Visiting Norway: Thoughts about visiting Flam and doing the Nutshell

Visiting Norway: Thoughts about visiting Flam and doing the Nutshell

 

All the travel guides for Norway talk about the Norway in a Nutshell tour of the fjords. This section of the fjords, especially the Naeroyfjord (narrow fjord) should be seen if at all possible because of the stunning natural beauty, but there are a number of ways to do this that aren’t explained fully in most of the books and web sites. Read on to get a broader perspective and a few options.

The Flamsbana Railway between Myrdal and Flam

Most guidebook descriptions start the Nutshell tour with a railroad ride from Myrdal to Flam on the Flamsbana. It’s heavily hyped, but the route from Myrdal to Flam does have some amazing views like the photo below and is worth doing at least once.

The idea is to disembark one of the NSB trains running between Bergen and Oslo at Myrdal and then catch the next Flamsbana to Flam. As far as I can tell, the people organizing the various trips and tours make sure it happens, but I can see how this could get complicated during the peak of the tourist season. I believe if you book the entire nutshell tour that the Flamsbana tickets are already included, but you might want to make sure that they are. Otherwise, it’s easy to do without being on a tour – you just look for the person selling tickets on the platform. The day we were there the ticket office in Myrdal was not open, but there was an agent on the platform selling tickets with a portable machine that takes your credit card and prints the ticket receipt.

The cars on the Flamsbana do not hold much luggage, so the railway operators tell passengers to put their bags together on the platform where they are moved into a baggage car by employees for the ride downhill. They also unload and set the bags at the end of the platform in Flam where they are easily picked up. This all worked well and had the benefit of leaving a lot of room in the passenger cars to move around, from side to side to view the scenery without falling all over people’s stuff.

The train makes several stops on the way down from Myrdal to Flam, including one where everybody gets out to see one of the powerful waterfalls that seem to be everywhere in the fjords. If you are familiar with Yosemite National Park in the United States, you will find a lot to like on the nutshell tour with seemingly countless waterfalls fed by the show and ice on the much higher plateau above. The drop from Myrdal to Flam is somewhere in the range of 1000 meters, but the mountains above the surrounding area are much higher than that, which produces a spectacular drainage of fresh water down into the salt water fjords.

Option to mountain bike from Myrdal to Flam

Another way to get from Myrdal to Flam is to rent a mountain bike at the Myrdal station and ride it down the hill. There is a mountain bike rental shop at the Myrdal station that can outfit you with what look to be quality bikes that appear to be well maintained by the bike mechanics working there. I think they all had disk brakes, which could be important given the vertical drop.  The idea is that you ride down and drop the bike off near the station in Flam and employees take the bikes back up the hill on the train. I was sorely tempted to do this but wasn’t sure how it would work with the bags. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried because Gretchen could have easily picked them up.

This bike ride is part of a longer route called the Rallaarvegen that starts east of Finse, which is a stop on the NSB train and at a much higher elevation than Myrdal.  The Rallarvegen0529171238 is only an option in late summer (July – September) due to the heavy snows there. Our train passed through Finse on the way to Myrdal during the last week of May and I took the picture on the right as we were approaching. Biking would have been extreme, to say the least.

If you happen to find yourself in Flam and want to take a mountain bike down the hill from Myrdal, you can take the Flamsbana uphill and rent a bike at the Myrdal train station for the ride down. The Flamsbana trains leaves Flam for Myrdal more or less all day to accommodate cruise ship passengers who come ashore. Tickets for the Flamsbana from Flam can be purchased at the the large tourist complex just beyond the end of the rail line in Flam. The ticket office in Flam is large and well staffed and sells tickets for the train and all the various ferry and boat tours.

Other bike options in Flam

There are multi-speed cruiser bikes with fenders for rent in Flam that you can around the the town and the Flam valley. There are not a lot of options for rides, but I think a half day rental could be fun, especially if you combine it with a hike. They don’t look ready for the ride up to Myrdal and back, but if you are a strong rider you might be able to make them work. There is a nice paved recreational trail that heads northeast towards Aurland from Flam, but does not go all the way. I do not recommend trying to ride the road between Flam and Aurland as the shoulders are narrow and there is a fair amount of truck traffic.  The road from Flam westbound to Gudvangen goes through a lengthy tunnel and one would have to be out of their minds to attempt riding it on a bicycle.

Taking a cruise on the Naeroyfjord

The Naerofjord is stunningly scenic and really should not be missed. Most people doing the Nutshell tour get on a Ferry in Flam, travel north and west on the AurlandFjord, past the towns of Aurland and Undredal before heading south towards Gudvangen at the end of the Naerofjord.  Most ferries make several stops at the various ports of call, but a few do not and travel directly from Flam to Undredal. Most Nutshell tourists are then loaded onto a bus and travel west to Voss to make connections to Bergen or Oslo.

But what if you want to go back to Flam instead? It’s easy, there are buses that return passengers to Flam from Undredal to service cruise ship tourists that take a a one way tour of the Naerofjord. FWIW, I’m not sure that going both directions on the Naerofjord is something I would do because, it’s Norway and it can be chilly on the boat.

If you are staying in Flam, you might think about going the opposite direction by boarding a bus in Flam, riding it to Gudvangen and hopping on the ferry to Flam there. The reverse Nutshell direction is less crowded, which means you can get a lot better photos with fewer people to compete with deck and railing space.

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Reverse direction of the Naerofjord, less crowded boats, same scenery

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Farms in paradise on the Naerofjord

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A massive waterfall with impressive spray on the Naerofjord

A great hike near Flam: The Brekkefossen Waterfall

Flam has a lot of expensive tour options, but what if you want to save some dough, get a good workout in and see some stunning fjordlands scenery? Take a short hike out of Flam to the Brekkefossen Waterfall!

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Brekkefossen waterfall from the road below

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Brekkefossen trailhead

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One of many terrific views of the Flam valley while ascending the trail

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Brekkefossen Waterfall up close

Hiking near Flam in Aurlandsdalen

If we ever return to this part of Norway, we are likely to change things up a bit and stay in Aurland where it is typically less expensive with access to some incredible off-fjord hiking. There is a excellent blog by Antonette here describing her experiences hiking near Aurland and the more I think about it, the more likely it will go on my bucket list.

Cruise ships in Flam and staying in Aurland

Another reason for staying in Aurland is to get a little further away from the enormous cruise ships that pull into the fjord in front of Flam. While cruise ships obviously contribute heavily to the local economy and make it possible to have so many options for riding the Flamsbana and crusing the Naerofjord, I’m not crazy about seeing these enormous waste generators front and center in my field of view. They are certainly visible from Aurland, but appear much smaller from that distance.

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