Norway’s Scenic Routes

Photos by: Werner Harstad

One of the easiest ways to explore Norway at your own pace is on a road trip along one of Norway’s award- winning Scenic Routes, where natural wonders are amplified by art, design and architecture. 

Constructed over two decades, the Norwegian Scenic Routes initiative set out to combine Norwegian nature, architecture and design – by some of Norway’s best architects and designers – into something not seen anywhere in the world. The 18 Scenic Routes are found in western, central and northern Norway, along the coast and in the mountains, covering over 2,000kms. Here are just a handful of these drives. 

VARANGER (160KM)

Located in the far north, the serene drive is past birch woods, marshland and a rugged cliff landscape where you can spot endemic birds. Along this stretch of road, several bird-watching hides have been built, and there’s also a good chance of spotting reindeer.

Geographically, Varanger is along the route leading to the Arctic Ocean, and its natural surrounding is full of contrasts from lunar landscape to isolated villages and coastal scenery. 

Historically, this area is home to the witch trials of Finnmark – and it was here that the greatest number of people (91) were found guilty of witchcraft and burnt at the stake in the 17th century. In memory of those persecuted, the dramatic Steilneset Memorial rests along the jagged coastline of the Barents Sea. You can also drop by the picturesque Vardøhus Fortress that lies at the easternmost point of Norway. The area is also one of cultural diversity, where you’ll find a unique mix of Russian, Finnish and Sámi traditions. 

SENJA (102KM) 

The steep mountains plunging deep into the ocean are the most prominent feature of this stretch. The road is narrow with twists and turns along fjords with crystal clear waters, past a dramatic landscape dotted with tiny fishing villages. 

Senja reflects the robustness of the people who had to survive on fishing and agriculture in a land that yielded little. The villages maintain a storytelling tradition that’s as rich as the landscape. 

As Senja is an island, you must cross the bridge from the mainland or take a ferry from Tromsø. The highlight is the viewing platform at Bergsbotn from where you can look out over Bergs- fjorden with the ocean beyond. The area is also great for those who want to get out and hike, paddle, dive, or freeride down steep hills. 

LOFOTEN (230KM)

Lofoten is a landscape that is both beautiful and stark, dotted with sheltered, protected stretches that provide relief from the raw, exposed areas when the wind is blowing hard. The combination of the untamed ocean and stormy seas, jagged alpine mountains plunging into the water, tiny sheltered fishing villages and white beaches with crystal clear waters are the main draw. Thanks to its location, the Arctic winter is the perfect time to see the northern lights; it’s also a time when fewer people visit. 

Lofoten is famous for its cod fisheries, which has provided the local population with its own industry. Between February and April, huge quantities of cod migrate to Lofoten to spawn. It goes without saying that visitors to Lofoten should try their hand at cod fishing. This can be done in addition to other activities like a sea eagle safari or kayaking trips in the Arctic waters.

Or particular interest is the town of Reinhalsen, located at the foot of the Reinhalsen peak; as one of Norway’s most photographed spots. The village of Reineis set against the mountain range and the inlet to Reinefjord.

GEIRANGER-TROLLSTIGEN (104KM)

The drive along Trollstigen is one of the most dramatic in Norway, and the route offers highlights including 11 hairpin bends as well as the view from Ørnesvingen down to the Geirangerfjord. Lush valleys, sheltered strawberry-growing areas, precipitous mountains and vantage points add to the scenery. In between, houses are dotted throughout – from the narrowest mountain ledges to the smallest crags. 

For centuries, the road was an important artery between Valldal and Åndalsnes until the construction of the Trollstigvegen road in 1916. Parts of the original pack horse track are still visible and passable on foot. 

Some of the most sensational installations have been constructed on this stretch, including viewing points at Ørnesvingen, Gudbrandsjuvet gorge and Flydalsjuvet gorge. This route includes a ferry ride from Eidsdal to Linge- however, you can convert part of the drive into a fjord cruise of the world famous UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord, getting you close to the picturesque waterfalls of Dei Sju Systre, Friaren and Brudesløret. 

HARDANGER (158KM) 

The dramatic scenery of Hardanger is framed by large waterfalls: Steinsdals- fossen, Vøringsfossen, Skjervefossen, Låtefoss and Furebergfossen. Each possesses unique qualities – at Steinsdalsfossen, you can follow the path back in the 19th century. behind the cascade, while Låtefoss is famous for its twin falls that spray showers on the road, which is a stonevault bridge that used to carry tourists back in the 19th century. The picturesque roads wind through a wealth of scenery, from steep-sided valleys to apple orchards, which are best visited in spring and summer for fruit picking. Fruit have been grown in Hardanger since the 14th century, and artists have always been drawn here for its nature.

Taking you from Granvin to Låtefoss, this route consists of four stretches, with two ferry rides needed to cross the picturesque fjords of Hardanger and Eid. At the idyllic rest area of Steinstøberget, there’s a view over the Hardagerfjord and the
Folgefonna glacier.

HARDANGERVIDDA (67KM)

The road crosses the biggest high mountain plateau in Northern Europe, passing deep, lush valleys, high mountains, glaciers in the far distance, waterfalls and azure fjords. The road snakes across wide plains to the narrow, steep, untamed valley of Måbødalen, until suddenly you exit the high mountain region into the little village of Eidfjord set deep within the Hardangerfjord. The main attraction is Vøringsfossen, Norway’s best known waterfall which thunders down the mountain at 182m and empties into incredibly scenic Måbødalen valley. Driving through Måbødalen’s narrow, steep valley up to the Hardangervidda plateau is dramatic, involving driving through tunnels and roads hemmed by vertical cliffs. The area is home to a number of historic routes, including an old road up to Fossli which was completed in 1916 and is still accessible on foot.

The Hardangervidda plateau – Norway’s largest national park and Europe’s largest high-altitude plateau – boasts one of the biggest populations of wild reindeer in Europe, so you may be able to spot them if you’re patient. From the plateau, there’s a stunning panorama with the Hardangerjøkulen
glacier in the background.

 

AURLANDSFJELLET (47KM)

The most dramatic way to explore this route is to start from Lærdal and drive towards Aurlandsvangen. You’ll see
the contrasts between the fjord and the high mountain region; running from Lærdalsøyri to Aurlandsvangen over the
mountains, the highest point is 1,306m, and snow lies on the mountain throughout much of the year. The drive takes you from fjords to mountains, from lush valleys to the stony wasteland of the high mountain region, allowing you to encounter many striking contrasts over a short distance. Other attractions close to this stretch are the villages of Lærdalsøyri, Flåmsbana, Aurlandsdalen and Nærøyfjorden.

Three architectural attractions line the route, including the spectacular viewing point at Stegastein – its design almost makes you feel as if you’ll fall off into the fjord below. The route involves driving through the Lærdal Tunnel, the world’s longest road tunnel (24.5km) that features its own air treatment plant. Taking about 20 minutes to cross, the
photogenic tunnel is divided into four sections that are broken up by “mountain caves” – rest stops equipped with lights that give the illusion of daylight.

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