Norway was the last stop on my Scandinavian vacation and after Iceland and Denmark I honestly didn’t think things could get more expensive. But I was wrong. When people tell you pints cost $15 in Norway they aren’t lying. It’s a beautiful country, it’s incredibly progressive politically and environmentally, and Norwegians are for the most part pretty cool. But it is also freaking expensive; by far the most outrageously priced place I’ve ever been. (Photo below with me and my $7 ice cream bar).
Because it ended up being so cost prohibitive I was thankful we had only budgeted 4 days of our trip for Norway. We spent 2 nights in Oslo (arrived early in the morning via DFDS Seaways overnight ship from Copenhagen) and 2 nights in Bergen, with the obligatory Norway in a Nutshell fjord tour connecting the two cities. Norway is amazing, but before you make plans to visit, a buyer beware advisory is in order for a couple of reasons which I will touch on below.
Part A: Food in Norway is Insanely Expensive
Here are some examples of what food and drink cost us in Canadian Dollars (keep in mind that we are not ‘fine dining’ types when traveling:
- 2 pastries and 2 cappuccinos (to stay) – $30.00
- 2 cups (not bowls) of soup, 1 small bottle of lemonade and the most amazing brownie ever (to go, from Cafe Bastant) – $50.00
- 2 vegetarian Indian entrees and 1 large beer (sit down) – $75.00
- Large very basic vegetarian pizza (to go) – $35.00
- 1 Haagen Dazs ice cream bar and a pastry (to go) – $12.00
- 1 large cup of loose leaf rooibos tea (to stay) – $6.00
- Chips, guacamole and salsa and 2 pints (to stay) – $50.00
Note that you do pay more to stay at cafes and coffee shops like elsewhere in Europe, so a great way to cut some of the cost is to get your food or drink to go and find a nice park somewhere. But cost aside, we did find that the quality of the food in general is very high. We had really great Indian in Oslo; better than most places in Vancouver. We also found getting take away a much better value.
But if you think those food prices sound crazy, just wait until you hear about the booze. Pints in restaurants will run you $15+ for standard Euro style pilsner. Wine by the glass (for crappy stuff I’d never heard of) are around the same price. Mixed drinks started at around $18 most places. So you’d think the bars and pubs would be empty and people would be drinking water with their meals right? Think again, most places are just as busy as similar type joints in Vancouver. Some were packed, some pleasantly busy, and others totally dead. Booze is a whole other animal in Norway, which brings me to…
Part B: Norway’s Crazy Liquor Laws
We wondered why everyone getting off our DFDS ship was totally loaded up with flats of beer and wine bottles galore. And then we went to the grocery store and realized we had made a huge mistake. At first I thought $6 for a 6 pack of tall cans of Carlsberg seemed like a screaming deal. Then I realized that the price was for a single 500 ml can. We decided that was too rich for our blood, after sharing a $17 bottle of King Fisher with our Indian dinner, and went home to make tea instead of having a night cap.
The next night we debated going out to a nice hipster type pizzaria in our neighbourhood, or getting a take away pizza and picking up a couple of expensive cans of beer to have at home. We figured the savings would be worth it and opted for take away. Pizza in hand, we headed back to our rental apartment in Oslo, stopping briefly at a corner store for beer. The husband went in to check out the prices, and after noticing that there were no prices displayed he asked the clerk, only to be told “beer time is over”. The clerk pointed to his watch; it was 8:15pm. When he told me we couldn’t get beer I thought he was joking. Wikipedia filled in the rest.
You can buy beer at a grocery store in Norway, until 8pm on weekdays and 6pm on Saturdays. Don’t even think about trying to buy alcohol on a Sunday. If you find a Vinmonopolet (liquor store) you can get beer, wine and spirits there until 6pm weekdays and 3pm on Saturdays. So if you work late and want to pick up a bottle of wine on your way home you’re totally screwed. And if you think you’ll run into the grocery store right at 8 and then head to the cashier think again. If your purchase isn’t scanned through the till before the regulated time you’re out of luck. They have some sort of intricate system wherein the registers can’t scan the barcodes beyond “beer time”. So plan ahead if you don’t want to spend a fortune in the pub!
Norway is amazingly beautiful and has a lot of interesting culture. People there maintain a very high standard of living, have one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world, and make $19 an hour for minimum wage. They don’t have to save for retirement because they automatically get a pension from the government (via high taxes paid throughout their lives) and if you become unemployed, you get four years to figure yourself out! Now that’s socialism!
So yes, it seems outrageous to pay $15 for a pint of beer and $6 for a cup of tea, but when you think about the entire picture it’s really not so bad. And to put things into perspective, our last night in Bergen we went out for a very nice dinner in a little cafe for typical Scandinavian food and I had a gigantic portion of meatballs, potatoes and vegetables and the husband had a nice quinoa salad. We had 5 pints between us, and all said our bill was just under $100. That in Vancouver once you add in tax and tip would have been about the same price.