How to Travel to Norway without flying
It used to be easy to travel between the UK and Norway without flying. Ask the Vikings, they rowed across the North Sea to our shores and back. More recently, there was a ferry crossing from Newcastle to Bergen. It was a comfortable and relaxing overnight voyage to the picturesque, historic port. That route was axed some years ago.
Another way to get to Norway is by train. You take Eurostar to Brussels, then change for a swish ICE train to Cologne and then an overnight sleeper to Copenhagen from where you take a connecting train across the bridge to Sweden, continuing through to Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg on the west coast. You arrive there in the afternoon, some 24 hours after leaving UK. From there you take a smart Norwegian train for the last four hours to Oslo. Phew. I did it once. True, Scandinavian trains are very smart, spacious and rarely busy but it’s still a slog (although a stopover in Copenhagen and/or Gothenburg are, of course, options.)
I’ve just travelled to Norway without flying again. This time, instead of just letting the train take the strain, I did two legs of the trip by ferry, via Denmark, instead of direct to Norway, and, due to ferry schedules, had no option but to break the journey with a night in Copenhagen on the way.
Travelling with a friend, we took the train to Harwich International, where we waltzed right up to the check-in desk for theovernight ferry to Esbjerg. The queue for boarding took all of two minutes and, another two minutes’ later, having passed through security, which just consists of occasional random manual searches, and customs, we were walking along the gangway to the ship, Dana Sirena.
Our cabin had two single beds, a small shower room and toilet, a window onto the sea and a television. That evening we ate in the buffet restaurant. The cold seafood selection is a taste of things to come in Scandinavia, with shoals of pickled herring and other smoked and cured fish. Dreaming of the deep, we slept soundly in our cabin, rose to a buffet breakfast and views of the North Sea and then spent a couple of hours sitting on deck in sunshine before we pulled into port in Esbjerg at lunch time.
Disembarkation was just as painless as check-in and took no time at all. There was no waiting around for luggage at a carousel because, on a ferry, you travel with your cases. Ours were on wheels so we walked the 2km to the train station through the small town’s pedestrian streets, rather than take the bus that runs frequently from just outside the arrivals terminal. At the train station, a train was just ready to depart, so we bought a ‘family’ ticket for about £65 (that would have allowed us to take up to four children too) and hopped aboard for our journey to Copenhagen. We passed wind turbines and fields and crossed over long, sinuous bridges between islands. Three hours later, we arrived in the capital.
Our hotel, Guldsmeden, was a 20-minute walk – or a short bus journey - from the station. We spent that evening wandering the city and ventured to Christiania for a veggie feast in this alternative commune. The next morning there was a deliciousorganic breakfast buffet at the hotel. If the weather’s kind, you can take your croissants (no Danish pastries unfortunately) outside to a quaint courtyard and eat al fresco. The hotel has bicycles for hire or there are the free, although rather clunky, bikes of the city’s 16-year old pioneering public bicycle scheme (new ones are due in 2013, but that’s another story). As it was rainy we spurned the bikes and took an electric bus, number 11A, to Nyhavn, the picture postcard canalside area, where we chanced upon a military marching band. It was the changing of the guards at the royal palaces of Amalienborg.
The band reaches there at midday whenever the Queen is in residence (“about 50% of the time,” said a soldier in green beret, smoking a cigarette in the central courtyard of the three palaces.) On the way back to the hotel to collect our luggage, we stopped at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art gallery for a peek at its famed palm court café and a sculpture or two. Then it was off to the Copenhagen ferry terminal for the overnight trip to Oslo. Bus 26 departs from near the hotel and takes about 30 minutes. It drops you just outside the DFDS terminal, a bright, new, airy building (not that we saw much of it as, again, we had passed through check-in, security and passport control in less than five minutes.)
In Norway, we stayed at Hotel Folketeateret - a new boutique hotel with an entrance in a shopping mall. It doesn’t sound too auspicious does it? However, inside, the funky rooms, designed with a Philippe Starck-like urban business-class chic, are extremely comfortable. Some have outdoor balconies overlooking the shopping streets and trams below and across to the nearby train station. Choice Hotels, of which this is one, has a track record for its environmental and social responsibilities. Few of the measures are obvious – no recycled vintage furniture or the like - and there’s been no holding back with the swish, modern décor but energy and water consumption across Choice Hotels' nearly two hundred properties has reduced by 20% since 2003. The group contributes to projects in the Amazon and Nepal; organic produce is widely used. As well as organic breakfast, there are free afternoon waffles, jam and cream included in the room rate. We took ours onto our balcony and enjoyed them in winter sunshine.
Our ship, Crown of Scandinavia, was one of the smartest overnight ferries on which I’ve travelled. There were several dining options – including an enormous buffet spread, a more expensive a la carte restaurant and a small ‘fine dining’ (ie ‘very expensive’) option. There were large single-sex saunas with sea views and a small swimming pool, perfect for kids, a cinema, shops, bars and nightclub, all of it sparklingly clean.
During the night, the ship’s hull growled against slabs of ice in a frozen sea. In the morning, the sun slanted across low islands, the snowy hills of Oslo fjord as a backdrop. We could happily have stayed cruising through this land and seascape for many more hours, or even days. But, finally, some 65 hours after leaving UK, we had arrived. Unlike most flights, the memory of the journey remains a highlight of our holiday.
How Paul travelled: Harwich to Esbjerg by ferry costs from £71 with DFDS Seaways. Copenhagen to Oslo, from £51. Prices are for foot passengers and are based on two sharing an inside cabin. Meals extra. For more information and to book, For more information and to book ferry tickets, see: Ferry tickets to Norway.