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The Flåm Railway: Norway’s most scenic train journey

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

From the train window I watched snapshots of Norway’s stunning scenery flashing by, one after another – steep rocky cliffs, deep blue fjords, lush green meadows, neatly painted red and white clapboard houses, mountains topped with a sprinkling of snow. I was expecting the Flåm Railway, or Flåmsbana, to be impressive – it’s ranked as one of Europe’s most spectacular rail journeys – but we hadn’t even arrived at the start yet. In most countries this would’ve been a famous scenic train route, but in Norway this was just the regular mainline track between Bergen to Myrdal. It was hard to even imagine how much more beauty there could possibly be, but Norway is overflowing with it. So much so that it can be hard to take it all in, but the Flåmsbana is a pretty good place to start.

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

The Flåmsbana waiting to set off from Myrdal station

The Flåm Railway was built in the 1920s – well started then at least, as the huge engineering challenges in building a line on this steep gradient meant it wasn’t finished until 1940. Around 200 men worked on the site at a time and it was tough going. As well as the line itself there were 10 stations, 20 tunnels and a bridge to build, and with no heavy machinery to help them back then, each tunnel had to be dug out by hand. It took something like 150 man-hours of work to create just one metre of tunnel. The finished line is only 20km long, but travels a huge distance in height from 863 metres at Myrdal to sea level at Flåm. It was mainly used for freight to start with, but when that started to decline it was sold off and it’s now one of Norway’s top tourist attractions with around 600,000 visitors each year.

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

Snowy villages on the route down to Flåm

After leaving the Bergen train, our Flåm Railway journey started off at its highest point in Myrdal. Even in mid-May the ground was still covered in a thick layer of snow, and having not packed a coat I was glad to see the train already standing on the opposite platform. Smartly painted in dark green with gold lettering, the carriages have a real vintage feel with wood-paneled walls and chrome luggage racks. But there are mod-cons too, like screens at the end of the carriage to tell you what you’re seeing and about the history of the line. And even more importantly, each carriage has five different brakes, each of which can stop the whole train. Something you’ll be glad to know when you see the steepness of the track.

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

The Reinungvatnet mountain lake starting to melt

I’d already read up on how the line had been built, but it’s not until you start on the journey that you realise what an amazing feat of engineering it really is. The track zigzags its way down a gradient of 5.5%, which means that it descends one metre in height for every 18 metres it travels. The gradient wasn’t the only challenge though, the steep rocky cliffs and river gorges didn’t help – and they even had to redirect the river through tunnels through the mountain. And this was all designed and planned on paper, long before computers, in an environment where landslides could easily wipe out weeks’ worth of work.

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

Waterfalls along the route, including the Kjosfossen on the left

The beginning of the route runs through a snowy forest, dotted with red and yellow wooden houses. It passes by the Reinungvatnet mountain lake, which was just starting to thaw after being frozen for months. The track then starts to descend steeply and disappears into the first of many tunnels before stopping at the Kjosfossen waterfall. The waterfall is over 90 metres tall and according to Scandinavian fokelore, it’s home to mythical creatures called the Huldra. These beautiful siren women bewitched passing men with their song and lured them out into the woods. Keep an eye out for them, as you might spot one or two dancing among the waterfalls (though they only seem to come out on the busier train journeys!).

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

One of the tiny mountain villages along the route

Back on the train again, windows cut into the tunnel walls give you flashes of the view down the valley and across the valley to the sinuous Rallarvegen. The name roughly translates as the ‘navvies road’ and it was originally built as a construction and access road for the railway track works. Today it’s used as a mountain biking track with 21 twists and turns on the way down. By this point we had descended almost halfway and the snow had completely disappeared, replaced by green fields and cascading waterfalls full of meltwater.

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

Looking down the Flåm Valley

At Breikvam the track splits in two so that trains travelling in opposite directions can pass each other. Then towards the end of journey, the gradient smoothes out and the valley opens up. Looking down on the old part of Flåm it seemed like a model village, with miniature houses and a tiny wooden church on the riverbank. The newer part of Flåm lies further downriver, along the banks of the Sognefjord. This is the end of the line for the Flåmsbana, where the passengers climbed off, slightly dazed from an onslaught of views and colours and dizzy from running from one side of the train to the other so as not to miss anything.

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

Overlooking the old part of Flåm village

The details

The Flåmsbana runs four–ten services in each direction per day, depending on the time of year – see a full timetable here. The journey takes around 50 minutes and tickets cost 300 NOK (£30) one way, with a 30% discount if you have an Interail/Eurail rail pass. You can also combine the Flåm Railway with a fjord cruise as part of the hugely popular Norway in a Nutshell day trip, though it can get really busy. A good tip if you are doing the trip independently is to check out the Norway in a Nutshell timetable and avoid the trains they use – we had a carriage almost to ourselves on the Myrdal–Flåm route by doing this! You can find out more about the railway’s history in the free Railway Museum in Flåm.

Which direction is best? We did the journey in both directions and although you see the same scenery, you get a different experience. Travelling downhill from Myrdal–Flåm was much smoother and better for taking photographs. Travelling uphill from Flåm–Myrdal you could feel the train working hard so you get a lot more squealing of brakes and and lurching around. So it depends on which you prefer!

