By deciding to visit the city of Bergen on a budget, we had enough money remaining to book ourselves a trip on the Norway in a Nutshell tour.
This amazing day trip takes a visual journey through some of the best natural landscapes in Norway; into the snowy mountains and plunging fjords from Bergen.
Changing trains at Myrdal, you descend towards the water on the twisting and scenic Flåm mountain railway – arguably one of the most breathtaking railway trips in Europe – to the end of Aurlandsfjord.
Then, at the town of Flåm, you change transportation from land to sea, to then embank on a 2 hour trip up the Aurlandsfjord and into the steep lined, majestic Nærøyfjord. At the waters end, you hop back onto land and on a bus to connect with the Bergen-Olso mainline railway.
Departing Bergen before 8am, we hopped aboard the bright red train that heads eventually to Olso and settled in for our journey ahead. Our destination would be the small station of Mydral, some two hours away to the west.
Shortly after leaving Bergen, it doesn’t take long for the train to pass through tunnels and around picturesque lakes. The line gradually climbs until we were above the snowline and into a winter delight.
The ‘town’ of Myrdal is little more than a station and a cluster of houses. Here, we switched trains to the adjacent platform and jumped aboard the waiting dark green carriages – and much appearing older than those of the previous train – of the Flåm railway.
Opened in 1940, the Flam railway connects the Bergen to Olso mainline railway with the fjords. From Myrdal, it twists and turns down passing frozen waterfalls, dropping nearly a kilometre in height from the mountains to the town of Flam, on the shores at the end of the finger-like Aurlandsfjord.
The train to Flam departs from the curiously numbered Platform 11, the third of three platforms at Myrdal station.
Forty-five minutes after leaving Myrdal, the train arrives at the final stop – Flåm. A couple of passengers on the half empty train had decided to disembark at one of the halfway stations, and hike down to the town below, which looked like an appealing alternative.
A sleepy village of 350 people, Flåm is nestled between the end of the fjord, and river mouth and the mountains. As we had travelled in the March off peak season, we had three hours to wait for our boat connection up the fjord. We decided to explore the edge of the village beyond the railway and soon had the place seemingly to ourselves.
During the summer months, the town is inundated by mass scale tourism, particularly cruise liners that dwarf the jetty. Drawn in by the obvious attractions of the spectacular natural beauty, there is a fine line between using tourism for revenue purposes, without spoiling the attraction of the location.
This small village was nearly empty during our early spring visit, and it was hard to picture a reversal of the near solitude we had. We had deliberately visited during the ‘off-peak’ season and any thoughts that the population of the tiny town increases ten fold to nearly 4000 per day in the summer with the arrival of large ships was hard to get my head round.
Accusations of tourism related pollution – noise, litter, disrespect – caused by many of the 160 cruise ships and over 200,000 visitors during the busy summer season creates a debate between the needs of the locals – many dependant on the tourist trade – and the need to sustain the unique marriage of sea and mountains found in this area of Norway.
We strolled around the only place open, the gift shop selling the nearly obligatory tourist tat, without buying anything. We then headed to more interesting railway museum, housed in the old station buildings, our entry fee covered by the Norway in a Nutshell ticket.
The boat to take us around the fjords moored up on the large concrete jetty, and filled up quickly with a stream of fellow travellers who must have been hiding in a previously undisclosed location. We departed north, travelling up the nearly twenty mile long Aurlandsfjord. We were travelling on an inlet of the larger Sognefjord – the largest fjord in Norway. Our tour consisted of the two finger like branches, heading up Aurlandsfjord, and back south down the joining Nærøyfjord.
With little habitation in either fjord, it was easy to get lost in the scenery and daydream. The only noise being the humming of the boats engine beneath us. These steep sided fjords are characterised by being narrow and deep. Formed by glacial erosion, these murky inlets reach depths of up to a kilometre, despite being only 500m wide in some places.
As we travelled further into Nærøyfjord, the sun was no longer our companion. As it disappeared behind the peaks above us, we were plunged into a dark but scenic landscape. It was easy to see why these fjords comprise part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Concluding our trip by boat, we were then rather unceremoniously herded onto awaiting coaches for a short but scenic road trip to the town of Voss and the train back to Bergen.
I was glad I had seen these staggeringly beautiful locations first hand, but I had (and still have) mixed feelings about the impact of mass tourism in such a location. Everything is so concentrated into two or three small locations, it seems difficult to place large scale cruise ships carrying thousands of people against such a small and remote town.
However, the Norway in a Nutshell tour was just that – a great, one day introduction to what is a clearly a special place. The tour allows you to book the transport sections only – it didn’t feel rushed, and nor were you blindly following a guide around in a large group.
We visited in Norway in March 2015. Tickets for the Norway in a Nutshell tour were purchased from Bergen train station.
Please consider the timing, impact and method of any visit.