Norway: Prices for food, hotels, alcohol, and more
If you follow this sort of thing at all you have probably heard that Norway is at or near the top of every list comparing prices for food, housing, and many other things. That seems like bad news for budget travelers, or even those who are looking for good-value holiday destinations, but there is more to the story and Norway is definitely worth a visit for many.
In September, 2014 I had the privilege of spending 9 days in Norway to investigate the situation for budget-conscious travelers, and some things really stand out as good value. Mainly it’s just food and drink prices that are shockingly high, and beyond that it’s not nearly as scary as you might have heard.
Norway is a beautiful country, and quality is high
The main reason you’ll want to visit Norway is to witness the beauty of the outdoors, particularly along the fjord-lined west coast. With that in mind, you realize that much of what you are coming to see is free once you get there. Unlike a city like New York, you won’t be spending US$25 every hour or two as you go between attractions.
You’ll be hiking or doing boat tours or cruises, or you’ll be appreciating the scenery from the windows of a train or bus as you tour the country. Some of these things are quite expensive, but there are affordable alternatives to most of them.
Another key point is that Norway is a rich country and pretty much everything you’ll see will be of high quality. In other words, there are almost no shabby budget hotels or imploding hostels like you’ll find in most other European cities. This means that even when you do pay high prices, at least you get something decent in return.
Important note: Norway’s currency has come way down in late 2014, so it’s far cheaper
I visited in September, 2014 and the exchange rate was about 6 NOK to US$1, but mostly due to the drop in oil prices late in the year, the exchange rate stands at about 7.5 NOK to US$1. All prices below have been changed to reflect the better exchange rate for visitors, but the article hasn’t been totally rewritten so the totals aren’t nearly as scary as the text makes it appear. If the exchange rate changes much again, things will be updated again.
Norway would be frustrating for backpackers and low-budget types
Beautiful as Norway may be, it may not be worth a visit if you are the type who makes an art out of getting by on less than US$50 per day. Even in London that budget is possible if you are willing to book a remote hostel bed and eat sandwiches and kebabs. In Oslo, Bergen, or Trondheim, your hostel bed will cost US$45 and even a take-away sandwich will cost at least US$7.
Among the things I do when I visit cities is go into supermarkets and explore the least expensive options for common tourist needs, and there are just no corners to cut in Norway. Another friend was visiting a Norwegian friend in the north of the country at the same time I was there, and she also reported that the common money-saving tricks just don’t work.
So the bottom line is, if you can’t afford at least US$100 per day even as a backpacker, it’s better to postpone a Norway visit until you can.
It’s mainly just food and drink prices that are shockingly high
As mentioned in the intro, many things in Norway are actually pretty good value compared to the rest or Europe, or at least compared to other expensive cities in northern Europe. The museums are pretty cheap, train prices can be cheap if you book in advance, and 3-star & 4-star hotels are actually much cheaper than you’d pay for similar central locations in London or Paris or Rome.
So it’s really just the food and drink prices that you need to worry about, which I’ll discuss in detail below. More good news is that every hotel seems to come standard with a filling breakfast buffet included in the price, so you really only have to budget for a light lunch, a dinner, and any alcohol you might want.
Norway restaurant prices
- McDonald’s meal (Big Mac, fries, drink): 87Kr or US$11.50
- Subway 6″ daily special including an apple and drink: 49KR or US$6.50
- Pre-made sandwich at 7-Eleven or Deli de Luca: 50Kr or US$6.50
- Packaged pasta salad at 7-Eleven or Deli de Luca: 50Kr or US$6.50
- Pizza for 1 or 2 at Peppe’s Pizza (chain): 190Kr or US$25 and up
- Deluxe hamburger at TGIFridays: 180Kr or US$24
- Basic pasta dish at simple restaurant: 120Kr or US$16 and up
- Fish & chips at a take-away stall: 100Kr or US$13
- Typical meat & veg meal at a sit-down restaurant: 150Kr to 200Kr or US$20 to US$26
Drinks and snacks
- .5L bottle of Coke in a mini-market: 28Kr or US$3.70
- .5L bottle of Coke in a supermarket: 18Kr or US$2.40
- Snickers bar in a vending machine: 20Kr or US$2.60
- Bag of potato chips with 2 to 4 servings: 30Kr or US$4
Alcohol prices in Norway
- Half-liter beer in a restaurant or bar: 60Kr to 90Kr or US$8 to US$12
- Glass of wine or cocktail: 70Kr to 120Kr or US$9 to US$16
- Half-liter can of beer in a supermarket: 24Kr to 40Kr or US$3.20 to US$5.30
- Bottle of wine in the state-run liquor shop: 95Kr or US$12.50 and up
- .7L bottle of vodka in liquor shop: 265Kr or US$35 and up
- 1L bottle of aquavit in liquor shop: 365Kr or US$48 and up
By the way, you can buy beer (up to 4.75%) at any supermarket and at many mini-markets (until 20:00 each day), but for anything stronger you have to go to the state-run Vinmonopolet, which has limited hours.
