This is not click-bait, as much as it pains me to write that anywhere on this Earth better than Iceland, Norway has topped the list! In 2016, my 3 friends and I took a road trip around Iceland, from Rif through Reykjavik and past Vik into Hof. We hiked, explored, partied, and soaked in all the beauty that the country could offer. It was truly a trip of a lifetime that I never thought could be surpassed. However, a trip to Norway in 2017 with my girlfriend sought to take the top spot on my list. We also took a road trip down the west coast of Norway, starting in Ålesund, passing through Åndalsnes, Loen, and Flam before finishing out the trip on a sailboat in Bergen. Throughout the trip, I constantly found myself comparing everything to the place I fell in love with (Iceland), so here is my reasons why Norway is better than Iceland:
Mountains: Norway +1
Right out of the gate, Norway’s mountains are way taller, steeper, and most importantly, more accessible. Sure, I didn’t have the luxury of using Maps.Me while in Iceland to find every single hiking route available, but that was barely needed anyway in Norway, yielding the point moot. It seemed like everywhere we went, wanted to go, or didn’t go in Norway had some form of hiking trails or access to views. Driving down tiny country roads, we constantly passed road signs that pointed out where the nearest hiking trails were and how far the trail went for. Iceland; however, was the exact opposite. Sure, we hiked and wandered all over the place, but I don’t think we were ever on a trail once. We honestly tried to look and seek them out, assuming I’d find them near their infamous lookouts and tourist spots, but they weren’t there. Once I returned home from Iceland I googled some, finding only a few highly touristy and promoted routes. Definitely not the expansive network of trails that Norway had and readily promoted the access. So mountains, mountain access, and also lookout vistas go to Norway.
Norway 1 – Iceland 0
Tourism: Norway +1
I fully understand why locals exploit their countries’ beauty and experiences in the form of guided tours and sight seeing trips. It’s a huge money maker from tourists who want to see as much as possible in their short vacation windows. With that being said, I hate being told I need a tour guide or have to book some trip in order to go walk up to see a stunning waterfall or massive glacier. Well, Norway had the freedom I’ve always been looking for. You could walk to anything, see everything, go inside anywhere, and reach the top of everywhere you wanted. We drove down endless, one lane roads, to reach an empty trailhead we found on a map, where we hiked up to a glacier that did not have a single no-trespassing, danger, or information sign, nor another person in sight for miles. If this was in Iceland, there would be a kiosk at the base of the glacier selling T-shirts and souvenirs. Don’t get me wrong, Norway’s roadside vistas (which there were hundreds of) had pull-offs for cars and tour busses that would make stops at to dump out tourists, for 5 minutes of picture taking, before loading up again and driving off. Sure, you could make your way to the northern and eastern coast of Iceland where the tourism industry is almost non-existent, but that is quite difficult to do for the average traveler. Norway became more and more touristy as we approached Bergen, and I can only assume the same applies for outside of Oslo and the cities between them. But you have the opportunity to fly into more cities far away from the major cities of Norway which can jumpstart your trip to a whole new level right away.
Norway 2 – Iceland 0
Waterfalls: Tie- Both get +1
This one is a toss-up which all depends on your preferences. Iceland by far had the most incredible, powerful, gushing waterfalls on the face of the planet. Most of these waterfalls are extremely accessible from short drives out of Reykjavik, which is hard to beat. Even more, you could see dozens of smaller waterfalls cascading down the sides of mountains that line the roads near the coast. But not so fast Iceland, Norway gives you a run for your money. Sure there aren’t any falls with the power and flow that Iceland has, but Norway had 10 times as much water and waterfalls. All the roads in Norway followed the rivers in the valley, so at any given moment, you were never more than 30 feet from a raging river filled with rapids. Above the rivers we followed, waterfalls fell from the towering, snow-capped peaks. Most weren’t gushing, but merely cascading down the rock face. But some fell for thousands of feet to the earth before meeting up again with a fjord. This one will be left up to a tie of preference. For quantity of waterfalls, endless rivers, and massive fjords Norway is your place. But for some of the largest, most powerful, and stunningly beautiful, you need to get to Iceland.
