When you think of Northern Europe, you probably think of the Northern Lights, dog sledding, and cold weather year-round. These are all great things to see during a visit, but what is the best way to get there and experience those things?
Flying into places like Norway is easy enough if you’re coming from North America, but there’s more to a great holiday than just booking a ticket.
You have to plan out when and where you’re going, and that’s easier with a local guide.
Local guides know all the best-kept secrets, like the most interesting hotels, restaurants, and things to do. They won’t bog your trip down with strictly touristy things but will allow you to see the real culture of the country.
I recently went on a trip to Norway with Torunn Tronsvang from Up Norway (a local tour company that tailors your experience based on your interest to the exact tee) and had what can only be described as the most magical time ever.
I stayed at hotels that ranged from all-out luxury to some of the best camping sites and got to enjoy different physical activities like snowshoeing, kayaking, and biking alongside fjords.
Torunn matched exactly what I like to do with my itinerary — creating an unforgettable experience I wish to emulate every time I travel. The next time you’re looking to travel to Norway, consider using Up Norway. They take on the burden of planning and ensure you have the best time possible without having to plan every detail yourself.
Find out why Norway is best experienced with a local guide:
The first leg of the trip was flying into Oslo, the capital of Norway, on Norwegian Airlines. The airline is Scandinavia’s second-largest airline, and coming from Barcelona, Spain, where springtime was in full effect, I was not expecting to see snow or feel cold brushes of wind every few seconds.
This total contrast surprised me but gave me a better appreciation for breaking the norm. Springtime in Norway is very different from springtime in places like North America or Southern Europe, and that’s part of why it’s unique.
You can still enjoy gorgeous snowy hikes and cozy saunas.
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Arriving at the Sommerro, located in the hear of Oslo, I was amazed at how the hotel had recreated the interior to resemble its art deco past. Coming from places like Miami Beach, Mexico City, and Paris, I was amazed that the art deco movement from the 1920s had reached Oslo.
The building was the former headquarters of Oslo’s electric company and was built sometime in the 1930s. Each room had strong notes of art deco-inspired motifs, like a glass chandelier adorned with palm tree leaves that sat directly in the middle of the room.
While we only stayed there for two nights, I could appreciate the amenities, like the Ekspedisjonshallen dining hall, which had a bar directly in the middle with a giant original art deco fresco behind it. Dishes like truffle pasta hit the spot and, slowly, made me realize Norway was also a foodie destination.
You can’t experience Northern Europe properly without staying in a snowy mountain lodge. Our second stop of the trip was the quaint Skåbu Mountain Lodge.
It was essentially a winter wonderland located in the small village of Skåbu, known as Norway’s oldest town and the highest settlement in Northern Europe.
The hotel was built from an old grocery store and was a centerpiece for the entire community. Staying there made me understand social sustainability on a more personal level.
Social sustainability means ensuring companies preserve and maintain the community that was initially there. The owners at Skåbu were adamantly invested in relationships with the district.
This was showcased to us when we explored all the different areas where locals could show off their businesses.
On day two, Up Norway arranged snowshoe hiking and dog sledding. While my pups were a little slower than the rest, I could appreciate the scenery in what many would consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It felt like I had stepped into a wardrobe and was transported to Narnia.
Snowy mountain hills surrounded both sides of me, and every so often, I would make a sharp turn exposing a frozen fjord in the distance. The sun made the snow glitter, and each tree had a fresh layer of snow on it.
We had some traditional Norwegian food during dinner that blew my socks off. Dishes like a rack of lamb from wild sheep with potato puree from head chef Lukasz B. Socha were so delicious that it made me want to have seconds.
Who would think that Norway had some of the best food in Europe?
Torunn from Up Norway then escorted us to our next stay, which would be to the beautiful Storfjord Hotel. Nestled on a hill facing Glomset Bay, it could only be described as a woodsy romantic fantasy.
Each room resembled a log cabin, and most were facing the bay giving the guest the most fantastic view each sunrise. If undisturbed, the water mirrored the sky, and tall mountains with snowy tops peered from behind the bay.
Up Norway arranged a kayak tour of the bay, and this was another example of the unique ways a traveler can capture Norway’s natural beauty.
Our last stop would be my favorite property.
Located on the edge of Norangsfjord and facing a fjord with two opposing giant mountains on each side, the Union Øye Hotel was a Victorian masterpiece.
Built in the late 1800s, the hotel was one of the first luxury hotels in the area and still maintains its original facade and interiors.
Each room is decorated with a specific theme, all fitting the same Victorian genre. This massive property has more than five social rooms with different purposes.
There’s a library, a palm room, and even a conservatory. Our guide Torunn gave a property tour, including a bike expedition around the fjord. During dinner, we again sampled other Norwegian classics that were equally as good as the ones I tried earlier and, lastly, we toasted to our final night together.
Why You Should Book A Local Guide
Local guides like Torunn from Up Norway are essential for a good experience, especially in countries where getting off path is an essential part of the experience.
They not only know where and when to go to certain places, they understand the different dynamics of specific cultures.
They explain how things work in ways you can understand, and they often do much of the non-fun work for you, like booking all the hotels and experiences.
Up Norway was able to attune itself to my specific wants and needs and create an itinerary that was perfect for my interests. If there was something I didn’t want to do, they could adjust it in a way that didn’t seem complicated.
Having someone who can do this is such an advantage when traveling abroad, especially when you don’t speak the native language.
Granted, you should always pick up a few words whenever you’re traveling somewhere new, but knowing how to barter isn’t always as easy for every traveler, and Torunn was able to help me in most cases.
There are plenty of English speakers in Norway, so that wasn’t much of an issue, but it was nice having someone there just in case anything happened.
Another positive aspect of getting a local guide is knowing which places to avoid. Often, we want to see the most touristy thing because that’s all we know. With a local guide, we get the heads up on what’s worth visiting and what’s not.
For example: Up Norway took me to the Skåbu village, which I would have never known about. It might not be highly touristy at first glance, but it was one of my favorite experiences, and that wouldn’t have been possible without a guide.
How Much Are Guides?
Pricing depends on what you want. If you’re looking for a luxury adventure in the mountains, that can cost more.
It all varies on what you like to do. Up Norway will ask you questions and curate a travel itinerary with pricing.
This is not a binding agreement; you can alter the itinerary as you see fit, and most airline purchases are separate from this.
Is A Guide Good For Solo Or Group Travelers?
Again, it depends on what you want to do. If you bring on the family, you let them know in advance, and they’ll create a customizable list of things to do.
If you’re traveling solo and prefer to avoid communicating with anyone, they can arrange a text-based service that allows you to keep on top of things without being around too many people.
Norway is a fantastic destination for solo and group travelers because there’s so much to do here. Working with a guide will open that up for you, and you’ll get to experience different things like dog sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and more.
The next time you travel and want a snowy vacation check out the country of Norway. This underrated destination is best experienced with a local guide like Up Norway, which can have something for all different types of travelers.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com