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How to do Norway in a Nutshell on Your Own

The gorgeous fjords of Norway

When I first suggested that we visit Norway, Lance was a little dubious. Admittedly, it wasn’t a place that’s been on our radar for years. But, as soon as I showed him photos of the spectacular Norwegian fjords and Bergen’s picturesque old town, no more convincing was needed. We were ready to plan our Norway adventure, starting with our own DIY Norway in a Nutshell tour.

Colorful houses dot the sides of a fjord in Norway

What is the Norway in a Nutshell Route?

Norway is 1100 miles long—a huge country with lots of amazing natural features and things to see, and not all of it is easy to reach. Plus, not everyone has weeks of vacation to explore the fjords, islands, villages, and cities. Thus, there is “Norway in a Nutshell”—a route that stretches from Oslo to Bergen that provides a snapshot of some of the gorgeous things Norway is known for.

Along the journey, there are raging waterfalls, colorful fishing cabins, and millennia-old gorges known as fjords that were carved when the Earth was a much younger place. This trip lets you see them all relatively quickly and easily, which is why it’s one of the most popular Norway tourist routes.

Pink houses in the Norwegian countryside

Norway in a Nutshell isn’t actually a guided tour, which is a common misconception. It’s simply a collection of tickets for public transportation that have the visitor go from point A to point B over several different segments and methods of travel. It’s super convenient, but like lots of things in Norway, it can be on the pricier side. For us, there was no reason not to handle the tickets ourselves and save a few dollars to use for our fabulous dog sledding and Northern Lights excursions later in the trip.

The typical route is from Oslo to Bergen. It begins with a train ride from Oslo to Mydral followed by an excursion on the historic Flam railway. In Flam, things get really exciting when you board the ferry for a two-hour ride through the fjords to Gudvangen. From there, a combination of a bus and train take you to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.

When you plan the tour on your own, you can customize (to a degree) what to see and in what order. Some people do the reverse route from Bergen to Oslo while others do just part of the journey. Many people go all-in and do the full round trip.

Snowy, hilly Norwegian countryside
The route offers ample countryside views

While the itinerary is pretty flexible, it’s also long. We discovered that leaving Oslo shortly after 8am wouldn’t get us into Bergen until about 9:30 that night.

We wanted to see everything possible along the trip without being super exhausted due to jet lag. We also didn’t want to miss the beautiful scenery because the sun had already set. So, we decided to break up the trip with a stop for the night in the harbor village of Flam. If your Norway trip itinerary doesn’t allow that flexibility, you can book everything for the same day.

A boat in the harbor in Flam with a reflection of a mountain in the water

How to Plan the Tour on Your Own

We started our planning by looking at the Norway in a Nutshell website to get an idea of the timing for each leg of the trip as well as beginning and ending times for the segments. Using that information, we visited the websites for the train, ferry, and bus companies to confirm the schedules and book our own tickets.

Colorful buildings along the Flam railway as seen on a DIY Norway in a Nutshell tour

Oslo to Flam trains

The easiest part to book was the train. The trip from Oslo begins at 8:25am and lasts for 6 hours with a 29-minute stop in Mydral to transfer to the Flam Railway. Seats are reserved until the Myrdal stop, and you can select a seat in advance. From Myrdal to Flam, you will need to take any seat that’s available. If you book your train tickets particularly early, you can get cheaper “mini-pris” advanced fare tickets. We got pdf tickets, which we printed at home for ease.

Green railway train car (Flamsbana) in the snow
The Flam Railway on a snowy day
People boarding a railway car
Boarding the railway

We found the views to be best on the left side of both trains, but I’m not sure it makes too much difference. On the Flam Railway—one of the highlights of our Norway itinerary—there are no reserved seats and people move back and forth to take photos on both sides of this old-fashioned steam train. No matter where you sit, you will have great views of some of the prettiest landscape in the world.

There are ravines dotted with houses all the colors of the rainbow, vast mountains covered in evergreens, sweeping vistas, and people doing all manner of outdoor activities. It’s an absolutely gorgeous journey as you make your way through 20 tunnels to the village of Flam.

