Is your cruise stopping in the port of Flam, Norway? 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.
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Flam Railway: Facts & Figures
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.
Flam Railway: What to Expect
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.
Flam Railway: Tips & Frequently Asked Questions
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 a maximum of eight per day.
Check the Flåmsbana timetable here.
When is the best time to travel on the Flam Railway?
As the Flam Railway is open for business year-round and accommodates all weathers, choose the time of year according to the type of scenery you are after and the outside temperature.
These temperatures range from 28 degrees in the winter months to 70 degrees in June, July and August.
Note that services are less frequent from October to April.
How long does the Flamsbana scenic train take?
The return journey between Flam and Myrdal takes around 100 minutes.
How much does the Flam Railway cost?
Where can I get tickets for the Flambasana?
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.
Although you can also buy tickets in Flam or Mydral, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the departure you want.
How do I ride 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.
Which direction is best on the Flam Railway?
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.
Which is the best side of the train to sit?
Although the views are great from both sides of the carriage, I recommend sitting on the right-hand side if you are travelling from Flam to Myrdal as the light is better. This is particularly in the morning, and you also get those sweeping views across the Flam valley.
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.
Are there any tips for taking photographs on the Flam Railway?
Because of the train’s movement, it can be difficult to take good photographs from the carriage. My top tip for taking photographs on the Flam Railway is to poke your camera lens out of one of the roll-down windows.
However, as not all of the seats in the railway carriage are next to roll-down windows, choose your seat carefully.
Other Things to Do in Flam on a Cruise Stop
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 90-minute journey costs 760 NOK.
Rent a talking car
Yes. Really! GPS audioguided tours in electric cars available from 595 NOK for a one-hour journey.
Is the Flam Railway Worth It?
In my view, if you are stopping in Flam on a Norway Fjords cruise, riding the Flam Railway is worth it. And let’s face it; what else will you do on a 7-hour cruise stop in Flam?
Although the Flam Railway is expensive, the same can be said for most tourist attractions in Norway. In exchange for your well-earned krone you will get one of Europe’s most scenic train rides (for me, though, this is trumped by Switzerland’s Glacier Express).
How I Visited Flam on a Cruise
- Cruise operator: P&O
- Cruise ship: HMV Britannia
- Time in port: 11 am – 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!).
Plan Your Norway Fjords Cruise
Packing a guidebook to help you to explore Stavanger independently is a wise move. I’m a big fan of Rick Steves and his guide to Scandinavian & Northern European cruise ports is packed full of useful information.