Norway In a Nutshell – Is it worth exploring in a day
The temperature dropped to subzero. The clock had hit half past 6 in the evening but felt like the dead of night. The snow turned to heavy sleet as we continued to trudge on the slippery road. In ten minutes, we reached the bus stand. The bench in the stand was good enough space for two of us to squeeze in, more of a shelter on such a frigid wintry evening. The village was a hop, skip, and a jump away, yet we could not spot any other commuters. Half an hour was left before we could embus.
A monstrous snow-clad mountain stood ahead of us. The only thing that laid between us and the mountain was the highway and a small flowing stream across the road which we could only hear. A frisson ran through my spine as if we were the only two souls in the entire world. The area appeared to be a land of humans only when the speeding cars crossed the highway at intervals. Half an hour didn’t seem to pass, time stood still. I became anxious thinking of different situations, like what if the bus never stops or takes a different route. Gloriya sensed my restlessness and held onto my hand. Sounds of the chilly night and stillness of the surrounding nature only added to the mystical vibe of the atmosphere. Amidst all these thoughts we still admired the beauty of the mountain which slowly turned into a shadow in the darkness as we kept staring. Not long after that, the bus arrived, my watch showed 7:08, right on time. We looked at each other and smiled in relief. We boarded the bus lickety-split and continued towards Voss leaving Gudvangen behind
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This being first-ever international trip right after our wedding, facing harsh winter weather in an unknown foreign land, standing at a solitary shed, that evening might have been unsettling for a little while but years later as we reminisce about those exact moments, we realize those unique experiences brought us closer as travel companions and life partners. The moment where we learned to trust each other and find solace in unpleasant travel situations, to never lose hope when on the roads rather plan efficiently, to not get startled even if things don’t seem to go according to plan.
Today we crave to go back in time and relive this exact experience and explore this beautiful village in its entirety, which we missed last time. The scenic extravaganza that we encountered during our Norway in a Nutshell tour has left us mesmerized, so much so that we wish to visit this wondrous country once more and not only do this tour all over again but also explore every corner of this Scandinavian gem.
What the term “Norway in a Nutshell Tour” means:
This pre-designed semi-customizable trip “Norway in a Nutshell” is the brainchild of a Bergen-based tour operator named Fjord Tours. This remarkable journey combines Europe’s one of the most scenic rail routes and a sail through UNESCO-protected fjord while passing by snowcapped high cliffs, colorful villages, gushing waterfalls, picturesque locations. You can pull off a one-day round trip or a multi-day tour with overnight stays in different legs of the journey while enjoying different activities of your choice (kayaking, hiking, walking, fjord safaris).
The original journey by the Fjord Tours only covers the cost of the ticket for a series of public transportation modes (trains, ferries, and buses) which is highly-priced (starting at 2310 NOK or 247 USD per person for one way). No Tours guides/tour managers will accompany you during the entire journey. Meals, beverages, accommodation, or activities of any sort are not included in the listed price, everything needs to be purchased separately. The original website of the Fjord tour has all the links to book hotels and activities.
We understand that booking everything at once is a little less hassle-free and easy for anyone who doesn’t have time and wishes to avoid the burden of research, self-planning & buying from different websites. Even for us, being new in the world of wanderlust a one-stop-shop would have been more convenient.
Yet we decided to DIY and save some bucks since it was just a bunch of tickets anyway. Did we succeed in the effort? Read onto know more about our journey.
When can you do the tour and places covered:
The tour is open all year round, for 365 days. No matter whether you do this in the winter, spring, summer, or fall, it’s still going to be incredible because the stunning and dreamy scenery of Norway doesn’t need a special mention. Although based on the season, the landscape and the feel of the journey might be different.
We did the tour at the end of January. And the advantage? As you guessed right, we encountered minimal tourists in the trains and ferries. The summer and other peak seasons might give postcard-perfect pictures but can be overcrowded because of vacationers visiting from across the world.
The route of ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ lies between the capital Oslo and the city of Bergen. You can start from either city. The major stops are in Myrdal, Flam, Gudvangen, and Voss when starting from Oslo. If you are planning to spend several days on the tour then Finse (a small mountain village famous for having the highest station on the entire Norwegian railway system, Star Wars shoot location, known for cross-country skiing, sail skiing during the winter, and mountain cycling, walking, glacier walking in the summer months) and Geilo (a ski resort town known for a wide range of summer sporting activities such as hiking, mountain biking, go-carts, white water rafting, rallying, cycling).
How to book the tour on your own?