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41 Comments Post a comment
  1. CrazyGuyinThailand #

    Beautiful Norway.

    June 16, 2014
  2. My god, it looks absolutely gorgeous! I’m getting a small taste of Norway this summer as I’ll be visiting Oslo in a month, but I already know I will go back to this beautiful country at least one more time. 🙂

    June 16, 2014
    • It is stunning! I didn’t get chance to see Oslo on this trip but would love to go back and see it and more of Norway – plus there are so many other parts of Scandinavia I want to see now!

      June 22, 2014
  3. Beautiful. I am putting it on my list of places I must go.

    June 16, 2014
  4. beautiful….

    June 16, 2014
  5. The picturesque view convinced me to take the train one day in the future. It’s too beautiful to miss.

    June 16, 2014
    • That’s great – I would really recommend it, there are some great views!

      June 22, 2014
  6. madisonrolls #

    So pretty! Norway is definitely a country on top of my bucket list! I want to go so badly!

    June 16, 2014
    • I’d wanted to go for years too, so glad to have finally made it this year – though I still want to go back and see more!

      June 22, 2014
  7. amazing view!

    June 16, 2014
    • Thanks, Norway is a really stunning country!

      June 22, 2014
  8. Absolutely stunning Lucy, Norway is definitely on my ‘Europe is really close so try and see more of it’ list!

    June 16, 2014
    • You so should, there are some really good cheap flights to Bergen too, I was really pleasantly surprised (budget post coming up next week!).

      June 22, 2014
  9. Stunning photos, brings back lots of good memories 🙂

    June 16, 2014
    • Thanks, glad to bring back some good memories!

      June 22, 2014
  10. Lucy, I just love your blog. The places you write about, I feel like I have to book travel immediately to see for myself!

    I have traveled in Sweden and Denmark, but not Norway. This makes me sure to fix that soon! Thanks for sharing this!

    I especially like the little tip about which direction to take the train, uphill or down- not many would think to include that!

    June 16, 2014
    • Thanks so much, that’s really lovely to hear! This was my first time in Scandinavia but I would love to get out there again and explore Sweden and Denmark too.

      June 22, 2014
  11. How fun – we were just on this last week! Truly amazing. Downloading my photos from my camera now…

    June 17, 2014
    • How funny! If you’re anything like me then there are a lot of photos to download!

      June 22, 2014
  12. I’m so glad that you enjoyed your stay in my country 🙂 If you’re ever thinking of visiting Norway again, you should check out Telemark. We’re famous for our lovely villages and cultural heritage. Rjukan which is mostly famous for Vemork during World war 2 is a part of Telemark and is worth experiencing, there’s also a lot of beautiful scenery a long the way. Skien the birthplace of Henrik Ibsen and my hometown is also worth visiting, it’s only 2 hours away by bus from Oslo 🙂 Thank you for a informative post and all of the lovely pictures 🙂

    June 17, 2014
    • Thanks so much for all the tips Christina, I definitely plan to make it back and see more of Norway so will look up those places, you have a beautiful country!

      June 22, 2014
  13. The only setback is that everything is so bloody expensive in Norway, but hopefully the scenery makes up for it 🙂

    June 17, 2014
    • It certainly does! I’m going to do a budget post next week as people keep asking about the costs but I didn’t find it quite as bad as I imagined.

      June 22, 2014
  14. Oh wow, this looks incredible. I’d love to see more of this area of Europe but had never really considered Norway before. That’s changed now!!

    June 17, 2014
    • Fantastic – I would so recommend Norway, flights from the UK are pretty reasonable too so it’s doable for a long weekend.

      June 22, 2014
  15. Great tip on getting the less crowded trains!

    June 18, 2014
    • Thanks, I had all these timetables out trying to work out the best time and so glad I did as it was so nice to be able to move around the carriages and have lots of space!

      June 22, 2014
  16. I go walking with a couple who just did the fjords on a cruise and they said it was spectacular, Lucy. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    June 24, 2014
    • It really was beautiful, really enjoyed the trip and I think it might be the start of a few more Scandinavian travels!

      June 24, 2014
  17. What stunning views – another one for the ‘must-see’ list Lucy!

    June 24, 2014
    • You know I love a good train journey, and this has got to be one of the most beautiful yet!

      June 25, 2014
  18. Well this is an addition to the bucket list! Thanks – great post!

    June 27, 2014
    • Thanks – if you like train travel then it’s one of the best train journeys I’ve done, the scenery really does take your breath away!

      June 27, 2014
    • i love train travel! i know it would be killer based on the pics and your story – i can’t wait to do that some day – thank you!

      June 27, 2014
  19. I’ll be there in August – can’t wait!

    June 29, 2014
    • Have a great trip – fingers crossed you get a sunny day for it too!

      June 29, 2014
  20. Great destination!!! I was thinking about bringing my dad on the Flam railway cause he’s been rambling on it since years now! Hopefully we can make it next summer! Will treasure your advices! But in spring as you did looks also nice with all the snow (couldn’t believe the pics were from mid-may, freezing!!!!)

    July 8, 2014
    • Thanks – hope you do get to make it out there and sure your dad would love it! I know it’s hard to believe its May with all that snow, but away from the mountaintops it was fairly warm – though you do have to usually dodge the rain showers!

      July 10, 2014

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