Norway in a Nutshell: One of Europe’s most scenic train rides
Making my way from Bergen to Oslo via the Norway in Nutshell train route was my favorite travel experience in 2017. As you may or may not know, Norway is expensive. To save money, my friends and I decided to plan a DIY Norway in a Nutshell tour. This way we go at our own pace, on our own time. Compared to the 30 hours it took me to get from NYC to Hiroshima, this journey was a breeze.
From Bergen to Voss (Train: $25)
The DIY Norway in a Nutshell tour starts after my arriving to Bergen and visit a to Mount Floyen and the eight billy goats. Bergen to Voss was the first leg of the trip. You can purchase train tickets at the Bergen station the day you leave. The ride is a little over two hours, perfect for a nice long lunch. Food isn’t served on the train so you’ll have to purchase it before your departure. The scenic portion of the Norway in a Nutshell route doesn’t start until you get to Voss so you won’t miss much while you eat.
Voss to Gudvangen (Bus: $12)
Once you arrived to Voss, transfer to a bus headed towards Gudvangen. The bus ticket can also be purchased the day of and the ride is only an hour long. This leg of the Norway in a Nutshell tour takes you through one of the steepest roads in the country – Stalheimskleiva. This insanely narrow, one lane road is made up of 13 nerve-wracking turns through steep mountainsides and scenic waterfalls. The route starts at the very top of the path and winds its way down. You’ll get a neck-breaking view of the country’s beautiful rolling mountains as the bus driver skillfully navigates each and every turn.
Gudvangen to Aurland (Ferry: $37)
Once you arrive in Gudvangen, you’ll want to spend some time exploring this old Viking village before taking the two hour ferry ride through the fjord to Aurland. In Norwegian, Gudvangen stands for “Gods place by the water”. During the black plague, everyone in the village died and it took hundreds of years before civilization returned. A few centuries later, this village became a main stop for postal workers and travelers when the Royal Mail route opened between Oslo and Bergen. Tourism increased when a ferry route was opened from Newcastle, England to Bergen.
A night in Gudvangen can get a little pricey so I decided to spend the night in Aurland instead. If you do decide to stay in Gudvangen for the night, you can visit Nærøyfjord. It’s part of UNESCO’s World Heritage list and this is the fjord you’ll be sailing through on your way to Aurland. There are also plenty of other spectacular valleys and fjords where historical sites are just a short ferry ride away.
One of them includes the Magical White Caves. You can book a tour through this labyrinth-like cave to see beautiful light shows of the aurora borealis. The mountain walls are naturally white and along with the running water and small lakes, it’s the perfect place to see incredible reflections and lights from the Northern Lights. The Flåm Railway museum is also located nearby in an old station building. The museum showcases the history of the Flåm Railway and the technology they used to build it back in the days.
Aurland Stop: Stegastein Viewpoint: Bus ($40)
This part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour is not to be missed. It’s a little pricey, but the 1.5 hour bus tour to Stegastein from either Flam or Aurland includes an informative audio guide filled with history of the region. The Stegastein viewpoint, by far, is one of the most breathtaking views I had ever seen. It’s a scenic overlook facing the Aurlandsvangen and the Aurlandsfjord. The platform extends out almost 100 feet from the side of the mountain and is over 2,000 feet above the Aurland fjord.
Aurland: Stay overnight at the Aurland Fjordhotel, (~$100-$150 per person for a room for 2-3)
Compared to Gudvangen, Aurland is a smaller village located by the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord. The earliest settlers here were hunters and fishers who switched to farming 2,000 years ago. Initially, tourists came to Aurland to fish and hunt. Now, people all over the world, like myself, come to marvel at the village’s natural beauty. Hiking in the Aurlandsdalen valley is also very popular here. The trail offers beautiful views of mountain peaks, glaciers and lakes.
I had never seen such beauty in my life and could not stop smiling at the view in front of me. The spectacular sight of the surrounding fjords and valleys left me speechless. A view like this makes everything looking better – even my bloated face from all the sodium in Norwegian food. Is it just me or is food in Scandinavian countries extra salty? Maybe I have a light palette, but I was incredibly thirsty after every meal.
Aurland to Flam (Bus: $4); Flam to Oslo (Train: $90)
After returning to Flam from the Stegastein Viewpoint, take a quick 15 minute bus ride from Aurland to Flam. From there, you’ll catch the Flam Railway to Oslo. The railway stops at the roaring Kjosfossen waterfall. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Norway and can only be accessed by train. The Flam line passes right in front of it over the upper portion of the waterfall and stops briefly to allow tourists to take in the view.
One of the most unexpected surprises was the appearance of a mysterious woman in a flowing red dress. You can see her in the photo above to the right of the waterfall. She gave us a wonderful performance, dancing and singing alongside this powerful waterfall. All the actresses who perform next to the Kjosfossen waterfall are students from the Norwegian ballet school.
They play the role of Huldra, a legendary seductive forest creature with a cow’s tail in Scandinavian folkore. She appears out of the mist and fogs and lures unsuspecting men deep into the forest with her unparalleled beauty. She would keep him prisoner until he married her in a church. If a man did marry her, she would become human and lose her tail. That’s one version of the legend of Huldra.
After the performance, everyone returned back to the train and resumed their journey. Routes vary due to weather conditions so my friends and I actually had to transfer to another train and then another bus before arriving in Oslo.