Norway's Golden Road Is the New Golden Circle

A true mountain-escape road trip.

Norway? Yes way! This joke is terrible. The Scandinavian country is not.

With wildflower-dappled hills, steep fjords, and lapis-blue ocean water, the Land of the Midnight Sun straight up sparkles. You might be wondering if a visit to the ocean-line country would force you to subsist on a diet of just seafood and fish or if you’ll be mercilessly attacked by a pack of stuck-in-11th-century vikings (no, just me?), but fear not. The answer to both is a resounding no.

But I really couldn’t help but wonder if Norway would be similar to nearby-neighbor Iceland, with glaciers, other-wordly beauty, and Dr. Seuss-esque rock formations. The comparison isn’t just proximity-based, but is furthered by the similarity in names of their two most famous tourist routes: the Golden Road and the Golden Circle, respectively.

Iceland’s Golden Circle connects a handful of the island’s most popular attractions like Gullfoss Waterfall, the Great Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park, while Norway’s Golden Road guides travelers through sustainable food, beverage, art, and handicraft stops to provide a diverse glimpse of small-town living, mountainside escapes, and even sandy beaches.

The road trip through Norway’s Trøndelag region is offered by Up Norway, a travel agency that specializes in creating personalized itineraries tailored specifically to unique and sustainable culinary, adventure, and cultural experiences. In fact, they’re the local authority when it comes to navigating the Golden Road in particular, having partnered with the 22 dedicated landmarks that have been approved by the co-op (yes, the businesses work together and apply for membership!) for official inclusion along the 66-mile route via the region’s main E6 roadway.

Here are a few of the must-see highlights along the way, perfect for any European vacation, group or solo trip, and even honeymoon for the couple who appreciates life in the fast lane.

buildings along canal
Marija Stupar/EyeEm/Getty Images

Pamper yourself in Trondheim

The journey starts and ends in Norway’s third most populous city of Trondheim. Access to the once-difficult-to-get-to metropolis is now quite convenient with frequent (and inexpensive!) flights on budget airlines like PLAY, which offer extended layovers in Iceland, should you want to compare and contrast the two “golden” paths in one trip.

A stay at the Britannia Hotel to bookend your excursion is an absolute must. Not only is it the city’s most luxurious accommodation in style, location, and service, but it also boasts a pool-laden spa with multiple skin-strengthening saunas and Michelin-star restaurant Speilsalen, complete with a caviar and Champagne bar. The beds are also one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in—plush and deep with oversized pillows and sheets that preserve a sensation of coolness that lasts through the entire night.

Trondheim is also chock-full of history with periods of polarizing kings, influxes of boat-weary immigrants due to its close proximity to water, and the aforementioned vikings. Book a walking tour through Hands on History and be sure to also explore the area’s most famous monument, the Nidaros Cathedral, which sits above a maze of crypts and hidden chambers.

For a more modern (and slightly acid-trippy) glimpse of the town, a jaunt through K-U-K will showcase contemporary paintings and sculptures from local artists, both established and new. Cap your evening with a meal at adjoining Gubalari, which draws inspiration from locally-sourced ingredients like smoked redfish and spring salad with primroses and cured ham.

interior cabin
Skjølberg Søndre Kretsløpsgård

Spill all the tea with sheep

One of the first stops on the Golden Circle is Gulburet, a multi-building farm, art studio, gift shop, and cottage where you can sip chamomile tea and nosh on flower-adorned oat cake before petting a herd of friendly sheep.

The stop features a plethora of hours-old butters, soft cheeses, and other Norwegian countryside staples for purchasing and nibbling on for the remainder of the journey.

Should you choose to go the opposite direction or want to end your trip on a similar note, consider a farm visit to Skjølberg Søndre. The biodynamic property supplies herbs, meats, and dairy products to some of Norway’s most celebrated restaurants. It also runs a weekend-only dining room in a tastefully-decorated and cozy, country-style farmhouse with floral prints and mismatched china. Meals are served with a crusty and pillowy sourdough bread that was, by far, my favorite food from the entire trip.

interior restaurant
Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell

Live inside a mountain at Øyna Cultural Landscape Hotel

A quick, though somewhat strenuous e-bike trip is the most scenic (and healthy, frankly) way to go from Gulburet’s region of Straumen to Inderøy. This sleepy-town peninsula features a cliffside backdrop topped by the 18-room Øyna Cultural Landscape Hotel, which greets its guests from above a mountain. The architecturally stunning building is literally constructed into the Earth in order to adapt to nature and offer panoramic views of the Trondheim Fjord and the Fosen Alps. Rooms are minimalist with industrial cement and pine walls, cascading balconies, and roofs covered in grass (which you can actually stand on when not inside).

Sustainability is at the forefront of the lodge’s mission statement, offering beverages and meals with ingredients sourced only from within a few-mile radius, from produce and meat to dairy products and even aquavit. Owner Frode Sakshaug, a former pig farmer himself, even left dinner early to pick up food that would be served the next day. He also wakes up before dawn, almost daily, to longline-fish for cod, haddock, and other sea-derived proteins that take leading roles on the restaurant’s always-changing menu.

view from inside tent
Stokkøya Strandhotell og Strandbaren

Sleep in an oceanside triangle on Stokkoya Island

Stokkøya Sjøsenter resort is slightly off the beaten—err—freshly-paved path of the Golden Road, but it’s an absolute must-stop for a complete change in scenery. The beach village is aligned with rows of shipping container-style rooms made from recycled materials like burlap and polyester sail fiber, as well as coastal cottages with unobstructed views of the ocean. There is even an area with pointy tents to camp right on the sand, complete with toilets, grilling stations, and a lush herb garden.

On-site restaurant Strandbaren (which translates to “Beach Bar”) mirrors Øyna’s mission by serving only the freshest of local ingredients, like its signature mussels that taste and melt on the tongue like sweet butter.

But it’s nearby Naustet Stokkøya, a loft-style boathouse, that will wow even the most jaded of luxury travelers with its sleek, all-black design and oversized deck to accommodate outdoor dinners, a firepit, jacuzzi, and even a sauna.

There are also two triangle-shaped rooms separate from the main home that are perched above rocks with floor to ceiling-windows; ideal for any guest who wants an added level of privacy.

Host Remi will keep the wine and local beer flowing as he encourages guests to scallop-dive directly off the dock to harvest, shuck, and immediately top the briney meat with a simple splash of ponzu sauce, all while guest chefs like French Laundry-trained Adrian Lovold prepare a sunset feast.

Without trying to sound too hyperbolic, the view from the rental and its seemingly never-ending orange, purple, and red-hued sky was one of—if not the most beautiful sights—I’ve ever experienced in my years as a travel writer. It left me and my fellow housemates in a state of awe, disrupted only by my lousy attempt at a joke to overcome the trance of this country that had left us, quite literally, speechless: “Norway? Yes way.”

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Joey Skladany is a contributor for Thrillist.