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Are you stopping in the port of Flam, Norway on a cruise? Here’s all you need to know about riding the Flam Railway.
Waves of anticipation rippled through the train carriage as passengers took their seats amid excited chatter. I too was stupidly excited at the prospect of riding the Flam Railway, or Flamsbana.
The Flam Railway, running between Flam and Myrdal, is considered to be one of Norway’s most scenic train journeys. And in a country as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Norway, that’s really saying something.
Flam (or Flåm to be correct) was port number two of my week-long cruise along Norway’s fjords.
Leaving Stavanger the previous evening, all 143,000 tonnes of MV Britannia weaved her way through the bends and turns of Sognefjorden and Aurlandsfjorden to reach the hamlet of Flam shortly after 7 am. Seagulls cried and sheep bleated their respective welcomes.
Tucked between two mountains at the head of Aurlandsfjorden, Flam is a community of around 400 souls, less than 10% the total occupancy of the ship. Although the hamlet is a good base for hiking and has a visit-worthy 17th-century church, its main tourist draw is the Flam Railway.
To help you make the most of your cruise stop in Flam, here are some tips on how to book the Flamsbana scenic train ride, what to expect and a guide to the other attractions of the hamlet.
Two-minute video: Flam Railway
To whet your appetite, watch this short video of the Flam Railway:
What is the Flam Railway?
The Flamsbana is a marvel of modern engineering.
Completed in 1940, it runs a total distance of approximately 12 miles from Flam, at sea-level, to Myrdal, at an altitude of 2,845 feet. At its steepest point, the gradient is 1:18, making it the steepest standard-gauge railway in Europe.
But fear not nervous travellers; the train is equipped with not one, not two, but five sets of brakes.
Building the line was no mean feat. With its 20 tunnels, most of which had to be dug by hand, 10 stations and one bridge, it took 16 years to complete.
Although the Flam Railway was originally constructed to allow local passenger and freight access to the Bergen – Oslo line, it is now a tourist-oriented service operated by the Norwegian State Railways on behalf of Flam Utvikling.
What is it like to ride the Flam Railway?
With a toot of the whistle, the train pulls out of the station, passing the old village of Flam before winding its way up a gradient of 5.5%, between rocky cliffs and past river gorges and cascading waterfalls. The Flamselvi river on the right-hand side of the train is your companion for most of the journey as the train cuts its way through the Flam valley, shaped by glacial erosion over millions of years.
At Breikvam the track splits in two to allow trains to pass one another. If the train makes a short stop here, it is a good opportunity to point your camera out of the window to take a shot along the track.
Around 4km from Myrdal station, the train stops for ten minutes at the Kjosfossen waterfall.
With its thunderous waters falling a total distance of 225 meters, prepare yourself for a drenching.
According to Scandinavian folklore, the waterfall is home to the Huldra, mythical siren women who lured men into the forest with their enchanting song. Stay vigilant and you may spot one dancing next to the waterfall, draped in a red cloak.
You are now approaching your final destination.
The train skirts the northwestern edge of Reinungavatnet lake to reach Myrdal. After a ten-minute turn-around, get ready to do it all again in the opposite direction.
During which months does the Flam Railway operate?
The Flam Railway operates year-round.
In the winter months, there are four services in each direction daily. From May to September, this increases to ten.
Check the Flåmsbana timetable here.
How long does the Flamsbana scenic train take?
The return-journey between Flam and Myrdal takes 90- 120 minutes.
Which direction is best?
I rode the Flam Railway in both directions and there’s not much to choose between them.
Of course, you get to see the same scenery, but the downhill journey from Myrdal to Flam was smoother and better for taking photos.
The uphill journey from Flam to Myrdal involved more squealing of brakes and side-to-side movement.
Riding the Flam Railway from Bergen or Oslo
If you are not visiting Flam on a cruise, you can ride the Flam Railway as part of the self-guided Norway in a Nutshell day trip from either Bergen or Oslo.
The other option is to take the train independently from Bergen to Flam, a one-way journey time of around three hours.
How much does the Flam Railway cost?
In 2020, the cost of an adult ticket for the return journey is 490 NOK (NOK 360 NOK one-way).
Tips for booking tickets for the Flam Railway
I recommend that you book your Flam Railway ticket in advance in the summer months.
The train is extremely busy on days where a cruise ship – or two! – is in town, or when the Norway in a Nutshell day trip is running. If you are doing the trip independently and want to choose less busy days, my top tip is to check the Norway in a Nutshell timetable and the cruise schedule for Flam.
If you choose to book your ticket as a shore excursion from your cruise operator, you will pay a considerable premium.
Tips for riding the Flam Railway (& for taking photographs)
- If you are travelling on busy days, make sure that you are queuing at the railway station 30 minutes before the train departs to get your pick of the best seats.
- Not all of the seats in the railway carriage are next to roll-down windows. If you want to poke your camera out of the train’s window, choose carefully.
- Although the views are great from both sides of the carriage, I recommend sitting on the right-hand side as the light is better, particularly in the morning, and you get those sweeping views across the Flam valley.
What else is can you do in Flam?
As the return journey on the Flam Railway only takes around two hours, you may be looking for other activities to do in and Flam around, particularly if you are on a cruise ship that is not setting off until the evening. Here is a selection of what is on offer.
Take a hike around Flam
There is a selection of walks in Flam, taking between 30 minutes to 2.5 hours to complete. Pick up the excellent free map in the tourist office.
Ride a RIB
For an adrenaline rush, take a RIB fjord safari. The 2h 15 mins journey costs 740 NOK.
Rent a talking car
Yes. Really! GPS audioguided tours in electric cars available from 1,000 NOK for a one-hour journey.
I hope that this helps you to make the most of your day in Flam and that you will enjoy riding the Flam Railway as much as I did. If you have a chance, I’d love to know how you get on; just leave a comment. And if you want to learn more about other stops on this Norway fjords cruise, check out the links below.
How I visited Flam on a cruise
- Cruise operator: P&O
- Cruise ship: HMV Britannia
- Time in port: 11am – 6 pm
Getting to the Flam Railway from the cruise ship
Flam cruise port is in the hamlet, a short walk to the train station (Flam is tiny!).