For first time travelers to Norway, or if you are limited on time, of which I was both, the Norway In A Nutshell (NIAN) tour is a perfect way to get a taste of the fjords. What you might not realize right away is NIAN is 100% public transit, meaning you don’t have to book through the official website. While it is easier to book through them, it’s not as complicated as you think to book it yourself, and you will save yourself almost $100 in the process!
There are several routes you can take on the NIAN tour, but the most common options are (1) Round trip from Oslo, with overnight in Bergen (2) One way from Oslo to Bergen and (3) One way from Bergen to Oslo. I had been traveling around Scandinavia for about a week before I got to Norway, so I did one way from Bergen to Oslo, and basically used NIAN to get me back to Oslo for my flight back to the US. I’ll be talking about what I did, but the logic can apply to any route you take.
When looking at the times for the segments you can book ahead of time (noted below), I copied the route exactly from the NIAN website. I was a little concerned that these would all be crowded, but I didn’t want to risk missing connections. Since I went in “shoulder season” in late May the crowds weren’t that terrible. If you go in peak season, I have read it’s insane. So, my best advice is to NOT go in the peak season of July and August if you can help it.
All prices listed are what I paid for an adult fare, prices and exchange rates may vary.
NSB Train from Bergen Central Station to Voss (08:43 – 9:56)
Book ahead of time: Yes. Book directly on the NSB website.
Price: 210 NOK (~ $25 USD)
The journey begins on a pretty standard commuter train. While you are in a tunnel for a while, once you come out it’s a lovely ride along the river. There aren’t assigned seats on this train so you can change sides of the train if you want for taking in all of the views. This train doesn’t end in Voss, but most of the train will get off to continue on the bus.
Bus #950 from Voss to Gudvangen (10:10-11:20)
Book ahead of time: No. You’ll purchase your bus ticket as you board the bus so make sure to have cash. It doesn’t have to be exact change, but it’s easier if you do.
Price: 100 NOK (~ $12 USD)
There is pretty much only one way to exit the train platform in Voss (or just follow the crowd) and the buses are waiting at the end of the path. My biggest concern about the whole NIAN experience was the bus, especially because you couldn’t book it ahead of time. But they have it all figured out and had plenty of buses waiting. Don’t bother waiting in line on the first few buses you see, go to another one towards the back and get a good seat! Again, you’ll pay the driver as your board.
The bus ride is really fantastic and you get a lot of gorgeous views of rolling hills, lakes and rivers as you drive toward the fjords.
Also, the most insane part of the trip happened on the bus ride. While now there is a newer road that is more of a straight shot to Gudvangen, the bus takes the older road for I assume scenic purposes. There is part of the road that is about 5-6 180 degree switchbacks that take you down the mountain. And now is where you are thinking, wait. How does the bus, a giant inflexible vehicle, get down these switchbacks? Well, it does and it is one of the most insane things I have ever experienced. It should also be noted this was the only road to Gudvangen until the 1980s.
Ferry from Gudvangen to Flam (11:30am – 1:30pm)
Book ahead of time: Yes. Book at visitflam.com
Price: 475 NOK (~ $57 USD)
When you book the ferry, you will see there are two options, the premium ferry and the normal ferry. Do yourself a favor, and book the premium ferry!! It’s not that much more expensive and it’s wayyyyy nicer and has way better views. Way. Better. There is also a decent snack bar on board that also serves local beers, which you know I couldn’t pass up.
The buses drop off directly at the ferry. The premium ferry has decks all the way around as well as a deck on top. Try to be one of the first people on if you have big bags so you can be first to the bag storage area. I walked back by later and it was completely full so I was glad I had gotten on first. There is also plenty of indoor lounge spaces if you get tired of being outside and with the floor to ceiling windows around the whole ship, you will never miss the view.
You sail through the breathtaking Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord which are both offshoots of Sognefjord, Norway’s largest and deepest fjord. I knew the fjords would be tall, but it’s a whole different thing to experience them in person. I was also there at the perfect time of year as the snows were still melting so we were able to see more waterfalls than normal. At a particularly large waterfall, the boat got nice and close and stopped for a few minutes, which was pretty cool. In addition to being a beautiful ride, it was also extremely relaxing just to sit, put the camera down for a few minutes and enjoy.
