What’s a trip to Norway without a journey through her lustrous and awe-inspiring fjords? It’s a critical component of Norway's natural beauty and a hot-ticket item on most travelers’ bucket lists. However, what many fail to realize is that the most popular route to explore Norway’s fjords—Norway in a Nutshell—is also the fastest. And when you're in the fjords, faster is not better.
Having taken a train from Oslo (or Bergen) to Myrdal, you embark on the world-renowned Flåmsbana—the famous Flåm Railway—on a spectacular journey descending the side of the fjord. You travel to Flåm and board the ferry that will take you around the wide loop of the Aurlandsfjord region of the Sognefjord, and begin to sail past craggy mountains stretching away into the atmosphere. Then there’s the Nærøyfjord, Gudvangen, and Stalheim Canyon all in the space of about two hours.
And then, it’s over. You’re headed onward toward Bergen or Oslo.
While you’ve certainly seen a lot—and probably pulled out the selfie stick to prove it—an in-depth experience of the region is something you can’t possibly accomplish in one day.
One of the best suggestions we have for slowing down, stretching your legs and enjoying fjord life is Balestrand.
Located at the base of snowcapped mountains on the northern side of the Sognefjord—right on the water—Balestrand is an hour and a half by express boat from Flåm, and you’ll bisect the Sognefjord to reach it (this means more time with the world’s longest open fjord). You’ll also encounter a very special stop here: Kviknes Hotel.
Kviknes Hotel has a storied past, and its history and luxurious ambience are part of what makes this section of the Sognefjord so culturally rich: it was the first Norwegian tourist fjord hotel established in the country.
The 'jewel of the Sognefjord’ is a spectacular landmark founded in 1752. Now run by the Kvikne family (four generations and counting c. 1877), Kviknes Hotel perches on the shores of the Sognefjord and features old architectural charm in the Swiss chalet style as well as a healthy variety of antiques and artwork.
A spectacular perk of staying here is the view from the hotel. The fjord-view room at Kviknes is just what it sounds like – the fjord stretches out in front of your intricately-carved balcony, and each room has its own character with modern creature comforts.
The area is known for its well-marked mountain trails and offers good hiking experiences; St. Olaf’s – an 1897 English stave church – a new museum (opened in late 2014), an aquarium featuring local wildlife, and guided cultural walks can all be found within Balestrand’s town borders.
If you’re traveling off-season, consider staying in Flåm, which is open all year round. Though it's somewhat crowded in summer, in late fall or winter traffic cools down and the magical atmosphere of snow on the world's deepest open fjord is a real treat.
Blogger Karisa Klee of Flirting with the Globe, who traveled with us in January 2015, was mesmerized. “Breathtaking. I’m not certain why more isn’t written about the tour in winter…We’ve all seen the gorgeous pictures of the bright green fjords contrasted by speckled red farm houses. The tour is different in winter, but I would argue that it’s equally amazing.”
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