Hotel and hostel prices in Norway
- Hostel bunk: 300Kr to 400Kr or US$40 to US$53
- Private room in a hostel: 600Kr or US$800 and up for 1 or 2 people
- 2-star hotel room for 2 people: 480Kr or US$60 and up for 2 people
- 3-star hotel room for 2 people: 720Kr or US$90 and up for 2 people
- 4-star hotel room for 2 people: 1000Kr or US$120 and up for 2 people
The accommodation prices in Norway are a bit weird in that hostels are among the most expensive in the world, and yet good quality and centrally located hotels are quite reasonable compared to other expensive European cities. They almost always include a very good breakfast buffet as well.
So if a couple is prepared to spend US$130 per night on a hotel, they can get quite a nice room with a good location in Oslo or Bergen, plus a huge breakfast. A similar hotel in central London or Paris or Rome would cost twice that much per night.
Also, there are few, if any, 5-star hotels, and the most expensive 4-star hotels top out at around US$350 per night. So like so many other things in Norway, there isn’t a huge difference between the bottom and the top, and the luxury places are quite a good deal.
Museum and attraction prices in Norway
- Admission to the National Gallery and related museums: 50Kr or US$6.60 for a full day
The National Gallery in Oslo is regarded as the best museum in the country, and it even includes a Edvard Munch room with one of the “Scream” paintings.
A few other museums and galleries charge a bit more for admission, but others are even cheaper. The point is that museums and other cultural activities are quite reasonably priced compared to other expensive cities around the world.
Train fares in Norway
- One-way from Oslo to Bergen (walk-up fare): 829Kr or US$109
- One-way from Oslo to Bergen (advance fare): 249Kr or US$33
- One-way from Oslo to Trondheim (walk-up fare): 899Kr or US$120
- One-way from Oslo to Trondheim (advance fare): 249Kr or US$33
More good news for tourists comes in the surprisingly affordable train prices in Norway, at least for those who book at least a few weeks in advance. The quality and comfort of trains in this country is excellent.
Norway has fares called “Minipris” which start low and move up as each train gets booked. If you book at least a month or more in advance you should be able to get the Minipris, while if you wait until only a few weeks out the fare might be higher, but still well below the walk-up price.
By the way, the train journey between Oslo and Bergen is lovely, while the journey between Oslo and Trondheim is stunning most of the way. For this length of a journey on a modern and comfortable train, it’s a great bargain anywhere in Europe.
Rental car prices in Norway
- Compact and economy cars: 320Kr or US$42 per day and up
- Midsize cars: 500Kr or US$66 per day and up
- Full-size cars: 700Kr or US$92 per day and up
As you can see, a rental car for a couple or small family can be fairly inexpensive in Norway, but larger cars can get pricey.
Petrol prices in Norway
- Diesel: 13Kr or US$1.50/liter or US$6/gallon
- Unleaded: 15Kr or US$1.80/liter or US$7.20/gallon
By the way, it’s about 500Km or 300 miles between Oslo and Bergen, so it a small car it would cost US$60 or so in fuel costs.
Hurtigruten (west coast fjord cruise) prices
The Hurtigruten is one of Norway’s best known features. They are cruises leaving every day from Bergen to Kirkenes (near the Russian border) with amazing views of the fjords and daily stops in photogenic coastal towns.
- Classic 6-night voyage north from Bergen to Kirkenes: €750 to €1500 per person
- Short 2-night voyage from Bergen to Trondheim: €300 to €450 per person
The fare is for 2 people per cabin, although they have single cabins for a small extra supplement. The Classic cruises include 3 meals per day, which are a mixture of buffets and fine dining. The views are stunning and something you can’t find anywhere else.
While the fares for the Hurtigruten seem quite high compared to Caribbean or Mediterranean cruises, they are better value than you might think. If you compare the fares to the cost of 3-star hotels and 3 meals per day in Norway, the cruises seem reasonable. A couple staying in a hotel and eating in nicer restaurants would spend at least €300 per day in Norway, and that’s without the views and port stops.