‘Norway in a Nutshell’ in a nutshell

January 13, 2019

‘Norway in a Nutshell’ in a nutshell

January 13, 2019

Whenever you start to look into a trip to Norway, something that is always mentioned by the guidebooks is ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ – a journey through some of Western Norway’s best fjords, mountains, and towns. After all, while most people choose to spend time in Bergen or Oslo, the real drawcard to Norway is its fjords and mountains – unforgettable natural beauty that is hard to find elsewhere in the world.

Generally regarded as one of the ‘must-see’ attractions, all cruise ships, group tours, and individual travellers seem to do it. Its popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade, and now every year hundreds of thousands of people move through the trip.

But what exactly is it, and is it something you should fit into your schedule?

Well, I’ve put together a quick ‘in a nutshell’ guide to the popular Norway in a Nutshell.

What is Norway in a Nutshell?

Norway in Nutshell was created by the company Fjord Tours as a way of providing a self-guided tour for travellers through the fjords of Western Norway. The trip takes passengers through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed fjords, passing mountains and small towns. The trip is done entirely using public transport – buses, ferries, and trains.

The trip is designed for travellers who may be spending most of their time in Bergen or Oslo, and who may not have enough time to make a trip through the fjords. It’s also designed for budget travellers as it’s generally cheaper than renting cars or spending time in hotels along the way. Also with money in mind, the trip is fully customisable as you book it through the Fjord Tours website or through your travel agent – you can add in extra tours, overnight stays, or experiences – or just do the basic day trip.

Basically, you take the train across the mountains, a bus through a valley, a ferry between two fjords, a train to the top of the mountain, and then another train back down into Bergen.

Where Does it Take You?

Norway in a Nutshell takes place within Western Norway, and the trip can be started from Bergen, Oslo, Flåm or Voss – the most popular starting point is Bergen).

The most common trip is:

  • Bergen-Voss (Train)
  • Voss-Gudvangen (Bus)
  • Gudvangen-Flåm (Ferry)
  • Flåm-Myrdal (Flåm Railway)
  • Myrdal-Bergen (Train)

If you decide to start the trip in Oslo, it is as follows:

  • Oslo-Myrdal (Train)
  • Myrdral-Flåm (Flåm Railway)
  • Flåm-Gudvangen (Ferry)
  • Gudvangen – Voss (Bus)
  • Voss-Bergen (Train)

But remember, this is fully customisable! There are also alternative trips through the Sognefjord, and you can even go to Geiranger (though it’s not a day trip).

The Timetable

The timetable of Norway in a Nutshell is pretty easy to follow, though the times may be tight in some places. Luckily, if you are running late the next segment of the trip will wait for you. After all, everyone is travelling together so they have to wait for everyone.

Oslo-Bergen

  • Train Oslo-Myrdal 6:25am-11:34am
  • Flåm Railway from Myrdal-Flåm 12:13pm-1:10pm
  • Free time in Flåm 1:10pm-3:15pm
  • Ferry Flåm-Gudvangen 3:15pm-5:30pm
  • Bus Gudvangen-Voss 5:45pm-7pm
  • Train Voss-Bergen 7:38pm-9pm

Bergen Loop

  • Train Bergen-Voss 8:43am-9:56am
  • Bus Voss-Gudvangen 10:10am-11:20am
  • Ferry Gudvangen-Flåm 11:45am-1:15pm
  • Flåm Railway 2:50pm-3:46pm
  • Myrdal-Flåm 5:30pm-7:56pm

Highlights of Norway in a Nutshell

This fully depends on what you want. Most people opt for the basic round trip from Bergen (Bergen-Voss-Gudvangen-Flåm-Myrdal-Bergen), others decide to take it as they travel from Oslo to Bergen (Oslo-Myrdal-Flåm-Gudvangen-Voss-Bergen), and some do the trip over two-three days, stopping overnight at Voss, Stalheim, Flåm, or Vatnahalsen.

Highlights of the trip include:

  • Bergen-Oslo Railway – one of the most scenic train journeys in the world
  • Stalheimskleiva – a nerve-wrecking 1.5km-long-road with 13 hairpin bends. Oh, and it’s one of the steepest roads in Europe – with a gradient of 1 to 5, or 20%.
  • Fjord Cruise – by far my favourite part of Norway in a Nutshell. A 1.5 hour cruise through the narrow Naeroyfjord and then into the Aurlandfjord. The mountains are as high as 1,700 metres high!
  • Flåm Railway – the undisputed megadraw into Norway in a Nutshell – and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Norway. On the train journey, you see rivers, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and maybe even a Huldra while at the photostop at Kjosfossen.

How to Book Norway in a Nutshell

If you are going with a tour – Odysseys, Gate1, Grand Circle, GoAhead, etc – then your tour will include their own variation of Norway in a Nutshell.

If you are a cruise passenger – some cruises ofter day trips from Bergen on Norway in a Nutshell, while other cruises actually go into Flåm.

If you are booking everything through a travel agent – they will likely be in contact with someone in Norway who will book the trip through Fjord Tours. Just make sure you let them know of any variations you want to make to the trip.

If you are an independent traveller doing this yourself – There are two ways to book Norway in a Nutshell: Through Fjord Tours and on your own.

