If you dream of visiting the Norwegian fjords, the popular Norway in a Nutshell tour from Bergen is a great way to get a taste of the Norwegian landscape in a short time.
We did Norway in a Nutshell as my 40th birthday trip in June 2018. Here’s everything I learnt about the tour while I was doing research for our trip, plus 22 tried-and-tested tips for making the most of your Norway in a Nutshell experience – all checked and updated for 2022.
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What is Norway in a Nutshell?
If you want to visit Norway and have started to research potential routes and itineraries, you might already have come across Norway in a Nutshell (sometimes shortened online to NIN).
Norway in a Nutshell is the brand name for a range of itineraries that aim to show you some of Norway’s best sights in a short period of time. We did a one-day, one-way Norway in a Nutshell tour from Bergen to Oslo, but you can also do it in reverse from Oslo to Bergen, or do a round trip; Bergen to Bergen or Oslo to Oslo.
It’s also possible to do a trip starting in the small towns of Voss or Flåm, or split your trip over several days with stays along the route.
Where do you go on a Norway in a Nutshell tour itinerary?
The itinerary for Norway in a Nutshell varies a little depending on which route you do, but each schedule involves:
- A train ride on part of the Oslo-Bergen railway, described as one of the world’s great railway journeys
- A bus ride – for most summer itineraries this will take you down an amazing mountain road – one of the steepest in Europe – with loads of switchbacks and gorgeous waterfalls
- A boat ride through the UNESCO Heritage-listed Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord
- A train ride on the Flåm Railway, a stunningly scenic branch line which travels from the banks of the Aurlandsfjord at Flåm up to join the main Oslo-Bergen railway at Myrdal.
Bergen to Oslo and Oslo to Bergen itineraries also include the section of the Bergen railway which travels across the amazing Hardangervidda mountain plateau.
There are other Nutshell itineraries, such as Sognefjord in a Nutshell, but the original Norway in a Nutshell is the classic version.
Norway in a Nutshell routes
There are four options for Norway in a Nutshell routes.
Bergen to Oslo and Oslo to Bergen
The longest Norway in a Nutshell options are Bergen to Oslo (which is what I did) and the other way round, Oslo to Bergen.
For the Bergen to Oslo itinerary, you’ll take the train from Bergen to Voss, a bus from Voss to Gudvangen, then a boat trip on the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord to Flåm. From there, you’ll take the Flåm Railway to Myrdal, then a train along the rest of the Bergen railway to Oslo.
A Bergen to Bergen round trip
The Bergen round trip itinerary is an easy day trip and particularly popular with visitors using Bergen as a base.
If you’re doing a Bergen to Bergen round trip with Norway in a Nutshell, you can either choose to get off the train from Bergen in Voss and do the route I’ve described above in the Bergen to Oslo itinerary, or you can get off at Myrdal and take the Flåm Railway down the mountain to the Aurlandsfjord. If you get off at Myrdal you’ll be going uphill when you get on the bus which is possibly a little less scenic than going down, but there’s not a lot in it.
Is Norway in a Nutshell a guided tour?
No, a standard Norway in a Nutshell itinerary isn’t a guided tour. Or at least not really. When you book Norway in a Nutshell you’ll receive tickets for each part of your journey, and details of the itinerary you’ve chosen, but it isn’t a guided tour in the traditional sense. It’s up to you to get yourself to the right bus, train or boat at the right time, but it really isn’t difficult and there will be lots of other people taking the same route.
On the bus, the driver pointed out the gorgeous waterfalls, while on the boat and on the Flåm Railway there were screens showing where we were and points of interest along the route.
If you do want to be accompanied by a guide, you can book a guided version of the Norway in a Nutshell itinerary through specialist companies. I can imagine that there’s a lot of extra information that we could have gained from having a guide with us, and if you’re anxious about making all the connections or have additional needs then it could be worthwhile.
Planning your Norway in a Nutshell trip: Tips for before you book
Decide whether you want to do a one-way Norway in a Nutshell journey or a round trip from Oslo or Bergen
This is the most important thing to decide when planning a Norway in a Nutshell trip. Since Norway is stunningly expensive compared to most other European destinations, we wanted to see as much as possible in the shortest possible time so we decided to do a one-way trip from Bergen to Oslo.
Our itinerary for our trip to Norway was:
Day 1: We flew into Bergen airport
Day 2: A day seeing the sights in Bergen
Day 3: Norway in a Nutshell from Bergen to Oslo. We left Bergen at 8.43am, took a train, a bus, a boat, and another two trains and arrived in Oslo after 11pm. Our tour was in June, when the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm, so we were able to see the scenery for all but the very last approach into Oslo.
