Flåm, Norway

Flåm is small yet offers a treasure trove of spectacular scenery. Arrive via Norway’s longest fjord. Ride one of the world’s steepest train routes. Walk or cycle around the harbor, through a lush valley and at the base of towering mountains streaked with waterfalls. Flåm is a sympathy of Norwegian nature at its finest.

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1 Cruise Ship Docked at Flåm, Norway

Almost every day in late spring and throughout the summer, a cruise ship along West Norway sails into Sognefjord. Statistics alone justify the crown “King of the Fjords.” The fjord is the country’s deepest (maximum of 4,291 feet) and longest (127 miles) and ranks second in the world by length. The widest section is 2.8 miles. The sides are defined by sheer cliffs, rounded mounts and grandiose summits. Several peaks pierce the clouds at over 5,000 feet. Waterfalls, coves and islets abound. Mouths of tributary fjords are common. So are rushing rivers dumping water from melted snow. Words fail to describe the waves of changing beauty created by massive ancient glaciers. At the end, Sognefjord branches into two arms. One direction is Nærøyfjord. This fjord is so incredible that UNESCO designated all 10.5 miles as a World Heritage Site. The ship captain steers into Årdalsfjord. This fjord is equally stunning for another 18 miles through a deep, U-shaped valley. Each year, 160 cruise ships make this journey. You just heard the announcement that your ship has been cleared for disembarkation at Flåm. Enjoy!

Flåm Cruise Terminal, 5743 Flåm, Norway

2 Balcony View of Flåm, Norway

Flåm is small … very small. You can survey the majority of it from your ship’s balcony. If you are among the first to exit the ship and only walk around the main village, you can be back aboard before they stop serving breakfast. But then you would squander one of Norway’s most scenic destinations. This travel guide suggests several ways to convert your one-day visit into a lifetime memory.

Flåm Ferdaminne AS, 5743 Flåm, Norway

3 Stores and Guides in Flåm, Norway

Adjacent to the cruise terminal are a cluster of buildings along a wooden platform. Inside are souvenir shops, restaurants, a microbrewery pub, a minimarket, hotels and hostels plus a museum. These require little time to explore. There to welcome you are numerous tour operators. They will enthusiastically explain why their excursion is best. Unlike in many ports, these folks are friendly, informative and genuinely want to showcase the gorgeous surroundings of where they live.

Flam Bakery, 5743 Flåm, Norway

4 Bridge over Flåmselvi River in Flåm, Norway

You will not see traffic during your visit, just an occasional passing car. Those entering central Flåm cross over the Flåmselvi river on this bridge. The village is located in Aurland. This municipality covers 567 square miles and has a population of less than 1,800 people. In short, Flåm is as remote as it is beautiful. Yet, it is possible to drive to Flåm from Norway’s two largest cities. The distance from Bergen to Flåm is 105 miles. This requires a 2.5 hour journey. Travel from the capital city is almost double. Oslo is 195 miles away or 4.5 hours by car.

Flåmselvi Bridge, 5743 Flåm, Norway

5 Color of Houses in Flåm, Norway

Flåm has only 350 residents. They live in modest yet impeccably maintained homes with traditional rural Norwegian designs. Those in town have a lovely garden. Others in the valley are attached to farmland. You may notice most homes in Flåm have one of three exterior colors. There is history behind these paints. Bright red was the least expensive so it became the first choice of farmers. This is why so many barns are red. Yellow cost more because it was a mix of ochre with cod liver oil. Several houses in the valley are yellow. White was very pricey to produce because an essential component was zinc. This color became a status symbol among the wealthy.

Nedre Brekkevegen, 5743 Flåm, Norway

6 Little Girl Wearing Bunad in Flåm, Norway

The locals will often greet arriving cruise ship passengers with a show. This adorable little girl is wearing a bunad. The style evolved from rural Norway in the 18th century to the national costume today. Common features are a wool vest with intricate embroidery, buckles, clasps and silver jewelry. These are complimented with a white blouse and long skirt. The clothes are worn during performances of traditional music and dance. Increasingly, adult women wear them as a fashion statement to social events and festive occasions. There are over 400 design variations. Each one reflects a geographical region. The elaborate outfits plus accessories are expensive, especially for handmade Norwegian bunads. Prices start at $2,000. Often a bunad is passed down through the generations.

Inner Harbour Flåm Center, 5742 Flåm, Norway

7 Flåmsbana Railway Station in Flåm, Norway

It is impossible to miss the railway station in Flåm. Just look for the large red building. Inside is a tourist information center. Often more important, this is where you will find the only public restrooms in town. You can also purchase tickets here to Flåm’s number one attraction: a scenic train ride named Flåmsbana. If you are a train hobbyist, make sure you also visit the free Flåm Railway Museum (Flamsbana Museum).