Just when you wish you could ride for another two hours, you arrive in the small fjord-side town of Flam.
Train from Flam to Oslo, with a stopover in Myrdal (14:05pm-10:35pm)
Book ahead of time: Yes. Book directly on the NSB website.
Price: 879 NOK (~ $106 USD)
Flam is a very small town. There is a visitor center, an inn, a small grocery and a building with several restaurants. I had quite a bit of time to kill before the train left Flam, so first I dropped my bags at the bag storage. When you get off the ferry, you are facing the red visitor’s center. Walk to the left towards the train tracks and there is a small yellow shed and this is where you can drop off your bags for less than $10 USD.
There are several things to do while you wait in Flam. There is a fairly long hike to an old traditional Norwegian church, but by this time in my trip I could barely walk due to my back, so we skipped out on the hike. If you are like me, and want to continue your relaxing afternoon, head towards the area with the restaurants and you will find an ice cream counter. Grab a cone of that delicious Scandinavian soft serve, and head across the river to the little beach area. I sat on the beach for a while, enjoying my ice cream and watching people run and plunge themselves into the icy fjord water. There might also be some sheep hanging out next to the beach you can go watch.
I thought I would go to the grocery store near the visitor’s center to get some dinner to bring on the train, but the grocery is not very well stocked and doesn’t have much in the way of sandwiches or bags of chips, so I would be prepared to eat on the train.
a) Flam Railway from Flam to Myrdal
The train back to Oslo is broken up into two parts: The Flam Railway, which takes you to Myrdal, and then a normal NSB train the rest of the way to Oslo. The biggest tip I have besides splurging for the premium ferry is to line up for the Flam Railway about 15 minutes or so before it leaves. Only a few of the windows on each train car open, so if you have any interest at all of taking a photo without window glare, you will want one of those windows. Also there is no AC on this train as it’s an older “quaint” sightseeing train, so, you’ll want that open window. As we all know I am photo-obsessed, I didn’t just want that open window, I NEEDED it. And since we were about 10th in line to get on the train, we ended up with the perfect spot.
This train ride is absolutely beautiful, and there is really no wrong side of the train to be on. The couple across from my friend and me were cool and let me come over and snap a pic from their window every now and then. The train also stops at one point so you can get off and take some photos of a waterfall, and there is also a creepy lady that comes and sings a folksong while you are at the waterfall. It was uh, interesting. Back on the train for more beautiful sights of the mountains and river before you arrive in Myrdal.
b) NSB Train from Myrdal to Flam
Myrdal is in the middle of nowhere. There are a few houses but don’t plan on leaving the train platform. There is a small coffee shop/cafe but also, don’t bother. Unfortunately you have about an hour to kill in the least picturesque place with zero entertainment. There is some wifi that is decent, but we just sat on the ground and waited.
The train to Oslo is very nice and modern. I even spent a few extra dollars on the Komfort Klass, which gives you way more legroom and a full table. If you buy your train ticket enough in advance, as in months, you can get the Mini-Pris pricing which is much cheaper than normal. There are some restrictions like not being able to change the reservation, but it’s worth the risk.
We ended up eating dinner on board, and really the dining car isn’t that bad considering it’s a train. Definitely beats whatever garbage I would have ended up buying in Flam. I got a pizza and my friend and I split a apple strudel.
My favorite part of the train ride was when you get above the tree line and it feels like you have suddenly taken a train to Iceland. The landscape becomes snow filled and barren and it’s an amazing contrast to the fjords you were in just a few hours ago.
The rest of the ride was fairly standard. Until we were told there were power issues outside of Oslo and therefore we will have to get off the train early and transfer to a bus. If this had happened in the US, it would have been a disaster to organize buses to pick us up. I started playing out this mess in my head, but this being Norway, there were plenty of buses waiting for us when we got off the train to take us the last hour into Oslo Central Station.
NIAN trip total: 2250 NOK (~ $273 USD)
DIY trip total: 1664 NOK (~ $201 USD)
I saved $62 by booking on my own!
So that’s it! If you have any other questions about what and how to book, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure you follow me on Instagram (@lindseyonthego) for even more images from my Norway In A Nutshell Tour!