Day 4: Seeing the top sights in Oslo, flew home in the evening.
A Norway in a Nutshell round trip from Bergen to Bergen is a more relaxing option, very popular with cruise ship passengers. This option leaves Bergen railway station between 8 and 9am and brings you back just before 6pm, in plenty of time for dinner.
If one-way from Bergen to Oslo is a bit of a slog, then a round trip from Oslo, while possible, is an epically long day – a full 24 hours which sees you taking the night train back from Bergen to Oslo, arriving back in Oslo at 6am.
If you’re travelling in winter, double-check the itinerary
If you’re visiting Norway in winter, you can still do Norway in a Nutshell. The benefit of doing the tour in the colder months is that it’s likely to be much less busy, but the days are a lot shorter and the bus in particular may not be able to take the most scenic route.
Josie from Josiewanders.com told me what it’s like to do Norway in a Nutshell in winter:
The Norway in a Nutshell tour is offered all year round, but in winter it does not include a bus leg along the scenic Stalheimskleiva Road. Instead the bus takes a more direct route between Gudvangen and Voss.
I took the one-way trip between Oslo and Bergen in late April. It was unseasonably cold, and snowed from outside Oslo until just before we got to Flåm, so we got to see the scenery looking very different to the summer photos. While some people may have been disappointed to not see blue skies and green hills, I was mesmerised by the snowy landscape. This was, in fact, the first time I had seen snow!
The only disappointment was not seeing the waterfalls. Most of them, including the Kjossfossen the Flåm train stops for, were almost completely frozen over. In my opinion though, this is still a worthy trip to take in winter, but just go with different expectations. The scenery is stunning any time of year.
See if you can book a DIY version of Norway in a Nutshell on your own
The easiest way to book Norway in a Nutshell is direct from the owner of the Norway in a Nutshell brand name, Fjord Tours, or from some of the other tour companies in the area – it doesn’t really matter if you book with one of these as the itinerary is the same. It is possible to book each part individually though, and if you book far enough in advance it’s possible to save some money by going DIY.
The most significant step where you can make savings is on the Bergen railway section. Tickets for trains between Bergen, Voss, Myrdal and Oslo are all available on the Norwegian Railways official website Vy.no. Tickets go on sale three months in advance and there are often special offers on tickets, known as Lowfare. If you manage to find Lowfare tickets for these sections then it can bring down the overall cost for the whole journey.
If you do get lucky with Lowfare tickets for a DIY Norway in a Nutshell, you should still book the boat trip and Flåm Railway parts of the tour in advance, using the timings from the official Fjord Tours itinerary, as these can get very busy and often sell out in peak season.
It isn’t possible to book the bus journey in advance (it’s just a local bus route that’s been thrown into the limelight!) but you can buy a ticket from the driver. When we did our tour there were at least eight buses lined up ready for Norway in a Nutshell travellers so there’s no need to worry about the bus selling out.
We did try to book Lowfare tickets for our trip but overall it worked out only a few pounds cheaper to do a DIY tour so we opted for the reassurance of the official supplier Fjord Tours.
If you’re travelling to or from Oslo, consider upgrading your train tickets
While the normal seats on the Oslo-Bergen train leg are perfectly comfortable, for around an extra 100 NOK (around £10 or $12 USD) per person, you can upgrade to reserved seats in Plus class.
You might be wondering if Vy Plus is worth it; it absolutely is! These seats are in their own carriage and give you mains power at your seat (very important on a 5 hour train trip), and free tea, coffee and hot chocolate (also very welcome). All in all it’s probably the best-value thing you’ll buy in Norway!
The only downside to upgrading your Norway in a Nutshell train tickets is that you can’t buy a package and then upgrade, so you’d need to buy each ticket individually. Upgrading used to be possible (it’s what I did) but I checked in November 2022 and you can’t anymore, which is a shame. You also can’t buy Lowfare Plus tickets, so it might work out a bit more expensive than it was for me.
If you’re travelling with children, then many trains also have special family carriages with a soft play area and cartoons showing on a TV screen. Kaylie from Happiness Travels Here has more information on doing Norway in a Nutshell with kids on her blog.
The train wifi was free and surprisingly good.
Tips for packing for Norway in a Nutshell
If you’re doing a one-way trip, try to pack light
While it’s absolutely possible to do Norway in a Nutshell with luggage, we witnessed lots of people struggling with big suitcases. Getting onto the Flåm Railway train looked particularly difficult, and on the boat, the people with luggage had to stay inside with their suitcases while everyone else could roam around the ship to get the best views.
