Norway is a magical land of glimmering fjords, gorgeous coastlines, vast pastoral landscapes, rich history, breathtaking scenic rail and ship routes, charming towns and cities, and endless outdoor adventures. With their long temperate days, the summer months and early September are excellent times to visit Norway. At the end of last summer, I set out to see as much as I could over a four-day period and shaped a self-directed, solo itinerary on the Fjord Tours site that combined a Geiranger Fjord sojourn with the company’s Norway in a Nutshell experiences.
Here are just a few highlights of this fabulous, immersive trip.
Oslo to Ringebu by bus, Ringebu to Dombås by Dovre Railway; Dombås to Åndalsnes on the Rauma Railway; Åndalsnes to Ålesund
Highlights: Rail trip alongside the emerald-green Rauma River, including photo stop at the Kylling Bridge and Trollveggen (Europe’s highest perpendicular mountain wall); Ålesund’s Art Nouveau architecture (think: towers, turrets and ornaments) and Jugendstilsenteret—a center focused on Art Nouveau history and architecture; panoramic views of the Ålesund archipelago from Fjellstua on the summit of Mt. Aksla; vinyl records at Jukebox Record Story; beer brewed on-site at Molo Brew on the Ålesund dock; friendly locals
The Rauma Railway trip took me through amazing fjords, forests, valleys, lakes and mountains, as well as multiple tunnels and bridges. While the natural vistas left me awestruck, my ultimate destination was Ålesund, considered to be one of Norway’s most beautiful cities and an ideal base for exploring the jaw-dropping Geiranger Fjord.
A compact seaport erected on a row of islands in western Norway, Ålesund is easy to explore by foot. My walks past a central inner harbor hugged by clusters of Art Nouveau buildings made me feel like a character in a fairy tale. Bathed in a late afternoon light that exaggerated their lovely colors, the restaurants, bars and shops bore testimony to a vibrant, action-filled city.
My ground-level forays were just one way to immerse myself in Ålesund’s unique charms. Climbing up to Fjellstua, 418 steps above the city park, was another. I huffed and puffed along the steep stairway, and with each pause, was able to see the city and its surrounding Atlantic waters with fresh eyes.
Ålesund to Geiranger Fjord by express boat; Geiranger to Ålesund by bus
Highlights: Hiking the trails of S-shaped Geirangerfjord, thundering waterfalls (the Seven Sisters, the Suitor and the Bride’s Veil) and deserted alpine and fjord farms (walk to Skageflå, Knivsflå and Blomberg farms from Geiranger); Nordic delicacies at Brasserie Posten in Geiranger right next to the fjord; chocolates at Geiranger Sjokolade; astounding views of Geiranger Fjord at the viewing platform at Eagle Bend
Western Norway gets a lot of rain and wind at this time of year and, on the morning of my trip to Geiranger Fjord, the ferry boat bore the full brunt. As the winds whipped and the rain doused anyone brave enough to venture out on deck (I did), low clouds wrapped the peaks of the UNESCO-listed fjord in a mysterious, atmospheric cloak. It miraculously lifted mid trip and, when it did, the broad ribbon of water, jagged peaks and tumbling waterfalls shaped startlingly lush, blue-green-gray compositions.
I had planned to kayak on the fjord once we arrived in the town of Geiranger, but that became impossible when the harsh weather returned. So, I whiled away the time between my arrival and return trip to Ålesund by downing a mouthwatering smoked salmon sandwich and sampling various chocolates at Geiranger Sjokolade. My favorite flavor there: brown cheese.
The Eagle Road route that the late afternoon bus to Ålesund followed out of Geiringer involved 11 hairpin turns at 2,030 feet above sea level. Although the drive is not for the faint of heart, fear seemed like a small price to pay for such magnificent fjord views.
Ålesund to Bergen by Hurtigruten ship
Highlights: Hurtigruten coastal cruise along Norway’s western coastline with views of soaring rocks, lighthouses, islands and inlets; Bryggen—the old wharf of Bergen and the pottery, jewelry, art galleries, textile and leather shops situated along its narrow alleys; fresh seafood at the outdoor Bergen Fish Market; Fløibanen funicular ride to the top of Fløyen with spectacular views of Bergen; plukkfisk (mashed potatoes with cod and bacon) and persetorsk (pressed and marinated cod) dishes served at Bare Vestland gastropub in Bergen
To see more western coastal fjords and make my way to Bergen, I boarded a Hurtigruten ship docked in Alesund’s harbor in the wee hours of the morning and cruised southward, catching a few winks here and there. After daybreak, I took a seat in front of one of the large panoramic windows to gaze at the cliffs. We arrived in Bergen at about 2:30 PM, giving me just enough time to explore Bryggen, the much-photographed old section of town; the outdoor Fish Market; and Skostredet, a charming street of shops and spray-painted art.
Known for its colorful wooden commercial structures along the old Hanseatic wharf, Bryggen is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. The outward-facing buildings are captivating, but a total of 62 buildings remain in this ancient townscape and it’s the interior ones that clue one into Bergen’s rich and fascinating history as a 14th to mid-16th-century center of trade. Narrow passages and crisscrossing timbers connected me to the city beyond. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, yet it has a down-to-earth vibe. Not to mention a moist one—it gets 200 days of rain a year. I wielded my umbrella proudly as I rode the Fløibanen funicular up to the summit of one of the seven mountains that ring the city, then headed to a local restaurant for a meal of persetorsk, a delicious traditional steamed cod dish.
Bergen to Voss by Bergen Railway; Voss to Gudvangen by bus; Gudvangen to Flåm by boat; Flåm to Myrdal by Flåm Railway; Myrdal to Oslo by Bergen Railway
Highlights: Stalheimskleiva – one of the steepest roads in Northern Europe with 13 hairpin bends and magnificent views Nærøydalen valley; ferry cruises on the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord; rides on the Flåm Railway and its 5.5% gradient run with knockout views of lush fjord landscapes, waterfalls and mountains
This long day of travel was filled with many amazing sights, but the most memorable among them were the steep hairpin bends and mind-blowing views along Stalheimskleiva Road during the bus ride from Voss to Gudvangen; the Fjord cruise boat to Flåm through the dramatic, mountain-rimmed Nærøy Fjord (one of the most narrow fjords in Europe and a UNESCO’s World Heritage site) and the stunningly picturesque Aurlands Fjord. Rare sunny skies made these views even more special.
The ride aboard the legendary Flåm Railway (many consider it to be one of the most beautiful rail rides in the world) was another highlight. It traveled from sea level at the end of Aurlands Fjord to 2,844 feet above sea level in the mountains at Myrdal in just one hour and took me through some amazing fjord terrain: vertical mountainsides, 20 tunnels and a waterfall-viewing platform where I watched a woman in the distance dance to the sounds of cascading waters and an ethereal Norwegian tune.