Your Guide To Motorcycle Touring: Norway & The Arctic Circle

| | ,

On Christmas day 2020, the evening was coming to a close. Presents had been opened, turkey devoured, and wine quaffed.

With bellies spilling over waistbands, I sat contentedly next to my dad and opened my laptop to show him my plan to ride Norway and the Arctic Circle – an ambitious 5,000-mile trip that would see me ride from the UK to Tromsø, Europe’s most Northerly city.

His jaw dropped as he perused the preliminary map. And with each image I showed him, there was a ‘Wowwww’ or an ‘Ooooo!’

And rightly so!

Most people are impressed when they see photographs of Norwegian fjords amid quaint, chocolate-boxy fishing villages in Lofoten.

The mountaintop sights of Senja are awe-inspiring. And the scenery of Norway as a whole is spectacular.

Between sips of Merlot, he laughed as he pictured the scenes in his head. And with a pensive look, he glanced at me and said, “So when are we going?”

And so it was born: A once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip from the UK to Norway – a bucket-list ride that would take in more bucket-list locations along the way.

It wouldn’t be a tour for the faint-hearted. But then again, the things worth doing never are. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you know that already.

You know what it takes to make memories and throw caution to the wind.

And you know what it takes to grab life by the horns and make your time on this planet count.

So good on you for planning this trip! It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 

Grab your helmet, my friend. And buckle it up tight. Because you are about to embark on a trip you will never forget!

motorcycle touring norway - rider in senja

Motorcycle Touring in Norway: Things To Consider

Time

If you have a week off work, it’s relatively easy for most people to wing their way through a tour of the Alps in nine days.

Conceivably, you could finish work on Friday and head for the Eurotunnel. You could be in Switzerland by Sunday and then back at home the following weekend in time for work on Monday.

But with Norway, that just isn’t the case!

If you want to enjoy a full tour of Norway, you WILL need around four weeks to complete it – whichever way you plan to do it.

The Weather

The best month to complete a tour of Norway is in July. You could, of course, choose to go in June or August – and it will be fine.

But the best conditions arrive in July when Norway is at the height of its summer season.

However, don’t let that fool you!

Norway can have (and has had) some warm summers. But in the Arctic Circle, the weather is a law unto itself.

The travel guides will tell you that temperatures can reach 25°. And that’s absolutely correct. But it won’t reach those temperatures very often.

At best, you’ll spend most of your time riding in overcast conditions with a few pleasant days sprinkled in.

But more likely, you’ll spend your time riding in wet – or at the very least, overcast – conditions. 

You likely won’t see 0° temperatures – but up in the mountains, you won’t be far from it.

For reference, most of our days in Norway ranged between 8° and 16°. The hottest day we saw was 26°, and the coolest was 3°.

Whilst you may see the occasional summer’s day, you will spend most of your time wearing winter kit – despite it being summer.

We’ll speak more about the kit a little bit later!

rider in lofoten in the rain

Motorcycle Touring in Norway Is Expensive!

Like most people, I knew Norway would be expensive before I went – and I prepared for that in advance. But I didn’t expect it to be that expensive!

And seeing as though you’re in the honeytrap of all tourist destinations, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Nor is there any way around it.

Hotel prices actually aren’t too bad. The average hotel will likely set you back between £80 and £140 – depending on your budget and preferences.

But the cost of food in restaurants is astronomical. In Lofoten, my dad and I each had a main course, a pudding, and a drink – which cost us £130.

A beer or a glass of wine is usually around the £10 mark. And soft drinks aren’t much cheaper.

And finally, fuel prices will likely be more than you’re used to. When we were there in July 2022, the fuel prices were around £2.30 per litre.

Camping

Norway is the camping capital of Europe. Not only are you allowed to camp, but it’s actively encouraged and enjoyed by thousands each year.

We didn’t camp on our trip, but we regularly saw places for those who would like to forego hotels and sleep under the stars.

There are over 1,000 official campsites in Norway – most of which are in idyllic spots overlooking fjords, lakes, and beaches. 

Norway also employs the ‘right to roam’ – which means you can set up tents or hammocks for free in most places. However, it’s worth noting that in popular locations (such as Lofoten), there are often restrictions on free camping in the summer months.

The Use Of Ferries

The ferry system in Norway is akin to the Tube in the UK. And if you’re planning on hopping across the many islands of Norway, I highly recommend you consider using them.

Obviously, they come at a cost. But with some pre-travel preparation, you can make it as cost-effective as possible. More on that later!

There are tonnes of crossings all across the country. And in the summer months, they run regularly throughout the day. 

Be aware of the cost of food and drink on board, though! A basic lunch (sandwich, snack, and drink) will likely cost in the region of £15.

motorcycle touring norway - sunset on ferry

Motorcycle Touring in Norway: Planning Your Route

The good thing about planning a route in Norway is that there aren’t many options to choose from! 

