Flåm is a small two in the Norwegian fjords. But comparing with all the other Norwegian towns in the areas between mountains and sea, it isn’t that uncommon. So what makes this town so special and touristic? The train ride to get there!
That odd letter, that seems to be a º over the letter “a” has a sound very similar to the sound “a” in “all”. A lot of people misprounce the town’s name, and then when they travel in Norway they get a bit confused when they hear the word properly pronounced.
My interest in visiting this town started by the fact that I wanted to do one of the train rides I have in this list of epic train rides in Europe. The plan was drafted with a friend, and it would be either Norway or Switzerland, also for a train route (which later I ended up doing as well). We compared the prices, and the easiest way to get to these destinations, and Norway ended up being the chosen one.
The train ride between Oslo and Flåm
An uneventful trip isn’t that appealing to share. Sharing those kind of a travel stories are basically just to brag about the amazing routes, some tips, but it lacks the getting personal factor. Thankfully (or not), this trip had a lot of incidents, but everything ended on a good note!
When we decided where to go, we split the tasks. And one of those tasks was regarding booking the accommodation. This is always a task that I don’t like to be responsible for. I sleep anywhere, and my criteria where to sleep are basically none. So I’d rather have someone else decide, since I won’t mind where I will sleep…, unless…
Misadventures in Oslo
Since we would arrive late in Oslo, we decided that the first night would be there. In fact, I am not even sure if it would be possible to reach Flåm by public transportation at the time we landed in Norway.
Once we arrived in Oslo, we went straight to the hostel. The plan was to drop our luggage, then finding a nice place for dinner and maybe walk a bit around the city at night. But we knew we would have to wake up really early to take the first train of the day.
Already at the hostel we found out there was no booking for us… But we knew we had a booking, we had the receipt. Since we were at the capital, I wasn’t even concerned. Of course we would find another option. But still, we tried to understand what went wrong…
So it happens that my friend booked the accommodation in Oslo, but for the following night!! The night when we would be in Bergen!! This means, there was a booking, but for the wrong night! The first thing we did was double checking the booking for Bergen, but thankfully that one was correct! Basically we had two bookings for the same night, but in different cities (and quite far from each other), and no booking for the first night…
At the hostel they said they were fully booked, but not to worry because they would solve the problem. With the most relaxed mood, she told us that there are always “no shows” and that we would be able to spend the night there! It was a bit odd for us, we got a bed each at a fully booked hostel, just based on the possibility of two people not showing up… Truth be told, no one kicked us out during the night!
By train to Flåm
The train ride from Oslo to Flåm takes about 6 hours and a half, and two trains. The first one takes about 5 hours, and the second train another hour. But the second part of the trip is the one that draws more tourists, since it is so special. However, the first part is also really beautiful, and I highly recommend to do that trip by train.
But continuing with the misadventures, the train ride until Myrdal (the stop where the Flåm railway starts) was a bit eventful…
The first hour was quite relaxed, we had a car just for ourselves. Just myself and my friend, each next to a window to indulge with those views! Magnificent, calm, and with that mix of feelings of excitement and inner peace. But after one hour, everything changed…
A family entered the car, of about 12-14 people, with 6 children. The quietness ended there until the rest of the trip. Keep in mind that the car is big, and perfectly possible to respect everyone inside that space. Though that’s a concept that apparently isn’t part of that family’s vocabulary. The children jumped on the seats, they run, they would join us in our rows and would even push us so that they could play hide and seek. And us? Loosing our patience. To the point that we had to should “STOP”.
How about the grownups? They would simply look, without even scold their children by disturbing other people. Honestly, that was the part that annoyed me the most. Children are children, but adults should set some boundaries regarding respect and disturbing other people.
Regarding the landscapes? Magnificent! And really interesting, since we went there during the first weekend of June, we were wearing short sleeves and feeling a really pleasant temperature, while everything was white outside. Even when we stopped we didn’t feel any cold, regardless of the snow.
From Myrdal to Flåm
This stretch of the trip is the most special part. The breathtaking views, with a stop right next to a waterfall that almost touches the railway, and a descent of 867 meter on a single track.
Knowing this would be the most important part for us, the first thing we decided as soon as we got out of the train was: get as further away from that family as possible!!! That stretch of the trip is really popular, and during that 1 hour ride the train was always full.
There are two classes of tickets, the first and second class. But the seats are not pre-booked, or at least the ones in second class. Which means, once you get inside you should try to find a good seat, and regardless of the side you will be presented with breathtaking views. But keep in mind that you won’t be able to see everything if you stay seated. Most people end up getting up to appreciate the views from both sides, which ends up being a mess.
Why is this route so special? The fact that it is an engineering “miracle”. Like I mentioned before, the train descends 867 meters, this during 20 km. But the the first part of the descent is really steep, and through several tunnels. To be more precise, there are 20 tunnels along this route. One of those tunnels took 11 years to be finished, and has a length of roughly 1300 meters.
