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Base to Visit Multiple Fjords

Our grand Sweden-Norway adventure for May is a go! With input from the forums, we've tweaked and shuffled and refined to get the bones of our trip to a good place. Each week, I research a different piece. This week, I'm thinking about the fjords of west Norway. Due to our collective COVID travel hiatus, there aren't a lot of new reviews or posts. I'm not sure what's changed or maybe nothing has changed.

I've allocated a fair bit of time, 7 nights. Ideally, I'd like to start from Oslo, do the Flam train, and find a place to base for 3-5 nights to visit different fjords. Eventually, we'll end up in Bergen from where we are flying home. All, except the flight, is fluid. It looks like the bookable NIN tours go to either Naeroyfjord or Sognefjord. I'd bet this is good logistically for the 1-2 day nature of these tours. I' also assume, it's NOT "seen one fjord, seen them all" and they aren't mutually exclusive to visit. I also believe there are other places off this well-beaten path if I can find the breadcrumbs.

I suspect that the sheer scale of the area is going to make this all interesting to plan. I want to find a base with rational traveltimes and connections to different places. I suspect Flam would be good but it doesn't grab me. My sister was very taken with Balestrand and it looks interesting to me, too. It is part of the Sognefjord NIN tour but what other fjords makes sense from there? We're public transportation people and don't have a lot of boxes to tick. We just want to enjoy the majesty of the fjords.

Thoughts? We appreciate all opinions.

Posted by
24895 posts

I've only made one trip to Norway (this year, and carless). There are others with considerably more experience than I have, but perhaps I can get you started.

The Naeroyfjord is a branch of the Sognefjord. It's quite narrow (thus its name) and is considered one of the two most beautiful fjords in the country. The narrowest fjords tend to be the most spectacular. The other fjord most often mentioned is the Geirangerfjord. I don't think you can sleep in the area around the Sognefjord and take a day trip to the Geirangerfjord, even with a car. It's just too far away.

Public transportation in rural Norway doesn't run very frequently, so if you don't have a car, it will be a challenge to range very far from your base on any given day. I don't remember whether this is something mentioned in the RS guidebook or is just a comment from one of the RS staffers here, but it was suggested that if you only have one night to spend in the area, Flam (or perhaps Aurland) would be the most practical base. They're on the south side of the Sognefjord. Balestrand was recommended for those with a bit more time. I believe more than one of our posters has stayed in Balestrand and really liked it, but I'm not sure any of those (few) folks were depending on public transportation. Balestrand is on the north side of the Sognefjord.

The Flamsbana scenic train, the Naerofjord ferry and the easiest bus route to the Borgund stave church all depart from the Flam side of the Sognefjord (actually, they all depart from Flam itself). If you stay on the other side of the Sognefjord, any of those excursions will require you to find a way across that large fjord twice. The crossing method I'm aware of is the express boat to/from Bergen, but I think it goes to Flam just once a day, so it's really not a very practical solution for those with sightseeing plans on the south side of the Sognefjord and no car.

The above situation is what led me to discard Balestrand as an option, though I started out wanting to stay there. I considered Aurland (less touristy than Flam) but I was unable to find information about bus service between Flam and Aurland. In the end, I came to the conclusion that Flam was best for me even though I had two nights to spend in the area.

I didn't really explore bus options from Balestrand north, beyond discovering that the Geirangerfjord was way too far away. There might be some nice, scenic bus routes from Balestrand, but everything I looked at on that side of the fjord seemed to run only once or twice a day.

Weather in fjord country and western Norway is really iffy in terms of precipitation. It will be valuable to have some extra time in that area so you can try to match your activities to the weather.

Bergen is an extremely scenic city with lovely architecture. It's worth some time.

I decided to travel north to Alesund (known for Art Nouveau architecture) on the Hurtigruten ferry, which departs Bergen at 8 PM--5 times a week at this point, I think, but there's another company offering service as well. After making a stop in Alesund around 8 AM, the ferry detours into the highly scenic Geirangerfjord and makes a second stop at Alesund at 8 PM. So you can see the Geirangerfjord from Bergen with an overnight on the ship followed by a night in Alesund. I think there are other options for seeing the Geirangerfjord from Alesund--I'm not sure whether by ferry or bus/ferry combination.