You could, if you wanted, travel from Bergen in the South up to Tromso (and even Nordkapp) using nothing more than the E6.

And if you’re after an easy route with minimal planning, I’d say go for it! A lot of the E6 makes for great riding. But as it’s the ‘main’ route through Norway, you might run into more traffic than you would like.

But it absolutely is a conceivable way to travel through Norway.

Useful Websites & Apps

The one navigation app I would highly recommend is having Google Maps installed on your phone. I had fantastic 4G coverage throughout Norway and used Google Maps almost exclusively throughout our trip.

Other route prep apps you might like could include:

For navigation, we also recommend:

For more in-depth information on these apps, their functions, and how they work, check out these posts:

Locations Worth Visiting When Motorcycle Touring in Norway

Full of places worth visiting, Norway has it all – from ancient glaciers to busy cities and from mountaintop hikes to peaceful fjords.

A quick search on Google would help you find your own places to visit – and I highly recommend you do to personalise your trip. But some of my favourites include:

  • The area and roads around Hjelle
  • The Atlantic Road
  • Gereingerfjord
  • The area of Steinsdalen
  • Area around Foldereid
  • The ride to the Arctic Circle Center – the gateway to the Arctic Circle
  • Lofoten (all of it!)
  • Senja (all of it!)
  • Riding the E10
  • Nusfjord and its surrounding area
rider on lofoten roads

Tips For Planning Your Norway Motorcycle Touring Route

I decided the best option for this particular trip was to have a route that could be modified. In an ideal world, you could go the long way around everywhere you went.

But in the real world, sometimes the weather catches you out. Sometimes you’re just not feeling it and want to take the fastest route if you’re weary.

Leaving yourself options is the way to go with Norway. For example, on a few particularly long or wet days, we cut some days short by utilising the E6 and/or the E10.

Why I DIDN’T Go To Nordkapp

It’s sort of traditional for most people who make the effort to get to Norway (and then ride all the way through it) to go the full hog and visit Nordkapp – the northernmost point in Europe.

And I considered it.

But ultimately, the ride to Nordkapp from Tromso was around two days riding – so four days there and back.

Whilst many people do visit Nordkapp when motorcycle touring in Norway, we decided to spend four days in Senja rather than four days riding to and from Nordkapp.

I’m not saying either is wrong or right – it’s whatever suits you best. But for us, the time off in a beautiful location was worth more than the bragging rights of visiting Nordkapp.

If you do want to visit the North Cape, simply follow the E6 until it ends and meets the E69. This is the most northerly public road in Europe and will take you to the Cape.

As you would expect when motorcycle touring in Norway, there are hotels everywhere you look. I recommend using a website or app such as Booking.com, where you can use the filter system to get the best hotels for you and your needs.

But a few standout ones for us that we’re happy to recommend include:

  • Hjelle Hotel – a lakeside hotel with exterior cabins and jaw-dropping views
  • Fosenfjord Hotel – a stunning hotel with great food and lovely staff
  • Radisson Blu, Tromso – a bit of posh, and a superb breakfast
  • Destination Senja – a holiday apartment in a beautiful location
  • Mosjoen Hotel – a recently refurbished hotel with sizeable rooms

Kit To Take

As mentioned in the introduction of this eBook, the weather in Norway is a law unto itself – so it’s hard to pack for!

Expect it to rain, and work from there. But you will also get caught on sunny days in scorching heat – so you need to be able to adapt to cold, wet days in the saddle as well as hot, dry days.

For this reason, you need versatile kit. And you need layers.

For evening wear, take clothes you would likely wear in Autumn – so not quite winter clothes, but warmer than summer clothes.

motorcycle touring norway - fog and rain

Motorcycle Touring in Norway: Road & Riding Tips

Road Surfaces

The road surfaces in Norway are generally very good. But this is a rich country that is constantly striving to improve, so roadworks in areas that need resurfacing are relatively frequent.

Unlike the UK, however, disruption in Norway is usually minimal as re-routing or traffic lights are well thought-out.

Despite the number of roadworks, they never hindered or inconvenienced our trip.

Speed Limits

The speed limits were a personal bugbear for me, but there’s nothing much you can do about it!

Norway isn’t a place for pinning your throttle – it’s very much a place for taking it easy and soaking up the views.

Speed limits in town are usually 50 kph (sometimes 40). Coming out of town (or coming into one), the speed limit is 60 kph. You’ll spend a lot of time riding at 70 kph on the open road (which often feels way too slow) before getting into the 80s in more remote areas.

Occasionally, you’ll see sections of 90 kph in remote areas. And on sections of the E6 that are considered ‘motorways’, you’ll see signs for 120 kph.