The most complex part of the construction were the tunnels, and out of the 20 tunnels only two were dug using machinery. The remaining 18 were “dug” with traditional tools.
Right after the start of the trip, one of the first stops is right next to a gorgeous waterfall. The train stops there for a few minutes, so we can go out and take a few photos.
Along the trip we can see the Flåm valley, and some parts of the old route. Always being guided by audio recordings about the route and the stops where we are.
At some point the slope is not as steep, and that’s when we are already inside the valley on the way to the small town.
The trip between Flåm and Bergen
After a short stop in Flåm, of about 2 hours, we kept traveling towards Bergen. I have to admit, this day was a bit too much. Too many experiences in just one day, and a really long trip. The trip didn’t end in Flåm, in order to take advantage of our long weekend we had to go straight to Bergen by ferry.
But before we boarded we tried to explore a bit that small town. With just 2 hours we couldn’t do much, we ate overly priced street food (Norway is expensive…), and we stayed a bit by the beach rejoicing the entrance to the fjord. And to celebrate the moment, I had to dip my feet in that cold freezing water!
If you want to explore Flåm a bit better, there is a museum of the railway and the history of the town. There are also a few excursions and experiences in the area, like visiting a viewpoint or a tour through the fjords.
Since we didn’t have much time, we ended up just by relaxing a bit, and then following with the trip by ferry passing through several Norwegian fjords. Those views are amazing…, the ferry was a cheaper way to do that part of the trip, and still with a chance of being in the fjords. But there are other options targeted more for tourists, and with those we can even get inside some World Heritage fjords.
I guess we didn’t enjoy that part of the trip as desired, mostly because we were wrecked. Even though we spent a lot of time outside taking photos and admiring those fjords arms and the countless waterfalls that go down all those cliffs until they reach the sea. We were bewildered by such natural beauty, and despite the tiredness it was a singular experience. After a few hours we retreated to the cabine, totally exhausted and simply looking through the window. After all, it was a 5 hours trip by ferry!
The trip from Bergen to Oslo
It was a really long day! After 6 hours by train and 5 hours by ferry, all of this after waking up really early, arriving in Bergen felt like the end of a marathon!
Our stamina was almost gone, but we still found energies to explore a bit of that town. We really had to do it, it would be either that end of the day, or nothing at all. The following morning we would have to wake up really early again to return back to Oslo.
We had a really nice dinner by the sea, expensive of course, but more than deserved! We were on vacation. And afterwards we went for a short walk around the seaside and a few other sites that we thought could be more interesting.
Going back home with a short stop in Oslo
Our visit to Bergen was way too short, but the goal of the trip was never to visit cities, but the trip itself. It was visiting the Flåm Railway and passing through the fjords. And also to have a taste of Norway besides Oslo. Mission accomplished, we went back with a feeling of fulfillment!
We also had a few hours to explore a bit of Oslo, but without an overstay. Our last night was in Bergen. In total we spent two nights in Norway, the first one in Oslo and then another one in Bergen.
The return back to Oslo was also by train, but this time a direct train. The train was full during most of the trip, and with several tourists. The trip had a duration of almost 7 hours, but we crossed the country from the Norwegian Sea to the Skagerrak Strait.
Curiosities about the Flåm Railway
The Flåm Railway has several characteristics that make it unique in the world. Maybe the most notorious is the fact that it is the the railway using regular catenary with the steepest slope in the world! About 80% of the route has a slope of 5,5%!
Along the 20 km route, between Myrday and Flåm, the ride takes about one hour and passes through 20 tunnels that are cutting through the mountain in several curves and spirals.
The railway that exists nowadays took several years to be built. Since the idea was proposed until it got approved took 40 years, with a prediction of about 22 thousand passengers a year. But it took more than 16 years until the construction started, in 1924. 18 out of the 20 tunnels were dug without the help of machinery. Each meter of these tunnels took in average 1 month to be dug. In total there were dug 5691 meters, so it isn’t surprising that this construction took so long to be finished.
In 1940 the railway was finally finished, though only in 1941 the first passengers were able to use this railway in steam trains. And since 1947, already with electric trains.
If in 1908 they were estimating 22 thousand passengers a year, in 2015 they already had 800 thousand passengers a year!
This information and much more about the area where Flåm is can be explored in detail at the small Flåm Railway Museum, which is located in the train station itself.
Where is Flåm and Bergen?
Flåm is a small town in one of the many arms of the Norwegian fjords in the west side of the country. The best way to reach this town is really by train, but from Bergen you can also take a ferry.
And Bergen stays even further west, already by the Sea of Norway. You can fly directly to Bergen, which has a small airport. Or again, by train with direct connection to Oslo.