Norway 3 – Iceland 2
Cities: Norway +1
This is an unfair comparison because cities are a function of the population, and Norway has more than 16 times the amount of people than Iceland. So to keep this even, I will compare the biggest cities, medium ones, and the smallest towns. Reykjavik was almost identical to Bergen. Similar touristy feel with tons of restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and accomodations. But outside Reykjavik the town sizes drop off to a few hundred people like in Vik, where there was only 1 or 2 open restaurants and lucky if there was a gas station or grocery store. The smaller cities and towns in Norway still had dozens of restaurants, at least one gas station, and almost regularly a grocery store. But for those looking to get away to the picturesque cabin on the hillside far away from a town, both place had that to offer nearly everywhere that there was nothing. Small red cabins could be found sporadically placed on the fjords and mountains of Norway, and on the coast and mountains of Iceland as well. For the average traveler, looking for basic accomodations without sacrificing too much in the smaller towns, Norway is more comfortable.
Norway 4 – Iceland 2
Driving: Iceland +1
Though I didn’t personally drive in Iceland, I did road trip through both countries where we rented cars from AVIS. And it is quite easy to say that driving in Iceland was significantly easier, smoother, and more navigable; but it was not as fun. Iceland has a one major costal road that circumnavigated the country, called Route 1. The road is paved and is easy to figure out where you are and where you need to go since you only have two options, East or West. In Norway, the roads follow the low-land of the valley between the mountains or around the fjords, which means the roads are anything but simple to navigate. Outside the cities, in the smaller towns, most roads are single lanes that wind up and down the mountainsides leaving tiny pull-offs randomly to avoid being crushed by a tour bus or 18-wheeler. Norway has serpentine roads that pass over mountains and more tunnels than you could ever imagine. Some tunnels are a few hundred meters to longest in the world (25 kilometers), dipping below fjords and through mountains. This one easily goes to Iceland for the simple fact that I never was worried driving there, unlike how every turn in Norway was.
Norway 4 – Iceland 3
Lodging: Norway +1
By the nature of Norway being being bigger and more populated, there were more options on AirBnB, hostels, hotels, and random lodging. But lodging options were way more available in Iceland than I realized once we got there. There weren’t many AirBnb’s or hostels listed online for Iceland, but once we arrived there were signs on the road every few miles pointing to lodging options which were guest houses, B&Bs, or something else. But in the scenic areas of Norway, like Loen, we were able to walk into a campground the night of, get a beautiful cabin on a lake for 2 nights on the spot without any reservations. Norway had tons and tons of campgrounds with cabins, camper vans, and tents spread out across the country, allowing you to pretty much stay wherever. Both countries were very accommodating to camper vans parking wherever for the night, which we passed by each morning on our drives. For more private options, like cabins, Norway is better; but otherwise both places have fantastic options in beautiful landscapes.
Norway 5 – Iceland 3
Food: Norway +1
I am not a food blogger, but I still have to eat when I travel. This usually means making stops at grocery stores for breakfast foods, snacks, and lunches so that I don’t have to stop for food when exploring a new place or hiking up a mountain. Iceland’s tourist season is in the summer, and this affects when small town’s restaurants and grocery stores are open until. Unfortunately, we went to Iceland in April, and we regularly showed up to towns each night (6PM) when everything was closing or closed, and would not open until the following afternoon. We went hungry a few nights and some mornings due to some poor planning and closed grocery stores. We did eat out a few times, which had delicious food, and that also included a night we had to drive a dozen miles to a truck stop to get lamb burgers, since it was the only place open that night. Norway couldn’t have been more different. Each town we passed or stayed in had at least a few restaurants open year round, at least one grocery store that was stocked well, convenience stores in each gas station that were open early and late. We stopped at a grocery store, nearly every other day to buy snacks and meals for the day. Most notably 2 salmon loins for $5 that were sushi quality fish (good luck finding that around here for that price). We cooked those up with some pasta at our cabin over a hot plate, and it was fantastic. I think this one also goes to Norway, but it is mostly due to the population being bigger year round to support these businesses.
