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Norway in my own Nutshell

I'm sitting on my Norwegian Air flight after a whirlwind 4 day tour of Bergen and one of the fjord areas featured in the Norway in a Nutshell program. I did an enormous amount of research on this forum and several others, and while I enjoyed all of the posts, there were seven or eight sentences from here and there that really helped my trip. I hope to offer practical advice as well.

Warning - I am a somewhat cranky, entitled, slightly narcissistic traveler who hates overcrowding and cigarette smoke. I avoid entire countries for these reasons. I realize a tourist getting angry at other tourists who just want a nice vacation too is unreasonable - hence the warning.

So my original plan was taking the one day nutshell trip from Bergen to Flam - Gudvagen (sp?). I even tried to buy the tour online but my credit card wouldn't go through. My first of many lucky breaks.

I originally booked three nights in a Bergen air bnb with the plan of a 1 day tour. Then I read a post by someone who I owe a beer, even an eleven dollar Norway beer. He stated that the boats in the middle of the day are often packed because the people on the one day plan are all on one or two midday boats. It's a three or four hour trip to Flam and they can't arrive in time for first two boats and they have to leave before the last boat. This changed everything for me. Thankfully, he made no mention of smoking or I would have crossed Norway off my list and missed wonderful trip with a couple of those travel moments you'll never forget.

So the question I asked myself, and you should too is, why am I going to Norway? What is the first word that comes to mind. Fjords? Northern Lights? Oslo? Bergen? For me the word was fjords. On the one day trip, you'll spend an hour and a half or two hours on the boat. That's it. That is it for those who made the trip to Norway to see the fjords. And you'll be on the most crowded boats. And as you probably know, when it comes to weather, this area gets a lot of rain. So all of your eggs are in a two hour basket (I realize this makes no sense but you know what I mean).

So it became obvious to me that I should spend one or two nights in the Fjord are and less time in Bergen. I opted to spend two nights in the Fjords and the last night in Bergen which gave me two half days to see Bergen. I can safely say that this worked out perfectly. Bergen is a gorgeous waterside city and I enjoyed it immensely. I envy the people who live there. I want to be careful how I say this, but there are beautiful seaside cities in North America like Boston, San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver for a lot less money. Believe me, I would love to see any Scandinavian city or village but I only have so much money. This was a fjord trip.

So I was ready to to do this on my own, God knows I did enough research. But for those who actually spend time at work doing their job, unlike me, I think Norway in a Nutshell can be a good option. But I'd suggest staying in a fjord village for several reasons. First, you'll be by a fjord, which is good. But the primary reason is you give yourself a bigger window for better weather. It's possible that it could rain for two days, but two hours of rain during the one day trip is much more likely. And you can take the earlier/later rides which are less crowded. You can book a Nutshell tour for multiple days using
their hotels or booking your hotel or bnb on your own.

However, there is one problem that even the best planning can't get around. Waiting too long to buy a ticket and having the boat sell out. If only we could show up and buy a ticket based on the weather for that day. Too risky. So I did buy a ticket two months in advance, and it was a cloudy misty day (more about his later) As it turned out I didn't need too as there were definitely seats available for the two days I was there. But I went slightly after peak season.

I'm almost at the limit, I hope I can continue. First time I've done this.

Posted by
110 posts

Ah, Norwegian Air has excellent wifi.

So just one more fly in the ointment of a great plan. Cruise ships overtaking a tiny town. Don't even get me started - see above warning of entitled narcissistic traveler.

On my last day in Flam there was a Holland American cruise ship that absolutely dwarfed the village. It was surreal. Think of the old Land of the Giants TV series, or Honey I Shrunk the kids, or Godzilla standing over Tokyo. I think there were more people on the boat than in all of Scandinavia. And all of those tennis shirt wearing, windbreaker around the waist people are there to get on the same boats you and I are. You can't know when they docked, when they're leaving, or what time they get up. What's my point? Between the weather and crowds, you're going to need a little luck. So I bought a ticket on the second boat 9:55 from Aurland and hoped for the best. At least the one day nutshellers weren't in the area yet.

So just to be clear, buy a ticket in advance, always have a ticket. If it was pouring rain and there were tickets available for what looked like better weather, I would have bought a new ticket and gave the original away. Ironically, the only relatively inexpensive deal in Norway is its best attraction.

So enough strategy, I hope this helps people understand the Nutshell program. It's really nothing more than a company that buys all of your tickets and tells you where to be and at what time. You're tied into those times. And although there are supposedly signs, I only noticed one. Itwas taped on a post with the paper size and font type you'd expect to see on a "Don't Run in the Hallways " sign you'd see in an elementary school.

