In the laidback town of Sandefjord, you can experience Norway without going down the well-trodden routes of the Arctic Circle and Oslo - and without breaking the bank or risking frostbite!
Normally when people think of Norway, they think of the Midnight Sun, or the Aurora Borealis, or endless azure fjords. What most people don’t realise, though, is that situated around 120km south of the Oslo lies the intriguing harbour town of Sandefjord.
Led by a longstanding fascination with Norway, my boyfriend and I set off to this little-known town in late October, despite being warned that it is generally marketed as a ‘summer town.’ On arrival, we were taken by the endearingly odd sight of a pair of fir trees sat alongside the runway of the deceptively named Oslo Torp airport, and from there our curiosity snowballed. Most people, so we heard, choose to fly to Oslo Torp and travel straight up to Oslo; however, such was the lure of Sandefjord and its neighbouring towns that we never actually made it to the capital!
Where to stay
We stayed at Fremstads B&B, as listed on the VisitSandefjord website. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think either of us expected anything like the standard we found on arrival, especially since we’d opted to pay 400 NOK (around £40) per night for the ‘little room’. As it turned out, the ‘little room’ we were shown to by the extremely welcoming host and hostess was the entire basement floor of their house, complete with our own double room, shower, bathroom and lobby area. The main charm came in the form of the traditional décor and the little extras, such as a tin of biscuits left on a dresser to welcome us. The breakfast we received was also a pleasant surprise, as although it wasn’t what we were used to eating in the mornings, we very much enjoyed the bread rolls, omelettes, cheeses and meats on offer, along with seemingly endless amounts of fruit juice, and a clementine each on our last day.
On our second day at Fremstads, we arrived back from our day in Sandefjord to be offered berry pancakes by Mrs Fremstad, which was totally unexpected but very well received! We were also given a voucher entitling us to free tickets on the Colorline ferry across to Strömstad in Sweden, which was an amazing little extra! We were both genuinely saddened when we had to go, as neither of us wanted to leave what felt like our second home by the end of the five days.
What to do
My boyfriend and I, as fans of foreign supermarkets, decided to visit Rimi, a budget supermarket, on our first full day in Sandefjord. After we’d got over the initial hysteria about all the exciting Norwegian words, we took a very slow walk around, and bought a couple of things to take back to the B&B with us. I’d definitely recommend checking out Rimi, as it’s all very reasonably priced, and good for snacks and drinks etc. We bought some form of ‘jordgubb, smultron and kiwi-flavoured’ squash out of interest - wouldn’t recommend that one. As it turns out, there’s another supermarket (Meny) in Sandefjord, which is far bigger and, as we went at night, it was pretty empty.
If supermarkets aren’t your thing though, there is a pretty big shopping area near the harbour, with shops like H&M, though we were too busy to look around them. The harbour is also nice to walk around, and there were loads of jellyfish close to the boardwalk. The Sandefjord Tourist Office proved to be very useful, along with the locals, most of whom speak perfect English if you haven’t brushed up on your Norwegian. The woodland in the area looked gorgeous in the snow on the second day, so if you like walking or scenery then you should head up some of the paths leading off the roads. There was also a whaling museum and whaling monument, and had it been a bit warmer, we could have ventured towards some of the beaches in the area - but we weren’t feeling quite brave enough in the minus temperatures!
Although a lot of the restaurants were expensive, we found a place called Peppe’s Pizza near the harbour, which had fun, friendly staff and offered great value for money in its massive range of pizzas; they also deliver! If you don’t mind paying extra (a lot extra) there were plenty more luxurious restaurants to be found, again around the harbour, and there were also lots of cafés and restaurants in the shopping district further inland.
If you feel the need to branch out a bit and explore the area (which I’d highly recommend), I can give you some advice as to where to go. Firstly, if you get the chance then definitely take the Colorline ferry across to Strömstad! It’s around a two-and-a-half-hour crossing but it’s worth it, I absolutely promise! We ventured around Strömstad for a bit first (look out for the supermarkets ICA and Co-Op Konsum), before catching another small boat to Sydkoster, a tiny Swedish island with a couple of hundred inhabitants.
If you go to Koster, you MUST walk to the top of Valfjall! It seems like a bit of a slog but the view is amazing when you reach the top: you can see across the entire island, and there is a compass showing you the direction and distance of a number of major cities.
If you’d rather stay in Norway, then I recommend first visiting Tønsberg by train and looking around the old town, and then catching a boat across the Oslofjord to Fredrikstad (specifically, Engelsviken), which was unimaginably stunning at sunset, with its perfect view of open water. It's also home to another supermarket (Joker).
In a nutshell...
If you want luxury and lots of activity, then Sandefjord isn’t for you. However, if you want a real taste of Norway, and a relaxed stay on a budget, then I’d highly recommend it - the hidden gems made it by far the best place I’ve ever visited!