What to wear for Norway in a Nutshell?
We were exceptionally lucky with the weather for our Norway in a Nutshell day trip. We didn’t have any rain and in both Flåm and Gudvangen it was too hot to stand in direct sun. The best thing to wear for Norway in a Nutshell in summer is layers, remembering to pack light. A raincoat is an absolute must – this part of Norway is one of the rainiest places in the world. I had a lightweight raincoat in my bag and wore a t-shirt and hoodie.
Even in the lovely weather we had, it got very blowy on the deck of the boat tour and it was a little chilly on the station platform at Myrdal.
Josie, who did Norway in a Nutshell in winter says: “If you are doing Norway in a Nutshell in winter, dress warmly. It is warm enough on the trains, bus and boat, but you will have time outside as you transfer between each method of transport, and on the boat you will likely want to spend some time outside taking photos. Also, be aware of what you take outside with you – we saw one man lose a pair of sunglasses as the wind whipped them off his head.“
Unless you’re likely to be doing one of the more strenuous hikes at Flåm, you don’t need hiking boots to do Norway in a Nutshell, although you might want the reassurance of waterproof shoes in the summer and warm boots in the winter. I wore trainers for our entire trip to Norway and was just fine.
Tips for each part of your Norway in a Nutshell trip
The tips below are from my own experience of a Bergen to Oslo one way trip but I hope they’ll be useful for the other Norway in a Nutshell itineraries.
Bergen to Voss (by train)
Arrive early at the station in Bergen
The train from Bergen to Voss is a small local train, and there aren’t any seat reservations. When we arrived at 8.20 for our 8.43 train to Voss there was already a long queue of Nutshellers waiting to get onto the train. We were lucky and got seats together by the window but people who arrived just before the train left were stuck in seats without windows.
Sit on the left-hand side of the train from Bergen to Voss
The line between Bergen and Voss passes some beautiful scenery, including stunning lakes and pretty villages. Unfortunately, it’s mostly on the left-hand side of the track as you head from Bergen into the mountains. If you can, try to get a seat on the left-hand side of the train.
Try to sit in a carriage close to the front of the train
If you’re travelling from Bergen to Voss to get the bus to Gudvangen, try to get a seat in a carriage as close to the front of the train as you can. When the train arrives in Voss, the station exit to get to the bus stop is at the far end of the platform; if you’re in a carriage at the back of the train like we were, you’ll also be at the back of the bus queue with less chance of getting a good seat.
There’s plenty of space for luggage
It’s a local train, but there are large overhead racks which are big enough to take a medium-sized suitcase (although heaving it up there may not be wise!).
There’s zero mobile signal
You’ll either be in a tunnel or about to go into a tunnel for most of the journey between Bergen and Voss, so put your phone into airplane mode and save your battery.
Voss to Gudvangen (by bus)
Don’t worry about missing the bus or not being able to get on
The bus from Voss to Gudvangen is just a local bus route, albeit a very popular one! The bus stop in Voss is less than five minutes’ (level) walk from the station platform. When we got to Voss there were at least eight buses waiting to carry passengers on the next part of the journey, so there’s no need to worry that you won’t be able to get on the bus. They were all clearly labelled Norway in a Nutshell so there’s no chance of getting on the wrong bus either.
But don’t dawdle
The buses are timed with perfection to meet up with the train from Bergen and get you to the boat tour in Gudvangen, so unfortunately there’s no time to look around the town of Voss. If you do choose to split your Norway in a Nutshell trip over several days then you could spend a night in Voss to try some of the many outdoor activities available around town.
It doesn’t matter which side of the bus you sit on
As you leave Voss, there’s a pretty river on the left-hand side of the bus, but the scenery really moves up a gear when the bus turns off the main road to take the winding Stalheimskleiva road down to Gudvangen.
The road on this part of the route zig-zags down the mountainside into a canyon-like valley with a massive waterfall on each side. As the bus edges its way down the 13 hairpin bends, moving from side to side, everyone gets a great view. The road is one of the steepest in Northern Europe, with a maximum gradient of 1 in 5.
Gudvangen to Flåm (by boat)
Choose the “premium” cruise
When you get to Gudvangen, it’s straight onto the boat. Depending on the option you chose when booking, you’ll either be travelling on a traditional boat (the “classic” option), or a super-futuristic electric catamaran (the “premium” cruise). The premium boat was stunning; very smooth and almost completely silent. Because we were going all the way to Oslo we only had the option of the premium cruise but I thoroughly recommend it.
