Norway's cities and fjords are the perfect backdrop for running and hiking, making this country the latest addition to our healthy travel bucket list
Looking for a new place to take your sneaks? Just seven hours (and approximately $550) from the east coast, Norway should be on every fit junkie's travel list. Trust us: It's more than the land of ice and snow that inspired Disney's Frozen; it's the ultimate melding of dazzling cities (both cosmopolitan and charming) and jaw-dropping landscapes of mountains, fjords, and waterfalls.
Recently, I sweat my way across the country, logging 45 miles on foot through three regions in six days, culminating in the Fjord Norway Half Marathon. I followed the "Norway in a Nutshell" tour, a self-guided transportation route that takes travelers from Oslo to the port city of Bergen via train, bus, and boat, with a stunning detour through the heart of the Fjord Norway region. It's a route of Norway's greatest hits.
Think you're up for the challenge of exploring a new country's fitness offerings? You're going to be ready to book your ticket after hearing how I ran through Norway. (Love the idea of a fit-cation? Try one of these 7 Adventure Vacations to Take for the Fitness Thrill of It.)
Miles 1-15: Oslo
Photo credit: Phil Hospod
I stayed at the Carlton Guldsmeden Hotel, a boutique property situated near the Royal Palace and Aker Brygge waterfront district, full of shopping, dining, modern art, and public transportation. For a luxury experience, check into the Thief Hotel in the heart of Aker Brygge, with its sumptuous spa, affiliated private gym, and newly reimagined restaurant. Runners will appreciate the Clarion Royal Christiana in the city center, which offers running maps of the city, an indoor pool, and fitness center.
Oslo dazzles, rain or shine, with a waterfront promenade that encircles the city's most famous sites. Over the course of three days, I hoofed 15 miles while painting the town. If you've got one day to see Oslo on the run, start at the Royal Palace and head southwest to Aker Brygge. Follow the waterfront path along the inner Oslofjord to the 14th century Akershus Fortress, which inspired Arendelle Castle in Frozen. Another mile along the waterfront, you'll find the Oslo Opera House—a visual symphony of Carrara marble, oak, aluminum, and glass—where you can actually run onto the roof.
If high-intensity training is more your thing, check out Thief Performance, a boutique gym where world-class trainers lead private or small group sessions indoors and in the green spaces of Aker Brygge. (Psst... Check out these incredibly beautiful gyms across the world.) Follow-up your workout, like I did, with a few hours at Thief Spa, where proprietors have "stolen" spa traditions from around the world. On a rainy day, I visited the Turkish hammam for an otherworldly bath that can only be described as a ritual, along with the sauna and steam, before relaxing beside the indoor pool.
Photo credit: Phil Hospod
Three days was not nearly enough time in Oslo, but the Fjords were calling. After the six-hour journey from Oslo (a breathtaking ride on the Flåm Railway, which takes tourists from nearly 3,000 feet to sea level over the course of one hour, 12 miles, 20 tunnels, and countless waterfalls), I checked into the Fretheim Hotel in Flåm and plotted the next day's adventure, a 10-mile hike and run among waterfalls through the glacial Flåm valley. From the front door of the hotel, you can choose from eight routes ranging from one to 12 miles. I followed a winding farm road from water's edge to 2,600 feet above the treeline for views of the valley below.
You can get your sweat on with other outdoor activities too. The Rallarvegen bike route from Finse to Flåm is a popluar 30-mile ride, dropping from 4,000 feet elevation to sea level. Bike rentals are available in both Finse and Flåm, or you can start in Haugastøl for a 50-mile adventure. And it wouldn't be a trip to the fjords without some saltspray in your hair. Paddle it out with a four-hour kayak tour or hop on the ferry across the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, fingers of the Sognefjord, to the picturesque port of Gudvangen. From there, ride a bus along the hairy Stalheimskleiva—a road with 13 hairpin turns past dramatic waterfalls—before catching a train to Bergen.
At a latitude similar to Anchorage, Alaska, expect anything when it comes to weather—sun, wind, rain, and even snow year-round at higher elevations. During my visit in September, I experienced temps from 48 to 78 degrees, calm winds to 35 mph gusts, sunny skies to rain.
Photo credit: Phil Hospod
After five hours via boat, bus, and train, I reached Bergen on the western coast, known as the Gateway to the Fjords. Most visitors to Norway make the mistake of hitting Bergen in a day and then moving on to points beyond. But that would mean missing one of Europe's most charming cities, nestled among seven mountains rising from the water.
I checked into the budget-friendly Thon Hotel Bergen Brygge, the official guesthouse of the Great Fjord Run and Fjord Norway Half Marathon, with free buses shuttling runners to and from race central in nearby Knarvik. For a more upscale experience, stay at the historic Hanseatic Hotel in Bergen's Bryggen, the wharf district. Reminiscent of a Harry Potter set, the landmarked wharf is a UNESCO World Heritage site dating from the 14th to 18th century.
Once again, I learned the town on foot with a running tour from the Bergenhus Fortress—which itself is worth a visit—through Bryggen, and on to the Festplassen park and Lille Lungegårdsvannet lake. You can also ride a funicular from sea level to the peak of Mount Fløyen or follow a switchback trail on foot. I did both. The views—and trails—at the top are spectacular, with a lookout over all of Bergen and the fjords beyond. Follow groomed trails through woodland, including a fantastical troll forest. In winter, the lighted trails become cross-country ski tracks. All told, I covered seven miles flitting around the city and parkland. (Prefer staying closer to home? These 10 Picturesque National Parks are totally worth hiking.)
Photo credit: Phil Hospod
Finally, I toed the line at the Fjord Norway Half Marathon, one of the events at the Great Fjord Run—a week-long festival with 5K, 10K, half-marathon, kids races, and even a 16-mile walk from Bergen's Bryggen to Knarvik. (Check out 10 Best Marathons to Travel the World.) Just 30 minutes north of Bergen, the Fjord Norway Half Marathon takes runners across three bridges and fjords, with a start and finish on the track in Knarvik Stadium. I quickly learned you're either climbing or descending along the undulating course through farmland and city streets, with winds whipping across the bridges. Locals cheer runners on with a hearty chant that sounds like, "Hi-Ya, Hi-Ya, Hi-Ya!" One runner translated it to me, "Let's go, let's go, let's go!" I certainly tried. But after logging 30 plus miles in the preceding days, my legs were tired. I finished in 2:20:55, more than 20 minutes behind my best half-marathon time, and 384 among 425 runners. Norwegians are a speedy lot.
It didn't matter. I felt like I won Norway, one drop of sweat at a time. Medal in hand, I gorged on sausages and seafood. By the time I boarded my flight for New York City, I'd run and hiked 45 miles through Norway's most famous terrain. My tired legs exhausted, my belly full, I bid farvel to Norway. Don't wait to check this trip off your fit travel bucket list—if you want to get your sweat on in spring, summer, or fall, escape to the landscapes, trails, and fjords of Norway. Her splendor will make you shout, "Hi-Ya!"