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First time family trip to Sweden/Norway - advice on itinerary

Greetings,

We are a family of 3 (15 year old son) traveling to Sweden and Norway for the first time in late July/early August. We are tentatively planning the following itinerary:
-Stockholm - 3 nights
-then 3 nights in either the Stockholm Archipeligo or on a lake - want to either rent a small house/cabin or book a hotel in a place where we can swim, hike, bike and just unwind in a beautiful setting
-then travel by train all the way to Bergen, Norway (possibly with one night in a hotel in Oslo on the way) and spend about 3 nights in Bergen, seeing the city, excursions in the Bergen area
-then about 3 nights in another location in Norway - hope to find a beautiful spot up the coast or inland on a lake to explore, hike, enjoy nature
-then return to Stockholm (again via train) to fly back to our home in Seattle

I would appreciate any thoughts on this itinerary... I am digging into my Lonely Planet and Rick Steves books as well as a sea of onling info, but it is all overwhelming given my lack of familiarity with the regtion. Is the train ride both ways from Stockholm to Bergen and back too much to take on for this 2 week trip? I would love any insights about regions outside of Stockholm and in Norway that would be interesting to rent an AirBnB in. We are hoping to not rent a car at all - hoping to do it all by train and bus. Thanks so much in advance!

Cheers.

Johnny
Seattle, WA USA

Posted by
6659 posts

If I did the maths correct is seems like you are planning a 12 night trip. That sounds doable, but a bit on the rushed side. Is there any way you can add a day or two to the plan?

My suggestion for the three days after Stockholm would not be the Stockholm archipelago, but rather some place a bit closer to Norway. Maybe on the west coast or around lake Vänern? Any preference for what kind of water you want to swim in? Fresh, salt or brackish?

I also think you should add at least one night in Oslo, it is worth a stop. And instead of three nights in Bergen, you can do two nights in Bergen and one night somewhere between Oslo and Bergen, e.g. Flåm/Aurland. Where to go after Bergen is a bit trickier, there are many options. Are you looking for a smaller place or some larger town/city?

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you for your reply, Badger.

Yes, we have 12 nights total - we arrive in Stockholm on 7/29 and depart (also from Stockholm) on 8/10. I will check out some regions between Oslo and Bergen, as well as the lake that you mentioned. It would be great to do spend some time on a lake, and to explore some smaller cities. We are not wedded to anything, other than spending the first 3 days in Stockholm and spending at least a couple of days in Bergen. I want to be careful not to get into a situation where we are spending too much time traveling between Stockholm-Bergen and back - I am not sure if this might be biting off too much for a 12 night trip (plane tickets purchased already, so this is firm).

Also, I welcome suggestions for decent hotels in Stockholm and Bergen. I am finding it a bit challenging finding an adequate, somewhat affordable hotel room in Stockholm for a family of 3. I am about to look at AirBnB's in Stockholm, but would prefer a hotel for the breakfasts and I am just generally a fan of a decent hotel experience... Thanks!

Johnny

Posted by
27416 posts

Booking.com is a convenient first stop since it has listings for so many hotels, as well as for some apartments. Scandinavia is expensive, and I ended up in a lot of chain hotels there when they turned out to be the least expensive, centrally located option. You don't usually need to worry about quality of lodging in that part of Europe; it's a matter of avoiding personal bankruptcy. Joining the affinity group and booking on the corporate website usually saved me at least 5%. This year, I'm seeing some larger discrepancies between booking.com rates and hotel-website rates (albeit in other parts of Europe), so you definitely should check both sources. But I've found both the ratings and the reviews on booking.com very helpful; you can't leave a review there if you haven't stayed in the property.

The chain hotels aren't usually charming, but they should have reliable plumbing and Wi-Fi, and in most cases they'll offer a good breakfast. There are some newer, low-service chains that don't offer breakfast at all, and in other cases breakfast is optional. In the second case, the breakfast charge will usually not be cheap, but if you are eaters of full breakfasts rather than part of the coffee-and-pastry brigade, indulging in a Scandinavian breakfast buffet, for at least some days, is part of the cultural experience.

You're unlikely to encounter a serious heatwave, but you might be a bit unhappy without air conditioning in July/August. Not all hotels will have it, so that's something to think about.

These are chains I used in Scandinavia and Finland. I have no idea which might have rooms to accommodate three people (or breakfast), but you can filter for that easily on booking.com. These chains will not necessarily have hotels in the cities where you're staying.

  • CityBox (I think no breakfasts, and low-service)
  • CityLiving (I think no breakfasts, and low-service)
  • Scandic
  • Comfort
  • Best Western (these sometimes have local character and are often nicer than in the US; I've stayed in quite a few because the rates were good when I made my usually-late reservation.)
  • Clarion Collection
  • Elite Hotels
  • Strawberry Hotels (new name for Nordic Choice--heaven knows why)
  • Sokos
  • Holiday Inn (also may be nicer than you'd expect)

I haven't stayed in a Thon Hotel, but they are often recommended here. I'm sure there are other good chains. What I'm not sure about is rooms to accommodate three people. It's possible the chains are less likely to have something other than a double or twin room. But again, booking.com will be helpful as a first step.