The people of Norway are tolerant of speed limits and adhere to them religiously – probably because speeding fines in this country are astronomical!

On the plus side, the slower speed limits will certainly improve your fuel consumption.

Speed Cameras

I was shocked when I got off the ferry at Bergen and encountered a barrage of speed cameras as we rode through the city – it was bordering on oppressive.

As you leave the towns and cities, however, the speed cameras are far less frequent. And even when you do come across speed cameras, they are clearly marked, and warning signs are positioned well in advance.

In terms of patrol officers with speed guns, I never saw one. In fact, police visibility is very low in Norway as a whole.

Camper Vans

If the over-cautious speed limits don’t annoy you, the camper vans certainly will! They’re an absolute menace!

They’re well-behaved and considerate – but they’re everywhere, and you’ll find it hard to make progress because of them.

On smaller roads, they’ll obscure your view. You’ll need patience, and you’ll need to perfectly time your overtakes – especially if you’re in a section with speed cameras.

Also, expect them to turn into viewing spots suddenly – without signalling.

Attitude

Norwegian road users are generally lovely. They’re very considerate, never lane-hog, usually signal, and actively make room for motorcycles to overtake them.

They never sit up your arse – they’ll either overtake you (safely) or patiently sit behind you until they can overtake you.

I only saw a handful of idiot drivers when motorcycle touring in Norway – and most of them weren’t even Norwegian.

rider on winding road in senja in sunshine

The Giveway System

In towns, Norway employs a Give Way system that differs from that of other countries.

There is no differentiation between major and minor roads – which means there is no ‘priority’ system like there is in most European countries.

In towns, you are expected to give way to the right – even if you’re on a major road. So traffic on the main roads give way to traffic turning right out of a side street.

This does not apply when the junction of the minor road has Give Way markers painted at the junction – in which case, everything goes back to normal!

It’s very confusing, but you get used to it.

Tourist Traffic

Surprisingly, this never seems too bad in Norway – despite being a country built around tourism.

Most of the tourist traffic consists of camper vans or caravans – both of which you can overtake in the right circumstances.

The only real tourist traffic we encountered was in Lofoten as we entered quintessential towns such as Reine and Hamnøy.

Rider Attitudes

Strangely, you’ll see a lot of Cruiser riders in Norway – mainly Harley-Davidson’s. At first, this seems odd. But when you get used to the roads, you’ll see why.

As mentioned above, the road surfaces are good, and most roads are large. The speed limits are relatively slow. And when you put that together, you can see why Norway is a great place for cruisers.

Some of them will wave at you, but many of them will blatantly ignore you.

Using Norway’s Ferry System

As mentioned above, the ferry system in Norway is an essential part of travel (and even commuting) in Norwegian life. But to use it on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, it’s expensive!

The best way to do it is to sign up for a ferry pass – which is a long and needlessly confusing process that I’ll try to simplify.

The first thing to realise is that the ferry pass is a bit like an Oyster card on the London underground. You pre-pay a sum of money on the card (say £100 as an example), and then you can use the ferries.

At some point during the crossing, a staff member will scan your registration number, and then the cost of the ferry is deducted from your pre-paid pass. When your £100 runs out, you then top it up.

This seems long-winded, but when you’re actually using the ferries, it’s quick and easy because you don’t need any cash.

The main benefit of the ferry pass is that you get somewhere in the region of 50% off the ticket price. And when you’re in Norway, if you can get 50% off anything, you really ought to take it!

On a tour of Norway, you might get 20 ferries – which could cost you £200. So if you can save 50%, that’s £100 in your pocket.

You can contact the ferry pass company when you return home, and they will reimburse you whatever is left on your pre-paid card.

Let’s have a look at some of the problems you will need to overcome.

motorcycle touring norway - rider in senja with mountains

Motorcycle Touring in Norway: The Problems!

Multiple Ferry Companies

When you start Googling ferry pass companies in Norway, you’ll quickly realise several privatised companies deal with these ferry passes. So which should you choose?

Well, much of it depends on the route you’re taking and the kind of vehicle you’re travelling in – both of which are more important for locals than tourists.

In the end, I went with Skyttal Pass.

You Need A Toll Pass

For some bizarre reason, you can’t just order a ferry pass – it needs to be added to an existing toll pass.

Everybody in Norway has a toll pass as there are no staffed tolls in Norway – so you need a pre-paid pass.

The thing is, toll roads in Norway are free for motorcyclists! So you need to pay £40 to get a toll pass (that you DON’T need) to associate a ferry pass with it (that you DO need.)

The Website Isn’t Natively English

In other words, they haven’t translated their site into English – which means you have to rely on Google’s automatic translation. And this makes things incredibly difficult.

Then when you get stuck (which you invariably will), you need to contact Skyttal Pass for assistance. But considering most people in Norway speak English, they seem to only ever reply to you in Norwegian – so you’ll get very good at using Google Translate!