Norway is one of the most expensive countries. We knew that very well and wanted to save as much as possible. It might have been our first international trip, but didn’t take us long to figure out the entire logistics of the tour. And voila! we booked the tickets online from the respective transport provider websites. We didn’t come across any complications during the entire trip. So, here’s our take on how we completed Norway in Nutshell.
The Route overview:
If starting from Oslo,
Oslo (Board Bergen Railway from central station) -> Myrdal (Detrain here and switch to Flåm Railway -> Flåm (Alight here and get on Fjord cruise) -> Gudvangen (get down and take embus for Voss) -> Voss (Take the train to Bergen) -> Bergen (Return train to Oslo) -> Oslo (disembark here)
If starting from Bergen then,
Bergen (Train to Voss) -> Voss (take a bus to Gudvangen or you can skip Voss and reach to Gudvangen by bus) -> Gudvangen (Take the Fjord cruise) -> Flåm (Board Flåm railway) -> Myrdal (take the Bergen rail to reach Oslo) -> You can end the journey in Oslo or take a return train to Bergen.
You can start the tour from Voss or Flam too. We will base our review upon the first route.
The booking process:
Once you sort the travel dates, you can check the below links to book your tickets.
Use the below website for all train bookings (including the Flamsbana):
Also, if you wish, book the Flam Railway journey and the accommodations in Flam with the official site;
You can buy the Fjord cruise tickets from the below website;
Purchase your bus tickets from the Nettbuss website; https://www.nettbuss.com/#!/
Or from https://www.nor-way.no/en/#/
Leg 1: Oslo to Myrdal
This 4½ hour commuter train ride through the Bergen line (known as Bergensbana in the new Norwegian language) is the best way to experience the dramatic landscapes of southern Norway. With seat reservations, you can relax and soak all in as the landscape outside swaps one after another. As scenes changes from the city’s urban look to a snow-clad landscape dotted with colorful cabins to sun-kissed misty wooded mountains to frozen lakes, your sight stays glued onto the train window.
We scheduled on the first train from Oslo to start at 08:25 am and reach Myrdal by 12:58 pm.
Leg 2: Myrdal to Flam
We got down in Myrdal to board the connecting train to Flam at 01:05 pm. The 7 minutes transition time was sufficient for us to change to Flam bound train. Our Airbnb hosts in Oslo informed us in before not get worried as the trains operate pretty much as per allotted time and in case of sudden delays the Flåm train waits for the Oslo train to arrive.
Although our train from Oslo started 5 minutes late, we reached Myrdal right on time. We found the Flam train waiting on the opposite track.
The 20km Flam Railway (or Flamsbana) has the reputation of being one of the steepest standard gauge railways in the world that runs through several hand-carved tunnels while curving its way through the mountains. Because of the picturesque nature and stunning views along the entire journey, this line over the years earned the status of the world’s most beautiful train journey and runs as an exclusive tourist service. As the train made its way through so many tunnels passing by vertiginous valleys, deep gorges, frozen waterfalls, and steep snow-capped mountains we didn’t want the spectacular journey to ever end.
The epic vintage train ride lasted for about 50-55 minutes while stopping by the most beautiful sights, including Kjosfossen Falls (the waterfall froze due to extreme cold).
The Flamsbana joyride is worth all the hype and must be done when in Norway.
Nestled amongst mountains, this little village with 400 inhabitants is located innermost in the Aurlandsfjord. Flam river runs through the center of the village. Once a village of farmers, Flam is now a flourishing tourism destination in Norway. Most of the villagers work in the tourism sector or with railway service.
Attractions wise, the village has only a small Rail museum (showcasing the history of how the Flamsbana came into existence), a visitor center (providing information about nearby activities & places), a mall of Norway, and a souvenirs shop. The presence of the Fjord harbor and the charming location attracts many tourists to spend a night here before starting the onward journey the next morning.
The tight schedule of a single day trip allowed us mere an hour in Flam before boarding the cruise. The beauty of this village smote us and we were so lost in the mood of this overcast snowy day that we skipped the lunch to visit the places around while clicking some pictures. However, should you get hungry, you can always stop for lunch in any of the restaurant, bakery, café or microbrewery within 150 meters of the station.
For those wish to stay and book some activities can go check the below website;
Leg 3: Flam to Gudvangen
This two-hour ferry ride through breath-taking fjords (which is a long, narrow inlet of the sea with steep sides or cliffs) was the highlight of the entire tour for us. The sail began while crossing through the idyllic Aurlandsfjord (listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List). We boarded the premium ferry of Fjord Cruise Nærøyfjord. In summer months one need to book between a “classic” vessel or a modern “premium” boat that runs on electric power giving passengers a whole new experience but during winter months (between October and April) the vessels are not pre-defined. Based on weather and capacity, the operator alternates the boats.
