What could be better than traveling? Traveling to visit friends! We had a fantastic time visiting our friends in Bergen. Silje is an outstanding chef who indulged us with delish Norwegian cuisine, Øisten, a great storyteller, and Sigur is their adorable baby. They live in a real Norwegian wooden house with outstanding views. We explored charming neighborhoods, walked through parks, and went out for drinks downtown till very late. Bergen is so up north that the sun sets at 11:30 PM! Since we had time only for one day trip, we decided to explore the fjords. Hence, we woke up early and took a train from Bergen to Flåm, returning late that day by boat through Sognefjord.
Though Bergen today is Norway’s second-largest city behind Oslo, it used to be the country’s largest city for centuries. Since the 14th century, it was a very important city in the Baltic Region as the foreign trading post of the influential Hanseatic League. The magnificent Bryggen at the end of the Vågen Bay is a testament to those glorious times (although the current buildings are from the 18th century). Finally, UNESCO included its historical area in its list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. Today, it is a modern city spread out between the seven mountains, home to 280 000 inhabitants.
Apart from Bryggen, we also visited the Bergenhus Fortress and spent hours getting lost around the numerous charming wooden houses. For people-watching, we headed to Torgallmenningen Square and then to the fun and lively Fish Market (Fisketorget). As much as we loved the city, Bergen’s natural setting is what sets it apart. To fully enjoy the superb scenery, we took the Fløibanen funicular to the Fløyen Hill and got back to the city walking through a dense forest. We won’t forget those views and the fresh smell of plants!
Where to Stay in Bergen
Bergen has a plethora of great hotels all around the city. We love great views, so for us, the Magic Hotel Kløverhuset is the best choice. This lovely hotel is on top of a shopping center, thus the magnificent views of the bay and Bryggen. If you want to stay around the historical Bryggen, the Det Hanseatiske Hotel, housed in a 16th-century building, is your best bet. If you plan on organizing day trips on your own, then staying near the train station makes perfect sense. In that case, the elegant Scandic Ørnen serves as a great base.
While visiting Bergen we discovered that Sognefjord, Norway’s largest fiord, is just around the corner. There was no chance we were going to miss this natural wonder. The fjord extends for more than 200 kilometers deep inside the country, reaching three national parks: Jostedalsbreen, Breheimen, and Jotunheimen. The ice melting from the climate changes that followed the Ice Age formed Sognefjord. As time went by, people settled along the fjords and started farming. Five of the oldest stave churches are in the area, including the oldest one, Urnes Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sognefjord bifurcates several times along its 200km length. One of its main branches, the Aurlandsfjord, ends at the village of Flåm, a regional tourist center. Roughly halfway between Sognefjord and Flåm, the fjord branches into its wildest and most scenic section. Called Nærøyfjord, it is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tiny village of Flåm is home to 350 people and an equal number of cows (just kidding). Dramatic mountains and green valleys surround the town. Tourists have been going to Flam since the late 19th century. Today more than 450 000 people visit Flåm every year.
Organized Day Trips from Bergen to Flåm and Sognefjord
We wanted to spend as much time as possible with our friends. Therefore, we decided to go on a day trip from Bergen to Flåm and Sognefjord. We booked a 12 hour day tour that included a train, a steep train, and a fancy boat cruise through the fjords. Though the train was quite crowded, we got to enjoy the views all through the journey. However, you simply cannot move freely. All you have to do is follow instructions: go down here, stay a limited amount of time, and come back. At least we got 4 hours in Flåm to explore the area before we got back to Bergen on a cruise through Sognefjord. This tour is a brilliant option if you are short of time, like us. You can book it here.
How to Visit Flåm on Your Own
You can travel from Bergen to Flåm on your own. To do so, take a regional train to Myrdal, where you have to change to a steep train to Flåm. The whole journey lasts from 3 to 3,5 hours. Next to the Kjosfossen station, you will spot the large Kjosfossen Waterfall. You can book a combined ticket for both trains on the Norwegian Railways website. To go back to Bergen via Sognefjord, take the daily cruise operated by Norled. Take note that Sognefjord cruise operates between April 1st and September 20th. Unless you plan to stay overnight in Flåm, you’ll only have 2 hours to spend there. Of course, you can also inverse this trip and travel to Flåm by boat, and from there take a train to Bergen. We’ve got great news for those of you wanting to save some money. You can visit Flåm by bus. You can check timetables and prices, and book your tickets here.
Things to do in Flåm
Be sure to spend some time in Flåm before taking the boat back. Or better still, spend the night! It is one of the nicest places in Norway and it just makes no sense to travel so far and miss the sights. It took us two hours to walk on local roads, through the woods, and across the stream, to get to see some of the most spectacular views ever. The beautiful Brekkefossen waterfall on the top of the hill rewarded our effort! Too bad we had to share our prize with other people! For a bit of history, visit its authentic stave church from the late 17th century. If you have time, go on a cruise to Gudvangen through Nærøyfjord. The most impressive views are there.
Where to Stay in Flåm
As mentioned above, Flåm is a tiny village that gets overcrowded once the tourists arrive. However, everything changes in the afternoon when the masses go, and the quiet atmosphere returns. In the village itself, there are two hotels in the upper-middle category. The Fretheim Hotel is a large 19th-century mansion with a restaurant, a garden, and large comfortable rooms with views. The Flåmsbrygga Hotel is more of a mountain style hotel. Their rooms have rustic decor, and some of them views to the fjord. The hotel has a restaurant-pub that serves food and homemade beer. You can also stay next to the fjord at the Flåm Marina. This lovely establishment rents boats and fishing equipment.
Alternative Visits to Sognefjord
Though Flåm is the most popular place in the Sognefjord area, it’s not the only one. In fact, the city of Sogndal is the main settlement on the shores of Sognefjord. In all honesty, the city doesn’t offer much. However, it is close to the nice village of Kaupanger, to Norway’s oldest stave church Urnes, and the impressive Glaciers of Fjærland. From Bergen, you can take a comfortable bus to Sognal, but the journey takes about 5 hours. You can also travel by a speed boat year-round, and the journey takes pretty much the same time. The boat makes several stops on the way. The best stops are in the villages of Vikøyri and Balestrand. In Vikøyri, you’ll find one of the most beautiful stave churches, Hopperstad. On the other hand, Balestrand is known for its historic Kviknes Hotel.
Where to Stay in Sognefjord
In Sogndal, you can stay in the Best Western Laegreid or Quality Hotel Sogndal. Both are nice hotels in the city center. If you want to visit the Urnes church, the Walaker Hotel is just across the fjord in the village of Solvorn. This fabulous hotel is Norway’s oldest family-run establishment dating back to 1640. They offer bikes, and the ferry to stave church is next door. If you want to explore Balestrand, you should definitely stay at the Kviknes Hotel. This outstanding historic hotel used to host kings and queens, presidents, movie stars, and a bunch of artists. Please note that it only opens from April to September and on special occasions.
Finding the Best Sognefjord Cruise
Without a doubt, the best way to explore Sognefjord, and probably Norway, is on a cruise. You’ll be able to contemplate stunning landscapes from a different perspective. But as you can imagine, cruises are massive and full of tourists. You can either buy a ticket directly from Norled or book an organized tour as we did. Take note that there are several types of tours, but some of them include a cruise through the scenic Nærøyfjord. At the bottom of this post, you will find the best cruises to Sognefjord. Those of you looking for more of an adventure can take a speed boat from Bergen to Sogndal or to any of the villages on the way. This year-round boat is the best way to meet local people.
Massive tourism can be avoided!
To be honest, we were both shocked that we had spent a small fortune to be surrounded by the masses. Don’t get us wrong, Sognefjord is one of the nicest places in Norway, just terribly overcrowded and overpriced (at least in summer). A month after our visit, we were in Russia enjoying equally exceptional landscapes by ourselves, and for a fraction of the price. We are not saying that you shouldn’t visit Sognefjord or Norway. Never! Just bear in mind that you won’t be alone or have the luxury of moving about freely. Believe us: there are always fantastic alternatives! So check out the tours below or go to Sognefjord on your own. Better still, once you are done with Norway, go ahead and visit Russia!