Colorful houses along a river snaking through a valley
A charming valley near Flam
Frozen waterfall
Frozen waterfall

With only 350 residents, the village of Flam regularly fills with many more visitors than people who actually live there. Though there are cycling, hiking, and other outdoor activities when the weather is warmer, it’s a fairly quiet place in mid-winter, and that’s exactly what we were looking for.

After wandering around a bit in the afternoon and trying to take photographs of scenery our cameras couldn’t do justice to, we visited the local craft brewery and restaurant attached to our hotel, Flamsbrygga. Lance tried some of their craft beers and we indulged in food fit for Vikings, which was perfect for the cold winter evening.

Buildings and harbor flanked by a snow-covered mountain
Flam is surrounded by gorgeous mountains
Overhead view of buildings and harbor
The port of Flam

Flam to Gudvangen ferry

The afternoon we arrived in Flam, we made a quick stop at the tourist information center to buy ferry tickets for the Naeroyfjord tour the next morning to complete the next leg of our Norway in a Nutshell DIY trip. In high season, this is definitely something you’ll want to do ahead of time on the Visit Flam website.

Water and snowy mountains of a fjord
Naeroyfjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Colorful buildings along one of the fjords
The fjords are lined with colorful buildings

The Naeroyfjord tour, which goes from Flam to Gudvangen, visits one of the longest and deepest fjords in the world. It’s been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with another Norwegian fjord called Geirangerfjord. Since we stayed the night in Flam, we got the 9:30am ferry and were able to watch as the sun crawled its way across the sky lighting up the crevices and inlets along our trip. (In the summer, there are more ferry options and the times are different.)

Buildings on a hillside near the water

The scenery along the two-hour fjord journey is the most dramatic thing we’ve ever seen. On either side of the ferry, mountains rose up nearly 5000 feet as we sliced our way across the frigid water.

Overlooking the bow of a ferry cruising through a Norway fjord
The ferry provides stunning views

Laced with snow in some places and waterfalls in others, the cliffs and craggy mountain slopes were epic. At two points along the way, we stopped to pick up people from brightly-colored villages even smaller than Flam. The ferry expertly turned and bent to make its way to the tiny port stops, and we marveled at every moment. As beautiful as the Flam Railway trip was the day before, nothing could hold a candle to the fjords.

People disembarking a ferry
Disembarking the ferry

Gudvangen to Voss bus

Our visit to the fjords ended in Gudvangen, and transferring onward couldn’t have been simpler. Just a few steps from the port (Gudvangen kai), bus 950 to Voss (Voss stasjon) was already waiting for us.

We had about 20-30 minutes to grab a snack at the combined cafeteria and gift shop at the port and easily bought our bus tickets on board. It’s a local bus and the schedule is available on the Skyss website. We had been a little worried about whether there would be enough seats and how the transfer would work. The reality is that this route—whether or not you purchase the package through the company—is built for tourists. It’s unlikely you’ll run into a problem getting stuck on any of the legs of the trip.

For those really worried about a seat on the bus, you can order tickets in advance from the kiosks around the area, or via the SKYSS webshop online. Voss is in Zone E and Gudvangen is in Zone E1. Pick your time and pay. However, our understanding is that this doesn’t guarantee you a seat. This is still a local bus.

Bus 950 from Gudvangen to Voss
The bus to Voss

The bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss took 1 hour and 15 minutes. As with the other parts of the trip, the Norway scenery was lovely. There were houses to gawk at, waterfalls to see, and lots of picturesque countryside.

Voss to Bergen train

The bus from Gudvangen deposited us right on the doorstep of the Voss train station for the last part of the trip. It was time to head to Bergen. At the time of our trip, these tickets couldn’t be bought in advance, but they’re now available online, which makes everything much easier.