One of the best tips I read about visiting the fjords was on this forum (don't remember whose comment it was): Many people find the fjords more impressive when seen from above (i.e., from a car or bus on a road above fjord level) than from a ferry down on the water). Most of my fjord views were from the water; they were lovely and worthwhile, but it would have been nice to get the bird's-eye view as well. I think there's a bus tour from Flam/Aurland that takes you to a viewpoint.

Posted by
24895 posts

I ran out of space before warning you that the demand for lodging greatly exceeds the supply in Flam and surroundings. Folks using public transportation don't have a lot of convenient options, and rooms book up early. May could be a lot easier than June, when I stopped in Flam, but if I were you, I'd grab a cancellable reservation now so you have something locked down while you continue working on your itinerary. You can change your plans later if you want to and you can find something available for your new dates/base.

Posted by
471 posts

Thank you, acraven. That's exactly the kind of information that I was looking for.

Posted by
6782 posts

So, relying on public means of transportation, could that be just train, or just bus, or just boat, or would some combination be required for most, if not all itineraries?

Posted by
859 posts

We were in Norway in August/September and travelled exclusively by public transport - trains, buses, ferries and planes. There are many local buses and each region has its own public transport app but once you find the right app it is pretty straightforward.

We saw Geirangerfjord as a day trip from Alesund. It was misty the whole day but we still enjoyed it.

We saw Moldefjord by bus from Alesund and continued by local bus on the Atlantic Road to Kristiansund. We caught an AtB ferry from Kristiansund to Trondheim that hugged the coast.

We visited Lysefjord as a half day trip from Stavanger. It was brilliantly sunny and the cruise takes you to the bottom of Pulpit Rock (as seen in one of the Mission Impossible films).

We visited Bergen and could have done NiN from there but I was recovering from COVID and was too tired to do it. Instead we did a 2 hour cruise of the sea/fjord closer to Bergen.

We had a great time. Using public transport we missed a few things but also had some wonderful highlights like the Rauma railway between Dombas and Andalsnes, the Atlantic Road in a public bus with locals doing their grocery shopping and coming home from school who probably thought that the Australians taking photos of grass roofed bus shelters were crazy, and the amazingly scenic bus ride from Bergen to Stavanger.

It takes a bit of planning but you can do Norway independently using public transport.

Posted by
8944 posts

So, relying on public means of transportation, could that be just train, or just bus, or just boat, or would some combination be required for most, if not all itineraries?

A combination of all three was my experience in August 2021. You need to be able to knit various things together.

It takes some careful planning, but it can be done. I had a wonderful time (but I spent some SERIOUS time figuring out the logistics and timetables).

Posted by
5312 posts

I'm not sure what's changed or maybe nothing has changed.

The fjords mostly look the same as they did before the pandemic. So it is mostly a matter of which companies have closed. Although the main difference is that Stalheimskleiva was closed for all motor traffic in 2021.

In general, my suggestion would be to focus on Sognefjord, including tributary fjords like Nærøyfjord.

I also assume, it's NOT "seen one fjord, seen them all" and they
aren't mutually exclusive to visit.

Probably not, but maybe "seen two or three, seen them all". They all are a bit different, but to be fair the difference is not that huge. So stay in one area and focus on that and don't try to see everything.

Aurland can be an option, you can get from Flåm to Aurland by bus or ferry in the summer.

So, relying on public means of transportation, could that be just
train, or just bus, or just boat, or would some combination be
required for most, if not all itineraries?

A combination is usually required. You usually need to use a boat to cross the fjords, they are deep (Sognefjorden is over 1200 metres deep) so building bridges or tunnels are expensive.

Posted by
7009 posts

Best base is to take a cruise, we did a great one to the North Cape in 2019.

As an alternate, consider Flan or Alesund. Geiranger is by far the best fjord.

Posted by
471 posts

Thanks to everybody for the advice. A few weeks ago, I booked at couple of nights in Flam and I'm glad I did. Everything seems to be full in the town now. With five months to go, things are coming together.

Posted by
227 posts

Hi CT,
I just read your post and the replies and we are also planning a trip to Scandinavia, Finland, Tallin in August September or 2023. I saw that you live in Colorado and I was wondering if you are flying out of Denver on IcelandicAir. We are exploring the flights with that airline because we live in Las Cruces, NM and could fly from El Paso to Denver in order to use that airline. The prices and times seem to be pretty good. Thanks for any info.