As you research ‘things to do in Norway,’ you’ll probably happen upon this dazzling tour package, which runs through the fjord systems of southern Norway between Oslo and Bergen.
I read about it from my frenemy Rick Steves in his Scandinavia guidebook, but even big players like Nat Geo have listed it among their summer must-dos. So, with only a few days in Norway with friends and not much time to plan, I thought, “Sure, why not.”
Basically, the tour starts in Oslo or Bergen, taking you inland through the Sognefjord via train journeys, a bus ride and a cruise. You buy a neat little package deal online, and whoosh! Away you go through some of Norway’s top natural attractions.
While I usually stray away from tourist itineraries like this one, Ricky made it sound so pleasant and the timeline worked out so well, I went for it. Below is the skinny on whether the Norway in a Nutshell experience is actually worth it.
Pros of booking Norway in a Nutshell
This much can be said of Norway: it has it’s s**t together. This tour whisks you along at perfect times, and all of our transport was on time, nearly to the minute. The plan has all been laid out, so you don’t have to do any pre-planning yourself.
Because of the superb organisation of the tour, and the popularity of the route, you can simply follow the crowds from one place to the next. Since Norway’s tourism board has had years to work out the kinks for you, if you want to see Bergen, Oslo, and the fjords, the Nutshell tour ticks all the boxes without any pre-planning from you.
Works with crammed trips
If you don’t have much time in the country, the Nutshell tour can give you a quick snapshot of Norway’s beauty in as little as one day. Take a night train to Bergen, then hop on in the morning and you’ll be back to Oslo before sundown.
Of course, the biggest pro of any tour into the fjords is the stunning natural beauty you encounter. The added bonus of Norway in a Nutshell is that you get a bit of time in Bergen, whose old town — Bryggen — is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Of course, it’s important to weigh all of these against the less-glamorous pieces of the experience.
Cons of booking Norway in a Nutshell tour
I have disliked ultra-touristy package trips since I took a river cruise down the Rhine Valley of Germany with my sister in 2012, and unfortunately this fits the bill. As you join the tour, you’ll stand in a queue of tourist groups determined to pack onto trains to sit on the best side for views.
As you reach destinations along the fjords, giant cruiseliners will also be offloading their visitors, making for not only overloaded areas, but obstructed views. I always feel a bit like cattle in these groups and it adds an element of stress and annoyance that I’d rather travel without.
Because of the popularity of this route, and the tourist hordes that descend each year, the whole experience loses authenticity. For some reason, I felt that this tour, centered around natural beauty and rural Norway, would be different. It wasn’t.
The influx of tourists means the villages along the route have grown to accommodate people wandering for an hour on the flash route, so you find loads of tourist shops and high restaurant prices (it is a fixed market, after all). Plus, most of the people you encounter are tourists, so it’s hard to feel like you’re experiencing the true local culture (it doesn’t help that most Norwegians move out of these towns to go to the summer cabins in high season, either).
My travel partners and I stayed for one night along the route in a small town called Flåm. We had the opportunity to hike and explore the area a bit more in-depth, and my biggest regret is not doing the whole tour slower. It is designed to give you taste of Norway, but in the end it feels too rushed.
You can choose to extend your Norway in a Nutshell tour over several days to lengthen it, but if I went back, I’d rather organise it all myself and cycle parts of the route plus hike in more places.
Loads of sitting
Along with the pace, it does feel as if the majority of the tour involves riding things, whether it’s boats, trains or buses. While not a horrible way to see the sights, I’d much rather have a home base, do some hikes and create my own (active) memories of a destination.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the tour is the pricetag. Coming in at an expensive $226.50, it cost nearly half of my entire 4-day trip to Norway. While no travel in Norway is cheap, if I returned, I’d rather spend that money getting to one or two destinations and doing some active adventures from there.
Is Norway in a Nutshell worth it?
Depending your travel style, it might be, but overall I would not do the same tour (or recommend it) to anyone visiting. Of course, if you are looking for a hassle-free, quick, and pre-planned way to see the fjords, then perhaps it is for you.
But if you’re like me, and want to immerse yourself in the soul of a place, explore on your own, and avoid the tourist rush, then you should look elsewhere for your Norwegian kicks.
What are the best things you’ve done in Norway? I’m already planning a trip back 😉