
Calling all outdoor adventurers and hiking enthusiasts! If you haven’t already, be sure to put Norway at the TOP of your list. The hiking options are endless, not to mention rewarding.
Here’s a sneak peak into our week in Norway:
Norway wasn’t in our original itinerary. However, after being in cities for the past couple weeks, we were ready to break away and get back to what we love – the outdoors. Oslo is a 7 hour train ride from Copenhagen. And another 7 hour train ride from Bergen. From Bergen, a 3 hour bus will bring you to Odda. This is where your hiking adventure will begin.
The “Big Three” hikes consist of Trolltunga, Pulpit Rock, and Kjerag. They are honestly some of the most incredible hikes I’ve ever done. Ever. Each different, each beautiful.
This post will take you through how to get to the hikes and details/tips about each climb and view. Enjoy!
How to get there:
Train to Bergen.
I’ll admit, I like trains. I guess I take after my dad, a major train enthusiast. And, since traveling on them regularly for the past four months, they really have become a major part of my daily life, and I’m definitely OK with it. Especially when the scenery is like the one in Norway.
If you have the time, you MUST take the train from Oslo to Bergen — it is one of the most stunning train rides in Europe. Even with only five hours of sleep the night before, I forced myself to stay awake so as not to miss anything!
Picture this: The most perfect still reflective lakes, giant trees and mountains, snow, rock and grass everywhere, lots of tunnels, small cottages, an awesome biking path. It truly feels surreal, like a fairy book land. This is the first place I’ve ever been that I’ve had that kind of feeling. It’s picture perfect.
Be sure to book the Flam Railway as well. It is an extra portion of the Scandinavian Railway, that starts at Myrad goes up an hour into the mountains and around the famous fjords, then either brings you back to Myrad to continue to Bergen, or you can take a boat to Bergen. I would suggest the boat. Sadly, we had a major travel fail, and in our sleep deprived state, didn’t realize we could have gotten off the train at Myrad to go on the Flam Railway. Big miss on our part. Next time!
- You’ll pass by a town called Voss, which is the extreme sports capital. If you’re into skydiving, hanggliding, and anything else classified as “extreme”, I suggest spending a day here to take advantage of it. As soon as we stepped off the train to change tracks, a dozen paragliders were cruising above us.
A local’s experience.
Let me first start this post by saying, Norwegians are honestly some of the nicest, most friendly people I’ve ever come into contact with. They want to get to know you, they say “hi” when passing you on the street, they compliment you, they want to help you, and naturally they want to drink with you.
Let’s set the tone first: Bergen is your classic Norwegian port town. Multicolored buildings line the famous Bryggen area (UNESCO site), outdoor restaurants, a fish market (that you have to try!), oil riggers, cruise ships, and a funicular that takes you up the hill for a beautiful view; it’s definitely a tourist town.
After a bite to eat at the fish market (I suggest the scallops and crab legs!), we were on our way back to the hotel for an early night since we’ve had two early morning trains and running on empty. As we were walking back, some locals on a nearby fishing boat started waving at us and called us over. Before we knew it, we were aboard their “Party Boat” and drinking Fishermen’s liquor (which tastes like NyQuil), exchanging stories, and immersed in a local’s Friday night get together. All of them work for oil companies, since that’s the main economy in Norway. They were all so eager to ask us questions about the U.S., our trip, etc. None of them have been to the states before. One woman said her dream is to visit Chicago (go figure!). Another guy said, “I’ll never go to the U.S. You can’t even go to a movie theater without getting shot. It’s way too dangerous.” That was the first time I’ve heard someone so afraid of the states. It honestly makes me very sad. So many Americans view the world as a scary place because of how the media portrays it, and now the roles have been reversed. It’s a sad reality and one I can only pray will vanish, eventually.
The night continued, but not for too long as Michael had to put me to bed. Watch out for that Fisherman’s Liquor – it sneaks up on ya!!!
- If the weather is nice, be sure to either walk up or take the funicular to Mount Floyen for sunset. The view of Bergen is beautiful. And if you’re looking for more exercise, head out to the point by the Bergen Aquarium for a view of the bay and surrounding islands.
- The other women on the boat were named Tina, Nina, and Lina. I kid you not. Naturally, I had to take a picture with them.
- Eat at the fish market – It’s the cheapest meal you’ll have in Norway.
The “BIG THREE”:
Trolltunga is a full day hike, 22k round trip, and 8-10 hours of hiking. Stay in the sleepy town of Odda the night before and be sure to get a good nights sleep.
The hike starts out with one hour straight uphill. After that it’s a nice easy walking path, followed by another steep uphill. The rest of the hike is rolling hills. When we were there middle of August, we were dodging mud, tromping through snow, stream hopping, battling the wind, and racing the crowd. But the views make it all worth it.
