For the next 4 instalments of the newsletter, we will be looking at the stunning rail routes of Norway all beginning in it’s vibrant capital, Oslo. Norwegian State Railways (NSB) operates most passenger train services in Norway and offers modern, comfortable trains from which you can enjoy the changing panoramic views of pretty towns, mountains, lakes, and fjords.
The most famous of Norway’s railway journeys is the Bergen Railway (ERT Table 780) which has been voted one of the world’s best and connects its two largest cities, Oslo and Bergen. There are four daily departures from Oslo for the 7-hour journey across the mountain plateau Hardangervidda on the highest mainline railway line in Northern Europe. The season in which you take this journey will have a major impact on the scenery, but it is equally beautiful in summer & winter. If travelling in winter, take an early train as the hours of daylight are much shorter.
Departing from Oslo Central through a long tunnel under the city, the train emerges to views over the Dramsfjord and its islands. After Hønefoss the line skirts a shelf of rock high above Lake Krøderen. Then onto Finse, the highest station on the route where the view of the glacier is breathtaking. More active travellers can stop to cycle, ski or hike. Next is the junction at Myrdal, where you can board the incredible Flåm Railway branch line (Flåmsbana), the world’s steepest standard-gauge railway line (ERT Table 781). Only 20 kilometres long and taking around an hour, tourists from all over the world visit Norway to experience this train ride with its superb views over Norway’s deepest and longest fjord and the spectacular Kjofossen waterfall.
Continuing from Myrdal the rail line descends towards the large town and ski resort of Voss where the landscape opens out then passes through numerous tunnels hewn out of the solid rock before we finally arrive in Bergen. One of Norway’s prettiest cities, Bergen is encircled by seven mountains and seven fjords. The city is famed for its waterfront, fish markets and coloured waterboard houses. For a panoramic view of the city from above take the “Fløibanen funicular” up Mount Fløyen, where there are pleasant walks and picnic spots.
This week we begin again in the capital, Oslo. A modern, laid-back city surrounded by mountains, forests and sea, it is fairly compact and easily walkable with plenty of green areas and parks to explore. There are a number of world-class museums with displays including famous artworks and preserved Viking ships. However, visitors need to bear in mind that it has been voted the most expensive city in the world on three occasions, so if you are stopping to explore it may be worth investing in an Oslo Pass which offers discounts at various attractions together with access to all forms of public transport.
Oslo Sentral is at the centre of Norway’s railway network. All routes, including the airport express train and the city metro lines, pass through here and the local buses and trams stop outside. Heading north-east out of the city we begin the journey to Trondheim (ERT Table 785) along the eastern shore of Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake which extends all the way to Lillehammer. The lake area is best explored on one of the heritage paddle-steamers which run throughout the summer. Lillehammer is a major winter sports resort having once hosted the Winter Olympics but is also a picturesque town surrounded by mountains with a rich offering of museums and cultural attractions and national parks all within easy reach of the town centre.
Continuing north the train stops at Dombås, the junction for the branch line to Åndalsnes. Known as the Rauma Railway, it is undoubtedly one of Norway’s wildest and most beautiful train journeys. Regular departures are available throughout the year and, from May to August, there is a tour guide on board and passengers receive a helpful brochure describing the journey. During the 1 hour and 40-minute trip the train will cross 32 bridges, among them the famous Kylling Bridge, and will also pass the vertical Trollveggen cliff face, the highest in Northern Europe. From Åndalsnes there are several buses to Ålesund (also shown in ERT) famous for its fairy-tale Art Nouveau architecture.
Last week we reached Dombås, the junction for the branch line to Åndalsnes. Continuing North beyond Dombås on the main line towards Trondheim (known as the Dovre Railway), the train cuts through the wild terrain of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, home of wild reindeer, musk oxen, golden eagles and arctic fox. The whole trip from Oslo takes up to 7 hours, but there is the opportunity to break your journey at Oppdal to explore the local landscape on foot.Trondheim is Norway’s third largest city and its historic capital. This vibrant city is modest in size and fairly flat so it’s easy to explore on foot. Trondheim station is the region’s transport hub, the starting point for journeys on the electrified Dovre line described above (ERT Table 785) and also the diesel operated Nordland route heading north to Bodø (ERT Table 787) which will be described in next week’s Friday Flyer. There are also two daily services in each direction on the Meråker line which links Trondheim with the Swedish border town of Storlien (ERT Table 761). It is also possible to purchase a ‘ticket to Hell’ and take a local train to Hell station where many tourists like to be photographed under the famous sign “Hell Station – God Expedition”. Note that the station is a request stop meaning you must inform the guard if you wish to disembark or clearly indicate to the driver if you want the train to pick you up.
The city’s most famous site is the impressive Nidarosdomen cathedral but there are also plenty of museums, galleries, independent shops and quality restaurants serving local food. You may wish to take a ride on the world’s northernmost tram, Gråkallbanen, which transports you to Bymarka, a popular recreation area ideal for walking and viewpoints of the city and surrounding fjords.
From Trondheim, we join the Nordlandsbanen for the 10-hour journey across the Arctic Circle to Bodø. This journey is an experience not to be missed and is just as beautiful in winter as in summer. There are two daily departures, one by day and an overnight journey with seats and sleeping cars.
In this final part of the journey, we travel along Norway’s longest rail route, the spectacular Nordlandsbanen from Trondheim to Bodø. From the comfort of your carriage seat, you are treated to a variety of landscapes including forests, spectacular fjords and majestic mountain scenery. If you are very lucky you may also be able to experience the beautiful Northern Lights (from September to March).
Two hours from Trondheim is the town of Steinkjer, a good jumping off point to explore The Golden Road – a dedicated route through beautiful scenery in the municipality of Inderøy where participating businesses along the route offer culinary, cultural and artistic experiences.
After Mo i Rana, the railway skirts Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park which has some of the finest scenery along the route. Then the green trees begin to give way to more rocky terrain and barren peaks. One of the main highlights of the journey is the Saltfjellet mountain range where you cross the Arctic Circle. The train does not make a stop here but the passing point is marked by two pyramidal cairns on the side of the track (summer services on the Swedish Inlandsbanan do actually stop at the Arctic Circle – see ERT Table 766). Certain rituals often occur to mark the crossing such as a hoot of the train’s horn and there is often a party spirit on board with passengers charging a glass or sharing a kiss as though it were New Year’s Eve!
The train now drops down past Skjerstad Fjord to the small town of Fauske where you can join a connecting bus to Narvik from where there are onward bus links to the far north. The terminus of the Nordlandsbanen is the coastal city of Bodø which has a lively cultural centre and offers a variety of outdoor activities. It is a great base to explore other parts of Northern Norway including taking a ferry to the idyllic Lofoten Islands (ERT Table 2239) known for their distinctive scenery with dramatic mountains, sheltered bays, beaches and untouched landscapes.