Only 20km in length, the Flam Railway is one of the world’s most spectacular train journeys. Climb aboard for the ride of your life.
I felt waves of anticipation ripple 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.
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 7am. 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 Flåm Railway. Read on to find out more about what could be the ride of your life!
Flam Railway – some facts and figures
The Flam Railway, or 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 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.
The practical stuff
- I visited Flam part of a 7-day cruise from Southampton, England on P&O Britannia. This cost £1300 for sole occupancy of a balcony cabin.
- The Flam Railway operates ten services in each direction per day in the summer months. Check out the timetable here. One way-journey takes 45 – 60 minutes.
- A ticket for return journey costs 550 NOK (£55). I recommend booking in advance in the summer months via the Visit Flam website. Holders of a Eurail/Interrail pass are entitled to a 30% discount.
- Many people combine the Flam Railway with a fjord cruise as part of the Norway in a Nutshell day trip.
- The train can get very busy on days where a cruise ship – or two! – is in town, or the Norway in 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 are travelling on busy days, make sure that you are queuing at the railway station 30 minutes before departure to get your pick of the best seats.
- Not all of the seats in the carriage are next to roll-down windows. If you want to poke your camera out of the window, choose carefully. Although the views are great from both sides of the carriage, I suggest 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 there to 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.
1. Take a hike
There are 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.
2. Ride a RIB
For an adrenaline rush, take a RIB fjord safari. The 2h 15 mins journey costs 710 NOK (£70).
3. Rent a talking car
Yes. Really! GPS audioguided tours in electric cars available from 800 NOK (£80) for a one-hour journey.
Have you ridden the Flam Railway? Or can you recommend another scenic train ride? Share your experience below!
PIN THE FLASHPACKER!