I realize this has been long. The rest will be an actual trip report covering my trip. And don't feel bad for the cruise travelers, others will get it too. :)

Posted by
3994 posts

What countries do you avoid because of smokers?

Posted by
89 posts

I too dislike crowds; I'm planning a trip to the fjord area next summer and definitely look forward to more good tips from you!

Posted by
110 posts

Sorry Cala , I'll just say the ones with a lot of them

Posted by
110 posts

Ok home and rested. What a spectacular trip.

I spent a lot of time trying to decide which town to stay in - I consulted and airbnb. First thing I noticed was a general lack of enthusiasm, at least compared to other countries I visited, for Norwegian hotels. Relatively low numerical ratings for very high prices. I didn't know much about the towns so I decided I'd base my stay on the most appealing accommodation rather than targeting a specific village. I researched all hotels between Flam and Gudvangen. I also considered Balestrand since there was a boat between Flam and Balestrand and I read that was a nice town away from the "nutshell nuttiness". I was planning on staying at the Balestrand Hotel in a room with fjord view balcony, but boat service was limited during my time there and I didn't make it to Balestrand. One of my few regrets.

When I travel, I spend relatively little on food because I'm not really a foodie. I'm usually satisfied at any cafe. But I will spend more on a nice place to stay, and that place has to have a nice balcony or terrace with a view featuring the region's main appeal. Last year I stayed on a terrace above the sea in Italy's Cinque Terre that I thought would
rank as the nicest view I'd ever experience. Little did I know that I'd match that view a year later. I'm not going to post the link here, not to keep it secret, but because most people probably couldn't fit it into their plans. I booked it on airbnb so you'll probably be able to figure it out. I booked it for two nights and I wondered why it was fully booked for the summer , except for a day or two here and there, with only six reviews. The owner told me they usually book it for a week at a time but there was a cancellation and two days opened up. The first of several times the Gods smiled on
me during this trip. The cabin was in Aurland, the stop next to Flam. There is pretty good bus service to Flam, I think it was a 15 minute ride. The walk to the bus/boat area was about 15 or so minutes, relatively flat with a wide sidewalk.

I've been fortunate enough to travel extensively, but I could probably count on both hands the number of times my heart literally skipped a beat from a beautiful view. There was one time in the Canadian Rockies when my wife and I
booked a room at a historical hotel and we could only afford the parking lot view. When we got to our room and pulled
the curtain open we saw, instead of a parking lot, a postcard view of the mountains. I'll never forget it, we gasped and my wife cried a little. And it happened again in this cabin in Aurland.

I knew the cabin was gorgeous on the perfect fjord setting, I had arrived the night before and it was as gorgeous as it was on air bnb. Just a little history. I had been monitoring the weather in Norway for weeks. Monitoring weather in advance for a trip is an enormous waste of time and does nothing but elevate your blood pressure. Two weeks before I went I checked the 15 day internet forecast that shows the weather symbols. All clouds with rain coming out. Not one
picture in the fifteen days with even a tiny part of yellow sun. Fifteen days! So I accepted the weather would be bad. But two days before I left, there were pictures of sun and my heart raced. But then the forecast got worse and worse again. So I woke up my first morning in the cabin and looked through the small crack in the curtain. Clouds and mist.
I was disappointed and walked down the stairs. I then looked out side and my heart just stopped. The mist on the mountains and rising just above the water was the most dramatic, hypnotizing, unworldly thing I had ever seen. The next morning was perfect blue sky, which was stunning, but didn't hit me like the first morning. Same with the boat rides. Riding on the first day was straight out of Game of Throwns. Mystical, mesmorizing, norse gods, etc.

So be careful what you ask for.

I'm almost done-promise.

Posted by
5828 posts

Thanks for your trip report. You make an excellent point about having enough time to enjoy the trip and not being on an hour to hour schedule.

Re Smoking (tobacco): Norway has adopted strong smoking prohibitions since my first visit. Smoking is prohibited in most public indoor spaces (e.g. restaurants), workplaces and transit. While hotels are required to have at least half of their rooms smoke free, the Thon hotels that I have patronized were 100% smoke free. The usual problem for smoke sensitive people getting past the outdoor smoking areas of restaurants.

Re Weather forecasts: Which weather forecasting service did you find the most accurate? I use (Yr is a joint service by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation). Most forecast are only accurate for several (2 or 3) days in advance and are educated guesses for 5 plus days in the future. But as the Norwegians are said to say: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.”

Posted by
48 posts

As another Norway-lover, I'm very much enjoying this report, celfan!

Posted by
23 posts

Loving this report as we're doing Norway on our own in just under 3 weeks and there is usually so little info other than those following the Nutshell route to a "t".