On a short trip to Stockholm, a convenient hotel location may matter. The other places you're staying will be a lot smaller. The Metro in Stockholm is very useful, so pay attention to hotel location vis-a-vis Metro station. I think Badger and I agree that the area immediately around Stockholm Central isn't the most interesting place to stay. However, it could be an efficient choice and less expensive than areas with more charm.

If you're not going to have another opportunity on this trip to see one of the best Norwegian fjords, I'd highly recommend taking the Norway-in-a-Nutshell route between Oslo and Bergen. That means breaking away from the mainline train route at Myrdal, then taking the Flamsbana train down to Flam, the Naeroyfjord ferry to Gudvangen and the public bus up to Voss before re-joining the train. That can all be done in one longish day, but you'd be well advised to get an early start (buy Oslo-Flam ticket well in advance from vy.no, paying with PayPal); the transfers are super-easy. If you should decide to spend a night or more along the way, my guess is that your best shot at finding a hotel room would be in Voss. Flam and neighboring Aurland book up really early. I ended up in a private room in the hostel in Flam (perfectly fine--like a low-end dormitory room), where there was little else available.

Posted by
6659 posts

If 12 nights is what you have, then there's nothing to do about that. If you're looking to spend some time on a lake and explore some smaller cities, I have a suggestion: Skutberget, an area just outside Karlstad on the shore of Vänern. Plenty of forest nearby for exploring, hiking and picking blueberries. And being close to the lake there is of course a beach if you want to go swimming. There is a campsite there where you can rent a cabin. The cabins are not the most charming ones, but functional and modern and have most things you need. You can also rent bikes at the campsite. It's pretty easy reach as well by city bus. And there are several shops within biking distance. That would give you the chance to relax in nature as well as explore Karlstad which is worth a visit. And maybe take a boat trip on the lake or the river? Staying outside Karlstad also means that you are halfway to Oslo.

acraven has given some good advice about hotel chains for Scandinavia. Regarding Stockholm we agree about the area around the central station. I would not recommend staying there, it's not unsafe in any way but it is a bit boring and can be noisy (although it's a lot less noisy now since the rebuilt Vasagatan opened). The location is however good for access to other parts of the city since it is the main hub for public transportation, and you can find a good deal in the area if you're lucky. I don't know which parts of Stockholm you've been looking at but staying a bit outside the most central parts can save you a bit of money. And as long as you are close to a metro station, it's easy to get around the city.

After Bergen I think my suggestion is to follow the coast in some way. Preferably by boat. Given the time you have available I'd suggest taking the boat south to Stavanger and stay there. It is a major city, but it doesn't have a "big city feel". And there is a lof of nature nearby. After Stavanger you can fly back to Stockholm (SAS has direct flights from Stavanger to Stockholm, but I'm not sure if they operate in the summer). Going somewhere inland will take a lot of time.

Posted by
10 posts

We are doing a trip to Scandinavia, Finland, and Estonia this summer. I spent a long time price-checking hotels. I found Expedia to have the best deals with the coupon I found from Time. Just Google "Time Expedia coupon". For our Sweden/Norway portion, we are doing Stockholm for 3 nights, a train to Oslo for 2 nights, a train to Flam for our own version of Norway in a Nutshell, a two-hour Fjord cruise to Gudvangen, one night in Gudvangen, and a bus/train to Bergen for 2 nights. From Bergen, we got a really cheap flight to Copenhagen. You may be able to get a cheap flight back to Stockholm to save the long hours back on the train again. Also, with all of the travel, check out the app Wanderlog. They have a desktop version and a phone app. It has been invaluable in our planning. We can keep all of our hotels, flights, and sights in one spot. Have a great trip and good luck with planning.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks so much for the replies - very helpful information.

Cheers,

Johnny

Posted by
10 posts

I have a temporary itinerary for our 2 week late July-early August trip to Sweden/Norway - any thoughts?

-3 nights in Stockholm -staying at the Lady Hamilton Hotel; will do a day trip to Grinda one day, hope to do a bike rental and possible city bike tour one day while in Stockholm
-2 nights in Karlstad - after looking at several options for a location that would be on the way to Oslo via train and offer some outdoors adventures, this seems like the best choice as is on a river leading to a large lake; will rent kayaks, boat tour of the lake, swim in the river or lake - also was possible to book one room for our party of 3 - one of my biggest challenges in the planning
-1-2 nights in Oslo
-2 nights in Bergen - would like to find a half day boat trip, hike, explore the city
-3 nights in Stavanger - would like to find a fjord boat trip one day, possibly hike, swim
-fly from Stavanger back to Stockholm - one night more in Stockholm before return flight to U.S.

Also, we love to try to find profession soccer (football!) games to attend when we travel. Is it possible that there would be any professional Swedish league teams playing games in early August? It is usually a down time for football, I think....

Thanks in advance for all the assistance! This has been very helpful!