Row of colorful historic merchant houses
Historic Bryggen is a main attraction in Bergen

By the time the train to Bergen arrived in Voss, the sun was starting to sink lower on the horizon. For an hour and a half, we watched the landscape speed by our windows. As with the earlier part of the trip, there was lots to see as we lost ourselves in the movement of the train and the landscape flashing by outside. Before we knew it, we arrived in Bergen, filled with anticipation for the next part of our Norway adventure.

DIY Norway in a Nutshell at a Glance

  • Oslo to Flam train — we paid 759 NOK per person – can be bought in advance at Vy
  • Flam to Gudvangen ferry — we paid 470 NOK per person – can be bought in advance at VisitFlam
  • Gudvangen to Voss bus — we paid 100 NOK per person – must be bought on board but schedules can be found at Skyss
  • Voss to Bergen train — we paid 204 NOK per person – can be bought in advance at Vy

We saved a total of $90 (714 NOK) for both of us booking our own tickets with very little effort rather than buying the formal package. If you’re short on time, that may not be worth it to you. For us, it helped finance a second night watching the Northern Lights, and that was priceless.

Overhead view of buildings and harbor
The harbor of beautiful Bergen

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Richa

Thursday 29th of July 2021

Hi, travelling to Norway and doing nutshell DIY Quick question, you mentioned that Voss to gudvangen bus tickets to buy on board. Is there any chance that it can be full? or there's always a guarantee to get place in the required bus. We want to take 10:10 bus which reaches gudvangen 11:35 for our cruise at 12:00 to Flåm.

Thanks in advance.

Lance Longwell

Thursday 29th of July 2021

We took the bus the other way Gudvangen to Voss. When we got off the ferry in Gudvangen, there were several buses waiting. Plenty of room on the bus. If going the other way, you can order tickets off the SKYSS website. But this is still a local bus. You've paid for it, but you don't have a guaranteed seat number.

Smita Nanal

Wednesday 26th of February 2020

Hello Laura,

I would be travelling to do the fjords tour on 26th May and am interested in doing the one day tour from Bergen. Can you suggest how can I begin building my itinerary from Bergen to Bergen, we do not want to go till Oslo. I would be travelling with my husband and 2 sons.

Thanks much, Smita. India.

Lance Longwell

Sunday 1st of March 2020

Thee easiest option would be to take the train from Bergen to Myrdal (journey takes a little over 2 hours). And from there, just use the itinerary above. You'll have about 5-10 minutes for the connection in Myrdal from the main train to the Flam Railway train. Then you'll have about an hour and half in the town of Flam to look around. Then another 10 minutes for the bus connection in Gudvangen and about 45 minutes to connect from the bus to the train in Voss. It's all very do-able as a Norway in a Nutshell day trip...but it's a long day. We really enjoyed spending the night in Flam and would recommend trying to make two leisurely days of it if your schedule permits.

Anna Thomas

Sunday 2nd of February 2020

Hi, what an informative article, the best I have read so far! My husband and I will be in Oslo by the end of March this year with our teen boys. I was wondering whether it is safe to drive from Oslo to Bergen and back with a stopover in Flam. We have no winter driving experience at all! Cost-wise it looks cheaper with a rental car as the tickets for all four of us seem quite high. However, wary of difficult driving conditions. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks!!

Surekha Joglekar

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

Thank u Laura for informative article.. We r planning to do Norway in Nutshell tour in month of April 2020 on our own. Is it ok if we start from Bergen to Oslo?? Thanks

Laura Longwell

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

Yes, Bergen to Oslo is a very popular route, too. Have a wonderful time.

Colleen

Friday 3rd of January 2020

Thank you very much for all the information. It is very well written and informative. We are planning the Nutshell tour (on our own) perhaps April 20th and hope to do bus and train (3days). Reading your blog, it appears that a car is not necessary?? Is this correct?

Laura Longwell

Friday 3rd of January 2020

So happy the article was helpful, Colleen. We didn't have a car at any time during our trip to Norway, including on the Norway in a Nutshell section, so you should be just fine. Hope you have an awesome trip -- Norway is spectacular!

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