The two-deck vessel looked neat and clean, with cushy seats and large glass panels to enjoy the views outside, long walkways inspired by the winding trails of steep mountain terrain, and a small onboard restaurant. As a bonus of traveling in winter, the ferry carried very few passengers on board. We rejoiced with free space to walk all around. But first, we needed to satisfy our growling stomachs, so grabbed some sandwiches and pastries and devoured while sitting cozy on the top deck. The ferry continued to cruise through the meandering Fjord. We grabbed a glass of wine each, went out, and leaned on the aft railing to enjoy the serenity of the surroundings. The blustery winter wind kept hitting our faces as we stood in total awe. The monochromatic landscape with snowy mountain peaks all over the darkened sky, the narrow winding fjord, occasional spotting of the small villages at the feet of mountains created a mystical environment hard to describe. We lost all track of time while enjoying an excellent wine and conversing about the splendid view ahead of us.
The ferry continued through the Nærøyfjord (meaning narrow fjord) before arriving at Gudvangen at 5 pm.
Gudvangen means the field of the gods. This small dramatic village is another charm within the tour. You can learn about the rich Viking history and experience a Viking community in the Viking Valley of Njardarheimr, which is just a short walk away from the place where the ferry drops.
For most Norway in a Nutshell package tourists, the buses were already waiting near the jetty to transport them to Voss. We, however, had the freedom to choose the bus timings. Before starting for Voss, we wanted to spend two hours in this beautiful village learning about the stories of Vikings travels, their boats, and how the Viking age and its teachings have left a deep mark in history.
As soon as we walked towards the village from the cruise, a sudden downpour spoiled the entire plan of exploring the village. We had to take shelter in a small souvenir shop near the flam ticket office and waited for the rain to stop. As nature would have it, the Rain God was merciless that day. It became all dark soon, making it appear as night. With nothing else to do, we checked the gifts and the souvenirs on display. Items were very expensive, so we refrained from any shopping. After a while, I enquired about our bus ticket with a storekeeper to check when it would arrive. The guy informed us that this bus was to arrive near the main highway bus stop, which was 500 meters from that shop. It was almost 6:30, and we were still there. My heart skipped a beat. In a jiffy, we came out of the store to notice that the rain had turned into sleet covering the whole ground in a stack of snow. With heavy steps and great difficulty, we crossed the slushy road to reach the highway. The bus arrived, and we hopped on it for Voss.
Note: We fell short of time on our trip and weren’t able to get the best of this incredible village. You can stay one night here as well instead of Flam and explore the rich history of the village. Get the details of all activities and places of Gudvangen here (https://www.vikingvalley.no/) The tickets for the valley costs around 200 NOK.
Leg 4: Gudvangen to Voss
This part of the journey lacked any daylight for us to enjoy the landscape. From May – September, the bus ride covers a scenic and impressive section of 1.5 km stretch (Stalheimskleiv road) which winds its way through 13 hairpin bends. We were tired and fell asleep, so do not have any idea which route the bus took. We woke up when the bus bumped along the road; it was almost near Voss. We caught sight of the road ahead illuminated in the headlights of the bus. The breezy wind was blowing the snowflakes all over the windscreen while the wipers kept scrapping those off. The lights from the village of Voss twinkled in the distance. It was remarkable and beautiful to look at. Wish we hadn’t slept off.
The bus halted at Voss station at 8:05 in the night.
Voss is the adventure capital of Norway for a reason. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, forests, lakes, and fast-flowing whitewater rivers, the village is a famous tourist destination for skiing, water sports, skydiving, para-gliding, rafting, horseback riding, and other adventure sports. The village hosts world’s premier extreme sports festival in June. This municipality of Norway is also known for folk music, folk art/handicrafts, and traditional food.
Leg 5: Voss to Bergen
This is the last leg of the Nutshell tour where you travel to Bergen in an hour-long train ride. If you were to complete this tour in a day, even so in winter month then by the time you would reach Bergen it would be 9 O’clock in the night, unlike summer where days are rather long as sunset merges into the sunrise (no surprise from the land of the midnight Sun). We knew beforehand that traveling in winter, the night would befall early and in the last route, we would miss the whole fun. With that thought, we had returned to Oslo from Voss itself.
To be honest, when we planned the trip, we didn’t know how astounding and picturesque Bergen is. Long after that trip when we came across pictures of Bergen on different forums, we could see what we had missed then.