Posted by
110 posts

Two things I won't be talking about, food, and the bus that goes down some steep zigzag road (part of some nutshell packages). I also didn't take the high speed boat to or from Bergen which is a long ride and received only ok reviews. Due to my schedule I took the same train to and from Begen to Flam.

About the four towns. .

Where to start with Flam? My initial reaction was to bash it like so many reviewers have. Yes it can be crowded. Yes the massive ships can overshadow the whole town. Yes it is a mecca for tacky souvenirs. But then it hit me..

I live in a small town in Vermont USA, a state known for it's green scenery and lack of commercialism. However, our town
is the box store capital of Vermont. We have a Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and even a Wal-,... I can't even say it. So that is what our town is known for. Mention the name of our town to other Vermonters and they'll say, oh thats where Wal- (still can't say it) is.
However our town is nice, kept up, rural, and a nice place to live. I live in a cabin with occasional bears, coyotes, and bobcats. Most people who bash our town have only seen the one percent of our town with the shopping area. So I'm not going to make the same mistake with Flam. I'll just give you my experience.

On my second day I arrived, just as the world's largest boat arrived (not really - maybe). I had actually seen it a couple of hours earlier floating past the deck of my air bnb in Aurland. I was not surprised, there is a website that lists the boats scheduled to dock in Flam
and I saw it was listed. That's why I bought my boat ticket for the day before. I was hoping that it would take a while for the passengers to get settled in before they hit the boats. Luckily, it turned out that way. Again, the reviewer who suggested taking the earlier boats came through for me. However, the cruisers and I did meet up as I boarded the Flam railroad later in the day (more later). So after a day on the water with blue sky and a comfortable, uncrowded boat, I returned to Disney World, er Flam. I've noticed a new phenomenon in Europe over the past few years. Travel groups are being replaced by travel armies. Travel groups were once made up of groups of 10 to 20 who blended right in with everyone else. And not only are these armies massive, but the army members never seem to look up. They are walking with their heads down while deleting the 30 or so pictures they just took of a squirrel that proved disappointing. They are led by either a man in shorts marching in such a high legged manner you wonder if he's not trying to be funny on purpose, or a woman who makes up for her small stature by glaring at any one who is walking in the direction of her head-down picture deleters. Both will be holding a big round sign with a 6, or 11, or E27.

Aurland is the second stop. Incidentally you can get off the boat and check out the towns before you reach your scheduled destination. I stayed in Aurland and recommend it as your town for lodging. I don't recommend it for a hop off visit. It's very pleasant and scenic, but I'd stay on the boat and get off at the next stop instead. One real drawback for Aurland, there are only a couple of restaurants and neither seems to be terrific according to reviews. I ate at my bnb to save money and dine on my deck litterally on the fjord. But if you have a car, Aurland is only ten minutes from Flam and you will feel zero nutshell nuttiness. Even if you don't have a car,
you can take a 15 minute bus from Flam and walk to a destination. You just need to keep an eye of the bus schedule in Flam.

Posted by
110 posts

The town after Aurland is Undredal and it blew me away on that perfect foggy morning with just enough sun to light up the grass and brightly colored homes of this tiny hamlet. Undredal looks like a town straight out of Maine or Nova Scotia, Canada, or Ireland even. But in areas of Maine or Nova Scotia that are too far for tourists and yuppies to invade. The town is unspoiled, not overly polished, and has only one real store. It sells food, souvenirs, and the owner was smart enough to put an oven where you can see and smell baking croissants right inside the front door. My initial plan was to peek in and move on. I found my self digging for change and eating a croissant moments later. Next to the store is a cheese store that sells the local brown cheese. I tried it - didn't like it or dislike it. Also had a disappointing ten dollar glass of Ringness from Oslo beer, the only selection . Maybe the tap was bad or the beer was old, but my advice is try a Hansa Beer from Bergen instead.

I fell in love with this tiny town immediately. A nice up hill walk to an old church among nice, but not fancy, brightly painted homes with tiny yards. I liked it so much that I decided to skip the next boat an hour later and catch the next one, which unfortunately was two hours later. That was pushing it. Some people would probably find the town boring. I liked it so much that I'd stay here for a couple of nights with my wife. But understand we live in a cabin in a rural area. We can entertain ourselves. I'd venture to guess 95 percent of the population would find it boring with nothing to do. To make it more challenging, the only accommodations listed on receive very lukewarm reviews. However, there is a place on Air bnb that looks perfect, right on the fjord. And the fjord here is breathtaking. Of the many pictures I took of this trip, half of the best ones were in Undredal and its fjord. So if you are one of the few, and I mean few, who can take isolation, one restaurant maybe ( it was closed when I was there in mid day) and enough savvy to find a great place on airbnb it may be for you. It would take some scheduling effort on the boats. Not sure what the driving situation is there for those with cars.
I'll finish by saying I'd be willing to bet all of my Long Island relatives would go stir crazy after two hours and start swimming black to Flam. Undredal is the anti Flam.

