If you’re planning a trip to Norway, you’ve probably heard of the “must do” Norway In a Nutshell tour. If you’re like me, however, you might be confused as to what this tour really is and how to book it. The online resources are confusing, the booking options are confusing, and all the names of Norwegian destinations along the way complicate the process even more. Since I just finished the tour, I wanted to share what I learned and hopefully help demystify the tour for others.
What is the Norway In A Nutshell tour?
Some marketing genius named the series of transportation methods that bring someone from Oslo to Bergen (or Bergen to Oslo) “Norway In a Nutshell” because of all the beautiful scenery you see along the way. They dubbed it a “tour”, but it’s NOT a standard tour. It’s just different modes of transportation that you take over the course of 12 hours to bring you from one place to another. You can do it all in a day or you can spread out the transportation over several days. You can also do it as a roundtrip from Oslo back to Oslo as an example, but you’ll be taking a night train back to Oslo from Bergen.
What is the route?
I took it from Oslo to Bergen so this is based on that route:
1. Oslo – Myrdal: Four hour train ride and the only segment where you’ll have seat reservations. Get seats on the left side of the train if possible.
2. Myrdal – Flam: 45 min train ride that might be the most scenic ride of your life. There are sites on both sides of the train, but I think the right side has slightly better sites. As a note, when you board this train from Myrdal, the front of the train is in the direction that your last train ride just came from. Also, if you want to get good photos, find a seat that has a window that is either open or can be opened (seats in the front and back of car).
3. Flam – Gundvangen: 2 hour ferry ride through the best part of the Sognefjord. Everyone will try to grab seats out on the second floor deck, but you’re actually facing the back of the boat if you do that. It will also be really crowded. My recommendation is to climb up to the third level and sit on the right side of the boat. There are less people there so you can easily walk to the front of the boat (next to the captain’s cabin) for prime photo ops. I got seats under the canopy there which saved us when it started raining.
4. Gundvangen – Voss: 45 min bus ride with cool switchbacks and two big waterfalls to check out. While there’s one waterfall on either side of the bus, I suggest grabbing a seat closer to the driver and on the right side for the better view of the waterfall and switchbacks.
5. Voss – Bergen: 1 hour train ride. There aren’t really any sites to see at this point (certainly not any that will top what you’ve already seen) and you’ll likely be really tired so just grab a seat and relax.
Why is this a “must do” activity?
It’s an easy way to see Norway’s famous natural beauty in a day: deep lush fjords, waterfalls, tiny villages, towering canyons. It’s an especially good option for those who want to just see it and be done with it or those who don’t have tons of time in Norway.
If I make stops along the way, where should I stop?
After passing by the many villages and towns and seeing what is on offer, my recommendation is to stop in Myrdal. If you go from Oslo to Bergen (which is what I did), Myrdal is your first stop after taking the train from Oslo. Coming from Oslo, the first half of the train ride is pretty boring but it gets better as you get closer to Myrdal. I’d recommend overnighting in Myrdal and going on some hikes or bike rides into the valley towards Flam. There are stunning lush valleys dotted with houses and surrounded by towering waterfalls. Most “Nutshellers” take the famous 45min train ride from Myrdal to Flam and see this scenery on board, but it’s hard to take photos and really appreciate what is around you from the train, which is why I’d suggest overnighting in Myrdal and exploring on your own. Once you’ve had enough, you can then take the 45 min train ride to Flam and see any sites you missed. Alternatively, you could also stop in Flam instead of Myrdal and explore the area between the two cities as well. The benefit of being in Flam is that you could also take boat rides to other towns along the fjord before you board your boat ride to Gundvangen.
Where do I purchase tickets?
You can buy tickets online at Norway In a Nutshell from Fjord Tours (their website looks splashy but once you dig in and try to buy, it’s not very user friendly) or you can buy them at the train station directly. Unless you’re going in high season (June-August) and there’s a risk that seats will be sold out, I’d recommend buying the tickets at the train station. The tickets you buy online from Fjord Tours aren’t refundable if you have to change your dates so I wouldn’t buy from them unless you have to reserve early.
Are there other tours I can take besides Norway In a Nutshell?
If you go to their website you’ll see that there are other tours besides Norway In a Nutshell, which actually confused me even more when I was doing research. Remember, though, that it is all just a series of transportation modes you take so yes, there are other “tours” you can take to explore other parts of the country. Note, however, that other tours might require more time to do than just one day.
What if I don’t want to go on one segment of the tour? Do I have to use all the transportation modes included?
As mentioned earlier, you can break up the original Norway In a Nutshell tour over several days. You can also buy each segment individually instead of as a Nutshell package if you want to add detours along the way. My recommendation is to use the segments already included in Norway In a Nutshell as a guide and then modify it as you wish with point-to-point tickets. For instance, I wish I had allocated more time to this “tour” and had stayed overnight in Myrdal or Flam. I also wish I had added a day to explore the other fjordside towns along the Songnefjord (easy to do since you just purchase boat tickets in Flam). It might be hard to do all the research from their website, but you can email the folks at Fjord Tours. They were prompt in answering my questions.
Do you recommend this “tour”?
Overall, it’s a good way to get your fjord fix in a short amount of time. The problem with the “tour”, however, is that you’re with a ton of people going from train ride to train ride to boat ride to bus ride to train ride. It’s like you’re being herded like cattle! You’re also literally spending the day waiting to catch the next transportation option so you don’t really have time for a proper meal or to see the towns you stop in.
I highly urge anyone who is going to go on it to spend an extra day or two along the route so that: 1) you can explore the towns on your own, and 2) you can avoid the crowds of Nutshellers by taking trains/boats/busses that are at off-times from when the Nutshellers take them. It will take a bit more planning and due diligence on your own since you can’t just purchase the pre-packaged tour, but it will be worth it to get to go at your own pace. I wish I had done that because it would have made the experience richer.
To sum up, the “tour” as a day trip from Oslo to Bergen is just OK because there were too many people there so I can’t fully recommend it as a package (keep in mind I went in June). The sites on the Flam railway and the boat ride through the Songnefjord, however, are definite “must do’s” so if you tailor your own trip, make sure to include these two… and make sure you’re taking the railway and boat ride when the Nutshellers aren’t! Based on my experience, the Nutshellers from Oslo grabbed the Flam railway that departed between 1pm and 2pm. They also took the boat ride that departs between 2pm and 3:30pm. I’m not sure which rides they’d take if they started their trip in Bergen instead so it’d be best to double check everything when you buy your tickets from the ticket agent.