Norway in a Nutshell: A Snapshot of Norway’s Natural Beauty
You don’t go to Norway to walk around old towns or explore history. Norway is a country that you visit for its natural beauty. Norway is a country home to beautiful snow-capped mountains, spectacular fjords, insane wildlife, the midnight sun, and the Northern Lights. Luckily I had a bit of time (and money) to spend in Norway, so I was able to see a huge part of this country on a 12 day cruise on the Hurtigruten MS Lofoten. But for visitors that are only going to make it to Oslo and/or Bergen, the Norway in the Nutshell Tour is the perfect way to experience Norway’s natural beauty.
In fact, the fjords and mountains I passed through on my day of travel on the Norway in a Nutshell was some of the best scenery I saw during my whole 2.5 weeks in Norway.
It is also a pretty handy way of getting overland from Oslo to Bergen.
The Norway in a Nutshell tour is essentially a series of transport options that are put together by Fjord Tours. Unfortunately the Norway in a Nutshell bookings don’t accommodate concessions so you might save a bit of money if you try and book everything on your own.
But some of the buses you need to buy when you get there if you aren’t on a tour booking, so you always run the risk of not getting a spot, especially in high season.
There are many ways to do the Norway in a Nutshell including some that are shorter and cheaper such as the Bergen to Bergen tour. But the best and most beautiful way to do it is from Oslo to Bergen.
The tour involves a train ride from Oslo to Myrdal, a journey on the famous Flam railway from Mydral to Flam, a ferry ride through the famous UNESCO listed Sognefjord a bus to Voss and a train from Voss to Bergen.
It is a massive 12 hour day so be prepared to be very exhausted by the time you arrive in Bergen. I went straight to my AirBnB and was super glad that my host had left complimentary fruit in my room as I had absolutely no energy to go out and get some dinner.
But god is it worth it!
The Bergen Railway to Mydral
The journey started with an 8.25am departure from Oslo train station to Mydral on the Oslo-Bergen train line.
The Bergen railway is often touted as the most beautiful train journey in the world, and I have to agree. It is also the highest mainline railway line in Northern Europe, reaching an altitude of 1,237 metres at its highest point.
This was definitely the part of the journey where I benefitted most from visiting in the winter. The whole way from Oslo to Mydral was a winter wonderful of snowfields. It wasn’t surprising that we saw lots of locals on the train suited up in skiing gear, many of the areas between Oslo and Myrdal are popular spots for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing. I spotted lots of skiers out the window as we passed by mountains, lakes, glaciers and little Norwegian style chalets in the middle of nowhere (a Norwegian dream).
This isn’t a journey where you’ll need to occupy yourself with a book or an activity. I managed to entertain myself perfectly by starring out the window for the whole three hours.
The Flam Railway
We arrived at Mydral just before 1pm and immediately boarded the train for our journey on the Flam Railway. The old fashioned and cozy train made me feel like I was in the early 20th century rather than travelling in 2016.
The seats, the train and the upholstery reminded me a lot of the Hogwarts Express, I half expected the trolley witch to come along with her cart of Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans. It made me very excited for my actual Hogwarts Express experience coming up in Scotland in August.
But I didn’t think the view out of the window on the Flam Railway was as beautiful as the Oslo-Mydral part of the journey. The Flam Railway more than anything is a way to experience the wonders and history of railway engineering. It’s incredible to think of all the rail tunnels they dug out of the mountains back in 1924. But these incredible tunnels also mean you spend a lot of time in the dark rather than getting a view of the mountains.
The parts where you are out of the tunnels are beautiful, but it was a part of the journey that I think would have been more spectacular in spring or summer. Late winter meant that all of the beautiful green trees and grass I had seen in the pictures when researching the railway were all gone. It also meant the beautiful rivers and waterfalls were frozen over.
The blanket of snow covering everything was still beautiful but I don’t think as beautiful as all of that green grass and blue running water that I’d seen online. And because the Flam Railway descends down to seal level the snow disappeared about half way through our journey and what was left looked pretty desolate.
But by ‘not as beautiful as summer’ it doesn’t mean that the views and little towns we passed weren’t spectacular. Even Norway’s worst will blow your mind, that is just how beautiful this country is.
This was 100% the highlight of the Norway in the Nutshell Tour, if not the most beautiful scenery I saw in my whole time in Norway (and I saw a lot of amazing scenery on my cruise).
After a short lunch break in Flam where I indulged in some more amazing Norwegian salmon, we boarded our ferry that was to take us through the fjord at 3pm.
The whole two hour journey was me basically running between the warmth of the boat’s inside cabin and the deck where I’d get the best view of the amazing fjord. It was cold outside but I tried to stay as long as I could manage in order to take in the breathtaking scenery.
The snow capped mountains, the still water and the insanely narrow passages made me feel like I was travelling through another world. It felt like I was looking at a heavily edited photo rather than looking at the scenery with my naked eye.
Just when I thought we had arrived, some more beautiful scenery would arrive in the window and I’d have to jump straight back outside.
The boat journey is the number one reason why I’d choose to make my way from Oslo to Bergen via the Norway in a Nutshell tour, rather than just taking the Oslo to Bergen train (it is beautiful but you miss out on the boat ride).
The bus to Voss
I was hoping to be able to nap on the bus from Voss. I incorrectly presumed that when we got off the boat at Gudvangen that was the end of the beautiful natural scenery. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was just enough sunlight left for us to get a beautiful view of frozen lakes, more snow, and the sides of the mountains towering above us.
Unfortunately taking photos through bus windows just does not work. So you’ll have to take the tour yourself to see these views.
The train to Bergen
We had to wait about half an hour before catching our final transport for the day; the train to Bergen. In summer I’m sure you can enjoy the scenery between Voss and Bergen. Unfortunately winter meant that it was already dark by the time we boarded the train.
This was my opportunity for a well-earned nap!
But the best thing is we ended up in Bergen and I got to experience its natural beauty the very next day!
The Norway in a Nutshell tour isn’t cheap. I paid upwards of $150 AUD for my day on the tour. But considering the train from Oslo to Bergen wasn’t much cheaper, and I had to arrive in Bergen somehow, it was totally worth it.
You get a great taste of the real side of Norway! It’s only by getting out of the cities that you’ll truly realise how spectacular this country really is.