In one word – Stunning.
Now the longer version.
When I was planning my trip I determined that I wanted to visit Flåm and Bergen after Oslo. I knew I wanted to take the Flåm Railway from Myrdal down to Flåm and leave Flåm by means of a fjord cruise, taking in the UNESCO listed Nærøyfjord. To do this I ascertained that getting to Myrdal (and later to Bergen from Voss a little further along the line) was best achieved via a standard mainline train trip. Indeed there are no public roads into Myrdal.
What I didn’t realise at the time was how spectacular the mainline trip would be. I subsequently read it is rated one of most spectacular train trips in the world. It absolutely is – a trip to which all the positive superlatives you can think of could appropriately be applied.
The full trip between Oslo and Bergen is around 500km (340 km to Myrdal) and passes along the highest mainline railway track in northern Europe reaching 1237 metres as it crosses the Hardangervidda plateau with its year round alpine climate. By way of comparison, that’s just 107 metres less that Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK.
We left Oslo at 6.25am via a long tunnel under the city, emerging with excellent views over the Dramsfjord and its islands. From here on there was hardly a moment when there was not something worth looking at through the train’s window.
I am not going to name all the sites we passed by, mainly because I have no idea what they are called but also because the names would mean little to my reader anyway. Suffice it to say, the early part of the trip took us through farmland and wooded areas skirting the most beautiful lakes and small towns and villages.
All the time we slowly gained altitude and in time left behind the tree-line. Signs of human life became less frequent as we continued on through an increasingly barren, treeless landscape capped with much more snow than I had anticipated seeing at the end of summer.
I could only imagine the amount of snow that must fall here in the winter and wonder at how the train gets through, as get through it does. My wondering was partially answered when the train started burrowing through the first of many snowsheds – wooden tunnels specifically built over the track to shield the line from snowdrifts.
Being a regular train it made a number of stops. The longest of these stops, about 15 minutes, was at the bleak and remote station of Finse on the shore of the lake Finsevatnet. This is Norway’s highest railway station, at 1,222 metres. Outside it was ‘fresh’ and blowing what seemed like a gale but this didn’t prevent us getting off, in our t-shirts, for a quick (very quick) look and a few photos.
It was in this terrain, which cannot be reached by public road, that the ill fated Scott team trained for its 1912 expedition to the South Pole. Outside the station hotel is a monument remembering those who died on that expedition. In 1979 George Lucas chose this same area for the ice planet, Hoth, in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
Leaving Finse and passing through one of the longest tunnels on the line we climbed a little more through this most stunningly beautiful terrain until we reached the highest point of the line at Taugevann, at 1237 metres. After this we started to descend the plateau and were rewarded with glimpses down a precipice into Flåmsdal and Sognefjord – a teaser for the next part of our journey.
All to soon we arrived in Myrdal where we left the train for our actual trip down to Flåm and Sognefjord.
A couple of days later we continued our journey to Bergen, picking up the Bergen Line train again at Voss. It was here, at Voss, that King Haakon VII formerly opened the full line in 1909 and described it as “the greatest feat of our generation” and indeed it was with its 182 tunnels carved out of the gneiss.
From Voss it is less than 1.5 hrs down to the coast and Bergen, again through beautiful valleys and alongside the most scenic of lakes and rivers. Perhaps less of a wow factor on this section but by this stage we had had two days of wow so standards were high.
A few of the practicalities of making the wonderful trip
There are four direct trains per day between Oslo and Bergen (and four back). The first one leaves Oslo at 8.25am. If going right through to Bergen (7 hours) you really must get this one or the next one (depending on time of year) as this is a trip that must, in my view, be done in daylight.
If you are alighting at Myrdal (for Flåm), as we did, you can also take an earlier train which terminates at Voss. This departs Oslo at 6.25am. While an early start, this is what we did ‘with no regrets as it gave us a full half day to explore Flåm, into which we arrived at around 1pm having taken the famous Flåm Railway (separate review) down from Myrdal.
In my separate review – Seven Minutes in Myrdal – Changing Trains- I give some advice on changing trains in Myrdal and connection times.
Leaving Voss, the following evening, we took the 5.40pm train for the one hour twenty minutes trip to Bergen.
If you book your train, and an advance seat reservation is required on this route, sufficiently far enough in advance and get a Minipris fare it represents tremendous value for money. Even at full fare it still represents good value as, to its credit, Norwegian railways (NSB) has not slapped on a tourist supplement or a ‘special’ (read rip-off) tourist car for this scenic trip.
For full details of timings and fares see https://www.nsb.no/en/frontpage.
I should point out that our passage on the Bergen Line was part of a ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ tour which we took to get us from Oslo to Bergen via Flåm and the fjords. This self-guided tour simply combined the transport components (trains, boat and bus) into one package. I almost settled on buying separate tickets before or as I went on this trip. In hindsight I am glad I paid a bit extra and went with the Norway in a Nutshell offering. I have prepared a separate review on Norway in a Nutshell and in that review I explain why I didn’t ‘do it myself’.
The train itself is of excellent quality making for a very pleasant trip. Try and get a seat on the left hand side (from Oslo) for the best views.
While there is a dining car on the train, the choice of food was limited and appeared a bit pricey. I am glad we had picked up an assortment of croissants and other goodies for breakfast, prior to leaving Oslo. I suggest you do likewise. The coffee on the train was awful, little wonder they can afford to offer limitless free refills! I certainly didn’t go back for one. This minor irritation did nothing to take from my most pleasant memories of this wonderful trip.