Perhaps the most touristy thing in Norway is Norway in a Nutshell, a train->train->ferry->bus->train tour that can be done in a single day and takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Norway—gorgeous mountains, stunning fjords, and some amazing train rides.
The first thing that impressed me is how Fjord Tours and all of the various transportation/tour operators has managed to put together a simple website that lets you plan an customize your trip to your heart’s content. It’s easy to book in an extra day on your trip, see the options for different departures, all the time knowing that the site is keeping up with your schedule so you don’t have to worry about whether you have enough time to make a connection.
Once you’ve planned your trip, you can pick up your tickets at the NSB office at the Oslo Sentralstation, which is a beautiful train station that I didn’t get to explore as much as I wanted back on the day when Ada threw up in the bus. Following the guidance of Rick Steves, we opted for the early morning train ride toward Bergen that left at 8:30 in the morning.
The train ride from Oslo to Bergen is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and they are surely right, but I want to start by giving a shoutout about the wonders of Norwegian trains, and it all starts with the family car.
Most long distance NSB trains have a family car, a car with a built in padded playroom for kids complete with a TV playing Norwegian cartoons. Here are some photos of Maddie and Ada exploring it:
The family car was the perfect antidote to kids getting bored with a 4.5-hour train ride, even as we passed some of the most incredible scenery in the world. To me, this is just one more of the many little things I see around Norway that tells me this is a place that cares about the well being of children and makes it so wonderful for families to live here.
The Olso to Bergen railway takes you up into the mountains of Norway, where beautiful rolling farmland gives way, gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, and just incredibly beautiful scenery—and tunnels. So many tunnels. Here are a few photos I shot from the window seat:
The Norway in a Nutshell route we chose leaves this train in Myrdal, a tiny town high in elevation, that is most famous for being the terminus of the Flam Railway, one of the most famous railroads in the world, and the next step in our tour. It was cold and rainy up here, so Ada and Maddie weren’t exactly thrilled to be standing outside waiting on the train, but we tried to make the best of it.
The Flam Railway, or Flamsbana is world famous because it is a 20 km railway line that descends 863 meters into the valley of Flam and along more stunning scenery—nearly endless waterfalls and beautiful valley views. As a kid who loved model trains, this hour-long train ride was something special.
When we got to Flåm, we spent some time at the free railway museum, and were amazed at the engineering feats it took to build this railway in the early 1900s.
The town of Flåm itself is tiny, and after trying on some viking hats and getting ingredients for dinner at the only grocery store, we headed to our AirBnB which was just outside of town on a working farm, with a trampoline (Maddie and Ada’s favorite).
Here’s a photo from the porch of our AirBnB:
Our house was next to a beautiful waterfall, and so we decided to do some exploring and started a climb up to an overlook. Here’s a view from halfway up:
And then some tired children convinced us to stop and head back down.
The next morning we boarded a nearly empty Fjord ship for a cruise through the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord. Ordinarily, the boat would have been full, but since we opted to stay the night in Flåm, we missed all the foot traffic. At this point, we’ve seen so many beautiful waterfalls that it’s a bit hard not to be blasé about it, but somehow, the Fjord still managed to impress.
After a couple of hours, the boat docked in Gudvangen, and we boarded a bus took us on a 45-minute tour of the Fjordlands, including a drive down the Stalheimskleiva Road, the steepest road in Northern Europe, with an 18% grade and 13 hairpin turns. At this point, I was feeling slightly car sick (I didn’t throw up on the bus, thankfully) and didn’t manage to get any photos.
When we arrived in Voss, we caught the Bergen to Oslo train and got to see all the scenery we might have missed on our journey on the first train ride.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip that was super easy to navigate thanks to the wonderful coordination of the Norwegian transportation system, and a great last gasp of summer.