First Taste of the Nordics - Norway and Sweden 2011

Having never visited any Scandinavian country before, we were very excited at the prospect of spending some time in Norway. While this remarkable country stretches all along the western side of the Scandinavian peninsula, our trip focused on the southern part of the country.

After some time in exploring Oslo, we took the scenic Oslo-Bergen railway, often billed as one of the most spectacular rail journeys on earth. From Oslo, the line climbs to the vast Hardangervidda Plateau. At Myrdal, the Flåmsbanen railway careens down through towering mountains and impressive waterfalls down to Flåm. From Flåm, the fjord cruise head up the Sognefjord before resuming the train journey to Bergen.

We also managed to fit in a quick weekend getaway across the border to Goteborg, Sweden.

Itinerary : May-June 2011

Days 1-5 Oslo, Bygdoy Peninsula, Vigeland Park, Munch Museum, Holmenkollen, Drøbak and Oscarsborg
Days 6-7 Norway in a Nutshell : Oslo-Myrdal, Myrdal-Flåm, Flåm-Gudvangen, Gudvangen-Bergen, Bergen
Days 8-9 Gothenburg, Sweden

The Photos

Complete Photo Album .


Oslo is the oldest of the Scandinavian capitals, and its history goes back over a thousand years, when the first settlements were built at the inlet of the Oslo fjord. Today the city is characterized by a mix of old and new architecture, parks, lakes and the fjord. Our time in Oslo was spent exploring the neighborhoods and visiting a few of Oslo's staggering list of world-class museums like the Munch Museum and the National Gallery, enjoying the extraordinary open-air showcase of sculpture of Norway's best-loved sculptor Gustav Vigeland and enjoying the atmosphere of this modern but low-key city.

Oslo city center along Karl Johans Gate

The prow of polarship Fram, that played pivotal role in polar exploration

A short ferry ride away is Bydgdoy Peninsula that holds some of Oslo's top attractions, many of which are associated with Norway's long maritime tradition. The captivating Viking Ship Museum houses three viking ships excavated from the Oslofjord region. The Kon-Tiki museum is dedicated to the balsa raft on which Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia in 1947, threby proving that one could have used a reed boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean in ancient times. A third museum is dedicated to the Polar ship Fram, a ship with history. From 1993 to 1896, Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition took the Fram to Russia's New Siberian Islands, and en route back to Norway the team passed within only a few degress of the North Pole. Later it was used by Roald Amundsen to land on the Ross Ice Shelf before he struck out on foot for the South Pole. The museum also includes an interesting rundown on the history of polar exploration.

Drøbak and Oscarsborg

A few hours form Oslo, Drøbak is a cosy little village by the water's edge. Traditionally, it was the winter harbour of Norway's capital, Oslo, since in severe winters the fjord will freeze from outside Drøbak all the way up to Oslo.

It is also the base to visit Oscarsborg fortress, a coastal fortress on an island in the Oslofjord. The narrows at Drøbak, called Drøbaksundet is a natural point for the naval defence of Oslo.

Mermaid statue at Drøbak jetty

The fortress is situated on two small islets which is reached by a short boat trip from Drøbak. It is best known for sinking the German heavy cruiser Blücher on April 9, 1940 in the Drøbak narrows. The cruiser was transporting German soldiers and bureaucrats for the planned swift occupation of Oslo, but the sinking by the Oscarsborg fortress delayed this, and thus allowed for the evacuation of the Norwegian Royal Family, parliament, and cabinet, and for the nation's gold reserves to be denied the occupiers.

During the Cold War, Oscarsborg formed a last line of defence for the capital city, with the underground torpedo battery remaining secretly active up 1993. The fortress is now largely a civilian resort and attraction, open for visitors. The scenic surroundings is used for conferences and excursions.

Norway in a Nutshell

A well-established itinerary for visitors to Norway is to take the route named "Norway in a Nutshell". It takes you thorough some of the most beautiful scenery in Norway including the Bergen railway, the Flåm Railway, through the Aurlandsfjord, the Naeroyfjord and the steep Stalheimskleiva road.

Route map - Norway in a Nutshell

While this can be traversed as part of an organized tour, we decided to make our own reservations of the various segments to have some flexibility and also take advantage of discounts available for booking early on the train segments. You can start the round trip in either in Bergen or Oslo or from one of the stops en route. Our journey started from Oslo on an early morning train out of Oslo Central Station.

Oslo - Bergen railway

Hardangervidda plateau

The Bergen railway is the approximately 500-kilometre-long railway line between Bergen and Oslo. It is Northern Europe's highest stretch of railway, roughly 100 km of which runs through wild mountain terrain. The line crosses both the Langfjellene mountains and the Hardangervidda mountain plateau.

The train ride is spectacular and varied.On the journey from east to west, you pass many areas of open countryside and wooded valleys in the east before crossing the bare mountains to arrive at the steep mountainsides and exciting fjord areas of western Norway.

Finse is the highest station, situated at an altitude of 1,222 metres and you can see the blue ice of the Hardangerjokul glacier. We got off the train at Myrdal, for the next segment of our journey.

