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What are the alternatives to Norway's busiest flight routes?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
What are the alternatives to Norway's busiest flight routes?
A train on the Oslo-Bergen route. Photo: Vy/Øivind Haug

Long, thin, mountainous Norway is one of the most difficult countries in Europe to travel around on the ground, so it's no surprise that it is home to three of Europe's twenty busiest flight routes. We look at the greener alternatives.


The route between Norway's capital, Oslo and its three other big cities Trondheim, Bergen, and Stavanger are among the busiest flight routes in Europe, ranking fifth, seventh, and fourteenth respectively in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. Oslo to Copenhagen and Oslo to Stockholm are also very busy, ranking 23rd and 29th in 2019.

This means that Norwegians have roughly double the flight emissions per capita of their counterparts in Sweden, Germany and France, estimates Helene Muri, a climate researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 

But is it feasible for people in Norway to avoid flying, or is travel by train, bus and car simply too inconvenient or too expensive?

We look at the alternative ways of travelling Norway's most popular routes. 


Oslo to Trondheim 

As well as being Norway's busiest domestic flight route, Oslo to Trondheim is also arguably the easiest to avoid flying on. 

There are six trains ploughing the route every day, with the fastest taking 6 hours and 39 minutes. There is also a comfortable night train dropping off travellers in either Trondheim or Oslo before 7am, giving them time to freshen up and have breakfast before any morning meetings.

When we checked the price of a non-flexible ticket for a date in the middle of the school term, booked three weeks in advance, the fast train costs just over 600 kroner each way, while the sleeper was a very reasonable 370 kroner each way for those willing to sleep in a seat, with an extra 1,000 kroner if you want a couchette bed. 

A similarly inflexible flight cost about 800 kroner each way. 

This is a similar result to an analysis by Greenpeace, which estimated that trains worked out at about 13 percent cheaper than flights on this route. 

If all travellers opted for the train alternative, Norway's total annual greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by roughly 110,000 tonnes, Greenpeace estimates, equivalent to the yearly emissions of 74,000 fossil-fuelled cars or the entire vehicle emissions of Trondheim.


While the flight itself only takes an hour, if you throw in the 40-minute travel time to the Oslo Gardemoen Airport and check in two hours in advance, a flight would probably not end up saving you more than a couple of hours.  

It's also one of the world's most stunning rail journeys, crossing the Gudbrandsdalen valley and Dovrefjell mountain plateau. If you keep your eyes open, you might be able to see one of the 300 wild musk ox in the national park. 

If you have a car, the journey takes about six and a half hours on the E6 motorway from Oslo to Hamar from Oslo, and then the National Road number 3 and back to the E6 at Dovre. If you take the E6 the whole way, it takes closer to seven hours. 

According to the Tollguru app, the trip will cost about 290 kroner in road tolls and about 892 kroner in fuel, making it slightly more expensive than both rail and flight if you drive alone but cheaper if your car is full. 

Rush-hour traffic at Oslo's central station. Photo: Mads Kristiansen/Vy

Bergen to Oslo 

Oslo to Bergen is another no-brainer, with the Vy-operated train taking about seven hours and costing about 600 kroner each way. There is also a comfortable night train, which leaves Oslo at 11pm and deposits travellers in Bergen shortly before 7am, which costs 379 kroner for hardy seat-sleepers.

When we checked, though, it looked like it was hard to buy sleeping berths for individuals, meaning you may have to travel in a group.

A similarly inflexible flight with Norwegian costs about 800 kroner each way.

The Oslo–Bergen train line is, if anything, even more famous for its beauty, crossing the Hardangervidda National Park and the Hardangervidda Plateau, and stopping off at Finse, Norway's highest train station.


Oslo to Stavanger 

This route is a bit more of a challenge, with the GoAhead train ploughing the route taking 7 hours and 40 minutes to wiggle its way around the coast of southern Norway. There is a night train, but it doesn't appear to have sleeping carriages. 

The train costs a little over 600 kroner each way if booked in advance, which, again, compares to a similarly inflexible 50-minute Norwegian Airlines flight at a little over 800 kroner each way. 

