The Flåm Railway between Flåm and Myrdal is one of the world’s steepest railway lines. Winding tracks twisting and turning in and out of tunnels in the mountains are manifestations of the most daring and skilful engineering in Norwegian railway history. By taking the Flåm Railway from sea level by the fjord to the top of the mountain you can sit back and enjoy panoramic views.
From connecting remote villages to tourist attraction
When the Bergen Railway Line (Bergensbanen) between Oslo and Bergen was opened in 1909, a branch line to the Sognefjord was lacking to connect a transport route to the fishing villages along the fjord. Work started on the Flåm Railway in 1923 and it was not finished until 20 years later after the German invasion of Norway. The Flåm railway line is still an important transport route for people living deep in the fjords as a way to access the main railway line between Bergen and Oslo running across the mountain plateau Hardangervidda. However, it’s the tourists that dominate the most among the almost one million passengers travelling this stretch every year.
The Flåm railroad was built with manual labour and hard toil, in sharp contrast to the tourists that sit back and relax enjoying the train-ride today. The workers faced huge challenges building the world’s steepest railroads and had to use ladders and ropes digging out a path up towards the mountain and the main railway line. If you are a train enthusiast or interested in history, make sure to stop by the small Railroad museum in Flåm (free of charge).
Lonely Planet proclaimed the Flåm-Myrdal as the best railway journeys in the world in 2014, and since then it has seen explosive growth. Today Flåm is one of the most important tourist hubs in the fjords, with almost 150 cruise ships arriving in port every year. The Flåm Railway is also a key part of the “Norway in a nutshell” package sold as a way to experience the fjords in one-day from either Oslo or Bergen. Be aware that on busy days with thousands of cruise passengers arriving, many of the trains will become completely full so make sure to book in advance.
Nice view, but is it worth it?
Our impression of the Flåm railway is that most passengers fall into 4 buckets; 1) cruise ship tourists 2) “Norway in a nutshell” travellers, 3) train enthusiasts and 4) “Bucket-list travellers” wanting to tick this off their list. If you belong to any of these groups, I would say this is a great option giving you both a vintage-style train journey and a good view of mountains and fjords.
If you don’t belong to any of the these groups, I would make the following consideration: What you see on the train-journey is a typical Norwegian fjord landscape that you can experience many other places on the western side of Norway. The train ride also takes you through 20 tunnels, so it’s not like a constant panoramic view from top to bottom. For small kids, the two-hour-long roundtrip to Flåm will probably get very boring at some point. This is might be the reason why kids get a colouring book included in the price, which is a nice touch.
Combining Flåm railway with a hiking trip
What we have done in the past is to take the Flåm railway up the mountain, and then hike down. The hike is 18km taking 4-5 hours on a well-marked path. It’s not very hard except for the strain on the knees as you will be going constantly downhill and we would only recommend this route with children used to hiking. The view hiking down is certainly a lot better than on the train, there are no tunnels, and you can take your time enjoying the Norwegian nature. Remember to bring warm clothes, some snacks and be aware that it can be snowy on the top of the mountain as late as in June. It’s also possible to rent bikes combing down the mountain, but this feels far too risky with small kids.
Travelling with children
If you are a family travelling with small children, you should consider renting a car to enjoy the fjords. In this way, you can travel at your own pace and can stop whenever you want. The ticket-price for a return journey with the Flåm Railway for a family of four would equal to renting a car for 2-3 days (~£150). Travelling from either Oslo or Bergen, 3 days will probably be enough time to visit some of the most iconic places along the fjords, like the Stegastein viewpoint or the Viking Valley in Gudvangen. Having said all that, the Flåm railway still gets approved as child-friendly in our book. Especially if you have a toddler that is a train enthusiast, this can be a dream come true!
Last but not least, keep in mind that Flåm is just a tiny place that has turned into a tourist hotspot in recent years. Expect lots of souvenir outlets and very limited food options! We recommend to do like the Norwegians and bring your own packed lunch if possible. Also, if you want to avoid the tourist crowds consider travelling off-season like spring and autumn. Our favourite time to travel is in October to experience the beautiful golden foliage colours in the fjords.
Getting to the Flåm Railway