The second-largest city of Norway, Bergen is called the ‘the city between seven mountains’ aptly giving a glimpse of what it offers. The ]colorful line of Medieval Hanseatic buildings on Bryggen – the world heritage site on many Norwegian souvenirs, a spectacular view of the city from the top of the mount Fløyen after a hike, the Bergenhus Fortress that served as the royal palace when Bergen was still the capital of Norway until about 1300, visiting various fantastic museums to witness the best of Norwegian history are just some to-do-things that can turn Bergen into a holidayer’s dream destination.
Depending upon where you are traveling next, your trip can end in Bergen, or after exploring the city for a short while, you can take the return train to Oslo.
Return Trip: Voss to Oslo
After a long day of walking and hopping from one transport mode onto the other, after all the snapping and posing, framing the countrysides, we were exhausted. Just crashing onto the soft bed of our Airbnb room back in Oslo seemed the most desired thing. But the day was not over yet as the train back to Oslo was scheduled at midnight. There were no other trains to Oslo earlier than that. At this hour in the night, we didn’t have any other activities to indulge in or any places nearby the station to explore, at least when it was raining. So, we had no other option but to kill the time sitting in the empty station, looking at infrequent passers-by. We finished our dinner from a takeaway restaurant in the gas station opposite side. Four-hour wait had turned to an eternity as the train inbound from Bergen was late by another two hours. At 2 o’clock when the train arrived, there was very little left of us. We woke up from a deep sleep when the train reached Oslo in the morning after a six-hour ride.
Is the tour worth it? Our verdict:
Yes, in every sense. Whether you choose the package from the Fjord tours website or book the whole itinerary on your own, Norway in Nutshell is one of the best tours you can gift yourself. And trust us, it will always remain one of the best experiences of your life.
Is it the only tour to experience the raw beauty and natural wonders of the Nordic region? Of course not. There are plenty of other famous tours like Bergen in a Nutshell, Sognefjord in a Nutshell, different Fjord cruises tours that combines and connects to several other locations in Norway. You can choose any of those although remember, in the end, it is just a series of different transportation connecting to the places you wish to see. We didn’t want to get confused with so many options and had only 3 days to spend in Norway, so we went ahead with Norway in a Nutshell.
Our experiences on the tour gave us a few thoughts that you may consider should you wish to do it.
-Norway in a Nutshell tour is advertised as a one-day tour (there is a 3-day itinerary as well for the same tour) given the fact a lot of tourists finish it in a day. We did too. But is it convenient to complete in one day? Perhaps not, but it’s your only option if you are not having enough time to explore each place. If time is no concern then we recommend, to cover it in three days with a first-night stay midway either at Myrdal or Flam, splitting the second day between Gudvangen and Voss and keeping an entire day for Bergen, so you can enjoy the entire scenic journey and the significant places along the way with excursions of your choice. Or based on the transport schedule and referring to the original route craft an itinerary that best suits your travel needs. Whatever the combination may be, it will still be a worthy trip.
– Depending on the season you travel, it will determine what you see and how comfortable your journey is. In the summer and spring season, you might be blessed with super bright days, pleasant weather, and extra daylight hours making it easy on the eyes to enjoy all the charming villages and towns throughout, but you might come across a wave of tourists in every spot.
If you go in the winter, it might be gloomy days, spoilt with sporadic cloudbursts and snowfalls now and then, but you would spare yourself from the hindrances caused by overcrowding. So, plan and pack according to the season.
– Norway is super expensive in terms of commute, accommodation, and food. It saved us some bucks to do the tour on our own. Here is a comparison of the price charged in package tour Vs how much it had cost us to DIY two years ago.
Our Expense Breakage:
Oslo to Flam train (including the connection at Myrdal) – 589 NOK
Fjord Cruise from Flam to Gudvangen–445 NOK
Bus from Gudvangen to Voss–130 NOK
Voss to Oslo train–249 NOK
Total 1413 NOK per person for Oslo-Voss-Oslo Vs 2000+ NOK per person.
At present, a round trip for Oslo-Bergen-Oslo will cost 3505 NOK per person when booked with Fjord. Whereas booking from Individual site it costs only 2140 NOK per person
Oslo to Flam train – 619 NOK
Fjord Cruise from Flam to Gudvangen–490 NOK
Bus from Gudvangen to Voss–139 NOK
Voss to Bergen train–223 NOK
Bergen to Oslo train–669 NOK
So do the math and see what works best for you. Also, keep in mind that the ticket prices of the bus and train may vary based on what time of the day you are booking it. There are many upgrade plans (like low fare, flexi, plus, etc.) Based on convenience and so the prices differ. On certain dates or times, the low fare might not be listed. So always check prices for previous and next days before zeroing in on a specific date.