This is one of those hikes that make you feel like you really earned the view at the top. Trolltunga, translated means Troll’s Tongue, is exactly how you imagine. It’s a piece of rock that juts out from the mountain face, with a thousand feet of nothing between you and the fjord below.
The view reminded me a little of Scotland with the rocks and moss, but it definitely has it’s own special atmosphere. Like something I’ve never seen before. And clearly other people agree as the line at the top can get a little overwhelming. I read a few reviews that mentioned some people waiting for two hours to get their photo on the trolls tongue. I know it sounds ridiculous, but after hiking (at least) four hours up, you want the proof you made it – The classic star fish jump! Thankfully, there were only a couple people in line before us, but by the time we left, it was packed. We even saw a marriage proposal happen on the rock!
Overall, out of the three hikes, I would rate this one as #1. It’s the most challenging of the three (and the hardest in Norway), but the most exciting, and most rewarding.
- Nothing going on in Odda. Just use it as a homebase for the Trolltunga hike, two nights then leave. Also, stay in town. We stayed at The Trolltunga Hotel and it was outside of town with nothing around.
- Wear proper clothes – Lots of layers!
- Bring food and water (you can refill water from the streams)
- Start early – 7-9am
- Check the weather. If it’s rainy/windy, I wouldn’t suggest going.
- Shuttle leaves Odda at 7:35am. Be on it – You need to start the hike by 8am. We started at 8:15am and finished at 5pm. 8h 45m to complete the hike. We spent about 45 minutes at Trolltunga to enjoy lunch and the view.
- Take the Trolltunga Active tour – Bike, Hike, Climb – Book at www.trolltunga-active.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Camp at Trolltunga and enjoy sunset and sunrise – Nordiccamping.com
Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock.
The next morning, it was raining and windy and we weren’t sure if we wanted to do the hike in that miserable weather. We had to catch the bus either way, and would make a decision as we got closer to the trail. Our original plan was to take the bus from Odda to Pulpit Rock, hike, then jump on the bus to Stavanger. Upon arriving at Pulpit, the weather was clearing. There was a cute hotel situated at the base of the trailhead, overlooking a stunning lake. As we stored at bags at the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge so we didn’t have to hull them up the mountain, we thought we’d check if they had a room available for the night. LUCKY US, they did! Love traveling spontaneously! This hotel (especially the location) ended up being one of the best we’ve had in a long time.
Pulpit Rock is another famous rock formation, similar to Trolltunga, but Pulpit is much larger. Reading blogs and reviews about the hike beforehand, it sounds like a “walk in the park” – “Everyone can hike it. Kids, grandparents, etc.” Seeing as our bodies were (very!) sore from Trolltunga the day before, we were happy to hear this. Pulpit Rock is 10k RT and took us 3.5 hours. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s by far the easiest of the three hikes, but I wouldn’t exactly classify it as “a walk in the park”. I saw a handful of people struggling on this hike. Whether it be they weren’t in the best shape, didn’t have the proper shoes, etc. These are important things. Of course, if you don’t care about time, then you can spend all day hiking and go as slow as you like, but I know for us, we wanted to get up and down before the weather came back in. And that’s exactly what we did.
To be perfectly honest, Pulpit was the one that I was least excited about. All the pictures you see online have dozens of tourists on the rock and not much free space to really enjoy the accomplishment or the view. So sadly, my expectations weren’t very high.
Upon making it to the top, unfortunately, it was exactly how I imagined it. Crowded. To paraphrase the book, “Turn Right at Machu Picchu”, it was a “sweat wicking rainbow” of tourists. The sea of people was overwhelming. Not to mention, getting close to the edge was already terrifying (for Michael), adrenaline pumping (for me), that you don’t need the added worry of not necessarily you misstepping, but someone else bumping into you. That being said, we took a quick picture on the edge (or a little ways back, to be safe), and then climbed up to have a higher view of the rock, out of the way of the other hikers.
This was still a beautiful hike and a gorgeous view, but I can’t help but think about how much better it would be if there weren’t quite as many people, or a drone flying overhead. Ugh. Take me back to Trolltunga.
After a quick rest and snack, we made our way back down.
Our legs were feeling the burn and by the end of the hike, we were ready to rest. Celebrating with a beer at the hotel and soaking in the always amazing views. What would make this moment better? A hot tub. Unfortunately, the hotel’s was broken. So instead, Michael suggested we jump in the lake. Are you crazy?? Yes. So peer pressured into it, we both jumped, not once, but TWICE, into the freezing water in the rain and clouds. I guess this would classify as an ice bath, which I hear is good for the muscles.
