The Flåm Railway, or Flåmsbana in Norwegian, opened in 1940. From an engineering perspective this railway is an amazing feat. Europe’s steepest railway, it rises, and indeed falls, 864 metres in a distance of only 20.2 kms – with gradients of 1 in 18 (5.5%) along 80% of the distance. This is quite something for a standard gauge track with not a cog in sight – or indeed in existence.
Those interested in the railway itself and its history should visit the small museum in Flåm. I have prepared a separate review on the Railway Museum.
While the railway is technically amazing, and thus, in itself, excites a railway buff like me, what most people rightly notice and remark on, and ultimately why they take the trip, are the spectacular views as the train winds its way up the Flåm valley (Flåmsdalen) from Flåm at the head of Aurlandsfjorden on the famous Sognefjord to Mydral on the Hardangervidda plateau, and back down again.
The journey, which takes about an hour each way, is, without doubt, the number one attraction in Flåm and the primary reason 150+ cruise ships (not to mention all other visitors) pull into port each year.
We caught the train one way from Myrdal down to Flåm having arrived into Flåm on the Bergen Line from Oslo. Thankfully our arrival coincided with a day that there were no cruise ships in Flåm such that, while fairly full, the train was not packed. That said, we did have to board quickly to assure ourselves of a seat on the favoured left hand side going down into the valley. It follows that you need to aim for a right hand side seat on the Flåm to Myrdal journey. The following day there were two cruise ships in Flåm and the train was packed each time I saw it pass. This would have been very uncomfortable and we counted our blessings as we witnessed what appeared chaotic crowd scenes on the Flåm platform. I am sure it was organised chaos!
The train, being a standard Norwegian local train, does stop momentarily at a number of stations along its route. 99.5% of passengers on the train were tourists.
The major attractions along this route are the multiple breathtaking waterfalls and the snow covered (or capped in summer) mountains. While most of the waterfalls are somewhat in the distance the train passes right by (and indeed stops at) the singularly spectacular and majestic Kjosfossen.
The train passes within feet of the lower part of this hour-glass shaped waterfall, stopping for a few minutes so that visitors may have a closer look and take photographs from the viewing platform, onto which you step directly of the train. As everyone gets of the train the platform gets quite crowded making getting a wide angled picture without people in it impossible. Had I thought of that in advance I would have been quicker of the train. Dear Reader, now that I have told you, you will be first of the train when it stops!
Kjosfossen has a total drop of around 225 metres (738 ft) and, being fed by the large Reinungavatnet (Reinunga Lake),located only slightly upstream, there is lots of water cascading down all year round.
Just as we were about to leave the falls, Huldra appeared in the distance. Located on a large rock to the right hand side of the falls she danced and sang (totally inaudible given the thunderous sound from the water falling) to music provided by the train! One is left to wonder how the good Huldra, a seductive folkloric forest creature, managed to stay on the rock with the water spray. I have a sneaky suspicion that she was actually behind the spray and not getting wet at all, despite the appearance from our vantage point.
Huldra is of course an actress, in fact from the Norwegian Ballet School, who appears to entertain tourists during the high season.
A word of caution to my readers with male partners – watch them very carefully as Huldra has lured many the man into the mountains with her seductive singing and dancing. Don’t loose your man here! Mind you ……….
As I understand it, Kjosfossen is only accessible from the Flåm Railway so if you cycle or walk down the valley you will not get up close to it and indeed may not see it at all – hence my recommendation elsewhere that you take the train up to Myrdal and cycle (or walk) back down to Flåm though, given my non return routing, this option was not available to me.
Having completed the steepest part of the descent though 20 tunnels which spiral in and out of the mountainside, with some actually taking the train under the cascading river, the last part of our journey took us parallel to the Flåm river, initially well up from the valley floor as we passed Old Flåm village with its beautiful old church and Brekkefossen across the river to our left. A few minutes later our train pulled into Flåm Station.
Yes, the trip is spectacular and a must do as you journey around this part of the fjords but I would not rank it as “The World’s most incredible train journey of 2014” as Lonely Planet did. Without taking from the Flåmsbana trip, I actually much preferred the train trip from Oslo to Myrdal on the famous Bergen Line.
A couple of suggestions, if I may:
If you take the train up from Flåm to Myrdal, hire a bicycle at Myrdal (or take one up from Flåm on the train – NOK100) and cycle down. Hire costs in Myrdal include the cost of getting the bicycle back up to Myrdal – you don’t have to ride it back! As, sadly, I didn’t do the trip I am unaware of bicycle hire costs in either Flåm or Myrdal. Cycling down takes one and a half hours. You could also walk down to Flåm – allow five hours.
If taking the train down and unencumbered by luggage, consider getting off at Hareina, two stops before Flåm station, and walking the last three and a half kilometres into Flåm via Old Flåm. Let the conductor know of your intent in this regard to ensure that the train actually stops at Hareina.
The Flåmsbana connects with the mainline Bergen Line for those arriving or departing thereon. I have included more details on connections in my Myrdal review.
For tickets bought from Norwegian Railways (NSB) (www.nsb.no) one way fares cost NOK320 while return trips costs NOK640. If you wish to buy through tickets connecting with the Bergen Line you must buy your tickets from NSB.
Tickets bought at the train station in Flåm or via visitflam.com (https://www.visitflam.com/en/flamsbana/) cost NOK320 single in either direction while a return trip from Flåm (not Myrdal) costs NOK420.
Our ticket from Myrdal to Flåm was included in our Norway in a Nutshell package so I am not sure how much it cost.
The Flåm Railway operates year round with 9-10 departures daily from Flåm between May and September, and four departures daily during the rest of the year. Refer to either of the websites listed under the cost section above for more details.