Reasons Why You Should Explore Norway’s National Tourist Routes

A bridge across a waterfall on one of Norway's National Tourist RoutesThe purpose of driving Norway’s National Tourist Routes is to get outside of the major population centers and explore the small towns and rural areas of this Scandinavian country. That’s why we went — to discover the “heartland” of Norway, so to speak.

Similar to the National Scenic Byways in the U.S., Norway’s 18 tourist routes go a step further. Incredible art and architecture make these rest areas so much more than a place to use the restroom. Many have been developed as scenic overlooks. There’s nearly 1,000 miles of roadway dedicated as Norway’s National Tourist Routes.

Here’s an example:

a waterfall incorporated in design of Norway's national tourist route

And another.

An architectural design in a rest area on one of Norway's national tourist routes.

All photos are property of Bruce N. Meyer

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Gamle Strinefjell Tourist Route in Norway

Each of the 18 routes has a different story to tell and unique communities to explore. For us, the highlight was the Dalsnibba Viewpoint along the Gamle Strynefjell Tourist Route. The website calls the highway “an ambitious” road building project. We called it freakin’ crazy. I’ve driven some wild roads around this world, but nothing topped this thing.

winding roadway to the Dalsnibba Viewpoint on the Norway National Tourist Route

Hairpin turns on a National Tourist Route in NorwayThis photo doesn’t do justice to the heart-pounding event of driving this three mile road. The brochure says it’s “mostly two lanes with barriers.” I call foul. If you paint a stripe down the middle of a one-lane road, that’s doesn’t make it two lanes.

That “two-lane” road includes the most dramatic hairpins ever. And then a motorcycle passed us on a hairpin turn while a tour bus was coming at us. The elevation gain in this three miles is a bit more than 5,000 feet.

Auto Europe Car Rentals

Here’s a tip: When choosing your rental car, stipulate that you really need an automatic shift. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll get a stick shift. I’m usually comfortable driving a stick, but holy moly, I didn’t need one more thing to think about while navigating these turns, this altitude gain and the traffic coming at me.

If you’ve visited Geiranger Fjord on a cruise ship, you might have visited the Dalsnibba Viewpoint. It’s a common shore excursion. We met so many buses that scared the daylights out of me on that road. But when you get to the top, this is your view of the Gerainger Fjord.

cruise ships in the harber of Gerainger Fjord in Norway

It really is spectacular. It’s the highest viewpoint of a fjord in all of Europe, the sign says.

And a weird thing happened. Each time I’ve visited the Grand Canyon, I get this weird sense of vertigo looking down into the canyon. It’s a common phenomenon for visitors to the Canyon, but I had that same weird vertigo feeling as I stood at Dalsnibba Viewpoint looking out and beyond to the Geiranger Fjord.

Gaularfjellet National Tourist Route in Norway

A family restaurant on one of Norway's national tourist routesRoad tripping in any rural area always comes with the risk of limited offerings for  something to eat. That’s why we always pack some Granola bars and M&Ms. Just in case.

However, we hit pay dirt when we took a wrong turn on the Gaularfjellet National Tourist Route. We know we were on Route 13. And think we were somewhere between Dragsvik and Utsikten. It was a beautiful drive with views of fjords and mountains and flocks of sheep. But we hadn’t seen anything that indicated a town or food was anywhere in our future.

Then around a bend, we were blessed with the international sign for food — a fork and spoon.

A plate of pot roast and vegetablesThe name of the place was Eldalen. It reminded me of a place called Ma Hale’s Restaurant in southern Illinois where I grew up. It’s one of those family-owned places with authentic food made from scratch by somebody’s grandma. The menu this Sunday included pot roast, potatoes, carrots and mushy peas. The apple strudel for dessert was magnificent. It just couldn’t have been more like home.

Family Businesses on Norway’s National Tourist Routes

The dining room of the Eldalen Restaurant in NorwayWe learned that Eldalen is located on a family farm. All of the food we ate was grown right there, including the cows for that wonderful pot roast. The gravel parking lot extended to the family home where children played. Tractors and other implements were visible from an old red barn just beyond the house.

a waitress at the Eldalen family restaurant in Norway

The restaurant wasn’t super busy when we got there, but soon we were sharing a table with some German travelers. A large, multi-generational family arrived and took over one dining room, obviously celebrating some special occasion.

The windows were open a few inches allowing a fresh breeze to flutter the lace curtains. Fresh flowers, cut from the garden outside the window, decorated each table. Downstairs a little gift shop featured traditional Norwegian crafts, made by the family in the off-season.

Later that evening, we had the good fortune of staying at the Dragsvik Fjord Hotel, another family-owned business. We had a lovely conversation with the owner, Anna Farnes.

an exterior view of the Dragsvik Fjord Hotel on Norway's national tourist routeAnna’s grandmother, Gertrude inherited a little farm here when her husband died in WWII. With three children to raise alone, Gertrude began a little guest house to help supplement the farm income.

Anna and her brother, Magnar, are now the third generation to operate the guest house. They expanded it to a full-fledged hotel and added a dining room. It was so wonderful to sit and talk with Anna and learn about her life here. It was so warm and intimate, we felt like were were at Grandma Gertrude’s house for Sunday dinner.

Red boat in a lake in NorwayThe 18 National Tourist Routes were designed to draw travelers into the interior of Norway. The idea is to stimulate the rural economy with tourism dollars while showcasing the magnificent beauty of this country to visitors from around the world.

These people represent the kind of people the tourist routes were meant to introduce us to — the real Norwegians in the heartland of Norway. This is the kind of place that we were meant to explore.

We loved Norway’s heartland, every minute and heart-stopping mile of it.

Prepare for your Norwegian Road Trip