The Flåm Railway

Myrdal Station - upper terminus of the Flåm Railway

Panorama of towering mountains and impressive waterfalls

A branch of the Bergen Railway, the Flåm Railway, runs from Myrdal at an altitude of 866 mts to Flåm, which is just 2 mts above sea level. With a gradient of 1 in 18, it is steepest normal guage railway line in Northern Europe. The Flåm Railway was completed in 1944 after a construction period lasting 20 years. There are 20 tunnels, 18 of which were excavated by hand.

This stretch of railway built to connect Songefjord to the rest of the railway network, thereby improving communications in the innermost part of the county. The journey takes roughly 50 minutes descending from the high-mountain plateau at Mydal, through the wild and beautiful Flåm valley to the village of Flåm down besides the Aurlandsfjord. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Norway.


Flåm harbour

On the way, you see some of the most magnificent mountain scenery Norway has to offer, with shifting panorama of towering mountains and impressive waterfalls. One of the stops is to see the Kjosfossen Waterfall. Kjosfossen power station, supplies electricity to the Myrdal-Flåm railway. The train stops here for a few minutes so everyone can go out onto the platform to a take a closer look at the waterfall.

Cruising The Fjords

According to Rick Steves, if you go to Norway and don't get out to the fjords, you should have your passport revoked. Norway's greatest claim to scenic fame is its deep and lush fjords. Sognefjord, Norway's longest (120 miles) and deepest (over a mile), is at the top of the list.

Going up Aurlandsfjord

Town on the sliver of land along Aurlandsfjord

From Flåm, a boat takes you up one narrow arm - Aurlandsfjord, and down the next - Nærøyfjord, to the small town of Gudvangen. Despite a heavily overcast sky and a stiff breeze, we scurried around the deck for two glorious hours taking in the scenery.

Waterfalls cascade down black cliffs into bridal veils and as the boat enters the narrower Nærøyfjord, you can nearly reach out and touch the cliffs. The boat floats past the beautiful village of Undredal which boasts of Scandinavia's smallest stave church, and the mountain farm Stegen, which is situated 300 incredibly steep meters above sea level.


Entering the narrower Nærøyfjord - only 500 metres wide in some parts.

Nærøyfjord, which is an arm of Sognefjord, is one of the narrowest and perhaps the most dramatic fjord in Europe. The whole fjord landscape is a conservation area and is included on the UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The Stalheimskleiva road

At Gudvangen, waiting buses shuttle you back to the main train line at Voss. The journey takes you through the mountainous Naeroydalen valley before arriving at the spectacular Stalheimskleiva road, which twists and turns down the 13 steep and spectacular hairpin bends offering wonderful views of the Stalheimsfossen and Sivlefossen waterfalls.

View of the valley from the Stalheimskleiva road

Hairpin turns - Stalheimskleiva road


The second largest city in Norway and the gateway to the Norwegian fjords, Bergen is a delightful city. With its UNESCO World Heritage listed Bryggen, its timbered houses, vibant fish market, cable cars offering stunning views and great museums, it is heavily frequented by tourists.

The peninsula on which Bergen resides is surrounded by seven mountains and seven fjords, ensuring a history closely tied to the seas. It became one of the central ports of the Hanseatic League, wich dominated northern European trade during the late Middle Ages and which bequeathed to Bergen its picturesque waterfront.

View of Bergen harbour from Floibanen

Colorful timbered buildings at Bryggen

Bryggen is Bergen's oldest and most enchanting quarter. The long parallel rows of buildings with stacked-stone foundations and rough-plank construction run back from gabled fronts facing the wharf. In 1979, 58 of the wooden structres that have survived successive fires, were added to the UNESCO world Heritage list. A terrific museum close by, the Hanseatic museum, provides a window into the world of Hanseatic traders.

Not far from Bergen is Troldhaugen, home to Norway's best known composer, Edvard Grieg.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Situated on the west coast of Sweden, Gothenburg is the second-largest city in Sweden. It lies by the sea at the mouth of Göta Älv—the river running through the city—and is the largest seaport in the Nordic countries. Arriving after an approximately four hour train ride from Oslo, we spent a delightful weekend exploring this beautiful city. A classic city tour aboard an open-topped boat called Paddan takes you through an old moat, under 20 bridges, and throught 17th century canals into the harbour of Gothenburg. This gives the visitor an unique waterside perspective. We spent the first day walking through the city's streets, past the numerous museums, churches and exploring quiet residential areas.

Outside Gothenburg Central Station

Island hopping - Gothenburg's southern archipelago

On the second day we headed out to Gothenburg's southern archipelago, a cluster of islands at the mouth of the Gota river. The main islands are accessible by public ferries that are part of the transport system, and so you can use the same tickets for going to the archipelago as you would for any other destination in the city. The archipelago is completely car free. We spent some time walking around on Donsö and Styrsö which are linked by a brige.

The Photos

Complete Photo Album .

Trip Tracks

Click here for the KMZ file for the trip. This can be opened in Google Earth.

Alternatively, you can view the waypoints and trip tracks in Google Maps below.

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Malini Kaushik & R. Venkatesh