I can't speak for the final town, Gudvangen. I checked out a few reviews and I wasn't interested. I can tell you that by the boat area there is a large restaurant with a pretty view. It's in a pretty wooden building with large long tables. I was actually willing to eat there as I had to organize my backpack, but the line was so long outside the door that I just decided to sit on a bench next to the building. My boat wasn't crowded, but there seemed to be other boats from elsewhere, hence my first "mob scene" in Norway. The good news is, if you regret passing up that potholder with the Norwegian flag, or the GIANT pencil with pictures of Norway you saw in the Flam stores, you'll find them again here.
I vaguely remember considering Gudvagen since it may have offered the chance to get on the boat with less people since most start in Flam, but found nothing interesting. However my main memory of my trip were the mornings and evenings of the deck of my airbnb, and I'd stay in any town for the perfect one. I just found it elsewhere.

Will finish with a half page of tips. If wine is in your plans, keep reading.

Posted by
110 posts

So, as you probably know, the people at Norway in a Nutshell are just buying all your tickets for you so you have an easy and organized itinerary. If you want to book yourself for more flexibility, the best site for boats is visitflamdotcom (obviously not real address but you get the idea, I'm not sure if links are allowed). A great website for all info. For trains you buy from NSB at nsbdotno (same thing). One of those sights seems to struggle with credit cards and I used PayPal. Can't remember which site but others have said the same.

The boats-

For the Flam to Gudvangen route there are classic boats and premium boats. I took the classic boat each time. They are older, which I don't care about, and slower, which I think I'd prefer. When I was there, the premium boats were about twice as expensive as classic, so that was that. However, if I was there in high season and the classic boats were packed, I'd opt for the premium if I could determine the boat would be less crowded. Another option are the safari boats, which are small and very fast boats, you'll need the wet suit and goggles they supply. They appeared to hold about 10-12 people so everyone gets a great view. These boats get the highest satisfaction rate and when I saw the docking after the tour, people of all ages and sizes were grinning ear to ear. I would have taken one on the second day but I have an inner ear imbalance and was nervous about the numerous stops and starts. Definitely more expensive, but I think worth it if you are there at a crowded time and might not get to a rail position on the other boats. Just google fjord safari boats.


I took the train from Bergen to Myrdal and caught the old flamsbana railway train form Myrdal to Flam.
I bought both tickets from previous mentioned NSB railway site website. They come together if you buy Bergen to Flam route. The flamsbana is considered a highlight of Nutshell route but it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I did very much enjoy the old train with wooden interior, but the scenery didn't do much for me, probable because I live in a mountain region and I see the New York Adirondacks and White Mountains of New Hampshire regularly. People seemed impress though and were snapping away. A couple of hints though if you want to take the best pictures. When going from Myrdal to Flam, sit on the left side of the train. When going from Flam to Myrdal sit on the right side. Also, as you are waiting to board the train, look for taped signs on the doors. Those signs will say that car is referred for travel groups, or armies, and you can't get on. When I was going from Flam to Myrdal, I'd say seven of the ten or twelve cars were reserved. There can be a bit of a scramble for window seats on the best sides, so watch out for those signs.

Ride between Bergen and Myrdal, just sit anywhere, doesn't really matter.


I've made myself clear. I went on this trip to see fjords and wanted to stay on a fjord with a stunning view.
I found air bnb had more of what i was looking for at a much better price. Just check reviews and look for people who were not just happy but literally overwhelmed.

Alcohol -especially wine

Expensive, and if you want it to take home rather than consume in a restaurant, scarce. Liquor, wine, strong beers and ciders (above 4.7%), is sold through the state run Vinmonopolet -wine monopoly. I arrived in Flam with a backpack so full I couldn't have squeezed in another toothbrush. Sogndal and Vik seem to be the closest to where I was, but I didn't have a car. My advice to anyone who may want
bottles of wine is stock up at airport duty free or visit one of the stores on the way. It killed me to not have a bottle of wine while sitting on balcony gazing at Fjord. Cans of 4.7 percent or lower beer are available everywhere for three times what you are used to. People buy cans instead of six packs due to cost.

Out of words. Abrupt goodbye and I wish you well!

Posted by
3259 posts

Some day I will do this. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to include all your perspectives and information! I enjoyed it greatly.