Premium cruise tip: don’t worry about claiming a spot on deck
You’ll be on the boat for an hour and a half to two hours, so there’s plenty of time to move around and see the scenery from lots of different angles. The premium boat in particular is very cleverly designed, with sloping walkways which let everyone on board get a great view, although there’s no seating outside. If the weather is too bad to stand outside, the lounges inside have large windows so you won’t miss a thing.
There are toilets and a cafe on board.
Keep an eye on the screens inside
There are screens inside the premium cruise boat which show where you are in the fjord and mark points of interest, such as the pretty village of Dyrdal; a huge waterfall which crashes down the mountainside; and the point where the boat rounds the corner from the Nærøyfjord into the Aurlandsfjord (look out for seals on the rocks below the headland).
At Flåm we had a couple of hours between arriving on the boat and leaving on the Flåm Railway. The village of Flåm is actually a little way further up the valley, while the area at the dock-side is more touristy. There are a few souvenir shops, some cafes and restaurants, a small railway museum and a supermarket.
Flåm is a lovely place to relax and have some lunch after a busy morning, but if you want to get more active, there are a few short walks and 1-2 hour hikes around the village and the surrounding scenery. If you do take one of these hikes, make sure you’re back in plenty of time for your train ride to Myrdal.
Flåm to Myrdal (by train): tips for travelling on the Flåm Railway
For the best experience on the Flåm Railway part of the trip, you’re going to want to get tactical.
Get to the station early
There are no reserved seats on the Flåm Railway, so getting to the station early is absolutely key. At the station in Flåm there were two queues – one for independent travellers (this includes Norway in a Nutshell travellers), and another for passengers from the two cruise ships moored in the fjord. Each group queues up, and 10 or so minutes before the train is due to leave, the guards lower the barriers and let you onto assigned carriages – one set of carriages for the cruise ship passengers/tour groups and another for the independent travellers.
Once those barriers go down, it’s a mad dash for seats on the train. If you want a good seat (or even to be sat with your travelling companions) then you need to be near the front of the queue.
Try to sit on the right-hand side of the train from Flåm to Myrdal
The ideal seat on the Flåm Railway from Flåm to Myrdal is on the right-hand side of the train, by a window which opens. The seats are in sets of three on one side of the train and two on the other; you want to be near the window on the three-seater side of the train for the best views.
If you are on the other side of the train, all is not lost. You’ll be on the best side to see the mighty Kjossfossen waterfall, and there’s still plenty to see for the rest of the journey.
Don’t bother getting off at Kjossfossen
The train stops at the Kjossfossen waterfall for a few minutes – just long enough for a mountain nymph to emerge and tempt unwary travellers away from their tightly-planned itineraries with a mysterious dance set to very loud piped music.
Most people on the train dash for the platform at this point, but if you stay on the train you can see the whole show and take photos of the waterfall over everyone else’s head.
At Myrdal station
Myrdal station is a pretty lonely place. There’s no road access, and besides the station there’s only a handful of houses. At the station there’s a small souvenir shop, a cafe and an enclosed waiting room so you can stay warm. Myrdal is high up in the mountains and even in the middle of June there were patches of snow on the hills around the station. If you want to return to Flåm under your own steam, there’s a cycle hire shop in the station building.
If you have time, make sure you see the Flåm Railway train set off back down the mountain – the gradient as it leaves the station is just amazing.
Myrdal to Oslo (by train)
The final leg of the trip from Bergen to Oslo on our Norway in a Nutshell trip was by far the longest, at nearly five hours. Thanks to our upgraded seats in the NSB Komfort (now rebranded as Vy Plus) carriage, our phones were kept powered-up and we had all the tea, coffee and hot chocolate we could drink.
Try to sit on the right-hand side of the train from Myrdal to Oslo
Both sides of the train between Myrdal and Oslo have gorgeous scenery, but soon after leaving Myrdal the train climbs further into the mountains and skirts around a stunning ice-covered lake. The landscape is dotted with cabins, and for the best view you’ll want to be sat on the right-hand side of the train.
Don’t worry about missing the approach into Oslo
The final couple of hours before the train arrives in Oslo sees you travel through heavily wooded valleys. It’s very pretty, but after a day of amazing scenery on Norway in a Nutshell you’re bound to be a bit weary. Relax and enjoy a book or use the excellent free train wifi – it’s been a long journey.
I hope you’ve found these Norway in a Nutshell tips useful. I loved my Norway in a Nutshell trip from Bergen to Oslo and would recommend it to absolutely everyone. If you decide to do Norway in a Nutshell, either from Bergen to Bergen, Bergen to Oslo or Oslo to Bergen, do come back and let me know what you thought – I’d love to hear about your trip!
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