Journeys From a Rail Insider: Grand Norway in a Nutshell
If the stunning aura of the Northern Lights or the shimmering waters of the fjords is on your bucket list, then Norway belongs on your next vacation. As a part of the Scandinavia region, the incredible cities of Bergen, Flam, Oslo, Trondheim, and Bødo draw travelers in with their rich history and unique attractions – including the famous Bergen Fish Market, the impressive Opera House in Oslo and the cotton-candy painted sunsets of the fjord-side village in Flam. Whether you are traversing Norway as part of a pre-or post-cruise excursion, or in conjunction with a trip visiting Copenhagen or Stockholm, the incredible landscapes and picture-perfect villages are sure to take your breath away.
After reading her firsthand pro tips and recommendations, you will want to experience them for yourself.
Railbookers: Tell us about the experience onboard the train(s) during your Norway in a Nutshell vacation.
Kelly: The Norway in a Nutshell vacation – combining three trains, a ferry, and a bus – was such an adventure! As the train climbed up the mountains from Oslo to Myrdal to meet the famous Flam Railway, we watched the scenery change from lush forest and foliage to turquoise waters running off the snow-capped mountains. Standard class is extremely comfortable onboard as well, giving us plenty of room for our luggage and to stretch out in our seats.
Once you get to Myrdal, grab your seat on the Flamsbana as soon as you can!
...And that is exactly what we did. Seats are first-come, first-serve on the 50-minute journey, and not every seat has a window. We wanted to make sure we were able to take pictures without glare and breathe in the crisp air! The ferry ride from Flam to Gudvangen was serene and peaceful, as the boat is electric. We were able to get some lunch on board and then walk to the top level for panoramic views of the fjord and the tiny villages along the shoreline. Once we arrived in the old Viking village of Gudvangen, it was about a 100m walk to meet the coach that takes us to the Voss train station for our final leg of the journey. The bus ride is just under an hour-long, and the up-close views of the wildlife and scenery along the hairpin roads held our attention the entire time! Of course, in Voss, we grabbed a Voss water bottle – I may be a travel expert, but I am still a tourist! – and boarded our train to Bergen. The journey was smooth and a relaxing conclusion to the adventure across Norway.
What was the best part of your rail vacation through Norway?
It’s a toss-up between the Flam Railway and the town of Flam itself! There was not a single moment on board the Flam Railway that wasn’t worth trying to capture on camera – we found ourselves moving between both sides of the train to catch the narrow rivers, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful mountainsides. Partway through the journey, the train stopped at the Kjosfossen waterfall, which is only accessible through the Flam Railway! The thunderous crash of the water and the light mist on our faces were truly impressive. With the mist in the air, we even caught a rainbow shining above the train!
The town of Flam is very small, perfect for a one or two-night stay. Once the train arrived, it was only a short walk to our quaint hotel, the Flamsbrygga. Situated right along the fjord, nearly every room has a balcony offering incredible views! They also have their own restaurant and brewery, where we were treated to a 5-course Viking plank dinner with beer pairings. I had never tried reindeer before, but wanting to get the full Norwegian experience, I am glad I did… it was delicious! One thing I did not expect in Flam was the surreal sunset. We were sitting in the lounge at the only other hotel in Flam, The Fretheim, sharing our favorite photos from the Flamsbana train ride when we looked up and our jaws dropped. Through the glass pane wall of the lounge, we saw a setting sky painted with hues of pink and lavender reflecting off the fjord. We ran outside immediately to take it all in, and since the town is so small, we practically felt like the only people there! Even now I have trouble putting into words just how breathtaking and peaceful that moment was, sitting on the edge of the dock, with the pastel sunset and glimmering fjord.
Tell us about the Heritage Fjord Safari Tour:
This is a MUST DO if you are visiting Flam. Our small group was suited up in our warm gear from head-to-toe, and being from California, I had never had winter-style gear like this on before! We boarded onto the boat with our guide, and he took us all around the fjord getting up close to the waterfalls, small village cottages, and even saw seals poking their head above the surface. Our guide was very knowledgeable, stopping to explain the history, geography, and even the folklore of the fjord and its towns.
What are three things you feel our clients would love about this trip?
1. The incredible journey on the Flam Railway and the quaint town of Flam! 2. Strolling along the Bryggen (port) in Bergen. The painted houses along the water reminded me of the houses I would draw as a child! It truly was right out of a postcard, and the seafood in the region is unmatched. 3. The convenience! In all three cities, the train stations are right in the center, only a few minutes’ walk from the hotels and sights. Plus – while the 5-part journey of Norway in a Nutshell may sound daunting with luggage, each connection only took about 1-2 minutes to walk to, and there is plenty of space for your bags and attendants to help you if you need it!
What season did you travel? What was the weather like?
I visited Norway in October, which reminded me of fall in New England, where my family is from. The foliage was beautiful, and it wasn’t as chilly as I expected it to be! Although I was very glad to have my bundled outfit on the Fjord Safari tour, it was very cold on the water.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer those considering taking this rail journey?
Tip #1: While the entire Norway in a Nutshell journey from Oslo to Bergen can be done in one day, it is a 12-hour day! I highly recommend taking advantage of the overnights in Flam, not only to break up the journey but to get to experience a true Norwegian culinary and scenery experience. Tip #2: Book early! With Norway in a Nutshell being extremely popular, the journeys can sell out well in advance. With Bergen and Oslo being popular pre-and post-cruise destinations, the hotels sell out very quickly. Lastly, with only two hotels in Flam, you want to plan ahead to make sure there is a place for you to stay!
Is there anything you wish you had known before going on this trip?
The bus ticket from Gudvangen to Voss is included with your train ticket from Voss to Bergen, so there is no separate ticket for it. Luckily, the attendant at the bus stop was very helpful and assured us we were all set!
Tell us about some more of the highlights of traveling through Norway.
I did not know what to expect from Norway before my trip, and it exceeded my expectations! While in Oslo, use the hop-on, hop-off tour to get you around the city. Some of the museums are a bit of a walk from the center, and this way you get to make the most of your visit. One of the stops is Vigeland Park, a free sculpture park and museum with over 200 sculptures. Another top stop to visit is the Viking Museum to truly get a sense of the ancient history of the Viking culture in Norway. In Bergen, be sure to take a ride on the nearby funicular! It is located right by the Bryggen area, takes only 5 minutes each way, and has been a part of Bergen for over 100 years. At the top, there are plenty of cute cafes and shops to stroll through as well.
From your experience not only as a Railbookers employee but also as a first-time traveler to these places, what stood out to you about the overall experience of a Railbookers vacation?
The train, ferry, and bus journeys made seeing so much in a short time possible, plus it was quite comfortable along the way. Having it all booked together in one vacation also made the experience convenient and stress-free. I will definitely be heading back to Norway, maybe this time exploring north to see the Northern Lights!