In this destination trip report, we will travel on what is said to be Norway’s most beautiful train ride: The Flamsbana railway line from the mountain station of Myrdal to the fjord at Flam.
About halfway on the journey from Bergen to Oslo on the beautiful Bergensbanen train line, I got off the train at the mountain station of Myrdal.
Although the Bergen Line is absolutely spectacular, it isn’t Norway’s most famous scenic railroad. That distinction goes to a branch line which forks off from the Bergen-Oslo line at Myrdal. The Flam Railway (called the Flåmsbana in Norwegian) is one of the steepest standard-gauge railway in Europe and has views to die for.
Many people do the train trip as a one-way ride, taking the train from Bergen to Myrdal, followed by a ride down to fjord at Flam, from where they take a cruise ship back over the waters of the picturesque Sognefjord. The same journey is of course possible as well in the other direction. These trips sell in special tour packages which include all necessary transport by boat, bus and rail.
Booking a ticket on the Flam train
It is perfectly possible as well to book just the train ride only if you only want to do the rail journey as a side-trip. In this case, you can just book a standard ticket on the website of the Norwegian Railways.
You can just book a simple one-way or return journey from Myrdal to Flam, or add it to a longer journey and book for example Oslo to Flåm in a single transaction (in which you first travel from Oslo to Myrdal on an intercity train, and then change trains to the Flåmsbana down to Flåm).
If you travel around Norway by car you have to start this journey down at the bottom of the fjord at Flåm and book a return journey Flåm-Myrdal-Flåm, given that the mountain village of Myrdal is not accessible by road.
In my case (travelling from Bergen to Oslo and doing the Flåmsbana as a side trip) it was cheapest to book one ticket from Bergen to Flåm and a second one-way ticket from Flåm to Oslo.
No matter which way you book your ticket, do not expect it to come cheap. Even a one-way ticket between Myrdal and Flam will set you back 39 euro. Heck, a Bergen to Oslo ticket – a journey seven times as long – is even cheaper when booked in advance.
Forking out close to 80 EUR for a return journey Myrdal-Flam-Myrdal might seem a bit perverse given the distance between the two stations is only 20 kilometres, but did I regret it in hindsight? Not at all – the journey was simply fantastic!
My train from Bergen arrived in Myrdal at 9.48am with my connecting train to Flam departing at 10.05am. This might seem like a short connection, but do not worry. Norwegian trains are usually on-time and these are guaranteed connections.
In case your train from Oslo or Bergen might run a few minutes late, the Flam train will simply wait for a few minutes longer as there are always plenty of connecting passengers.
Changing trains at Myrdal was amazingly simple as the station consists out of one island platform only and I simply had to walk to other side where the Flamsbana train was already waiting.
The Flamsbana train
The train was surprisingly long and consisted out of at least 10 different carriages. There are no pre-assigned seats so seating is on a first come, first serve basis. There are however some special carriages which were exclusively reserved for tour groups.
Even though these carriages are way more modern than the old standard carriages and do offer extra services such as a guide explaining the railway’s history and pointing out all the sights, I was glad that I was not seated in one.
First of all there were the crowds. While some of the reserved carriages were full of people, the normal unreserved wagons were fairly empty. In my wagon there was only one (!) small family of German tourists, which meant I could easily move from seat to seat to snap pictures depending on which side of the train had the best views.
That said, given I was travelling in off-season (March) this might not be the same in the high summer season when you can expect all trains to be fairly full.
Another huge advantage of the old unreserved carriages of the Flam railroad was the fact that it actually had old-fashioned windows which could be opened.
Sure, the cold winter breeze is not something to look forward to, but photographers instantly know why an open window is such an advantage. It is just so much easier to snap great pictures out of an open window than having to deal with the reflection of the glass!
The journey from Myrdal to Flam isn’t that long as the distance is just a little over 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) with the train taking around 50 minutes to complete the trip. When going down the mountain from Myrdal to Flam, the best views are on the left side of the train for about 90% of the journey. If taking the train from Flam up to Myrdal, you thus want to sit on the right-hand side for the best views.
What makes the journey spectacular is that you go from an altitude of 866.8 metres (2,488 ft) at Myrdal all the way down to sea level at Flam, which is located at the end of a fjord.
The first few minutes after leaving Myrdal, there are views of the mountains and high-altitude plateau. Watch out closely for the waterfalls which are visible high on the rocks – which in winter will be completely frozen!
At one point shortly after departure, the railway line will enter a series of tunnels and avalanche galleries. The views now start to become really spectacular. When you look carefully between the supporting pillars of the avalanche galleries, there are some great views some 800 metres down into the valley.