Flåmsbana, A-Feltvegen 11, 5743 Flåm, Norway

8 Sightseeing Train Ride aboard Flåmsbana in Flåm, Norway

One of the most picturesque excursions in Norway is aboard the Flåmsbana. The train travels uphill along the Flåm Line for about a dozen miles through a fertile, glacier-formed valley accented with waterfalls and shouldered by mountains. The one-way journey to the Myrdal Station takes about an hour. After a brief stop, most people make the return trip to Flåm. Sure, this sightseeing trip is designed for tourists. So what? The ride and views are spectacular. Flåmsbana is always rated among the top ten train rides in Europe. Do not miss this one! Hint for photographers: only the first and last windows in a train car can be opened.

Flåmsbana, A-Feltvegen 11, 5743 Flåm, Norway

9 Rjoandefossen along Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

You will be treated to several waterfalls during your journey. The first is Brekkefossen. The second and one of the most dramatic is shown here. Rjoandefossen is located less than two miles from Flåm. This powerful beauty has a crest height of 1,017 feet. The initial cascade plunges 482 feet. The water then fans out among rocks while rushing down for another 250 feet. The final stage is a crisscross of veils for 75 feet before reaching the river. You will be able to appreciate Rjoandefossen from several perspectives as your train moves along.

Rjoandefossen, 5743 Flåm, Norway

10 Flåmsbana Travels through Flåmsdalen near Flåm, Norway

Your sightseeing train runs through Flåmsdalen. This lush valley is about 11 miles long. The gorge was formed during glacial periods going back over a million years. From sea level at Flåm to the Myrdal Station, the valley climbs to an elevation of 2,280 feet. The Flåmselvi river winds and weaves along the valley floor until emptying into the Aurlandsfjord at Flåm. Encircling Flåmsdalen are mountains. They are often snow-capped and blanketed by clouds. The two tallest are Trollanuten (nearly 5,000 feet) and Tarven (5,587 feet).

Flåmsdalsvegen, 5743 Flåm, Norway

11 Cycling along Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

Most tourists opt to ride the Flåmsbana roundtrip. An invigorating alternative is to purchase a one-way ticket to Myrdal Station. Then, cycle back down to Flåm along Rallarvegen (also called Navvie’s Road). This path was used by workers during the construction of the railroad. You can rent a bike and gear at Myrdal and return them in Flåm. If you are a real enthusiast, inquire about other routes along the Bergen Railway Line. There are over 50 miles of trails waiting to delight you. You can also hike sections and hire guides to enhance your experience. Total time to walk from Myrdal to Flåm is about five hours.

Flåmsdalsvegen, 5743 Flåm, Norway

12 Description of Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

The single railway track from Flåm to Myrdal Station is 12.6 miles long. The gradient is one of the steepest in the world (reaches 5.5%) as it climbs 2,841 feet to the terminus. Along the way you will cross a single bridge, pass ten stations and chug through 20 tunnels. Nåli Tunnel is the longest at 4,401 feet. The maximum speed of Flåmsbana is 25 m.p.h. When traveling downhill, the pace slows to 19 m.p.h. So, you have plenty of time to admire the clouds swirling above the mountains, the grand green valley and quaint farming communities.

Flåmsdalsvegen, 5743 Flåm, Norway

13 History of Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

In 1871, a decision was made to connect by rail Oslo (Norway’s largest city nearly 200 miles southeast of Flåm) and Bergen (105 miles southwest of Flåm). As part of the Bergen Line, the Myrdal Station opened in 1908. The question then became how to descend from the station’s elevation of 2,844 feet through the Flåmsdalen (valley) and into Flåm? Proposals were written and rejected for fifteen years while estimated costs ballooned. In 1924, the commitment was made to build the Flåm Line (Flåmsbana). At the peak of construction, 280 men were employed. The work was laborious. 18 of the 20 tunnels were drilled by hand. The project was also dangerous. Avalanches and landslides were common. In 1940, limited freight operations began. The first passenger train ran in early 1941.

Flåmsdalsvegen, 5743 Flåm, Norway

14 Switching at Berekvam Station on Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

At the halfway point of your ride between Flåm and Myrdal, your train will stop at Berekvam Station (elevation 1,129 feet). Nobody will exit. The reason for the delay is because Flåmsbana only has one track. Trains going the opposite direction meet here to slowly bypass each other. Surprisingly, this process is done manually using hand flags by day and torches by night.

