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A day in Balestrand (Itinerary guidance appreciated)

My husband and I will be traveling to Norway soon. We had to make relatively last minute changes to our trip due to circumstances beyond our control. We will be taking a Hurtigruten boat from Bergen to the Lofoten Islands and then taking a train from there to Trondheim and finally Oslo.

We suddenly find ourselves with the better part of four days in Bergen at the start of the trip. Norway in a Nutshell doesn't appeal during the height of tourist season, so we're looking for alternatives.

We're currently thinking about doing the following:

Day 1: Arrive Bergen early afternoon. Do some light exploring.
Day 2: 8 AM Express Boat to Balestrand. (might be a little ambitious with jet lag)
Day 3: 8 AM or 4 PM Express Boat back to Bergen
Day 4: Depart Bergen in the early evening

Does that sound like a reasonable plan? Is there enough to do in Balestrand to spend a day or so puttering around there? Does anyone have other suggestions? We're pretty wide open. We may have access to a car, so driving somewhere instead is a possibility. An alternative is to possibly stay in Aurland. (We have cancelable accommodations in both places.)

We're not people who travel with a "Must Do" list. We'd like to see some nice scenery, maybe do some light hiking, and generally get a taste of the area.

Posted by
1432 posts

We spent 3 nights in Balestrand several years ago. The village itself is tiny and there isn't much to do. But we were there to hike and there are plenty of trails that are readily accessible. I would consider the trails to be easy to moderate. Certainly nothing technical. If you are staying at the Kviknes they can pack you a sack lunch and give you hiking guidance. The express boat from Bergen to Balestrand is pretty boring. The Sognefjord is so big you feel like you are on a lake. It doesn't get interesting until you get closer to Balestrand. We ended up sleeping part of the way. The beer probably contributed to the propensity to nap.

Posted by
375 posts

We are just returning from an 8 day trip to Norway. 2 days/nights in Bergen, 5 nights in Flam, with a final day/night in Bergen before moving on. We wanted to go to Balestrand as a day trip from our base in Flam but the infrequent ferries between Flam and Balestrand made a day trip a bit difficult. Overnight is best. My pre trip research suggested a lot of hikes from Balestrand are waiting for you though.

We were slightly hesitant with staying for 5 nights in Flam on account of the daily cruise ships and hoards of tourists disembarking. It turned out that we really loved Flam. There is a day or two (or more) of hiking options from Flam center. I will leave you with a short trip report for the Flam area with what we did, which may give you some ideas. I found researching this trip (especially the fjord areas) to be a bit more challenging than our other trips to Europe.

Day #1: Train Bergen to Flam. We saw the dancing maiden halfway down the Flam railway. Walked around Flam.

Day #2: Day trip on the 2 hour fjord cruise from Flam to Gudvangen (spectacular), grabbed some lunch and hit the Viking Village (it was merely ok). Return to Flam by bus. Watch tourists climb back on their giant cruise ship while we had a beer on our deck of our rented cabin on the fjord. Enjoyed a more peaceful Flam from 6pm onwards.

Day # 3-4: We rented a car from Flam E-Mobility rental. We drove to Aurland for the Stegastein Viewpoint (recommended) and other hikes. My favorite hike was in the Aurland Valley (from Flam, drive 8 KM to Aurland, right on 50 for about 7 KM’s). Hikes in the valley had different micro climates at every corner we turned. Rocky, lush, waterfalls, rapids, old camping cabins, sheep etc. Hiking was slow, some due to the elevation gain but mostly because I kept needing to take pictures. Trails criss-crossed the area and while there were no fjord views, there were also no tourists. You could take a bus to this hiking trailhead but figuring out the bus schedules proved difficult to us. We were glad we had a car for part of our stay in this area. You mentioned Aurland. It was a cute town, quiet. We tried to have lunch one of the days but nothing was open (it was a holiday but many options to eat were open in Flam). So, plan accordingly.

Day #5: Stayed in Flam. Hiked to Flam church and Brekkefossen. Shopped. Eiger Brewery has great beer and pretty good food. Other restaurants and cafe’s were decent as well.

Day #6: Train back to Bergen. Bergen has some great hikes in the hills above/around town. The town is easy to get around on foot. Good restaurants and great beer bars. Looking forward to having a $6 pint when I get home vs the $14/pint in Norway.

Hope this helps a bit. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Posted by
27362 posts

Honestly, I think you're making a mistake. I'm sure Balestrand is very attractive; I'd have stayed there myself last year if I had been able to work our the logistics. But there's a reason the Norway in a Nutshell route is so popular: The scenery is spectacular. You're bypassing that in exchange for what is reportedly a far, far less scenic round trip on the express boat.

I did the traditional Nutshell route from Oslo to Bergen last year on June 20-22. I made that decision after reading literally every post about Norway posted on this forum since the beginning of time, plus two or three guidebooks. There was no doubt in my mind that, from the standpoint of scenery, that was the best choice.

The Flamsbana (train), the Flam-Gudvangen ferry and the Gudvangen-Voss bus were not overcrowded. There was a huge cruise ship docked in Flam on at least one of the days I was there, which certainly didn't add to the ambience, but those folks must have been on a different schedule from mine, because I didn't run into them as I moved around.

I'd definitely stay in Aurland and do the traditional Nutshell travel segments. Forget the express boat.

Posted by
149 posts

I’ll echo acraven and say that the “Nutshell” can be an enjoyable trip even if crowded. It was one of the highlights of my 10 day Scandinavian trip. I was fortunate there was no cruise ship in Flam that day but it was still busy.

I arranged my own version of the nutshell and did both the Næroyfjord cruise and the express boat; both were enjoyable but the most spectacular scenery was in Næroyfjord.

Another idea would be to do more around Bergen - I didn’t have time on my trip, but I think there are some RS recommended sights outside the city proper. You can easily spend a day in Bergen itself also.

Posted by
68 posts

I was recently in Balestrand. Suggestions for things to do:

  • Half day trip to Vik to visit Hopperstad Stave Church (take ferry there and back)
    • Ciderhuset (Cider House): They have guided tours, although check their website (they didn't have any when I was there but they have a shop that cells cider so I bought some cider and chatted with the person there to learn more about their operation)
    • Hiking: Note that the hiking trails are steep so this may not be for you. But if you can hike it's well worth it for the nice views, although note that trails aren't very well marked.
    • Glacier tour (I didn't do this but it's mentioned in Rick's guide book).
Posted by
2 posts

Thanks, everyone. We've decided to forego the express boat. We're going to be spending quite a bit of time on boats and trains later in the trip, so we're leaning towards renting a car and doing a driving trip, instead.

Posted by
27362 posts

A (very) few people on this forum have rented cars and traveled through the area north of the Sognefjord. Their earlier posts on this forum could be very helpful to you. There aren't all that many posts on Norway, so I don't think it would take all that long to scroll backward to (perhaps) 2015 or so. You'll need to go back pre-pandemic.

The Search function here is not the best, so I never rely on it totally. If you like, you can hope that anyone posting about driving in the area of the Sognefjord used the word "Balestrand" in their post, in which case these search results may help you. I'd probably skip over threads more than 10 years old.

https://search.ricksteves.com/?button=&filter=Travel+Forum&query=balestrand&utf8=%E2%9C%93

Posted by
155 posts

Good choice to forgoe a day trip to Balestrand. We did an overnight here last summer to break up our Norway in a Nutshell trip. It's a lovely little village but truly not much to do to fill a day outside of hiking. It was cold and rainy when we were there and found that there were just a couple places to get food. There was a winery or brewery but it was closed when we were there. Again it's lovely but no need to make a special trip here I think.