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Want to save money in Norway? Top tips on how to travel like a local

Feb. 07, 2020
7 min read
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When people find out that I travel to Norway three to five times a year, first they first mention the remarkable landscape. Very soon after, they say how expensive Noway is to visit. The exchange rate at the time of writing is approximately $1 to 9 NOK (Norwegian Krone). Norway gets a bad reputation for being harshly expensive. Due to its strong currency and high rate of taxes, certain things in Norway are indeed very costly.

However, with a little careful planning, you can take those cheap seats on Norwegian Air without worrying about spending a fortune when you get there. You simply need to travel as the Norwegians do. I am married to a Norwegian, so I interviewed my in-laws for this story.

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The Northern Lights over harbor of Bergen City, Norway. Image by RelaxFoto.de / Getty Image.
The Northern Lights over the harbour of Bergen City, Norway. (Photo by RelaxFoto.de/Getty Images)

Buy alcohol at the airport

Oslo Airport (OSL) is an efficient airport for a variety of reasons. It is very family-friendly with free prams and play areas, and it's also spacious with a clean Nordic aesthetic. Also, it is an excellent launchpad for getting amazing deals to the rest of the world. There are flights direct from the U.S. on SAS, Norwegian and others. It can also be inexpensive to fly to via the U.K., with many flights from Heathrow (but not with Norwegian), Gatwick, Luton and Stansted departing daily across various airlines. British Airways, SAS, Norwegian and Ryanair fly to Oslo-area airports -- there are two others besides OSL, Sandefjord Airport, Torp (TRF) and Moss Airport, Rygge (RYG).

Everyone in OSL stops at the duty-free shop after arriving and uses their full alcohol (and often tobacco) allowance. If coming through and not needing anything personally, travellers often text friends to see who does. The duty-free shop offers vast savings, and Norwegians know it. So, be like a Norwegian and buy a bottle of spirits and two bottles of wine for your hytte (cabin).

Upon entry to Norway, the alcohol duty-free allowance is one liter of spirits, which you can swap for two bottles of wine or 1.5 liters of beer. You're also entitled to two bottles of wine and two litres of beer on top of that. Locals will help you when you arrive plus there's also an app.

Related: These are the most powerful passports in the world this year

The Duty Free Shop at Oslo Gardermoen International Airport. (Photo by Doin/Shutterstock)
The Duty Free shop at Oslo Gardermoen International Airport. (Photo by Doin/Shutterstock)

Avoid eating or drinking out

Norwegians go out to eat in restaurants a few times a year, on special occasions only. Instead, when they don't eat at home, they pack their lunches (called a matpakke) and head to a park or a mountaintop to eat. In the summer, Norwegians are known to buy beer at the supermarket and drink it in the park together.

For longer stays in Norway, you will want access to a kitchen in order to live like a native Norwegian. Airbnb or VRBO could be your best bet. Many rental homes come with just the necessities so check before booking what you may need. There are also lots of local hotels that have kitchenettes.

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For groceries, certain shops cost less than others and the more local, the better. For example, supermarkets like Rema and Coop are less than Meny, Joker and Bunnpris. Local non-chain grocery shops like Gronland in Oslo will save you even more. Many Norwegians drive to Sweden to save even more on food shopping, but that's likely not on your holiday plan.

When you do go out to eat, you'll find seafood such as prawns tend to be the best-value dish.

Never, ever take a cab

Taxis from the airport to the centre of Oslo will likely cost more than your plane ticket. Public transportation is plentiful and works well. A year's pass for the Oslo city bicycles is 299 NOK ($32) and you can dock them anywhere.

A bicycle rental station in central Oslo. (Photo by aquartarkus/Shutterstock)
A bicycle rental station in central Oslo. (Photo by aquartarkus/Shutterstock)

Pre-book your train tickets

If you book your train tickets approximately two months in advance, you have access to "minipris" -- or advanced booking prices. Some of the world's most spectacular railway lines, such as Flåm Railway, can be reasonable if you book ahead of time.

Related: What’s faster from London to Paris, plane or train? Watch the TPG U.K. Team Race

The Flåm Railway in Norway. (Photo by Sen Li/Getty Images)
The Flåm Railway in Norway. (Photo by Sen Li/Getty Images)

Drink from the tap

Norwegians pride themselves on having some of the best-tasting tap water in the world. They like to say that the premium Norwegian bottled water brand, VOSS, is just their tap water. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill up in fountains everywhere.

If you drink a lot of coffee, you can bring your own cup to local coffee chains such as Kaffebrenneriet and Stockfleths and get a discount. Norwegians do love their coffee and say it's so good because of the pure water.

Nature is free

You're not going to find an entry fee to some of the largest tourist destinations in the world in Norway because they are in the wild. While you may pay a parking fee at some locations, but often you will not be charged if you enter on foot. Hiking to Trolltunga in Odda, the most iconic cliff in Norway, will not cost you anything. Norwegians are very proud that they have free access to nature.

Related: Norways best experiences for the family trip of a lifetime

The Trolltunga at Odda in Norway. (Photo by Tatiana Kolesnikova/Getty Images)
The Trolltunga at Odda in Norway. (Photo by Tatiana Kolesnikova/Getty Images)

If you bring a tent, you can genuinely stay anywhere. Norway has a law called allemannsretten, which translates to "freedom to roam". You can camp almost anywhere in the country for up to 48 hours, though there are some restrictions.

Even ski areas come at a much lower price. Children ski free at popular ski area Trysil while an adult lift pass for six days is 2125 NOK ($230).

Enjoy the VAT refund

Norway has a high VAT (25%), but you can claim it back on goods purchased over 315 NOK ($34) if you reside outside Norway. Enquire at the store where you're buying the items and they will produce a certificate for you. The form has the latest information on how to claim it back. You usually get a customs official to stamp the form at the airport when you leave, then you mail it off to claim the VAT back.

Bottom line

If you come to Norway and take taxis, dine out, drink at pubs and book your train tickets last minute, you're going to go away disappointed on two fronts. First, you'll have missed so much of what Norway has to offer. Second, you will have spent a small fortune.

Featured image by Getty Images

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees