I kept hearing that if there’s one thing you must do in Flåm, it’s riding the Flam Railway. Now that I’ve returned from Flam, I urge you to travel there to take one of the best train trips in Norway, if not the world. Out of all the things to do in Flam, the Flam Railway tops my list and I’m so happy that we embarked on this excursion.
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Justin and I visited the tiny village of Flåm as a port on our Norway cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam. The other ports on this cruise to Norway included Oslo, Kristiansand, and Stavanger (round trip from Amsterdam). We had such an amazing time cruising around Norway, and we have so many incredible memories from this holiday. Flam was the last stop, and it’s quite possible that the cruise itinerary saved the best for last.
All About the Flam Railway: Why is this Norwegian Train so Special?
The Flam Railway isn’t just any ordinary Norwegian train. Also known as Flamsbana, the Flam Railway runs between Myrdal and Flam. Both the Bergen Railway and the Flam Railway meet on the Myrdal Plateau, so it’s possible to continue your journey on other trains in Norway. However, if you’re booking a trip on the Flamsbana railway from a cruise, you’ll want to book a roundtrip ticket back to Flam. Every cruise ship excursion will naturally bring you back to the village and the cruise ship port.
The Flam Railway is unlike any other train journey in the world. It’s a feat of engineering: the railway track winds through mountains on steep slopes and around sharp bends. Almost 80% of the railway has a gradient of 55%, which is incredibly steep. There are 20 tunnels in total, and 18 of them were fully excavated by hand. To avoid avalanches, the train track criss-crosses the bottom of the valley on three occasions through tunnels. The Flam Railway covers a distance of 20 kilometers, and 6 kilometers run through tunnels. In total, it took 20 years to build the Flam Railway, and it’s one of Norway’s most spectacular tourist attractions.
How to Book Flam Railway Tickets
As we traveled to Flåm, Norway on a cruise ship, we booked the Flam Railway excursion directly through the cruise line (Holland America Line). I highly recommend that you book your tickets in advance through the cruise ship, if you’re visiting on a cruise.
First, when there are cruise ships in port, it’s likely that the Flam Railway tickets will sell out. You don’t want to line up at the ticket counter on shore to find that there aren’t any tickets left. Furthermore, you might have to wait a very long time to buy tickets in person, and you don’t want to spend half of your day in port waiting around to buy tickets.
If you aren’t traveling from a cruise ship and you’d like to ride the Flam Railway, I still recommend that you book tickets in advance because it’s possible that they will sell out. You can buy tickets to the Flam Railway on the official Visit Flam website if you’re seeking a roundtrip journey. If you’d like to ride the Flam Railway and continue on to Bergen and other destinations, you’ll have to purchase a one way ticket on the Vy website (Norway’s railway company).
Embarking on the Flam Railway Excursion
We boarded the train with a large group of people, as the train does sell out in peak season. It’s a little chaotic getting on the train. Everyone wants to get one of the best seats by the window, so it seems like a game of musical chairs to try to get one. If you can manage to snag a window that can be opened, those are the best spots. Most of the windows can’t be opened, so you’ll be fighting the window glare to get some good pictures.
You’ll be riding this train twice (there and back), and the views are glorious from both sides of the train. You can try to sit on different sides of the train on the way there and the way back. There’s not an advantage to sitting on one side of the train over the other. Take some time to simply soak up the beautiful views without taking pictures, if you can manage. Maybe you can put the camera and phone down on the return trip (easier said than done, right?).
The scenery from the train is nothing short of stunning. There’s a reason why it’s known as “one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys” (yes, that phrase is written on the side of the train!). You’ll enjoy panoramic views of the iconic Norwegian landscape, like distant snow-capped mountains, lush rolling hills, captivating waterfalls, and tiny villages in the valley.
