In the heart of Norway's dramatic fjord-meets-mountain Vestlandet region, the 83-year-old Flåm train is one of the steepest—and most spectacular—train rides in the world.
It runs between Flåm and Myrdal over the course of one hour, taking you through an impossible landscape of steep rock sides, daring waterfalls, deep blue rivers, and snowy mountain peaks. Even for someone who’s grown up in Norway, like myself, riding the Flåm train is an unforgettable event—few parts of Norway can compete with the dramatic landscape in the country’s southwest. This is a world hidden from all but the very determined and the very fortunate.
Riding the Flåm train was my dad’s idea; he’d just moved to Western Norway, not far from the country’s second-largest city of Bergen, the gateway to some of the country’s most impressive scenery. We could have driven from there to Flåm in about 2.5 hours, but we opted for a more scenic 5.5-hour fjord cruise.
After a quick meander around Bergen’s Bryggen, the harbor with its picturesque row of colorful houses, we were soon headed north by water. Our boat weaved among islets and skerries until we got to the country’s biggest fjord, Sognefjorden. We then traveled down tranquil Aurlandsfjord, a narrower fjord that brought the impossible landscape and daring waterfalls on the mountains on either side closer into view.
At the end of Aurlandsfjord lies the village of Flåm. Home to just 350 people, it’s the starting point of Flåmsbana, the Flåm rail. This scenic railway climbs steadily from its start at about sea level, moving at a gradient of up to 5.5% before reaching its terminus 12 miles later, at an elevation of 2,844 feet—this is one of the steepest railways in the world.
We boarded one of the elegant green carriages and sat back to enjoy the hour-long voyage through this fairytale landscape. The train journey started by going through the village of Flåm, where the deep-blue River Flåm meandered peacefully as we passed white wooden houses, their red barns, and the church, a modest dark wood construction with a geometrical steeple. Across the valley, we could see waterfalls tumbling down the green-covered mountainside. But as we gained elevation, we were no longer cushioned by the valley, but clinging onto the mountainside. There was steep rock on either side of our track: one side going straight up to a mountain top hidden from view, one side going tumbling down into a valley, too far down to think about.
The Flåm rail first opened in 1940, and most of the 20 tunnels are hand-dug. Some are constructed from wooden slats, and we could see the light peek through. Others are carved out of rock, with the uneven walls closing in on the train, making it feel like we were tunneling into an underworld.
We passed several little stations along the route, available as stops on demand (yes, people do live up here!). The train let out the occasional honk of the horn, warnings for cars on the single-track rail crossings. All along the fjord, the mountainsides were dotted with tiny farms. I’d seen pictures in rural museums showing how the people living on these farms would secure their goats and toddlers with rope, to stop them from tumbling down the vertiginous slopes. As the train clung on to the steep landscape I soon started to feel a bit like one of those goats myself: precariously positioned for sure, but reassured in the knowledge that I was safe.
At the mightiest of the waterfalls, Kjosfossen, the train stopped for a few minutes so we could step outside, get pictures, and feel the mist on our faces. Before we knew it, Huldra arrived. In Norse mythology, this is a troll that’s taken the form of a beautiful woman, singing to seduce you; she’s detectable only by her cow’s tail. Fortunately for us, Huldra was only an actor this time, arranged by the railway to charm its passengers, so we were able to resist her folksong and get back on the train.
The last stretch of the train took us through a mountain landscape of little conifers and mountain birches creating a sparse carpet over the hillsides. By the time the train deposited us at Myrdal station we were 2,838 feet higher than where we started. Up on the mountain we were in a very different landscape, far closer to the peaks where the snow never melts—by now we were as close to the glaciers as to the fjords.
The Flåm train shows you some of Norway’s best and most varied landscapes through a spectacular transformation. What else would you call a train journey that takes you from pride-of-the-nation fjords, through the fairytale, and to the view from the mountain—in just a single hour?
You can see the fjords and travel on the Flåm train by taking only public transport. Start by flying into Bergen Airport Flesland (BGO). From there, a bus takes you downtown to the harbor where you can get a boat to Flåm.
Average Going deal for flights to Bergen: $541 RT
How to do it
- Best time to go: The train runs all year long, but the weather is nicest and most reliable in summer.
- Cost: Book your Flåm train tickets online, at NOK 470 (USD $44), each way.
- Tips for getting to Flåm from Bergen: From April to October inclusive, Norled runs boats that leave every morning at 8am from Bergen Harbor (Strandkaiterminalen), taking a 5.5-hour scenic route to Flåm, arriving at 1.30pm. Book tickets online at a cost of NOK 1015 (USD $100), with discounts available for families.
- Tips for getting back to Bergen: The Flåm train’s arrival at Myrdal is timed so passengers can transfer to the Oslo-Bergen Line. The train back to Bergen Station takes between 2-2.5 hours and costs about NOK 370 (USD $35). Book with Vy rail.