Fjord Tours – Their easy-to-follow website will take you through the steps in booking your trip. You then collect your tickets at the train station – it’s best to collect them the day before the trip, or at least thirty minutes beforehand – the ticket office in Bergen is very small and queues can sometimes form.

If you are unable to do it online, you can book the trip at the train station in Bergen or Oslo or even at the tourist information centre – though prices may vary from the Fjord Tours website.

When you collect your tickets you’ll receive them in a stapled book. Make sure you also get a guidebook (free), which provides short overviews of each town you’ll be stopping in.

Cost – For the basic Bergen round trip, the cost is around 1600 NOK.

Booking Independently – The 1600 NOK price tag may make you nervous. When I first came to Norway in 2012 I wanted to do Norway in a Nutshell but found it too expensive for me (a poor unemployed student about to embark on a two-month trip around Europe).

That then leaves the option of booking everything yourself – after all, Fjord Tours does just use public transport.

Now, some blogs online suggest doing this as it’s a massive cost saver, but whenever I try and do it my price tends to end up being generally the same as what Fjord Tours offers, and it’s a lot more hassle to book. Especially when:

  • You’ll be following the exact same route as the Fjord Tours people – even following the Fjord Tours signs everywhere
  • You have multiple tickets/outlets to keep track of
  • You’ll be on the same modes of public transport as those who booked through Fjord Tours
  • You’ll see the exact same things.

Booking it on your own can have better financial advantages, especially if you book early, book off season, are a student or senior (68 or over), or have a European rail pass.

Here’s how to book tickets independently for the basic Bergen roundtrip:

  • Bergen-Voss. You can either download the NSB app and purchase your ticket through that, or head to their website www.nsb.no and book through there. To save money, look for the ‘minipris’ option. It is also possible to buy the ticket at the train station, but buy it nice and early. Online cost: 210 NOK
  • Voss-Gudvangen bus: This must be booked in advance, and you’ll need to book bus #950 – Voss-Gudvangen. Download the app Skyss Billet and select your ticket through there – input Voss Stasjon (Zone E) to Gudvangen Kai (Zone E1). If you do not wish to book online, head to the Skyss service centre located at the Bergen Storsenter shopping mall, which is a five-minute walk to the train station. If you book from the driver on board, it is generally much more expensive. Online cost: 197 NOK.
  • Gudvangen-Flåm Cruise: This can be booked through www.visitflam.com, and you’ll get either Vision of the Fjords or Future of the Fjords. Online cost: 445 NOK. If you want to save a little money, use Lustrabaatene, but their times aren’t as synced with Norway in a Nutshell. Their prices start at 250 NOK.
  • Flåm Railway: This one is interesting. It would make sense to book through www.visitflam.com (550 NOK), but since this is technically a main trainline and not a tourist train, it can actually be booked through NSB (like the Bergen-Voss train above). Use your app or book online. You can also go to the Flåm Ticket Office in Flåm, but you may not have a lot of time between the ferry and when the train leave. Online cost: 390 NOK (if through NSB).
  • Myrdal-Bergen Train: This is also booked through NSB, so use the app or purchase it in advance online. Cost: 249 NOK

Should I Do it in a Day?

Norway in Nutshell was designed as a day trip, so that’s what most travellers opt for. However, if you are not in as much a rush, or if you want to see more of the fjords, I’d strongly recommend spending at least one night in a hotel along the way.

If you want to spend a night somewhere, I’d recommend Flåm. If you arrive in Flåm by 2pm, you have enough time to do an afternoon activity like a hike, a trip to the Stegastein viewpoint, a tour to the stave church, or a speedboat trip.

If you want to spend two nights somewhere, spend the first night at the historic Stalheim Hotel and then spend the second night at either Flåm or Vatnahalsen.

It seems like a lot of transport…

There is a lot of moving from A to B on Norway on Nutshell; the whole trip revolves around public transport. Looking at the timetables, it may seem a little stressful. I’ve got to get from the train to the bus then to the ferry then to the train then to the train. But that’s not the point of Norway in a Nutshell – you’re passing by beautiful nature! Relax and enjoy the ride.

How much walking is there?

Most of the trip is done on public transport, so there isn’t a lot of walking. The part with the longest and most stressful stretch of walking is from the Voss Train Station to the bus – the walk is about 400m and you have 10-15 minutes to make it!

What should I bring?

If it is a rainy day, I’d recommend a raincoat even if you spend most of the time inside. The ferry tends to be pretty windy, and the wind can get very cold. Warm clothing is always a must – even in summer.

There are very few options for food along the way, except for in Flåm. There is no food/coffee served on the trains, and along the way you’ll only really find little kiosks. It’s best to buy some snacks before venturing out.

If you have luggage – there is a storage section on the ferry, but there isn’t on the Flåm Railway. If you return to the same hotel in Bergen they’ll hold your suitcases for you and just bring an overnight bag. If you are travelling from Bergen-Oslo, opt to send your suitcase with Porter Service and take an overnight bag instead.

Would you recommend it?

Overall, definitely! Despite the large amount of public transport and lack of time in each place, Norway in a Nutshell is a fantastic trip for those who may not be getting out into the Norwegian countryside as much as they’d like.

However, if you are spending most of your time in the fjords, perhaps give it a miss or only do parts of it – if you’ve spent time in Geiranger, Balestrand, or even Hardanger, the Norway in a Nutshell route may feel a little uninteresting in some areas.

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