If you've never heard the term "Norway in a Nutshell", Norway in a Nutshell is a handful of tour packages compiled of different modes of transportation (trains, buses, and ferries) designed to help tourists easily book the most scenic routes from Oslo to Bergen. The whole trip can be completed in a day, or you can extend the tour and stay overnight along the way, picking up the route again at your leisure. Food and lodging is not included.
While the purpose of these transportation packages is to make it easy for tourists to see the prettiest fjords between Oslo and Bergen, it can be tricky to navigate how to book a package and even more difficult to discern which combination of trains and ferries is going to make your visit to Norway the most enjoyable. Through hours of research and a scouting trip last summer, we've compiled an insider guide to help you get the most out of your time in the stunning fjords, without having to second guess your travel decisions.
1. Book Sognefjord in a Nutshell
While the Norway in a Nutshell tour is advertised as "The Most Popular Tour in Norway", it skips over the charming town of Balestrand, which was one of the highlights of our trip. By adding a ferry through the Nærøyfjord to the Sognefjord in a Nutshell tour, you can include one of the more scenic portions of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, while still being able to visit Balestrand without backtracking. You will miss Voss, the town where Voss water comes from, but if you can't stand to miss one of the towns you can always take a bus there and loop back to the Sognefjord tour.
Cost: 1610 NOK per person (about $200 USD)
2. Take the 12:00pm train from Oslo
Our journey started early at 8:00am. The first leg took us from Oslo to Myrdal, a four hour train ride on a comfortable and new train with one of the nicest train cafés I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The café not only had organic and gourmet options, but their chic packaging would have passed any design junkie’s muster. They served up waffles topped with local organic strawberry jam and goat cheese, yogurt with seeds, and free range chicken and sweet potatoes. Half a dozen padded booths on one end of the café car provides a place to chat and relax with your travel companions while looking out a clean, giant window at the increasingly beautiful Norwegian scenery. If the scenery gets boring, you can always logon to their free, super-fast wi-fi and look at other people’s pretty pictures on Instagram. The only thing that would have made the train more enjoyable would have been taking the noon train instead of the 8:00am. Our 8:00am train was completely booked, with every seat taken, whereas our parents' 12:00 train had plenty of open seats and made for a much more pleasurable experience on the Myrdal to Flam train where it's open seating. We, on the other hand, felt like cattle, fighting to get seats together on the open seating trains.
3. Bike from Myrdal to Flam
A fun option to enjoy one of "the most beautiful train rides in the world" is to bike it! The train ride, while pretty and an experience in itself, only lasts about a half an hour and can be quite crowded. It quickly moves past some of the most beautiful portions of the valley, making photographs a blur of green, blue and gray, likely with some strangers in the forefront. If you want to add some activity to your vacation and really soak in this beautiful landscape, we recommend biking or walking down to Flam from Myrdal.
Link to book your one way train ticket (with a mini guide on what to see and do as you descend the valley - including a visit to an organic goat cheese farm!) Cost: One way train ride: 360 NOK (about $43 USD)
Link to book your bike rental (they have a special car on the train to transport your bikes up to Myrdal so you don't have to worry about those logisitics!) Cost: Daily hybrid bike rental: 350 NOK (about $42 USD)
Total Cost: About $85 USD per person, including train and bike rental
4. Enjoy Flam, but stay in Aurland
While most people choose to stay in Flam, we recommend staying in Aurland (see #5 below), which is slightly off the tour path making it less touristy and more relaxing. Flam has fun things to offer that neighboring Aurland does not so to make the most of your time in Flam, see our post Stopover in Flam.
5. Slow down for 2+ nights at 29|2 Aurland
For more details, see our Lodging Review: 29|2 Aurland
Cost: $80 taxi from Flam to 29|2 Aurland with local taxi. Rooms starting at $360/night (but worth every penny).
6. Hike to the Stegastein Viewpoint
A popular attraction near Flam is the Stegastein Viewpoint. Many people arrive by shuttle from Flam, but we recommend hiking to the lookout (you can use the free bikes at 29|2 Aurland to bike to the nearby trailhead) via Turliflossen, a gorgeous waterfall that is visible from a number of rooms at 29|2 Aurland. The hike took us about 5 hours roundtrip, and was a wonderful way to get out in the fresh fjord air and take in the beauty of the landscape without any crowds (we only saw one other couple hiking). Bonus: you can pick sweet and tart wild blueberries along the way!
7. Ferry down the Nærøyfjord
Take a look at our Visual Journey down the Nærøyfjord and tell me you don't want to see these views!
Cost: 400 NOK (about $50)
8. Spend a day in Balestrand
Uniquely positioned on a wide arc of two intersecting fjords, Balestrand receives more light than many other towns in this part of Norway (you'll appreciate this more once you're on your trip). The same light that draws tourists today, captivated artists and aristocrats for the past century and half, who built beautiful buildings and formed a charming town worth exploring for a day and a night. For our specific recommendations on Balestrand, see our post 24 Hours in Balestrand.
9. Drive the scenic route from Bergen back to Oslo
To finish off your trip (if you're not flying out of Bergen), take the scenic route back to Oslo via one or two of Norway's 18 Scenic Routes, specifically chosen by the Norway Tourism Board for their exemplary scenery and enhanced with nationally sponsored art and architecture projects.