Frozen lakes, dark green pines, and white-and-red Scandinavian farmhouses flank both sides of the railway as we swoosh through the white snow on our modern-day polar express. We’re climbing higher and higher into the mountains and the slopes are plunging into the endless depth. As I peer down and look beneath the tracks, my head spins slightly. It’s easy to get vertigo at this lofty height aboard one of the world’s steepest railway lines.
On our recent trip through the coldest parts of Europe (which we aptly named the Ice Run), we made it a point to experience the ‘Norway in A Nutshell’ trip. As its name implies, the trip gives a glimpse into the best that Norway can offer in just one day – perfect for those with short on time. Lauded as one of the best day-trips in Norway, the journey brought us through the most picturesque part of Norway traveling on train, bus, and even a fjord cruise. By the end of the day, we felt that we’d seen Norway from several perspectives.
Bergen Railway: from Oslo to Myrdal
We started the Norway in the Nutshell journey from the capital city of Oslo, where we hopped onto the famous Bergen Railway. Instead of taking the railway all the way to Bergen, we would be doing a detour at Myrdal. The 500 km railway line was voted one of the 20 best railway experiences in the world in 1999. Trains in Norway are excellent – they’re comfortable, punctual and even offer WiFi on board. No other train ride between two cities in Europe goes at higher altitude than the Bergen Railway. One of the most spectacular stretch was when it crossed over the Hardangervidda, Europe’s highest mountainous plateau.
Flåm Railway: Myrdal to Flåm
The next part of the journey was our favorite, as the Flåm Railway brought us through steep gorges and waterfalls to the village of Flåm. Aboard an old-style vintage train, we snaked through deep ravines and frozen waterfalls, clinging tightly to the steep mountain sides. It offered an experience like no other, whisking us through time, back to the days when engineers worked day and night to become pioneers in the industry. Indeed, this railway line is a masterpiece of Norwegian engineering and a must for any rail enthusiast.
Fjord cruise: Flåm to Gudvangen
At Flåm station, we then hopped onto the fjord cruise to explore the Aurlandsfjord, a 17-kilometer arm of the world’s second longest fjord, the Sognefjord. This is known as one of the most picturesque fjords in the world and is part of the World Heritage area. As we sailed off into the fjord, we could see the towering mountains closing in, leaving a narrow gap for us to sail through. These mountains reach heights of over 1,400 meters, flanking both sides of the fjord all the way to our destination Gudvangen. Along the way, the boat made a few stops at the tiny villages of Aurland and Undredal where Nordic huts are stacked atop cobblestoned streets. We visited during winter so it was dark by the time we arrived at Gudvangen, thankfully we managed to take in the views before the sun set.
Scenic Bus: Gudvangen to Voss
Continuing on our journey to Voss, we boarded the bus from Fjord Tours that took us through the Stalheimskleiva. This 1-5 kilometer-long winding road weaves its way up the slopes of the mountains hrough 13 sharp hairpin bends from the end of the Nærøydalen valley to the top at Stalheim. The steepest gradient is almost 1 to 5 (20%) and we even though we couldn’t see where we were going, we felt the bends and curves. It was such a pity that daylight had already eluded us and we were missing the views that this road was famous for. (Photo below is from Visit Norway)
Back on Bergen Railway: Voss to Bergen
For the last part of the trip, we hopped back onto the Bergen Railway for a short and simple train ride to the city of Bergen. By the time, we pulled in to Bergen, it was 9pm and it felt like we had crossed continents. It was definitely an unforgettable journey, a journey that definitely ranks high as one of our favorite in the world.