Cheers,

Johnny
Seattle, USA

Posted by
6659 posts

Overall it looks like a good plan. There are always adjustments that can be made but I see no obvious mistakes. But I have a suggestion: Don't spend the last night in Sweden in Stockholm, spend it in Uppsala. That will allow you to see Uppsala which is very much worth a visit, and is actually a bit closer to Arlanda than Stockholm is. Also, try to see if you can find a direct flight from Stavanger to Arlanda. How are you planning to travel from Bergen to Stavanger? I can recommend the ferry, it only runs once daily but gives you some nice views of the coast.

Regarding football, yes there are games in the summer. You don't mention your exact dates, but here is the schedule for Allsvenskan, the top league in Sweden: https://allsvenskan.se/matcher There are four teams from Stockholm in Allsvenskan this year, AIK, Brommapojkarna, Djurgården and Hammarby. As well as a couple of teams close to Stockholm, Västerås and Sirius (Uppsala). And in Eliteserien, the top league in Norway, there is one team from Oslo, one from Bergen and one from Stavanger. Their schedule can be found here: https://www.eliteserien.no/terminliste

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks so much for the recommendation about staying in Upsalla rather than Stockholm for our last night prior to flying back home - I will look into that. I am hoping to fly from Stavanger back to Arlanda on August 9 - we have a very early a.m. flight back the U.S. on August 10 - we are hoping to stay at a hotel close to the airport the night of Aug 9 due to the very early a.m. departure Aug 10 - not sure if staying in Upsalla would be real close to the airport - we have a 6am return flight.

We would like to take the ferry from Bergen to Stavanger on Tuesday Aug 6, so the ferry information would be much appreciated. Thanks also for the info on the football leagues - I will look to see if there are any games for when we will be in Stockholm, Bergen and Stavamger - we will definitely attend at least one game if possible.

Thanks!

Johnny

Posted by
6659 posts

If you have a very early flight, it might be a better idea to stay close to the airport. Unfortunately there seems to be no direct flights from Stavanger to Arlanda on the 9th, but a couple of option with a change in Oslo.

If you're flying home on the 10th and staying for a fortnight then you might be in Stockholm on the 28th? If that is the case you have two football matches to choose from, AIK-GAIS or Hammarby-Mjällby AIF.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks - I booked a flight from Stavanger to Arlanda that stops in Oslo on Aug 9 - our only option, which seems fine. Do you have the name of the ferry operator that runs the ferry from Bergen to Stavanger? I am going to try to get our ferry tickets purchased for Aug 6. Also, is it necessary to purchase our train tickets for our trips between Stockholm - Karlstad - Oslo - Bergen well in advance (like now)?

Unfortunately we don’t arrive in Stockholm until July 29, so won’t be able to catch any football games in Stockholm the preceding weekend. I will look at the schedules for both Swedish and Norwegian leagues to see if anything lines up for our dates in our locations.

Thanks again for all of the assistance!

Johnny

Posted by
155 posts

Unfortunately we don’t arrive in Stockholm until July 29, so won’t be able to catch any football games in Stockholm the preceding weekend. I will look at the schedules for both Swedish and Norwegian leagues to see if anything lines up for our dates in our locations.

In Sweden that round isn't planned yet but it's common that a few (sometimes half of the matches) are played on a Monday.

Posted by
10 posts

Greetings,

I am hoping to get some insight on interpretation of departure/arrival times when purchasing train tickets on the sj website. We will be taking 3 train trips during our upcoming trip - Stockholm-->Karlstad, Karlstad-->Oslo, Oslo-->Bergen. When I went to purchase the first leg of the trip, when I got to the end of the transaction (payment), the times seemed to switch from a 12:53 departure from Stockholm (I interpret that as 12:53 pm, i.e. 7 minutes before 1pm in the afternoon...) to 03:53 (which I interpret at 3:53 in the a.m.!). Anybody have any insight into what is happening? Thanks in advance! I have pasted the info as it appeared below...

Johnny

Stockholm Central–Karlstad Central
from Stockholm Central to Karlstad Central
Thu, 1 Aug, 12:53–15:44

from Stockholm Central to Karlstad Central
Thu, 1 Aug, 12:53–15:44Departs: Thursday, 1 August, 12:53. arrives: 15:44

Travel time 2:51 h, 0 changes

Travel time 2 hours and 51 minutes, 0 changes
The train departs at 03:53 from Stockholm Central
03:53

operated by SJ InterCity, , train 635.
Travel time 2:51 h

Travel time 2 hours and 51 minutes,
The train arrives at 06:44 to destination Karlstad Central
06:44

Karlstad Central

Posted by
155 posts

SJ is very likely showing the times in your local time zone in some places, very confusing of course (even more for someone closer like the UK or Finland)

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you. I inquired on the website help chat - they stated that it was due to "technical issues, but the original appearing times are the correct ones". I am just a little wary about making the purchase on my credit card until I feel confident that I am not purchasing a ticket for a 3am train trip...

Posted by
10 posts

any idea how they require a US cellphone number to be entered on the SJ website?