Multiple Vehicles On One Pass

This isn’t really a problem but more of an observation. If you’re travelling with a friend, you can put yourself AND your friend on ONE ferry and toll pass.

You can both travel independently on the ferry system if you want to, but both vehicles will be attached to the same account – and the costs of both vehicle crossings will come from a single account.

The Ferry Made Simple

  • Apply for a toll pass.
  • Add your personal and vehicle details.
  • Add the personal and vehicle details of any other people you want to associate with the account.
  • Once you book (and pay for) your ferry pass, each person associated with the account will receive a token in the post. (Car drivers will stick this to their windscreen to pay for tolls, but as a motorcyclist, you won’t need it.)
  • Once this is done, THEN you can apply for the ferry pass.
  • During your application, you need to link the customer numbers and vehicle registration details with the ones on the toll pass.
  • Whilst you will receive a toll pass in the post, you will NOT receive anything regarding the ferry pass – so don’t sit in waiting for it as I did!
ferries crossing paths

Motorcycle Touring in Norway: Some Useful Info

The People

As with most countries, the people you come across in Norway can be a bit of a mixed bag.

The Norwegians are a lovely bunch of people. Most of them seem happy to see you and will greet you with a warm and welcoming smile. They’re also chatty, friendly, and glad to help.

The language barrier is made simple as most people in Norway speak English.

On the other side of the coin, you will also come across workers in Norway who are from other countries.

And while these people are polite, they can seem quite cold and unfriendly.

In terms of tourists, you’ll see people from all across the world and from all walks of life – some are chatty and friendly, and others are downright rude. But that’s life!

Constant Daylight

As mentioned earlier, if you want to tour Norway, the safest month for you to visit (in terms of weather) is July – which is the peak summer season.

But it’s important to remember that the sun never sets in Norway around this time of year – it’s daylight 24 hours a day.

I know this sounds like a novelty – and it is when you first witness it.

But it soon gets tiresome! 11pm feels like 6pm – which means it never really feels like bedtime.

The better quality hotels account for this and provide heavy blinds/curtains to shield the light from unsuspecting out-of-towners.

But the cheaper hotels don’t, and you’re just expected to deal with it.

My dad seemed to cope with it pretty well, and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

I wasn’t so lucky, and spent most of my time in Norway tired and deprived of good quality sleep.

What Food To Expect

The food in Norway is fine – but nowhere near as tasty as you would find in other European countries such as France, Italy, or Spain.

You’ll see a lot of fish and seafood (as you would expect!), which is always lovely. Outside of that, local delicacies include foods such as reindeer burgers and whale steak!

Pizza is popular, as are burgers, hot dogs, and all manners of kebab meat.

You’ll also notice the frequent use of aniseed in many Norwegian foods – even in their bread. It seems odd at first, but I grew to like it.

Breakfast includes cereal (with yoghurt rather than milk), fruits, cheese, cold meats, eggs and bread.

Hot dogs are the go-to quick (and cheap) option for lunch. Burgers and pizzas are also popular, as are paninis and other kinds of toasties.

Overall, if you’re used to a normal European diet, you’ll do perfectly fine in Norway.

Supermarkets

Usually, when I tour, I make a habit of buying food from supermarkets rather than restaurants because you can save a lot of money.

But in Norway, the cost of food in supermarkets can be just as expensive as eating out.

In fact, you’ll notice an ‘eating out culture’ in Norway – simply because it’s just as expensive for the locals to eat out as it is to go shopping.

You can save money by shopping in budget supermarkets such as Rema 1000 or Kiwi. And with hundreds of stores across Norway, you’ll find them everywhere.

But wherever you go, you’ll find the cost of meat, fruit, and virtually any fresh produce at a premium.

One thing to note is that supermarkets aren’t open on Sundays in Norway. For Sunday shopping, your best bet is Joker supermarkets which are like a cross between a supermarket and a convenience store.

motorcycle touring norway - rider in lofoten

Motorcycle Touring in Norway: Conclusion

And there we have it – your complete guide to touring the wonderful country of Norway on two wheels!

As you can probably tell, you can make this adventure as easy or as complicated as you like.

But follow these steps, and it’ll be the bucket list trip you always envisioned!

  • Give yourself enough time
  • Don’t underestimate the weather
  • Prepare for the onslaught on your wallet
  • Consider camping
  • Pre-plan for the ferry system
  • Plan your route (leave wiggle room)
  • Decided if you want to visit Nordkapp (or not)
  • Take the right kit
  • Familiarise yourself with road laws
  • Prepare for 24-hour daylight
Previous

The Ultimate Guide to Touring Europe on a Motorcycle

Richa Slick Waterproof Motorcycle Boots: Real-World Review

Next