Berekvam Train Station, 5743 Flåm, Norway

15 Kårdalsfossen along Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

There are two distinct sections of Kårdalsfossen. This crowd pleaser begins as two ribbon waterfalls appear at the top of a forested mount. Some references call the twins Uvgjesdøla. From the crest, they descend down the rock face for about 650 feet before coming together in a wide cascade. This part of the complex waterfall is named Kårdalsfossen.

Kårdalsfossen, 5718 Myrdal, Norway

16 Kjosfossen along Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

Kjosfossen is the crescendo of your journey aboard the Flåm Railway. About 2.75 miles before reaching Myrdal Station, your train screeches to a halt. Everyone rushes out with cameras in hand to admire Kjosfossen from a viewing platform. The source of the thundering waterfall is a mountain lake named Reinungavatnet. The wide current zigs, zags and crashes among rocks while descending 738 feet. The cascade then becomes the Flåmselvi. The river flows through the valley before emptying into the fjord at Flåm. Also located at this waterfall is the Kjosfoss Power Station. It harnesses the water flow to generate power for Flåmsbana.

Kjosfossen Falls, Rallarvegen, 5718 Myrdal, Norway

17 Huldra Dancing at Kjosfossen along Flåmsbana near Flåm, Norway

As you step off the train, you will hear music. You assume this adds ambiance while you admire Kjosfossen. Then a flash of red amongst the trees distracts your eyes from the waterfall. A young woman with flowing blond hair is mysteriously dancing. She quickly disappears behind a bolder or decayed stone building. A few seconds later, she reappears someplace else. This is Huldra. According to Norse folklore, this forest spirit lives underground until an unmarried man approaches. She uses her seductive beauty to lure her prey. The performance is conducted by students of the Norwegian Ballet School.

Kjosfossen Falls, Rallarvegen, 5718 Myrdal, Norway

18 Boat Ride on Fjords in Flåm, Norway

After your journey aboard Flåmsbana, you have plenty of options for enjoying other excursions in Flåm. One is to discover the beauty of Aurlandsfjord. The 11 mile fjord ends at Flåm. Fjord Cruise Nærøyfjord is a popular operator of two large sightseeing vessels. Smaller boats are captained by FjordSafari. These tours can be extended to include Nærøyfjord. This slender fjord is so magical that all 10.5 miles have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A slower, do-it-yourself alternative is to rent a kayak and paddle at your leisure.

Flåm Marina, 5742 Flåm, Norway

19 Fretheim Hotel in Flåm, Norway

A pleasant way to idle away a leisurely afternoon is by having cocktails and/or a meal at the Fretheim Hotel. It is within eyesight of your cruise ship. The origin of this historic property dates back to the 1870s when rich Europeans discovered the excellent salmon fishing in river Flåmselva. They stayed at the farmhouse of Christen Fretheim, the wealthiest man on the fjord. Demand became so great he built an inn the locals named English Villa. After he died in 1916, his cousin Marthe continued managing the hotel. Some claim her spirit still assures every guest is thrilled to be at the Fretheim Hotel. 17 of the rooms are decorated with late 19th century furnishings. This is one of three hotels in Flåm. Also, very close to the harbor is the Flåmsbrygga Hotel.

Fretheim Hotel, Nedre Fretheim, 5743 Flåm, Norway

20 Walking Options in Flåm, Norway

Perhaps you prefer to exercise your sea legs. There are several choices to consider. Three begin at the Fretheim Hotel. 1. These people are walking along the harbor. After 2.5 miles, you go uphill to see Otternes Farmyard with some houses dating from the 17th century. 2. Behind the hotel is a one-mile, circular path through a cultural park. 3. Or follow the rail line and river to the housing estate named Lunden. There are other walking paths to the Brekkefossen waterfall, the Flåm Church or though the valley. Get more information about these options from the tourist center inside Flåmsbana Railway Station.

Vikjavegen 15, 5742 Flåm, Norway

21 Savor the Scenic Serenity in Flåm, Norway

Sometimes the best activity is no activity at all. The scenery encircling Flåm is beyond extraordinary. White clouds mingle with white snow on the mountain summits. They seem to give birth to narrow ribbons meandering down the rock face before disappearing behind the green foliage. Small boats and colorful buildings reflect off the clear fjord water. The fresh air filling your lungs replaces any reality filling your brain. This is Norwegian serenity at its finest! Find your spot, then sit, relax and savor the moment.

Vikjavegen, 5742 Flåm, Norway