You can drive the route in about seven hours, paying tolls of some 307 kroner and burning about 650 kroner of fuel, according to the toll calculator and the ViaMichelin website. There is a bus from Vy which does the journey in 8 hours and costs about 600 kroner. 

Vy also offers buses all the way from Oslo to Stavanger. Photo: Mads Kristiansen/Vy

Oslo to Tromsø/Bodø

Replacing this two-hour flight to northern Norway's biggest city requires dedication.

The train line running north through Norway doesn't reach Tromsø, instead stopping at Bodø, and the three train options from Oslo to Bodø take between 17 and 19 hours each, which is already quite a sacrifice. After that, getting from Bodø to Tromsø involves an 8-hour drive, or worse, a 13-hour public transport nightmare of buses and ferries.

The flights with Norwegian Air Shuttle started at about 1,000 kroner each way, and the most basic, inflexible train ticket to Bodø costs around the same.

TheGreenpeace study estimated that travelling to Bodø by rail was about 3 percent more expensive than flying. Throw in the journey to Tromsø, though, and flying is considerably cheaper.

One possible alternative is to get the train from Oslo to Stockholm (about five and a half hours), and then to get the basic but serviceable sleeper train, operated by VY, from Stockholm to Narvik, the port on Norway's north coast through which Sweden exports much of its iron ore.

This takes 18 hours, getting you to Narvik at 12.30pm in the afternoon, and takes you past the reindeer, mountains, lakes and tundra of Swedish Lapland.

From Narvik, you can then reach Tromsø with a four-hour bus journey.

Doing this will set you back a good 2,000 kroner each way, though, with at least 600 kroner for the journey to Stockholm, a little over 1000 kroner for the sleeper to Narvik, and then 410 kroner for the bus to Tromsø.


Oslo to Stockholm

It's surprisingly difficult to travel between the capitals of Sweden and Norway by train given that they are only 415km apart. This equates to a flight time of just over an hour

SJ last year increased the number of direct trains between the two cities from two to five, but the service is still slower and less frequent than it should be. A joint Norwegian-Swedish study found last year that improving the links would save half a million plane journeys

The direct train takes between 5.15 and 5.42 hours and costs just under 600 kroner each way for the most basic, inflexible ticket if booked in advance, but can be a lot more if you are booking late or booking a popular time.

There are at least 16 daily direct flights by Norwegian, SAS and, oddly, Ethiopian Airlines, which is normally the cheapest. A Norwegian flight for a normal mid-week day booked several weeks in advance was about 1,000 kroner each way. 

According to Greenpeace's analysis, the train was normally 10 percent more expensive than the average flight. 

Driving the route takes about six and a half hours, costing about 700 kroner in fuel. 


Oslo to Copenhagen 

There are two real options for avoiding flying this route: taking a ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen, or getting the train or driving through Sweden. 

Getting the train through Sweden is at least an eight hour journey, and surprisingly inconvenient. 

It can be easier to get a bus from Oslo to Gothenburg, as tickets on the Oslo-Gothenburg train route are currently being issued late. It's then possible to either get an SJ express train from Gothenburg to Malmö, and then take another train over to Copenhagen, or to take the Öresundståg regional train all the way from Gothenburg to Copenhagen. 

The train journey can cost around 1,200 kroner one way. 


The ferry trip is in many ways the more attractive option, with the boats leaving Oslo at 3pm and arriving in Copenhagen at 10am the next morning, but it's likely to be pricier, with a two-bed cabin costing as much as 2,500 kroner for the night, with an extra 1,100 kroner to take a car with you. 

However, DFDS and Stena Line, which operate the ferries, use demand-based pricing, so it's possible to get a bargain. 

On the date we looked at Norwegian Air Shuttle flights between the two cities were only about 650 kroner each way.

The Greenpeace study found that flying was on average 16 percent cheaper than taking the train on this route. 

Bergen to Stockholm

Adding the seven hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo to the near six-hour journey from Oslo to Stockholm makes this route a fairly unappealing prospect. Perhaps the best solution would be to use a night train for the Bergen to Oslo leg, and then get an intercity train to Stockholm, a journey which takes over 14 hours. 

According to Greenpeace's analysis, the flight was always cheaper than the train, costing on average 1.7 times as much as the flight.


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