Not many know that one of the worlds most expensive places to live and travel also used to be one of the poorest in Europe just 50 years ago. The rough terrain, small population and northern cold location also meant that much of the country has preserved many of its traditional ways of living as well as its natural beauty.
One of the best ways to see Norway in all its beauty is to do the Norway in a Nutshell trip from Oslo to Bergen. It encompasses the best parts of Norway including boat trips through the majestic Sognefjord, UNESCO world heritage Flåm Railway and concludes in Bergen the second largest city in Norway and also a good way to hop out of the country or onto your next destination.
Depending on the season, there are many ways to customize this classic route without doing the set organized tours although either option will cost you about the same. We chose to make our own itinerary, which is easily done, to allow a bit more time in the famous Fjord country (most tours will complete the nutshell in a day or so).
We started our trip out in Oslo. A modern, relatively small city it encompasses all the smooth design and modernity that one would expect from a Nordic country. The highlights included the Oslo Opera house, designed by famous Norwegian architect Snøhetta, National Museum which holds “the Scream” by Edvard Munch along with a number of national art treasurers and Holmenkollen Ski Museum and tower a unique shrine to the sport of skiing.
Leg 1 Oslo —> Myrdal
The train from Oslo to Myrdal takes about 5hours. To complete the nutshell journey in a day you will need to take one of the first trains out. Tickets are easily booked online via NSB website
Leg 2 Myrdal –> Flåm
This is the part where the journey gets interesting. You can easily purchase tickets from Myrdal to Flåm at the train station. During the summer months trains leave regularly and the process is built for non-Nordic tourists. Details on schedules can be found at the flamsbana website.
Leg 3 Flåm –> Gudvangen —> Voss
This is where you need to take a pause and take in the beauty.
If you are trying to complete the journey in a day, you can easily hope off the Flamsbana and walk into the tourist office to purchase ferry tickets to continue on your journey. Ferry times can be found here. There is also a speed boat option that can take you from Flåm straight to Bergen (the end of the journey) with some key stops along the way. Using this route you skip the bus and train end of the journey and get to your final destination much quicker. Note that it only runs in the summer months.
The bus ticket from Gudvangen to Voss can be purchased right as you enter. This is a well trotted tourist route so it is easily seen across the street once you exit the ferry.
Where to stay on your Nutshell route
If you have a bit more time, I recommend an overnight stay in either Balestrand or Undredal rather than the overly touristy town of Flåm. These small villages are only accessible via ferry and have limited transportation schedules depending on the season. If you go in winter/off-season, then it may be difficult to access these remote parts of the fjord, but you will also miss the hoards of tourists that infiltrate the countryside June-July-August.
With limited ferry options, we traveled in January and spent 2 nights in Flåm (a ghost town in this time of year) at Flam Marina & Apartments. I splurged on a room that faced the Sognefjord and do not regret a second of it.
There are a few other options in the town. We were very limited on where we could stay – if traveling in winter, start 1 Feb rather than January as you will have more options. But no matter where you stay, it is all within eyesight of the pristine waters of Sognefjord – you really cant go wrong.
Fretheim – This would have been my choice had it been open when we were visiting. It is an old farmhouse converted into an inn
Kviknes hotel – Upscale accommodation in Balestrand. Sunning scenery in the middle of the Fjord
What to do on your Nutshell route
Although tours are limited in this time of year, we were able to secure a snowshoeing trek through Fjord Safari. Our local guide, Steve, was absolutely amazing – down to earth with an incredible insight into how the locals live since he was one himself. As 1 of 80 inhabitants in the municipality of Aurland, he and his family continue on a century long tradition of goat herding and cheese making. Owning 30K+ acres of mountain landscape, the boundaries between Steve and his neighbors are kept only by the flow of the water. If it flows to the right it is the neighbors land, to the left was his. As we trekked up and down the snowy hillside, he told us stories of how he took his children up into plumbing-less cabins and skied with them down the mountainside. Every year he takes his herd to graze in summer starting in about June, lets them loose and then corrals them up again around September.
In this part of the world, goats out number people. Only about 1750 people call this place home. It is especially known for a special kind of cheese, called “Brunost” or Brown Cheese, which is made from the whey usually discarded in the curdling, cheese making process. They prepare it by baking the whey cheese until it caramelizes creating a rather sweet taste that is distinctly different from normal goat cheese.
Climbing up the stunning mountainside, I wondered to myself if I could ever live as the locals do. Where everyone literally knows everyone, your 2nd & 3rd cousins are your neighbors. The local school only goes up to grade 9 and has a grand total of 60 children, combined in all the grades. It is definitely not made for a young adult, but a perfect world to bring up younger children. It is probably good that there isn’t a High School in the town as by that age I am sure the teens would become restless and wreck havoc on the perfect peaceful town.
Back to civilization
After adventuring through natures play ground, you can continue on to Bergen via the ferry –> bus –> and then back on the NSB national train from Voss –> Bergen or take the speed boat option mentioned above. If done in a day, the whole journey from Oslo to Bergen can be completed in around 12 hours.
Whatever your route, whichever your favorite stop enjoy this gorgeous, UNESCO world heritage country!