Stopping to Admire Kjosfossen, the Waterfall
Before stopping at the top (Vatnahalsen), the train comes to a halt at Kjosfossen. Visitors have a few minutes to get off the train to admire the huge waterfall. Kjosfossen is approximately 225 meters tall (over 738 feet). The waterfall also has a small power station that’s used to supply power to the Flam Railway. Unless it’s a hot day without much wind, I recommend bringing a waterproof rain jacket when you view Kjosfossen. The mist off the waterfall can be quite intense at times.
You won’t only see an incredible waterfall here. All of a sudden, music filled the air. A lady in red appeared on a rocky ledge, dancing and twirling all around in a red dress. This is the huldra, a seductive forest spirit from Scandinavian folklore. This magical display is actually an act performed by the Norwegian Ballet School. I haven’t ever seen dancers materialize at waterfalls before, so it was a pretty unique experience!
Stopping at Vatnahalsen to Explore
At last, after about an hour long train ride, the Flam Railway stops at Vatnahalsen. We all disembark the train to stretch our legs and explore the spectacular views. With our Flam Railway excursion booked with the cruise ship, we’re invited to walk up to the Vatnahalsen Hotel to enjoy some coffee and snacks.
Naturally, the Vatnahalsen Hotel is a fabulous place to stay in Norway. If we weren’t traveling on a cruise, we’d love to stay at this beautiful property. I’d love to experience the breathtaking views once the day trippers and cruise ship guests leave for the afternoon. There’s an outdoor swimming pool where you can splash around and soak up the scenery. There are lots of opportunities for hiking, biking, and even zip lining within a short walking distance from the hotel. Here’s how to book your stay at the Vatnahalsen Hotel or read more reviews from fellow travelers who have stayed there.
After you spend some time at the Vatnahalsen Hotel, walk back towards the train tracks and continue down the path to the left. After a short walk down the path and across the tracks, you’ll come across arguably the most spectacular scenic view of the entire trip. It’s right near the zip line, but everyone can enjoy the panoramic mountain views for free.
After you spend about an hour wandering around, you’ll have to get back on the train to return back to Flam. This Norwegian train ride is so nice, you get to experience it twice!
More Things to Do in Flam
Flåm is an extremely tiny village in Norway. There are only around 450 residents in total. I recommend booking a tour or an excursion to make the most of your day in Flam. However, there are a couple of things you can do from the village itself.
Wander Around the Flam Cruise Port
Go for a walk around the picturesque village of Flam. There are a few little souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. You can admire the views of the waterfront from multiple angles. There’s also a wooden boardwalk by the shore where many people dock their boats. Although you can easily see the Flam cruise port and village in 15 minutes to an hour (depending on how much shopping you do), it’s worth wandering around on foot.
Marvel at the Fjord in Flam
The journey to Flam by boat is absolutely amazing. The village is nestled in the innermost corner of the majestic Aurlandsfjord, as far as you can travel by boat until you reach Flam. The Aurlandsfjord is just one section of the world’s longest fjord, the Sognefjord. While you can take a Flam fjord boat excursion through the cruise ship, you’ll see so many incredible views right from the cruise ship itself. If you can wake up early enough to enjoy the scenic sailing to view the fjords, you get extra bonus points. However, you’ll see all of those same stunning views as you sail away from Flam. Justin and I watched the scenery of towering mountains and adorable villages between the hills as we slowly drifted away from the cruise port.
Norway in a Nutshell
Norway in a Nutshell is a popular organized fjord tour from Oslo to Bergen. While you can plan it as a guided group tour, it’s possible to take a self guided tour of Norway in a Nutshell. The Flam Railway and a fjord cruise on the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord are part of Norway in a Nutshell.
While there aren’t a ton of things to do in Flam, the main purpose is to admire the wonders of nature. When you travel there, you must take a tour on the Flamsbana railway. Perhaps you’ll be enticed by these scenic train trips in Norway to add the country to your travel bucket list. The Flam Railway is the best way to see the area, especially if you only have one day in Flam.