While Oslo and Bergen are the big draws for tourists, Norway is first and foremost a place of unforgettable natural beauty. There’s a certain mystique about the “land of the midnight sun,” but you’ll enjoy the most scenic travel thrills per mile, minute, and dollar by going west from Oslo rather than north. And the handiest way to do that on a quick visit is the “Norway in a Nutshell” package.
A series of well-organized and spectacular bus, train, and ferry connections — appropriately nicknamed “Norway in a Nutshell” — lays Norway’s beautiful fjord country before you on a scenic platter. You’ll ride the train from Oslo to a high-mountain station (Myrdal), where you’ll take a super-scenic tourist train down to the fjord hamlet of Flåm, where you’ll catch a ferry up and down two breathtaking fjords to the village of Gudvangen, where a bus is waiting to zip you scenically into the mountains, where you’ll board your train to Bergen (or back to Oslo). Whew!
Here’s the general game plan for your five Nutshell segments, from Oslo to Bergen (it also works in the opposite direction — just read these steps backwards):
1) National train from Oslo to Myrdal (5 hours, departs each morning at 6:43 — recommended, and again at 8:05 — for sleepyheads; reserve either train in advance).
2) Private train from Myrdal down to fjordside Flåm (one hour, hourly departures, generally timed for arrival of Oslo train, no reservation necessary).
3) Boat through the fjords (from Flåm to Gudvangen, 2 hours, about hourly departures, two companies, same route and cost, no reservation needed).
4) Bus from Gudvangen to Voss (40 kilometers, one hour, departures generally timed with arrival of boats, no reservation needed).
5) Train from Voss to Bergen (one hour, hourly departures, no reservation needed).
On a sunny day, the ride is one of those fine times — like when you’re high on the tip of an Alp — when a warm camaraderie spontaneously combusts between the strangers who’ve come together for the experience.
Here are photos of some of these steps, snapped during my latest trip:
The journey from Oslo into the mountains is simply the most spectacular train ride in northern Europe. The scenery crescendos as you climb over Norway’s mountainous spine. After a mild three hours of deep woods and lakes, you’re into the barren, windswept heaths and glaciers. These tracks were begun in 1894 to link Stockholm and Bergen, but Norway won its independence from Sweden in 1905, so the line served to link the two main cities in the new country: Oslo and Bergen. The entire railway, an amazing engineering feat completed in 1909, is 300 miles long; peaks at 4,266 feet, which, at this Alaskan latitude, is far above the tree line; goes under 18 miles of snow sheds; trundles over 300 bridges; and passes through 200 tunnels in just under seven hours.
All along the way, I noticed mountain bikers (many of them entire families pedaling together) enjoying what looked like wonderful rides high above the tree line, along lakes and skirting patches of snow still there late in the summer. At several towns, the conductor may announce for how many minutes the train will be there. This gives you a few fun moments to get out, stretch, take a photograph, and look around.
Sailing Norway’s fjords can be breathtaking in any weather. My favorite trip is sailing from Flåm up the Aurlandsfjord (pictured here), and then down the Nærøyfjord. Camera-clicking tourists scurry around struggling to get a photo that will catch the magic. Waterfalls turn the black cliffs into bridal veils, and you can nearly reach out and touch the cliffs.
Norway’s greatest claims to scenic fame are her deep, lush fjords. Three million years ago, an ice age made this land as inhabitable as the center of Greenland. As the glaciers advanced and cut their way to the sea, they gouged out long grooves — today’s fjords. The entire west coast is slashed by stunning fjords, and the Sognefjord — Norway’s longest (120 miles) and deepest (1 mile) — is tops. The seductive Sognefjord has tiny but tough ferries, towering canyons, and isolated farms and villages marinated in the mist of countless waterfalls.
Enjoying the fjord views from my “Norway in a Nutshell” ferry, the last thing on my mind was the five Nutshell segments and how to connect them. But as you’re planning this amazing day, it’s likely the first thing on your mind. Study the steps I’ve outlined, and confirm specific times for your trip at www.ruteinfo.net. But most of all: Relax. Everyone’s going where you’re going, and the connections are well-coordinated. Just go with the flow and enjoy the scenery.