Norway 6 – Iceland 3
Price: Tie- Both -1
This is an easy tie. Sure, exchange rates change daily but that doesn’t change the fact that both these northern countries are f#$%ing expensive. In both these places, going out for a cheap beer will cost you $7, a simple meal will be easily $20, gas is European-ly high, and soft goods like clothing will also be 10-20% more expensive. So there is no point to elaborate, other than the fact that if you bought 3 meals out at a restaurant ever day, you’ll come home broke.
Norway 5 – Iceland 2
Flights: Iceland +1
This is tough, both counties offer great options for flying: price, locations, flight times, and departure cities. We flew the budget airline, WOWair, to Iceland out of Boston for about $386 (5hour flight). For the Norway trip, we flew Delta out of Boston as well for about $400 (7hr flight to Amsterdam and 2hr flight to Norway). For Iceland, you’re pretty limited to flying to Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport. Sure there is a smaller airport on the Northeast side of the country, but good luck getting a cheap flight up there, or a direct one for that matter. Norway, being so close to Europe has way more options. There are direct flights to Oslo from tons of major US cities, and like wise to Reykjavik. But for other cities in Norway, you are able to connect from Amsterdam to nearly any Norwegian airport and out of a different one for the same price. Yup, we flew into the small airport of Ålesund and out of the slightly bigger airport at Bergen for the same price as a round trip or one to another Norwegian city. This opens the door to exploring more of a country by taking a 1-way rental car from city to city without having to worry about getting back to the city you flew into. We ran into this issue on our last day in Iceland, where we drove for 4 hours straight to get back to the airport in time for our flight; whereas, in Norway we were able to fly home from our city we spent the last nights in. So if you’re looking to maximize your time in a country with direct flights, Iceland is the way to go. But if you’re looking to explore more of a country without worrying about driving back in time, Norway is the winner. Price goes to Norway, since we were able to fly further, with more bags, and more in-flight accommodations for about the same price. Time flying goes to Iceland since it is obviously closer to the states, but if you’re traveling from Europe, Norway is significantly closer.
Norway 5 – Iceland 3
Activities: Tie- Both +1
As far as the rest of the things to do in these two countries, it’s pretty much even at face value. Both of these places have some type of dog sledding, rafting, diving, kayaking, hot springs, tours, skiing, climbing, northern lights, etc. But as far as what most people go to places to do, Iceland has dozens of easily accessible and epic hot springs, whereas Norway’s only two are in the most northern point. The climbing is way more accessible, tougher, and taller in Norway. And if you’re also going to one of these place to test your skills against the white water, you’ll find way more opportunities close to everything in Norway. But overall, they are pretty much even.
Norway 6 – Iceland 4
Minimal Other Worries: Tie- Both +1
Luckily, both these countries spoke English great, if not better than most of us. Everywhere, in both these places, took credit cards which can make life significantly easier. National security was not an issue either, both places you are in the middle of nowhere most of the time, where you don’t have to worry about any terroristic activities occurring in populated areas. Dangerous wild animals were a nonexistent worry. Both places have tons of sheep that roam the grasslands and hillsides, but that is about the extent of things you need to worry about (a bonus of going to colder climates). As far as issues go, both had very little difficulties getting around and doing what we wanted, so they are even here.
Norway 7 – Iceland 5
In the end, if given the opportunity to make it to either of these place, it will truly change your world. Without trying to sound too cliche, the beauty of their landscape is out of this world. There’s a reason why films like Interstellar, Prometheus, and Game of Thrones are shot in Iceland. And films like Star Wars, Super Hero Movies, and James Bond are filmed in Norway. Throughout the trip through Norway, it constantly kept reminding me of the amazing country of Iceland. So in the end, if you’d like to be out there exploring mountainsides and waterfalls, you can’t go wrong with either. If you’d like to have moderate accommodations without sacrificing too much like food and lodging, Norway might be easier. Whatever you choose, you must make it to one of these places soon before they become too touristy and the beauty gets stripped from the countrysides.
Just remember, adventure doesn’t find you. You have to seek adventure!