At this part of the journey you truly appreciate the amazing job of the engineers to construct this line given the sheer height difference they had to overcome on a relatively short line. That would already be the case if the line was constructed today, but consider that the Flamsbana was actually built in 1924 without modern equipment!
Given that railway lines can only have a certain gradient in order for trains to safely operate and to be able to climb up, this means that a lot of loops and tunnels had to be hacked and blown out of the rocks. The train cannot go faster than 30 kph (19 mph) when going downhill and the gradient of the line has a maximum of only 5.5 percent.
After just a little more than 4 kilometres down the line, the train makes it only scheduled stop at Kjosfossen. The Flamsbana only halts on request at other stops along the line to allow some locals and hikers to make use of the train connection as well.
At Kjosfossen there is a large waterfall, which unfortunately was covered by a thick layer of snow and ice this winter. It is however a spectacular sight in spring, summer and autumn when the ice has melted.
After a five minute stop, we departed from Kjosfossen and made our way into a tunnel down towards the Flam valley.
Into the valley
After a few tunnels there were more spectacular views over the mountains and valley. The views back towards Myrdal were interesting too, as you can clearly see the avalanche galleries and railway tracks running higher up the mountain on the other side.
After quite a few more loops and tunnels, the railroad arrived at the bottom of the valley. Here, the railway line runs along a river and a road towards Flam.
Getting closer to the town of Flam and the fjord, the amount of snow cover gradually started to decrease as well. Our train eventually pulled into Flam station at 10.55am on the dot.
Flam is a small village of around 300 souls and there isn’t much to do or going on. It does however have quite some facilities at it is an important transit hub, even though the passengers are almost exclusively tourists.
It is not only the end of the Flam railway line, but also the beginning (or end point) of some cruise ships and passenger ferry lines over the fjord. If you visit the area by car, then Flam is also the place where you need to drive to and park your car before embarking on your journey by boat, train or hike on foot.
As my return train to Myrdal left at 11.50am, I had almost an hour to look around. Although this might sound a wee bit short, it is definitely enough time for a walk through the village and a short stop at the waterside to snap some pictures of the fjord.
By all means it is possible to stay longer in Flam if you want to, but do realise that the place is tiny and doesn’t consist out of much more than a few houses, a few tourist shops and a cafe and restaurant or two. There is also a small supermarket which was ideal to stock up on a small picnic and supplies for the return journey by train.
Most people from our arriving train seemed to go straight to one of the few ships anchored in the harbour. For me, the one hour in town which I had planned was certainly enough, and I would only recommend more time here if you actually plan to stay for lunch in a restaurant or take a boat ride down the fjord.
I was delighted to see the small supermarket having beer stocked in the fridge, so I just bought a cold one and a sandwich and had a small picnic down by the fjord. The views over the Aurlandsfjord were just absolutely stunning.
It was one of the best beers I ever drunk. Not because the bog-standard Norwegian lager was that tasty (although it wasn’t bad either), it was just the combination of the amazing views with an ice cold beer which made it memorable.
Returning to Myrdal
Back at the station, the weather seemed to improve as the clouds slowly starting to give way to clear blue skies. Just like the previous day in Bergen, Norway again showed that in one single day you can see every single season of the year.
The return train to Myrdal was again almost completely empty with the exception of the carriages reserved for tour groups. Backtracking on the same route might seem a bit boring, but believe me, it was anything but. Facing a different direction of travel means you see so many things which you haven’t seen before.
And some of the great views of the outbound journey looked even better going back to Myrdal, although arguably the sunny skies played a huge role here too.
Into the mountains
When the valley started to narrow, the mountain views became even more spectacular. From my experience you appreciate the mountain views better while taking the train up from Flam to Myrdal, while the valley views are arguably better doing the journey from Myrdal to Flam because of the direction of travel.
Even though I was now travelling the same stretch of railway line twice, the views did not bore at all. After 45 minutes, the train arrived again on time at Myrdal station, where I had one-and-a-half hour to kill before my connecting train towards Oslo would arrive.
Fortunately, the weather outside was sunny and when it gets too cold there is a warm waiting room at Myrdal station with a kiosk selling drinks and snacks.
A ride on the Flam Railway does not come cheap, but wow, this journey does certainly rank among the world’s most beautiful train rides with top notch scenery from start to finish.
And while every travel season has it’s own set of advantages, I loved the winter landscape and the complete lack of crowds in winter which allowed me to freely walk through the carriages, open the windows, hang outside and snap as many pictures as I could.
If the mountain and valley views aren’t already great enough, the views of the fjord at Flam also makes this a worthwhile journey. Although I didn’t hop on a ship down the fjord, I can certainly understand why so many people combine a ride on the Flam Railway with a fjord cruise.
Especially for railway enthusiasts the Flam Railway is a must-do trip when visiting Norway.
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