And it was worth it 🙂
Finally a rest day, we took the bus and ferry from Pulpit to Stavanger, which is similar to Bergen, but smaller. Cute, port town, that only seems to be busy when the cruise ships are docked. The Old Town was fun to explore with the whitewashed houses with red or blue doors and roses blooming everywhere, cobblestone streets. We soaked in the good weather and rested up for our last hike.
One hike left! We jumped on the 7:30am Tide Riser bus for a three hour ride to Kjerag. I know you’ll be surprised to hear that the drive itself was gorgeous, yet again. Perfect country cottages scattered throughout the hillside, downhill ski areas, cabins with grass on the roofs. I kept thinking how beautiful it would be to see it in the winter time.
Three hours later, we finally made it to the trailhead. The hike itself is 12k roundtrip, and they say it takes approx. 5-6 hours. We did it in 4. Not sure if the hike was that much easier for me, or if I finally got my hiking legs back and running on adrenaline. Either way, it felt quick and was a great hike to end on.
There are three big slopes, chains to help you climb, and lots of granite slabs. The views are are incredible. Felt like you were on top of the world. Different from the other two hikes where this one you start on the ridge and follow it along until you reach the end of the trail.
The wind was extremely strong; a number of people even turned around. We decided we’d hike all the way and then see how the weather/wind is when we get to the rock if we still want to step on it.
Spoiler Alert: It looks way more scary than it actually is, in my opinion. Michael was still scared sh*tless. We’ve decided on this trip that he doesn’t have a fear of heights, but a fear of the edge. It’s an actual thing apparently – Very weird.
I went and it was fine. Not gonna lie, I was pretty anxious about this one, just thinking about it. I even had nightmares about it the night before because, in my mind, I thought there’s no way you can easily step onto the rock without slipping, especially if it’s wet and your shoes are slick, which mine had been giving me problems lately. Thankfully, you literally step out onto the boulder, which is very secure and somewhat flat on the top. It’s easy. A little rush. But makes for a fun picture!
A long line can form, but it goes fast. The hike is definitely worth it!
Overall, this spontaneous trip to Norway was perfect for Michael and I, and definitely a highlight of our travels. It got us back in our element — Hiking and being active in the outdoors is always good for the soul.
But now it’s back to the city life — Prague, here we come!
Norway Bucket List Complete:
- Hike the Big Three
- Starfish jump on Trolltunga
- Swim in the cold Norwegian water
- 10-day cruise through the fjords
- Ride the Flam Railway
- Norway in a Nutshell Tour
- See the Northern Lights
- The friendliest people you’ll ever meet! Everyone says hello!
- Service is good – Like U.S. where they check on you during your meal.
- Nicest trains and buses – All have free WIFI.
- All of the trails are well marked – You don’t need a map or a guide.
- Not many sunny days (They had five sunny days all summer when we were there. Thankfully, we experienced three of them)
- Reserve bus seats with Tide Reiser online – They’re a bus company that drives you to all the good hikes. We took it from Odda to Pulpit Rock (4 hour drive). Easy, gorgeous drive. You can also book with Boreal Transport at www.pulpitrock.no
- If I had to be a bus driver, I’d want to be one in Norway. Stunning scenery. Yes, single track roads the majority of the time, but that’s OK because you rarely see another car. And when you do everyone is very polite.
- “What’s with the hats?” – Local said to us about our matching hats.
- Lots of backpackers everywhere.
- Whale and reindeer meats?? We tried whale sausage and it just tastes like regular sausage, but a little fishy aftertaste. And definitely felt guilty :-\
- While in Bergen, we were told the locals can count the number of sunny days on one hand. We were lucky enough to enjoy those rare beauties.
- When driving or taking the bus, there’s an 11k tunnel from Bergen to Odda.
- Buses and trains are always on time.
- 7-11 is everywhere. And nice. Not like the U.S.
- While on these hikes, I learned something about myself: A good challenging day hike is good for my soul. Waking up early, exercising/being active, soaking in nature and the gorgeous views, packing a lunch and having a picnic, then making it back in time for happy hour, for a beer that you truly deserved/earned. That’s my idea of a fun day for Deena!
- Sweden has more hills than Denmark or the Netherlands, pine trees, and neon green grass.
- Only in Scandinavia: Breakfast in Denmark, lunch in Sweden, dinner in Norway. Not to mention a beautiful train ride between the three, complete with red barns, green fields with hay bales, blue river and blue sky with white popcorn clouds, cows and sheep roaming and giant windmills. So picturesque.
- Tide Reiser (tidereiser.com) is the bus company that takes you to all three big hikes out of Bergen and Stavanger.
- I found this article on The Guardian to be very helpful when planning our trip — http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/jul/25/norway-hiking-walking-affordable-bus-stavanger