The perfectly maintained Norwegian highways are full of shiny new electric cars: Teslas, Audis Q4s, and Volkswagen ID.4s are everywhere. In 2022, almost 80 percent of new cars purchased in Norway were emission-free. This is due to a collective sustainable mindset, as well as tax breaks for cleaner vehicles and high fossil fuel taxes. Beyond the roads, meanwhile, the move to electric transportation is evident across the country, including electric boats, ferries, and even mopeds.
Almost 900 miles south, in Brussels in mid-April, our family of three was considering getting an electric vehicle, and what better place to put the experience to the test than Norway, especially with a five year old in tow? Given the advanced infrastructure for electric cars, it would be the perfect place to take notes on the experience. We decided to drive across Norway from Oslo to Bergen, then north through the western coast fjords to Ålesund to meet a friend who lives there, and then back to Oslo. Each leg of that trip was on average 250–300 miles, above the 200-mile range of our rental car, so the journey required a little extra planning.
Driving cross-country in Norway
The first leg of the journey took us from Oslo Airport to Bergen on the southwest coast, a distance of almost 300 miles, requiring eight hours of driving (without factoring in the charging). As we drove along the snowy highway, the whole family was mesmerized with the views of snow-capped mountains, frozen creeks, and the occasional flurry along the road. It seemed like it was spring everywhere else in Europe, but it felt very much like winter on our drive.
We were in a Volkswagen ID.4. It had a modest 200-mile range, which was further impacted by altitude and cold weather, meaning we had to stop two times along our way to Bergen. Our first stop was in Geilo, a charming ski town in the center of Norway. We arrived at the end of the ski season and the area was still bustling, with ski lifts ferrying skiers to the trails; pretty snow-dusted chalets lined the hills surrounding the town. We couldn’t resist buying knitted Norwegian beanies at a ski shop near our charging station. For lunch, we ended up at a cozy bakery with sandwiches made with rustic rye bread and hot chocolates.
We planned for the charging stops, but we didn’t realize that we would also be compelled to stop every time we saw a scenic view. A few stretches of road were slippery, even for experienced drivers like us, but frequent photo stops helped with the driving stress. We paused at a small village called Haugastøl, which had several cabins that were buried in snow. It felt like we were “beyond the wall” of Game of Thrones.
At our fifth stop for photos, it dawned on us that we would arrive in Bergen late—but it was very much worth it. We made a detour at Vøringsfossen, one of the most famous waterfalls in Norway. Despite the vast amount of snow, the trails were clear enough for us to walk up to the viewing point of the canyon and take in the view of the falls. They were mostly frozen, but it was still quite a spectacle with the ice formations and the echoing sounds of the thawing water underneath.
We briefly stopped at another charging station at the small town of Dalekvam, grabbed some hot dogs, and charged the car long enough to take us to Bergen. Hot dogs, known in Norway as pølse, are a popular fast food at gas stations. Eating out in Norway can be pricey so the simpler the better. Three service station hot dogs and two soft drinks cost us around $30 during this stop. Upon arriving in Bergen, we found a parking lot near our rental apartment with a slow-charging station where we left our car charging overnight. Although we planned an hour for each charging session, traveling with a five year old also forces you to make frequent stops. Most parents know that kids will NEED to go to the bathroom 30 minutes after stopping at a rest stop.
Fjords, ferries, and electric vehicles
On our two-day stop in Bergen, we didn’t drive at all. We explored the city by foot, cable car, and boat. We took a sailing trip along the fjords around the city; the best part was having the vantage point to see the Bergen harbor, with its colorful wooden homes lining the streets and the bustling fish market. We also took the Fløibanen, a furnicular that took us to Mount Fløyen, a expansive park with playgrounds, hiking trails, and cafés. From the top, you can catch a scenic view of Bergen below.
Once our Bergen stop was over, we hopped in a fully charged car and headed north to the town of Ulsteinvik, close to Ålesund. The 250-mile drive was probably one of the most scenic drives we’ve ever taken because most of the route involved driving along the fjords of western Norway. Part of it involved a ferry ride that gives you a front-row seat to the views of mountains against the sea. Since the ferry is also electric, the air is crisp, clean, and less noisy. Another bonus of renting an EV in Norway is a 50 percent discount on the ferry toll fee.
In Ulsteinvik and Ålesund, we caught a glimpse of local Norwegian life and drove around to lesser-known places in the region like bird-watching favorite Runde Island. We missed the puffins since they arrive in summertime but did catch herds of sheep with their thick, gray coats roaming freely along the hills. One of the highlights of the trip was going for a short swim in the cold Norwegian sea, which many locals do at least once a week. Although shocking initially, it does wonders for the joints, especially after spending so much time sitting in a car.
Returning to Oslo
We embarked on another cross-country road trip from Ulstenvik to Oslo, but we were more prepared this time and started our drive in the early morning because our flight back home was in the evening. Our trip took a few hours longer because some roads were closed due to excessive snow, although we traveled in mid-April, so keep that in mind if you’re traveling in spring. Overall, we truly enjoyed our experience, and it sold us on getting an electric car. It’s a more sustainable and comfortable driving experience for both the driver and the passenger.
Renting an electric car in Norway
We rented a Volkswagen ID.4 via Budget for $79 daily, roughly $10 more per day than the standard car rental. However, gas prices in Norway are not cheap, with gas averaging $7 a gallon. The VW ID.4 is a small SUV, ideal for a family of three. My husband is 6'9" and needs the legroom for those distances. That’s a perk we didn’t expect from an EV: more legroom in the front due to the smaller engine. Also, the trunk was roomy enough for our three medium-size suitcases to fit comfortably in the back.
When I shopped for rental cars, I noticed that most rental car companies at Oslo Airport had EV options like the Polestar, Audi E-Tron, and Skoda Enyak. The clerk showed us how to charge the car and apps we could use to locate charging stations. After looking at a few, the best one for us was Mer, which had all the instructions in English, featured over 250 fast-charging stations in Norway, and accepted American Express for payment. Another helpful tool was Google Maps on my phone, where you can quickly search EV charging stations. Most charging stations only accept payment through apps, so having an app like Mer was very helpful.
Practical tips on driving an EV in Norway
Consider EV etiquette. My friend Ingunn, a lawyer on the west coast of Norway, says that “there’s an unwritten rule that you should not charge up to 100 percent, especially if others are waiting. If you go into a restaurant while charging your car, keep an eye on the charging time.” The charging speed of an EV tapers off at 80 percent anyway.
Also, keep an eye out for speed cameras. Most major roads have a speed limit of 80 km/hr (~50 mph) and 100 km/hr (62 mph) on dual carriage/highways. Coming from driving in Belgium and Germany, we had to pay close attention to the speed limits.
Watch Jessica’s video from the experience on YouTube.